ANIMATION SPIN
December 13, 2016 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Chuck Jones’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on Records

The beloved 1966 TV special inspired two separate albums that are similar, yet significantly different, both with the voices of Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft.

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DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
“The Original TV Sound Track”

MGM Leo the Lion Records LES-901 (Stereo) LE-901 (Mono) (12” 33 1/3 RPM)
CD Reissue: Mercury Records 314 528 438-2 (1995)
Vinyl Reissue: Mercury Records B-0023492-01 (Picture Disc 314-528-439-1)

Released in 1966. Album Producer: Jesse Kaye. Writer: Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Musical Direction: Eugene Poddany. Running Time: 22 minutes.

Voices: Boris Karloff (Narrator, Cindy Lou Who); Thurl Ravenscroft (Soloist).
Songs: “Trim Up the Tree,” “Welcome Christmas,” “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch” by Albert Hague, Ted Geisel.

Back Cover

Back Cover

Topping countless lists of all-time best Christmas TV specials is Chuck Jones’ 1966 CBS animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas — a work so culturally ingrained that even the lavish 2000 big screen remake would have been lacking had it not included some of the cartoon’s visual and musical elements.

When the Jones film was first broadcast, MGM’s Leo the Lion children’s label released a deluxe record album with an impressive gatefold cover containing lyrics and photos.

However, even though the cover boasts that it is “The Original TV Sound Track,” the album really is not. Like another cartoon “soundtrack” album released the same year, Hanna-Barbera’s The Man Called Flintstone, only Boris Karloff’s narration was from the film soundtrack. All the orchestral and choral music was recorded separately, especially for the record.

This was actually a fairly common practice in the ‘60s, for TV and movie scores by Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, Vic Mizzy and many others. It was felt that the home listening experience required musical themes played with beginnings, middles and ends, as opposed to the fragmented nature of film scoring designed to complement the action on the screen. It was a logical approach back in the early days of hi-fi stereo, but it usually meant that there was no “true” soundtrack album available as well.

MGM’s Grinch album is an excellent example of this logic. When compared to the actual film track, there are no lulls in which the score is accompanying an onscreen occurrence. Arranger/conductor Eugene Poddany was afforded the luxury of reconfiguring the music and the songs into a pure audio program—and in this case, doing it so carefully that it’s not readily apparent to the casual listener that the record does not match the show.

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grinch-record-blurb

In retrospect, this album offered a priceless opportunity to hear the music in full stereo, which was not as commonplace as it is today. It’s possible that Poddany recorded both the film and album versions in the same session or group of sessions, as the ambience is also identical.

When Mercury Records reissued the MGM Grinch album (with somewhat sparse cover art suggesting the book rather than the special), the story was followed by edited versions of the songs—a nice touch that also made each song more accessible to the home listener, for Christmas compilation albums and for airplay. When you hear Grinch songs during the holiday, they are most likely to be these MGM studio versions.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
The MGM Records Version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”
The full stereo, studio-recorded version of the score with soundtrack narration by Karloff. Note that Karloff supplies Cindy Lou Who’s lines here as well. (For the purposes of clarification, the term “studio” version refers to a performance produced for records. Even though it may have the same orchestra and vocalists, it is not a bonafide film soundtrack.)




DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
The Original TV Soundtrack
Rhino Records R2-75969 (Compact Disc / Mono / With Horton Hears a Who)
Vinyl Reissue: Water Tower Records (Warner Brothers) WTM-39475 (2012)

Released in 1999. Writer: Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Musical Direction: Eugene Poddany. Running Time: 27 minutes.

Voices: Boris Karloff (Narrator); June Foray (Cindy Lou Who); Thurl Ravenscroft (Soloist).
Songs: “Welcome Christmas,” “Trim Up the Tree,” “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch” by Albert Hague, Ted Geisel.

It took 33 years for the actual soundtrack from the Chuck Jones TV special to become commercially available, first on CD and later on vinyl.

GrinchSTFront-600It’s worth noting that How the Grinch Stole Christmas was produced during the same period that Jones was doing his series of theatrical Tom and Jerry cartoons. He also created some animation for CBS’ Saturday morning Tom and Jerry Show. Poddany’s bright arrangements for the Grinch are very similar to the music for the ’60s shorts as well as the theme for the TV series (which he surely must have composed).

