NEEDLE DROP NOTES
February 5, 2019 posted by James Parten

Laggards in Wonderland

The April 21st, 1951 issue of The Billboard includes a half-page advert placed by the Walt Disney Music Company (with offices in New York, Chicago and Hollywood), touting the fact that eight songs from Alice in Wonderland were available.

One other song, however, was not listed in that advertisement.

“How D’Ye Do And Shake Hands” was as close to a throwaway as one could get. In the film, exactly one chorus–and none of the original two verses–is sung by Tweedledee and Tweedledum–and that’s it!

But it is quite possible that word got around–perhaps from the exhibitors themselves, who talked freely among themselves–that people were leaving the theaters singing this little jingle.

It’s also possible that the two verses that were written for the song in the first place would have been used in a longer scene involving he Tweedle Twins–a scene that found large parts of it on the legendary cutting-room floor.

So, in the summer of 1951, as the film was being rolled out to theaters, somebody at Walt Disney Music decided that it needed some more “commercial” verses.

Now, it was also common at the time for record companies to pair up their artists in duets, letting the audience think they were getting more band for their eighty-nine cents. Sometimes, these duets made sense–putting Johnny Mercer on the same record with the King Cole Trio.

Sometimes, they were a little eccentric–putting highly-regarded thrush Margaret Whiting with cowboy crooner Jimmy Wakely. And sometimes, they were just plain out-of-left-field–such as a pairing of the Andrews Sisters and Ernest Tubb.

And somebody at RCA Victor figured out that if a duet would work–why not an all-star quartet?

The August 18th, 1951 issue of “The Billboard” featured an ad for a new release of “How D’Ye Do And Shake Hands” (RCA Victor 20/47-4225), sung by a quartet of well-known names from stage, screen, radio and/or records.

There was cool-as-a-cucumber Dinah Shore. . . exuberant Betty Hutton. . . somewhat stentorian Tony Martin. . . and folksy, funny Phil Harris.

Henri Rene conducted the orchestra, with sound effects added in like nuts on a banana split.

Word got around–as it usually does–and, the next week, Decca Recods announces its cover of the Disney ditty. And Decca was determined to exceed the star-power that RCA offered. And did they ever!

The lineup on the Decca release ((9)-27748): Jane Wyman. . . Danny Kaye. . . Jimmy Durante. . . and Groucho Marx. Any big names?

The four luminaries were aided and abetted by The Four Hits And A Miss, and by an orchestra conducted by Sonny Burke.

Each of the discs made a few shekels for the Walt Disney Music Company–but more by the back door.

The RCA disc was coupled with “The Musicians” by the same quartet. This number would not have been out of place in the Little Nipper Children’s Series–and I seem to remember hearing a version of it on “Captain Kangaroo” way back in the day.

The Decca biscuit is flipped with “Blackstrap Molasses“, a jaunty paean to the kind of food that health-food nus such as Gayellod Hauser were advocating at the time. The four star entertainers make a real meal of this–especially Groucho, who is having himself a natural ball–and sending up the song at the same time by his antics.

Both “The Musicians” and “Blackstrap Molasses” made the lower reaches of “Billboard” charts–with the Disney opus gong along for the ride.

There was one other laggard in Wonderland. Cyril Stapleton’s orchestra was known for what the British call “light music”. They recorded a two-sided medley of airs from “Alice In Wonderland”, and it was issued here on London 1125. It didn’t sell.

3 Comments

  • A couple of notes on “The Musicians” mentioned above — it was written by Tom Glazer, folk artist and children’s singer best known for “On Top of Spaghetti” and Charles Grean, who had a hit in 1968 with his version of “Quentin’s Theme” from Dark Shadows. “The Musicians” is better known as “I Am a FIne Musician,” and it was a song that Dick Van Dyke remembered hearing suggested it for the Christmas episode of his sitcom.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnjmYAHNqA

    It was also recorded in 1967 by Sally Field for her excellent Flying Nun album,
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROXD6UEpW7s

  • “The one… the only… GROUCHO!”

    • “Never heard of him… Oh, that’s ME!”

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