Imported into the United States in 1922, the “OKeh Laughing Record”–as it has come to be known–is one of the most unusual, (in its way) influential, and surprisingly enduring novelty records ever recorded.
There is nothing overly complicated about the recording itself. A solo cornet begins a rather slow, sad performance only to be quickly interrupted by a woman’s high-pitched, unrepentant, seemingly unforced laughter. She is quickly joined by a second laugher–a deep-voiced male–who, too, seems unable to contain himself. The mystery woman and man’s continuing, building chorus of giggles and guffaws eventually come to drown out, even usurp, the musical selection.
Because it was originally released with no credits or names attached, various “histories” of the “Laughing Record” have come into existence over the years. Generally accepted however is that the original recording was made in Berlin, Germany, in 1920 for the Beka label. The recording itself was an update/remake of an earlier purposefully laugh-centric recording, “The Misfortunes of Youth,” made by Henry Klausen in 1903.
The recording’s inexplicable, surprising success inspired a host of imitators, copy cats and pseudo sequels. The OKeh label itself issued the self-explanatory “Second Laughing Record” and “The OKeh Laughing Dance Record” as well as the equal-time-inclined “OKeh Crying Record” all before the end of the decade.
Perhaps because they were easy and quick to produce, a host of other “laughing” records also soon flooded the market, effectively creating their own bizarre subgenre. How they were ultimately used—as party background noise or for cheering up its listeners—is, of course, open to speculation.
Even after its initial notoriety died out, the “OKeh Laughing Record” remained strangely, firmly embedded within American culture. Radio humorist Jean Shepherd (whose original short stories developed into the beloved holiday classic “A Christmas Story”) used it regularly in his broadcasts as did Chicago children’s television icon Ray Rayner. Later, the recording would become a staple of Dr. Demento’s weekly radio show.
– Cary O’Dell
Courtesy of The National Registry, Abridged