Adapters: Earle Doud; George Foster; Bob Booker.
Personnel: Ralph Curtiss, Bob Prescott (sound effects).
Recording information: Columbia Recording Studios, New York, NY (03/18/1963); Fine Recording Studios, New York, NY (03/18/1963); Columbia Recording Studios, New York, NY (10/22/1963); Fine Recording Studios, New York, NY (10/22/1963).
Comedy writers Bob Booker, Earle Doud, and George Foster weren't looking to create a cultural phenomenon when they teamed with an obscure stand-up comic named Vaughn Meader to cut a comedy album in the fall of 1962, but ultimately that's what they did, and The First Family, a gentle but effective bit of political satire that focused on the foibles of President John F. Kennedy and his family, became one of the most remarkable successes in the history of the record business, moving over seven million copies in six months when it was released in early 1963. The First Family, however, went from a smashing success to a joke no one dared tell again when Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963; the album was immediately pulled from stores (as was a sequel that appeared in the spring of 1963), and it was seemingly relegated to attics or garage sales from then on, a strange artifact that, despite its good intentions, was an instant reminder of a national tragedy. But as a wise man once said, time heals all wounds, and a half-decade after it was first recorded, it's possible to listen to The First Family again and hear what it was meant to be -- a respectful but playful spoof of President Kennedy that ultimately says more about his charisma and personality than politics. While it's hard to imagine anyone believing that Vaughn Meader really was Kennedy given the theatricality of his delivery, he did establish the gold standard Kennedy impersonators followed from then on, and his comic timing and delivery are impressive, while Naomi Brossart is very amusing as the breathy and slightly eccentric First Lady. This 50th Anniversary Edition of The First Family includes the original album as well as the lesser-known The First Family, Vol. 2, which doesn't work as well, thanks to a handful of musical numbers cluttering the comedy, and a bit too much acknowledgment of the first album's success, though the penultimate track, "1996," is a curiously moving sketch which imagines an elderly John and Jackie looking back at their lives. In addition to the two First Family albums, this package includes a third bonus disc, which features a BBC radio documentary on the album's history and impact (no date is given for the show, though since it mentions Meader in the present tense, it must have aired before his passing in October 2004), an early performance by Meader from the TV show Talent Scouts (which reveals he was a fine voice mimic but not so good at writing his own material), and a clip from a press conference in which President Kennedy talks about the album. While this expanded edition of The First Family is most strongly recommended to cultural historians or the nostalgic, at its best, this material is still quite funny despite the ravages of time and tragedy. ~ Mark Deming