Mason Williams said that he wrote this song as "fuel," or a standby, for the classical guitar in case anyone wanted to hear him play something for them, therefore he called it "Classical Gasoline." During recording, "Gasoline" was inadvertently abbreviated to "Gas" by the music copyist, giving it the name "Classical Gas."
Suggestion credit: Brent - Moosic, PA
This song appeared as a video on the Smothers Brothers' television show, for which Williams was a writer. The song was played behind a video which consisted of nothing more than photographs of great works of classical art flashed at near cinematic speed on the screen. You saw each picture just long enough to recognize it but nowhere nearly long enough to remember the name. The fact that the paintings were classics originated the name. This is one of the first music videos ever produced.
Suggestion credit: William - Las Cruces, NM
Mike Post, who had made a name for himself producing the First Edition and their hit "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," produced the album. Speaking with the Archive of American Television, he explained, "Mason played me this one little song in A minor called 'Classical Gas.' And it really was good. He said, 'I just want to do bass, drums, guitar and piano.' I said, 'We need an orchestra for some of the vocal songs on the album, we can do a big, aggressive instrumental thing.'"
Post wrote a middle section for the song because it needed a bridge, and conducted the orchestra. The song became a huge hit and got Post into television - he became the musical director on The Andy Williams Show in 1969 and went on to write many famous TV theme songs, including The Rockford Files, Hill Street Blues and The Greatest American Hero.
Mike Post got some static from a Smothers Brother after recording the orchestra for this song. Said Post: "I came in after the session was over, and Tommy Smothers turns to me and says, 'That's the most over-arranged piece of s--t I've ever heard.' At that time I was 22 and not going to take anything from anyone. I was very sure of myself to cover up the fact that I was scared to death. So I told him to get out. To his credit, he came back the next day and said, 'I was completely wrong, it's a great record.'"
Listen for the Wagnerian tuben horns on this track. A relatively rare instrument, it's kind of a cross between a French horn and a trumpet. It's also known as a Wagner tuba.
This song won Grammy awards in 1969 for Best Instrumental Composition, Best Contemporary Pop Performance, Instrumental, and Best Instrumental Arrangement. The arrangement award went to Mike Post, and it was very special for him, since he was the first session musician to make the transition to production and win a Grammy.
Dave Edmunds, who released his version of this song on his 2015 album Rags & Classics, explained that it's a very difficult song to play, even for a seasoned guitarist. Said Edmunds: "On Mason Williams' version he's got the whole orchestra and the drums, and it's going from 5/4 to 3/4 to 4/4 - it's all over the place. And it's done with a thumb pick and fingers. So it's not a flat pick just playing the melody.
You can play the whole thing in its entirety without any backing at all and it stands up because there's something going on all the time. There are bass parts going and the melody part. It's Chet Atkins/Merle Travis/Jerry Reed type guitar playing." (Here's the full Dave Edmunds interview.)
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 16th 1968, "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #93; and on July 28th it peaked at #2 (for 2 weeks) and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100... And on August 11th it reached #1 (for 3 weeks) on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart... The two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Hello, I Love You" by the Doors (the week before "Hello" hit #1 it was #9, and "Gas" was at #8)... He had three other Top 100 records and all three peaked in the 90s; "Barque-A-Nova" (#96), "Saturday Night at the World" (#99), and "Greensleeves" (#90)... Mr. Williams will celebrate her 76th birthday in two months on August 24th, 2014.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxGreatest. Instrumental. Ever.
The remake he did 20 years later with Mannheim Steamroller had its heart in the right place, but it was nowhere near as good. It lacked the overdubbed melody of the original and the backup drowned it out.
Neal from Hooterville, MiArt Bell often used this song to open his radio program.
Mark from Seattle, Wa....he once told me himself the formula of this song was that he wrote this while sitting along the shores of The Williamette River in Oregon. As Mason watched the river water go from calm to faster flow then splash over rocks, to rapids and back again...pretty cool idea.
David from Walla Walla Wa, Wathis was also featured in a movie with zac efron playing an autistic savant, for those unfamiliar with that term, it's what the "senisble" people used to call the people with learining difficulties a long time ago!
Alex from Richmond, VaThe recording on this page is from the CD "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams and Mannheim Steamroller. It is an amazing fusion of Classical and New Age music and I love it.
P.S. Andrew there are thousands of classical guitar pieces out there, you just gotta poke around.
Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesAndrew, Birmingham - There is a ton of classical music written for guitar. Look up Carlos Montoya, Alirio Diaz, Pepe Romero, Julian Bream for some of the best. There are many others.
Martin from Rostock, Germanyyes, it was featured in the episode "Last Exit to Springfield" :)
Arun from Chennai, Indiaanyone remember it featuring in an episode of The Simpons, in an episode where the plant workers are protesting and Lenny asks Lisa to play the song?
Ed from Canton, OhDoes anyone remember this as the theme song on "big time wrestling"? I was a little kid and this song got me fired up for the likes of wrestlers like haystacks calhoun, bobo brazil, johnny valentine, chief tomahawk and dick the bulldog bower.
Ananiah from Everett, WaEric Clapton never did the song. It is incorrectly attributed to him because Clapton was the arranger of the soundtrack for "The Story of Us". However, the solo guitar version was Mason Williams himself on his 1970 album Handmade. You can go to www.classicalgas.com and see the statement Mason released under FAQ that specifically says that Clapton never did the song.
David from Broomall, PaI was born in 1960, and I was still 7 years old when Classical Gas came out...I don't really remember if I heard it back in 1968, but regardless of when I heard it, the song is a favorite of mine...I just enjoy the chord progressions and the simple arrangement...thanks, Mason
Andrew from Birmingham, United StatesI like this instrumental. It's such a gas!! Hence, the name. Classical? I don't think any classical music included a guitar of any kind. But, anyway, I'd like to learn how to play this on my guitar. It sounds as if it would be a real trick to learn, especially at that speed. Maybe one day I'll be able to play one-string-at-a-time at that speed. Teach me if you would.
Price from Seattle, United StatesContrary to popular belief, Eric Clapton never covered this song. Many attribute the acoustic version of this song to him when in fact it was done by Mason Williams himself on his 1970 album "Hand Made".
Mary from Phoenix, AzThis was used in the movie "The Story of Us" staring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfifer. Referring to the video on the Smothers Brothers' show, my ex did a video for my sister's 40th, in which the same thing was done...using the song "Classical Gas" the photos were all of my sister growing up. If anyone wants to check it out...go to www.chrisvalentines.com
Joshua from Chico, CaEric Clapton did this song, I don't know if it wa released on an album or a single?