Classical Gas and 3000 Years of Art

One of the coolest videos on YouTube combines a hit instrumental with fast-flashing works of art.  The story of the tune, “Classical Gas,” and the video, “3000 Years of Art,” go back to the Smothers Brothers in the 1960s.

The Creation of “Classical Gas”

Mason Williams, who was born August 24, 1938, was a comedy writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  The show began its first season during the winter of 1967.  After the show completed its first season, Williams began to work on some other projects.

Following a two-week tour with Dick and Tom Smothers in Las Vegas, Williams returned home and picked up his guitar.  He had missed playing the instrument and decided to write something he could play for friends.

So, Williams started on a piece he called “Classical Gasoline.” He got the idea for the title from his thought that the piece would be “fuel” for the classical guitar.  He continued working on the tune during the second season of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968.

At one point, the Warner Bros. music label asked Tom Smothers for suggestions of new artists to add to its label.  And, one of the artist he suggested was Mason Williams from his show.  So, Williams began working on The Mason Williams Phonograph Record for Warner Bros.

One of the songs featured on the record was the finished version of “Classical Gasoline.”  But the music copyist made the mistake of writing the name as “Classical Gas.” The new name stuck.  As Williams later explained, “It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized most people were thinking ‘Gas’ as in ‘Hey man, it’s a gas!’

Below, Williams performs “Classical Gas” in 1968.

“3000 Years of Art”

After Williams premiered the tune on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the song climbed the charts.  Then, Williams contacted a filmmaker named Dan McLaughlin.  McLaughlin had made a student video putting together Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with a montage of art works.  Williams asked him to do the same with “Classical Gas.”

So, McLaughlin created “3000 Years of Art” with the tune, using fast images in a visual effect that is now called kinestasis. The images purport to show a history of art in three minutes.

The video premiered on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968. Check out the really cool video of “3000 Years of Art” below.

In 1969, “Classical Gas” went on to win three Grammy Awards. The awards were for Best Instrumental Composition, Best Contemporary-Pop Performance, Instrumental, and Best Instrumental Arrangement.

And that is the story behind the song.

What is your favorite instrumental pop tune? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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