Where There's Smoke There's Cheech & Chong (Anthology)
This double-CD anthology of Cheech & Chong's work properly leans on the albums they did for Ode in the early and mid-'70s, adding a few tracks from their late-'70s/early-'80s stint on Warner Bros. and the 1985 single (and small pop hit) "Born in East L.A." It being a Rhino compilation, you naturally get a few extras, too: the non-LP 1971 Christmas single "Santa Claus and His Old Lady," two commercials for the Up in Smoke film, a concert commercial (with the Tyrone Shoelaces character of "Basketball Jones" fame), and a 1972 live sketch, "Old Man in the Park" (which was never included on any of their albums). There are also extensive liner notes by Barry Hansen (aka Dr. Demento), who of course has played many of those songs over the years on his radio show. But overall this stuff is more juvenile than it is funny. Actually, the duo had (just a bit) more range than they were given credit for, with a facility for musical satire in cuts like the elderly bluesman parody "Blind Melon Chitlin'," the update of Leiber & Stoller's "Framed," the Top Ten hit "Earache My Eye" (possibly an influence on Spinal Tap in its use of a fake bad heavy metal record by Alice Bowie), and "Basketball Jones." They were pretty deft at inserting sound effects and layering voices, though not to anywhere near the profound end that the Firesign Theatre and Monty Python did. And it's surprising how many of these songs were actually Top 100 chart hits -- no less than eight of them. You do wonder who the core audience of this retrospective is going to be -- present-day kids might actually find the junior high-level drug humor that dominates the material tame. That leaves it to the people who, um, grew up on these albums when they were in junior high school in the 1970s. And if there are a whole lot of people that are still into Cheech & Chong as adults, doesn't that say something rather peculiar about a segment of our culture?