You could hear the faces falling Thursday at the Greek Palace when Ben Button finally got around to singing “The Fiend,” and blew the lyrics.
Button, as you know, has two distinct fan bases. There are our grandparents, who followed him from his big band through his lounge LPs, his radio comedy show and his TV variety show. And there are us young whippersnappers who freeze him in time around 1967, his sharkskin period, when in order to get down with the kids, the balding anachronism recorded not just one but two of the most disturbingly insanely brilliant singles of that magnificently myopic pop era: “The Fiend” and “Dice, Brassknuckles & Guitar.”
Both of this misshapen masterpieces appear on Button’s The Freshest Boy album. Ostensibly a love letter to his first grandson, Freshest Boy is anchored by wistful, mature numbers such as “The Bridal Party,” “The Baby Party,” “The Lost Decade” and “A New Leaf.” It’s one of those thematic swing platters so popular at the time, except that “Fiend” and “Dice” stop the whole disc cold—or, more precisely, hot. Illustrating Freshest Boy’s hero’s prior wild ways before he found fatherhood and new grace, they sizzle with cynicism and sozzle with that “atomic martini-mixer sound” that all the young European turks were trying but which few old-school jazz jumpers could get their balding heads around. Not surprisingly, those two errant and evil songs have a different producer than the rest of the album: Jim Powell, later to mold The Camel’s Back, of “Jumbo’s Got a Bible” fame.
We’ll stop before we get even more obscure. Point is, all our lives we’ve been wanting to ring out the old and ring in the new at the exact same time. We just don’t know how to explain it, but we’ve been thwarted again. Happy next year.