Muhammad Ali’s tooth decay album is one you should die before you hear

1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#61: Muhammad Ali – The Adventures Of Ali And His Gang Versus Mr Tooth Decay (1976)

MATT KELLY reviews a masterpiece in unintentional surrealism – Muhammad Ali’s long-playing bout with Bertie Germ!

Forget the title of this series – this is one you have to hear to believe. The boxing legend is teamed up with Howard Cosell, Ossie Davis, Frank Sinatra, and a whole heap of odd production decisions for a 40-minute battle against poor dental hygiene sponsored by the American Dental Association. It sounds made up but is very real and very entertaining.

Proceedings open with a TV theme-style piece of pop rock (sugary enough that it may be the work of Mr Tooth Decay) in which Ali delivers some awkwardly off-beat proto-rapping discussing his participation in historical events such as the Boston Tea Party (“I destroyed the tea/so our country could be free”). I don’t know why as it has nothing to do with anything else on the album – a recurring theme.


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The album is mostly one long audio play with the real star being the atrociously recorded and acted children’s dialogue. The titular “gang” is a group of kids who Ali tries to set straight about eating sugar when he accidentally runs into their clubhouse while chasing Mr Tooth Decay and his sidekicks Sugar Cuba and Willie Plaque with a giant toothbrush (I swear I am not making this up).

And boy do these kids suck. Unnatural, dead inside line-readings abound and it doesn’t help that the children are clearly not in the same room or using the same equipment or mic frequency and the mix audibly changes every time a new character speaks. There’s a tendency for the kids to speak in unison and their rigid, joyless shouting becomes incredibly funny.

There is a dark side though. The scene where Ali raps about how badass he is while the producer inexplicably loops the same creepily orgasmic “ooooooohhhh!” sound the kids make at the end of every line will haunt your dreams. And then this scene goes all psychedelic at the end with trippy echoing effects on Ali’s voice – gosh this is unusual.

The dodgy accent on ‘Mr Tooth Decay’ makes his scenes even more uncomfortable but the truly strange performance of his sidekick Sugar Cuba, who sounds like Chris Rock on helium, takes the cake. Tooth-rotting, sugary cake.

Ali actually does a good job as a voice actor – he has a fun, charismatic energy. The script is perpetually silly. At one point Ali notices a chicken hitch-hiking on the side of the road and wonders if his mother loves him, a line that goes nowhere. Yet even with the nonsense he’s made to say, Ali comes off well.

Ossie Davis brings dignity to his appearance as a farmer who encourages healthy eating, it’s amusing to hear Ali and Sinatra arguing over ice cream, and narrator Howard Cosell is Howard Cosell as always when he narrates Ali beating the shit out of Mr Tooth Decay at the end of the album.

Because after going through a whole lot of stuff about avoiding sugar and brushing and flossing and eating well, it gets tossed out of the window as Ali defeats tooth decay by punching its face in. Probably damaging its teeth. While Cosell reads poetry that would make Dr Seuss blush, very slowly.

A masterpiece of unintentional surrealism, this is a must for fans of pop culture curiosities.

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Matthew Kelly is the most important person in the music industry – the type of obsessive nerd without whom it would have no reason to produce box sets and nine-hour long documentaries.

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