April 18, 2003

Walt Kelly & Norman Monath "Songs Of The Pogo"

This is a historic little record. Do you remember Pogo? Maybe not, but you probably remember one of his most famous lines: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Pogo was a fun little guy, a possum who lived in the Okefenokee, and often had some very insightful things to say. He was a little bit before my time, but I do vaguely remember him, even if I didn't understand what he was all about.

Back in the late 1950s, Pogo creator Walt Kelly met with Norman Monath, a Renaissance man who was big in the publishing world. Their friendship led to collaboration, and thus was born Pogo's only album, Songs Of The Pogo, which was released in 1956. The music is fun, big-band style, almost Disney-like, but with a more intelligent bent. What makes this Walt better than the more famous Walt, though, are the songs--they're poems, not songs, and they're odd and absurd and nonsense and reminiscent of what would soon come from the minds of both John Lennon and Shel Silverstein.

As a bonus, Reaction has added two later records, and a few unreleased tapes. The other two Pogo-related records--two seven-inch singles, "Can't" and "No" date from 1969. These are somewhat different than the album; they're narrative tales read by Kelly, with moments of song, and are quite funny. I think I vaguely remember one of these records from my own childhood, but I can't really be sure. One of the outtakes sounds like a lost Daniel Johnston song, which scores major points with me! These other tracks are of lower sound quality, but have been added for historical interest.

Songs Of The Pogo is one interesting little time capsule. There are loads of interesting and insightful sleeve notes, putting a historic spin on the songs. Reaction has fully reproduced the artwork, and have also included the lyrics, which serve quite well on their own. You can really tell that this was a labor of love for Reaction, and it makes me happy to know that some record labels still care about what they release--even if it's an odd little curiosity like Songs Of The Pogo. I will fully admit that I'm a sucker for children's music. When it's interesting, intelligent, and mentally stimulating as these songs are, I'm left with a happy, warm glow inside. While you might not know of Pogo, this would be a good place to start, as you'll feel like you've always known that little possum from Okefenokee Swamp.

--Joseph Kyle

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