Classical Gas and 3000 Years of Art

Mason Williams

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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    Final UK Concert of Rod Stewart & The Faces in 1974

    Faces Final Show

    On December 23, 1974, Rod Stewart led the Faces in their final concert in the UK, giving a rollicking show at London’s Kilburn State Theatre.  Although the band would tour the U.S. in 1975, this farewell concert is often listed as their last performance together.

    The Faces, which had grown out of the dissolution of the Small Faces in 1969, created great music during their time together.  But by the time of their performance at the Kilburn, the end was near for the band.

    The show featured lead singer Rod Stewart, keyboardist Ian McLagan, guitarist Ron Wood, drummer Kenney Jones and bassist Tetsu Yamauch.  Yamauch replaced founding bassist Ronnie Lane, who had left the band the summer of 1973.

    Rounding out the show was a guest appearance from Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones on for “Sweet Little Rock’n Roller,” “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “Twistin’ The Night Away.”

    By the time of this show, Stewart had already established himself as a solo artist with Every Picture Tells a Story (1971).  He had already had the massive hit “Maggie May,” which the band plays at the show.

    For the 1975 U.S. tour, Wood played with the Faces and also toured with his new band, The Rolling Stones.  With Wood and Stewart finding other work, the writing was on the wall for the Faces.  But it was a great run.

    The show ends with a short “We’ll Meet Again,” a song the band closed with since 1971.  But, despite various forms of reunions, London would never see the Faces like this again.



    What is your favorite song from The Faces? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Please Mrs. Avery . . . This Song Is Stuck In My Head

    Sylvia's Mother Story

    Anytime I hear the song “Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, it ends up stuck in my head for some time as an earworm.  It is one of those songs I have heard many times since its release in 1975, but I never thought too much about it even though it is an unusual song.  So, where did “Sylvia’s Mother” come from?

    In “Sylvia’s Mother,” the singer calls a former lover but ends up speaking to her mother. Sylvia’s mother tells the man that her daughter is leaving town to marry another man. She tells the man not to say anything to Sylvia, but as the song continues the singer realizes that Sylvia is there with her mother, preparing to leave. But apparently Sylvia does not know it is him on the phone.

    The power of the song largely comes from the aching vocal provided by Dr. Hook singer Dennis Locorriere as the singer begs with Sylvia’s mother: “Please Mrs. Avery, I’ve just got to talk to her/ I’ll only keep her a while.”

    One of the interesting things about “Sylvia’s Mother” is that it was written by Shel Silverstein, which helps explain why the song does not sound like most other songs.  Silverstein is noted for writing Johnny Cash songs like “A Boy Named Sue” and “25 Minutes to Go.”  Perhaps he is even more well known for his drawings, poetry, and books, such as The Giving Tree.

    “Sylvia’s Mother” was not the only song that Silverstein wrote for Dr. Hook. At the time Silverstein gave the band “Sylvia’s Mother,” Silverstein had already provided several songs to the band. But when the band was looking for a potential single to add to their first album, Silverstein offered them a new song, “Sylvia’s Mother.”

    “Sylvia’s Mother” initially bombed as a single when Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show released the self-titled album in 1971. But they had faith in the song, so instead of releasing another single, they released “Sylvia’s Mother” again as a single in July 1972. This time it was a hit. Silverstein eventually provided another hit to the band in 1973 with “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

    Another interesting fact about “Sylvia’s Mother” is that Silverstein based it upon a true story from his own life. Silverstein had a relationship with a woman named Sylvia Pandolfi, but like many relationships, this one ended. Later, Silverstein, still in love, called her, but Pandolfi told him she was preparing to fly to Mexico to marry another man. The next day, Silverstein called again, talking to Sylvia’s mother, who reaffirmed to the distraught man that his relationship was finished.

    The following short video tells the real story behind “Sylvia’s Mother,” featuring both the real “Sylvia” and her mother. Arjan Vlakveld directed the short documentary.  Some sources, like Wikipedia, spell the name of the real woman as “Silvia,” but this video and other sources indicate her name was spelled the same way as in the song, “Sylvia.”

    The lead singer of “Sylvia’s Mother” Dennis Locorriere eventually saw the above video.  While he knew Silverstein wrote the song based on a true story, seeing the video left him “speechless.”  He eventually met the real Sylvia.

    Other performers also recorded “Sylvia’s Mother.” Around the same time as Dr. Hook’s version was released, Bobby Bare recorded a country version of the song that also was a hit. In many ways, the song’s story and heartbreak theme fits the country genre like a glove.

