“Who is this Fuh King guy?”: Stephen Friedland (Brute Force) on Night Flight’s “Comedy Cuts”

By on June 19, 2018

Our August 2, 1986 “Comedy Cuts” segment — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — features an appearance by comedian Stephen Friedland, who prior to doing stand-up comedy had quite an interesting musical career, and under the name Brute Force had a single released on the Beatles’ Apple Records label in which he proclaimed himself “The King of Fuh.”

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Friedland’s comedy routines (which he’s still doing!) are typically off-the-wall musical variety and comic bits blended together.

He sometimes performs songs “straight” — love songs, spirituals, daffy little melodies — on piano or guitar, taking breaks to tell jokes before venturing off into longer, sometimes improvisational and occasionally philosophic bits.

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Here he jokes about the Hands Across America, which had just happened (on Sunday, May 25, 1986), when approximately 6.5 million people across the United States held hands, forming a human chain across the country.

Friedland wonders what other countries might be doing for their own “hands across” celebrations. He ends up drumming on the seat of a club chair.

You can also see his appearance in Part Four of our New Year’s ’83 special right here.

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Read more about Stephen Friedland below.

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Stephen Friedland was born in 1940 in Jersey City, New Jersey.

In the mid-1960s, Friedland was already writing novelty-ish pop songs, and even collaborated on one of them, “My Teenage Castle (Is Tumblin’ Down)” with his girlfriend Bunny’s father, session drummer Billy Gussak, who’d played on recordings by Bill Haley & the Comets.

Gussak introduced Friedland to two record producers, Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti, at RCA Records. Hugo and Luigi produced Little Peggy March’s recording of the song (it ended up as the b-side of her 1963 single, “I Wish I Were a Princess”).

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Hugo and Luigi had previosly worked on a huge hit for the Tokens,”The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh),” and they thought the male vocal group and Friendland would hit it off, and they were right.

The Tokens ended up hiring Friedland to work as a songwriter for their music publishing company, Bright Tunes Productions, and he also became their keyboardist.

Friedland ended up composing songs for Del Shannon, the Creation, the Cyrkle and one of his biggest successes for Bright Tunes was the Chiffons’ 1965 hit “Nobody Knows What’s Goin’ On (In My Mind But Me),”  described by one online reviewer as ” an insight into a teenage girl’s unhinged but meticulously controlled mind-state.”

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It was not long before Friedland was in a recording studio with producer John Simon, tracking songs for his Columbia Records debut album, I, Brute Force – Confections of Love, using the name “Brute Force” as his nom de plume.

At least one of the album sessions — which took place over a three month period — were attended by Leonard Cohen, who had the opportunity to watch Friedland recording wacky self-penned ditties like “To Sit on a Sandwich” and “Tapeworm of Love,” a song he’d actually written back in high school.

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To help promote the album, in July of 1968, Friedland and his lifelong friend Ben Schlossberg swam the Bering Strait, from Alaska to Siberia, in order to draw the world’s attention to the geographical closeness of the Eastern and Western hemispheres, right at the very height of the Cold War.

Friedland made it just halfway, though, to Little Diomede Island. LIFE Magazine ran a feature on Brute Force in their September 20, 1968 issue, complete with photos taken by Inuits.

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That same year, the Beatles’ George Harrison — who thought Brute had “a lovely voice and a beautiful record” — wanted to released one of his unreleased songs, a little novelty ballad called “The King of Fuh,” on the Beatles’ Apple Records.

Harrison returned to England with the 1/4″ tape, and oversaw the addition of strings by the London Philharmonic (he also remixed the drums).

Unfortunately for all concerned, the Beatles’ American record company, Capitol/EMI, refused to release or distribute the single based solely on the fact that its controversial chorus had slipped in a profane word, “fucking,” while singing about the benevolent king who ruled a mysterious land called Fuh.

Here’s Friedland talking about the single:

The Beatles privately pressed up 3000 copies for their friends in May of 1969, which ended up making “King of Fuh”one of the rarest Apple Record’s releases.

The experience proved to much for Friedland, though, who was soon working for his father as a paralegal in Edision, New Jersey.

He continued writing songs, but the industry was changing, and now artists were mainly composing their own songs.

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Nevertheless, he ended up recording a second album’s worth of songs, called Extemporaneous, simply because that’s what the songs where, just Friedland’s piano and voice, recorded at Olmstead Studios in NYC, with about forty people in attendance.

The album was produced by the Tokens, and was supposed to come out on their label, BT Puppy Records, but it was shelved, and never released.

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By the 1980s, Friedland had a new interest: stand-up comedy.

He began performing under his given name in the NYC comedy clubs, which is how he ended up in our “Comedy Cuts” segment.

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More recently, in 2010, Sony and Apple reissued Brute Force’s controversial music once again, and a few years later his life story was the subject of a 2012 documentary film, Brute Force, by Winnebago Man director Ben Steinbauer (Razor Films).

These days he still does stand-up, and performs music in Brooklyn-area clubs with his daughter Lilah, who has her own stage name: Daughter of Force.

Watch Stephen Friedland (a.k.a. Brute Force) onstage in our “Comedy Cuts” segment, now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.