#1273: Abdul’s Party by Larry Verne

Peak Month: April 1961
5 weeks on Vancouver’s CKWX chart
Peak Position #6
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #113 (Bubbling under the Hot 100)
YouTube.com: “Abdul’s Party

In 1936 Larry Vern Erickson was born February 8, 1936 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The worked as a Hollywood stuntman. At some point he changed his name to Larry Verne. While in Hollywood Verne got introduced to songwriters Al DeLory, Fred Darian and Joseph Van Winkle, who worked across the hallway in the studio where Verne was employed. They’d just composed a song called “Mr. Custer,” and asked Larry Verne to make a recording. Verne debuted on the pop charts and “Mr. Custer” soon became a number one hit in October 1960. The song was about a guy at the back of the 7th Calvary in the US Army who didn’t want to fight the Battle of Little Big Horn, June 25-26, 1876, against the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians. To try and settle his nerves the infantryman makes some bad jokes about “wild injuns.” The song went to #1 for two weeks on CKWX in September 1960.

After “Mr. Custer” Larry Verne had follow-up single that was a commercial flop. “Mr. Livingston” spent only three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #75. It had the same gag with a narrator who is very dim-witted. In this case Verne’s Sir Henry Stanley, in search of Dr. David Livingston, mistakes a monkey for a real person and his buddy named Charlie gets eat by a man-eating plant. Alone in the jungle he tries a Tarzan yell that gets the attention of the local cannibals. He finds Dr. Livingstone doesn’t want to return to England with him. At the end of the song Verne’s Sir Henry Stanley gets submerged in quicksand.

While Verne’s “Mr. Livingston” didn’t appear on the pop charts in Vancouver, his third single release, “Abdul’s Party” had a chart run in the fall of 1961. Billboard Magazine did a review on March 27, 1961, after the record was released. In their Spotlight Winners of the Week section of records the magazine judged showed strongest sales potential of all the records they’d reviewed, they wrote: “Here’s an amusing talking novelty with musical background by the lad who had a hit with “Hey Mister Custer” awhile back. Cute jokes and comments make it a strong teen side.” It is interesting that it was six months after this review in Billboard that “Abdul’s Party” got spun on CKWX.

Abdul's Party by Larry Verne

Here is a song about a guy who thinks he is a barrel of laughs, the life of the party and a magnet for all the single ladies. However, he hasn’t been invited to the party and concludes the host, Abdul and his housemates, just forgot to invite him and his buddy, Charlie.

He has a whole bunch of jokes he thinks are new. His jokes are groaners similar to decades later one-liners like “Why did the blonde take a ladder into the bar? She heard the drinks were on the house;” “A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion;” and “I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.” (How many of these would you want in a constant stream from someone at a party who keeps saying “I got another one”?) The joker featured in “Abdul’s Party” is ready with some gags like wearing a lampshade on his head and some card tricks. He thinks all his jokes are very funny, as you can tell from the bursts of laughter throughout the song. At one point he yells through the front door to ask if anyone has heard of the phrase 23 skidoo. An American slang phrase from the early 20th Century, 23 skidoo generally refers to being forced to leave quickly by someone else, or taking advantage of a propitious opportunity to leave, that is, “getting [out] while the getting’s good.”

The humor in “Abdul’s Party” is likely to be very curious to the millennial generation, if it wasn’t curious to other radio listeners who abstained from purchasing a copy. However, it tickled enough funny bones in Vancouver to take the tune into the Top Ten, peaking at #6.

Hey Abdul’s having a party, come on Charlie!
Wonder why I wasn’t told that, guess they just forgot.
There’s a party going on in there,
ain’t nobody gonna have a care,

Can’t you hear me knocking on that door?
Come on, let me in.

Hey Charlie, when we get in there you ask me
“why’d the chicken cross the road?”
And I’ll say, “oh, for some fowl reason?”
Can’t you hear me knocking on that door?
Come on, let me in.

Gonna take the town apart,
reckon I’ll paint it red.

You gonna laugh until you cry
with that lampshade on his head.

I’ll be ready on voo-doo-doo
Have you heard 23 skidoo?
Can’t you hear me knocking on that door?
Come on, let me in.

Hey Charlie, when the party gets going real good,
you say to me “would anyone like to join me in a cup o’ tea?”
And I’ll say, “You think we’ll both sink?”
Can’t you hear me knocking on that door?
Come on, let me in.

Now all you fellows keep alert, better watch your chicks.
You know, they might just fall for me when they see me do my card tricks.
Got a ukulele by my side gonna give you all a big free ride.
Can’t you hear me knocking on that door?
Come on, let me in.

Hey, when we get ’em all worked up, you ask me,
“Hey, did you take a shower?”
And I’ll say, “Why? Is there one missing?”
Got a buddy and a pack of smokes
Got a bunch of brand new jokes
Can’t you hear me knocking on that door?
Come on, let me in.

Ever feel like you weren’t wanted?

