Liner Note Author: Brian Chin .
Recording information: The Ice House, Pasadena, CA.
Photographer: Norman Seeff.
After she first came to national recognition on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, but before she became a successful character actress, Lily Tomlin made a series of albums for Polydor and Arista Records in the early and mid-'70s. Comedy albums tend to have short shelf lives, and the discs have been largely lost to history, at least until the reissue of 1971's This Is a Recording by the independent, website-based Laugh.com in 2002. Polydor, via parent Universal's discount-priced best-of series, 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection, gives Tomlin her first compilation, drawing upon This Is a Recording and its follow-ups, And That's the Truth (1972) and Modern Scream (1975). Tomlin's future as an actress and legitimate-theater monologuist is previewed in these selections, which find her using invented characters to make comic and political points. The first four tracks, "Alexander Graham Bell," "Mr. Veedle," "Marriage Counselor," and "The F.B.I.," all from This Is a Recording, feature Ernestine, her obnoxious telephone operator, and they are the most dated of the bits, though still funny. In a world in which the Bell Telephone Company has long-since been dismantled, Tomlin's comic points about the dangers of a monopoly are a thing of the past, and in an era when the F.B.I. is berated for not spying enough, her criticism of its wiretaps under J. Edgar Hoover is similarly pass‚. The Ernestine tracks are followed by several featuring the young, precocious Edith Ann, which don't seem as funny as they once did. But "Suzie Sorority," an on-target satire that remains timely, and "GRRR," a "real person" product endorsement commercial gone awry, are still hilarious and on target. The compilation demonstrates that Tomlin's comic imagination has been vast since the start of her career. ~ William Ruhlmann