    Other artists have performed the song live.  For example, Billy Bob Thornton has performed a faster version of “Sylvia’s Mother” live with the Boxmasters.

    Bon Jovi has covered “Sylvia’s Mother” in concert. This 2003 performance appeared on the Bon Jovi video This Left Feels Right Live (2004). In the performance, Bon Jovi works to recapture the aching pain of the Dr. Hook version.

    The Refreshments, a band from Sweden, included a cover of “Sylvia’s Mother” on their 2016 album Straight Up.

    The song also featured prominently in the second season of the TV series Fargo. “Sylvia’s Mother” played on the radio during the death of one of the characters.

    Finally, one may wonder whatever happened to the singer and Sylvia’s mother. The British band, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, also wondered what happened to the singer in the song. So, they released a new song called “Mrs. Avery.”

    In their sequel, The Men They Couldn’t Hang tell the story of the singer calling Mrs. Avery years later after he has been married and divorced. The song appeared on the band’s 2009 album, Devil on the Wind.

    Silverstein throughout his life had a reputation as a ladies’ man. But one of his most-remembered contributions to the world is this song about a lonely man’s heartbreak.

    Silverstein eventually married another woman, Susan Hastings. The two had a daughter, although Silverstein and Hastings divorced and then she died in 1975, not long after the success of “Sylvia’s Mother.” Although Silverstein had another child in 1983, he never married again.

    And that is the story behind the song.

    What is your favorite Shel Silverstein song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Peter, Paul & Mary’s Ode to Playing “Right Field”

    baseball card Ruth
    Some right fielders are good.

    It is that time of year when winter turns to a season of hope.  We hope for a beautiful spring as we welcome warm weather.  Also, we hope that this year will be “the year” for our baseball team.  But no matter what happens with the season, every team at least has a chance on opening day.

    For anyone who played baseball growing up, there is one position where they would stick the kids who were not very skilled at the game.  These were the kids who were hopeful enough to play the game.  But the coaches did not have much hope in them.  I know, because I was one of those kids.

    I still love baseball.  So it is worth celebrating those of us who grew up in right field.

    Peter, Paul & Mary wrote a touching ode to playing right field “watching the dandelions grow.”

    I’d dream of the day they’d hit one my way;
    They never did, but still I would pray,
    That I’d make a fantastic catch on the run,
    And not lose the ball in the sun;
    And then I’d awake from this long reverie,
    And pray that the ball never came out to me,
    Here in . . . Right field.

    Below, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers perform “Right Field” at their 25th Anniversary Concert.  Check it out.

    Leave your two cents in the comments. Photo of Ruth card via public domain.

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    Eugene the Jeep and Popeye

    Popeye Dog

    On March 16, 1936, Eugene the Jeep made its first appearance in the Thimble Theatre strip that starred Popeye.  The Jeep was a yellow creature, somewhat like a dog.  But, unlike a dog, Eugene walked on his hind legs and had magical powers.

    From Where Did Eugene the Jeep Come?

    In the comic strip, Eugene the Jeep’s origin was explained by the fact that Olive Oyl’s Uncle Ben found Eugene in Africa and then gave it to Olive.  Animated episodes, however, provided different takes on Eugene.

    In animated versions of Popeye, the animators treated Eugene the Jeep largely as a “magical dog.”  In The Jeep (1938), Popeye gave Eugene to Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea.

    But a few years later in Popeye Presents Eugene the Jeep (1940), Popeye received Eugene from Olive.  In the episode, he acts like he had never seen the “baby puppy” before.

    Near Misses With Movies

    Eugene the Jeep almost made it onto the big screen with Robin Williams in Robert Altman’s 1980 movie Popeye. An early screenplay by Jules Feiffer included Eugene the Jeep.

    But reportedly it was difficult to make the magical creature believable in the live-action film.  So, he was taken out of the story. Some of his magic remained, though, as the writer gave some of the Jeep’s characteristics to Swee’ Pea in the movie.

    But although Eugene the Jeep missed out on that movie, he is still around. For example, he is the school mascot for a couple of high schools.

    At one point, Eugene the Jeep was scheduled finally to make it to the big screen by appearing in a 3D Popeye movie directed by Gennedy Tarakovsky (Hotel Transylvania). But Tarakovsky left the project in 2015 after disagreeing with the studio, which wanted a more modern version of Popeye.

    The video below features a screen test of animation from Tarakovsky’s film, including an appearance by Eugene the Jeep.

    We will have to wait and see whether Eugene the Jeep appears in the final version of the new Popeye film.

    What is your favorite Eugene the Jeep story? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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