At teen parties in the late 50s and early 60s it was not unusual to have a teen drama concerning someone who was not wanted at the party who tried to crash the party. Larry Verne’s funny man seems to think he would’ve naturally been invited. It’s just an oversight on Abdul’s part to have not sent an invitation. It only occurs to him at the end of the song that he, and his brand of stand-up comedy, might not be wanted at the party. Some people who are very persistent are the last to figure out they’re behaving in ways that are off-putting to others. In this case, despite all the knocking on the door to the party and no one opening the door for them, they just can’t take a hint.

In 1960 in the USA there was still segregation between white and black folks and there was a growing Civil Rights movement. Culturally, in 1960, America was pretty white-anglo-saxon-Protestant in it’s self-image. It was quite unsettling for many Americans that Democratic candidate for president, John F. Kennedy, was Roman Catholic. There were serious concerns that, if elected president, Kennedy would start taking orders from the Pope. In 1960, 85% of the US population was ethnically white, 11% was African-American, 3.5% was Hispanic and 0.6% was Asian. In that milieu, to be named Abdul was very odd. If you were from an Arabic-Muslim background you were way off the radar. Being named Abdul in America in 1960 wasn’t exotic. It was foreign and funny in an odd way. A reminder that people named Abdul weren’t “like most folks from around here.” So the obnoxious guy trying to get into Abdul’s party may not even know Abdul very well, and may even think Abdul’s name is funny. Larry Verne’s character seems to be a kind of hillbilly from the deep south. So Abdul may have had other reasons to refrain from answering the knock at the door, being aware of who was knocking.

Prior to “Abdul’s Party”, Larry Verne’s his fourth single release actually preceded his gag about the fella knocking at the door of Abdul’s party. “Charlie at the Bat” was a parody of the Mighty Casey and got airplay on CKWX the week of June 3, 1961. But that was all. He had a Top 20 hit in Phoenix in January 1962 called “The Speck” about a little creature that grows into a huge alien. “Hoo-Ha”, a song about a dim-witted soldier in the Revolutionary War of 1776, was a Top 40 hit in Cleveland in May 1962. “The Porcupine Patrol” got some airplay in Sacramento, California, in October ’62. Verne’s last effort was with “The Return of Mr. Custer” in the winter of 1964 where he made his last vinyl stand at the bottom of the charts in San Bernardino, California. Verne’s other songs that made it onto some of his albums were in a similar vein. “Mr. Nero” was a song about a guy in Rome who figures out the emperor is going to burn down the city, as the emperor plays on his fiddle a song he wrote for the Romans called “I’m Holding A Torch for Y’all”. “Mr. Saki” is about a guy who knows he is an alcoholic who shouldn’t take a sip of sake, but does and becomes a wild man with the geishas. “Mistopher Columbus” is a song by a shipmate who doesn’t care if the world is flat of round, he’s just going along for the ride.

Larry Verne’s public image as a singer of novelty songs from the perspective of dim-witted narrators seemed to be rather thin. People enjoyed his shtick once with “Mr. Custer”, and for most that was enough. Amazingly, Larry Verne was on TV shows (American Bandstand and Saturday Night Beech Nut Show) with Dick Clark sixteen times. He did some background vocals for a number of years after he recorded his last single. But by 1965 Verne had grown discouraged with the music business.

Larry Verne left the music business behind in favor of a second career. This was at first as a construction foreman building sets for Hollywood films, and than an assistant set art director until early 1997, when he retired. In an interview with Jim Carrey Online in 1998, Larry Verne mentioned that some of the productions he’d worked on included the 13-episode 1984 TV series, Duck Factory, featuring a new star in Hollywood named Jim Carrey. Other TV shows he worked on include for three years on sets for Remington Steel and three years on Seinfeld. Verne also worked on the 1986 action film, Iron Eagle. He helped design sets for the 1988 action adventure film with Sylvester Stallone named Rambo III. And in 1989 Larry Verne was again working on sets for the cop comedy with Stallone, Jack Palance and Kurt Russell titled Tango And Cash. One of his last films he worked on sets for was The Lost World: Jurassic Park, released in May 1997.

Larry Verne lived out his retirement in California until he died in 2013 at the age of 77.

Jerry Osborne, Ask Mr. Music, November 17, 2003
Passings: Larry Verne (1936-2013), VVN Music
Wayne Jancik, Larry Verne, One Hit Wonders.com, 1997.
BC Davis, JCO Interviews Larry Verne, a Former “Duck Factory” Crew Member, Jim Carrey Online.com, December 24, 1998
Larry Verne, “Mr. Livingston,” 1960
Spotlight Winners of the Week, Billboard, March 27, 1961
Larry Verne, “Charlie At Bat,” CKWX Hot Prospects, June 3, 1961
Historical Racial and Ethnic Demographics of the United States, Wikipedia.org.
Fabulous Forty,” CKWX 1130 AM, Vancouver, BC, April 22, 1961.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

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