It’s a little confusing to distinguish between the two Grinch albums. The original MGM studio/soundtrack album had a white cover with a full color illustration of Jones’ Grinch. Mercury’s CD and vinyl reissues did not use this art (perhaps due to MGM copyrights), instead opting for Geisel art. This makes it difficult to tell that it is related to the TV special. Mercury must have realized this and so added a descriptive sticker to the package, again calling the album a “soundtrack” even though it is only partially so.

Both the Rhino CD and the Water Tower “true” soundtrack reissue shared the same cover art, making them simpler items to spot. The art for Rhino’s release was the most elaborate of all, done in the airbrushed style of contemporary video releases.

For anyone who loves this animated classic, the best solution is simple. Collect both albums.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch”
Note the subtle differences between Ravenscroft’s MGM studio performances and Poddany’s arrangements and those on this version, which is the actual soundtrack.

7 Comments

  • As you most likely know, there was also an LP with Zero Mostel reading the text of the original book. It’s fascinating to compare his version with Karloff’s; while Karloff made the story creepy by understating everything, Mostel plays the Grinch as a raving, almost homicidal maniac, with a hysterically evil laugh.

    • There was a radio version of the Grinch done in the 70s with Walter Matthau in the role who essentially did the same thing Zero did.

  • This is an incredible post!! I am also glad that, in the past decade or so, “the” song gets airtime on radio[s], proving that it is, or hast become, one of the true classic Christmas tunes

  • I love that CD! Especially as they added the incidental music in the background from the TV special – including my favorite “The Chaotic Sleigh Ride” sequence.

    There’s another version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (distributed by Mercury Nashville Records) featuring the four songs from the special including “Overture, (instrumental) Welcome Christmas,Trim Up The Tree, (sung by a studio choir ((all adults and no children)) ) and You’re a Mean One Mister Grinch featuring Thrul Ravencroft. And the full story read by Boris Karloff!

  • Yes, this is a unique classic. When it aired on CBS for the first time, I was not even aware that Chuck Jones created his own brand of TOM AND JERRY cartoons; I thought that more sparsely animated series of bumpers was just more recent Hanna-Barbera adaptations, so literally seeing this classic animation at its premier was even more fantastic! I have yet to track down the CD soundtrack, but I do have an earlier DVD of the special with “HORTON HEARS A WHO” added as bonus content.

  • The next “voice” you hear will be that of Charles Gardner, who has no e-mail facilities of his own.

    Can anyone solve my decades-old Christmas mystery? As you noted, it would appear that when this special aired, the theatrical Jones Tom & Jerry’s were still in production. The opening and closing to this special have bugged me for years, as looking like something that was “grafted” on after the fact. Largely plain blue backgrounds with no artwork, and little if anything particularly Jones-ish about them (no effort, for example, to integrate titles into action like the Road Runner or even contemporary T&J titles. Yet, after the station break, we see a fade-in to Who-Ville forest with full scenic backgrounds, and a repetition of the title of the show! (It seemed to me that the music may also have been “faded in”.) Then, for good measure, we end with a reverse of the same scenics, which, before the fade-out, comes up with the words “The End”. The music definitely fades out here, right in the middle of a choral note which is never finished. After station break, we go back to the same generic blue credits with which we began.
    To me, the answer to the riddle of these titles seems apparent. Did Jones originally intend this piece to be a two or three reel theatrical short? And at the last minute after production was already under way have the MGM execs switch it to TV? If so, are there any negatives, soundtrack stems or cels from the “lost” theatrical version? Does the longer musical opening on the album reviewed above mirror the overture for longer theatrical credits? If anyone has information to solve any aspects of this mystery, your input would be greatly appreciated. Make an old buff of Christmas specials Christmas wish come true!

    • I can answer this, as I’ve seen an original print of the show recently! You are seeing the results of editing to remove reference to the special’s original sponsor. Like many (if not most) TV shows and especially specials from back then, the opening and closing credits for the Grinch special aren’t “stand alone” but incorporate built-in commercials for the show’s initial sponsor. For the Grinch, this was “A Full Service Bank” which it appears was an umbrella consortium for many US Banks at the time.

      Originally, the show opened with the “Cat In The Hat” graphic, which dissolved into a short commercial for “A Full Service Bank” which then dissolved again into the main credits, after which it fades out and a full commercial was supposed to run. The show picks up with a repeat of the title (as seen today) and the show is off and running. (And the backgrounds in all versions aren’t a plain blue really, there is a snowflake motif in the center of the frame.)

      The end credits are similar, after “The End” graphic, the image goes to black and the music fades (but not entirely) which immediately leads into an animated billboard for the sponsor, which dissolves into the end credits.

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