Mason Williams’ baroque-a-nova hit “Classical Gas” is one of my top, top, top favorite pieces of music of all time and this is just fantastic.
From the description on Vimeo:
The “Classical Gas Video,” as it has come to be known, started out as a student film in 1963 entitled “God is Dog Spelled Backwards.” The film was created by UCLA film student, Dan McLaughlin, who used Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as the original soundtrack. McLaughlin’s idea was to bring together the world’s greatest art and the world’s greatest music to create the world’s greatest film. He came damn close.
After seeing the film in early 1968, Mason Williams, writer for the Smothers Brothers and composer of Classical Gas, approached McLaughlin about replacing the music with his (Williams’) composition, a successful Top 40 record at the time. The revamped music video was first shown on the Summer Brothers Smothers Show (the Smos. Bros. summer replacement hosted by Glen Campbell), in June, 1968, and then twice more throughout the year. The video has since passed into legend (some call it one of the very first music videos), while Classical Gas, due in part to the impact of the video, became one of the largest selling instrumental recordings of all time.
As with many others who saw the video at the time, I was just a kid (10 years and 9 months, to be exact) and I was awestruck. The video made an incalculable impression on me, so much so that it’s one of the seminal moments that drew me to video editing. When I’d gotten a bit older, I set out trying to find a copy of the original, contacting CBS, the Museum of Broadcasting in NYC, and libraries around the country. Unfortunately, it was not to be found anywhere.
When the internet got up to speed, I was hopeful that the video would eventually show up online. Again, no luck. Finally I looked into the story of the video’s creation and those involved and it became clear that with all the copyright issues, it seemed unlikely that all of the parties would ever come to an agreement necessary to release it. Realizing this, and finally out of patience after almost 40 years, I assigned myself the task of re-creating it. I found a copy of the original student film, re-edited it for timing to Classical Gas, and the Classical Gas Video was reborn. Give or take a few frames here and there, it is nearly identical to the actual video that aired on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968.
Even though I initially re-created the video for my own amusement, I soon realized that if I had such fond memories of it, others might as well. Before being pulled from YouTube back in the day when they actually enforced copyright infringement, the video had been viewed more than 500,000 times. A true testament to the power of a video that, in its original form, aired only three times over 40 years ago!
It’s just a pity this isn’t a lil’ sharper looking, but it’s still quite wonderful.
Below, Mason Williams performing a stunning live rendition of “Classical Gas” with a full orchestra in 1968.