Say you’re making the rounds at a small gathering when suddenly an acoustic guitar appears — as it regularly did in the 1960s — and somebody asks, “Do you play?”
With a smile and a hint of self-deprecation, you reply, “Oh, I dabble a bit,” before taking the instrument in hand and playing a (much practiced) piece with such graceful dexterity as to melt fair maidens’ hearts. It may serve its purpose, but rarely do these tunes then proceed to climb to the top of the pop charts.
Mason Williams doesn’t score high on the Name Recognition Scale. He probably gets a lot of “Hey, you’re that guy, that did that song!” But he’s released dozens and dozens of folk and pop albums over the last 50-plus years, and the comedy nerds among you may know that he held the position of head writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 60s (where he created the Pat Paulsen for President campaign and gave Steve Martin his first writing gig).
In the summer of 1967, Williams began working on a tune to break out at parties — some “fuel” for the guitar — which he somewhat jokingly titled “Classical Gasoline.” When he went in to record it, the music copyist incorrectly transcribed the name as “Classical Gas,” and the title stuck.
Originally envisioned with a stripped down arrangement, producer Mike Post convinced Williams the track needed more drama and proceeded to write up a stirring, horn-led backing for maximum cinematic sound. Upon its release in June of 1968, “Classical Gas” shot up the charts, peaking at #2 that turbulent summer, blocked from the top position by The Doors and their classic, “Hello, I Love You.” Post and Williams both won Grammys for their work.
So fill up your tank with fuel for your soul. And dig this classical rock ‘n’ roll.
I present you with choices this week!
The stereo mix:
The mono mix:
The public first heard “Classical Gas” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour when it appeared in a proto-music video. Here’s 3000 Years Of Art: