Les Paul is truly a man who needs no introduction. But, although his electric guitar and multi-track recording innovations have made him a living legend, his music is rarely heard. And that's a shame - a casual listen to his late '40s and '50s hits reveal a true mad genius at work. There's a whacked-out, almost Spike Jones or Carl Stalling-like level of lunacy to some of his records, often done with no-one else but Les, his guitars, and gadgets performing. Years before the Chipmunks, he was playing guitar solos at half-speed, then speeding them up for novel effect. Building his own studio, creating his own guitar effects, playing proto-rockabilly years before Elvis - this was pretty avant-garde stuff, yet he played everything with a light touch that made it accessible to mainstream America.
He was never really pegged as a novelty or experimental artist because he always made sure his wife, singer Mary Ford, was on hand to lend a smooth, romantic sheen to many of his records. Indeed, they were one of the biggest selling artists of their day. Ask any older relative who remembers America in the '40s and '50s. Believe me, they've heard of Les Paul and Mary Ford, and could probably sing a bit of "High High The Moon" or "Vaya Con Dios" to you.
These two records are Les at his intrumental best. "Lover" starts off low-key, (if eccentric with those Chipmunk guitars) then after a minute, explodes into Esquivel-like lunacy. And "Brazil" almost sounds like glitchy electronica played over an exotica rhythm section. It's hard to believe that these were recorded by one man, and in 1948.
Les Paul: "Lover"
Les Paul: "Brazil"
Les and Mary had a radio show in 1949-50 that allowed them to stretch out beyond pop song formula and into surreal humor, as this short excerpt demonstrates:
The Les Paul Show "The Case Of The Missing Les Paulverizer"
The above tracks are taken from the excellent collection The Best of the Capitol Masters: 90th Birthday Edition. Mary Ford died in 1977. Les Paul is 92 years old, and still performs weekly in New York City.