My generation grew up watching Rocky And His Friends (also known as “The Bullwinkle Show”).
Usually, one didn’t necessarily watch it for its music. Most Jay Ward cartoons did not have musical underscoring–just a theme tune,and that’d be it. This proved to be not only a savings of money for Jay Ward Productions, but allowed the witty dialog to take center stage, as delivered by radio-trained veterans such as Bill Conrad, Hand Conried, June Foray and a host of others.
So, when it came time for music to take an important part, it was an unusual occurrence.
Just such an occurrence happened near the end of the “Metal Munching Mice” story arc (Season 2, Episodes 89-104), when it was discovered that Bullwinkle’s singing (if you want to call it that!) had an unusual control over the metal-munching moon-mice–much to the chagrin of their arch-nemesis, Boris Badenov.
Rather than hire somebody to write a plethora of old-sounding songs, or make some arrangement with a publisher to raid their back catalogues, the Jay Ward people went to Bill Scott’s memory of old songs he’d learned at some camp (as detailed in an earlier post on this Site).
Most of what was heard was mere snippets, but usually there was enough that the songs could be identified. And it’s a wide-ranging collection of old songs.
“Honolulu Baby”. This song was introduced in the Laurel and Hardy feature Sons of the Desert, where it was heard in a scene as accompaniment to an appropriate dance number. T. Myron Hatley wrote it, as he did a lot of pieces for Hal Roach’s studios. Curiously, there were no American recordings of the tune.
But a 1936 version, cut by a group of German-Jewish exiles at a studio in Tokyo, is known to collectors.
Weintraub’s Syncopators had been one of the most popular dance bands in Germany–until Hitler came to power. They, they left en msse–for reasons–ahem!–of health!
Their subsequent tours took them through Milan all the way to Tokyo, where they cut “Honolulu Baby” for Columbia. A few copies exist in collectors’ hands, ad it is highly prized by those who have the record.
“Auntie Skinner’s Chicken Dinner” is one that, even as early as 1960, required some editing. The lyric features certain terms that have rendered it politically incorrect, to the maximum degree.
Put bluntly, this is what was called a “coon song’: a song detailing a chicken dinner at which the little child who gets the wishbone will win any of several prizes, including a pair of homespun panties, or a “band-new, second-handed rusty musty banjo”.
When it’s sung in the cartoon, one of the by-then-even-offensive words is replaced by the word “one”, which avoids the use of a term derived from the Portuguese for “little boy”.
“Mother Machree” was an old Irish favorite, which also shows up in a Warner Bros. toon (Rocket Squad). It’s sentimental as all get-out, and was a linchpin in the repertoire of any Irish tenor.
“There Must Be Little Cupids In The Briny”: For some reason, Bullwinkle always sings it as “. . .little Kewpies. . .”, which does make one wonder as to the etymology of the name given to those little dolls so often “won” at carnivals and fun-fairs. This has the sound of a music-hall song, right down to the six-eight lump-te-dumpty-dump rhythm pattern.
“Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow-Wow” is a genuine English music-hall song, written by George Tabrar in 1892, and introduced there by Vesta Victoria the same year. It had some popularity here, too. But, on the other side of the proverbial Pond, it–and a number of other music-hall songs achieved the status of urban folksongs. It isn’t known if today’s generation of Britons are as familiar with these old chestnuts as their parents and grandparents were.
“My Sweetheart’s The Man In The Moon” was a genuine “Gay Nineties” song, written by the prolific and popular James Thornton.
Lore has it that Thornton tried to live the stereotype of the bibulous Irishman. Upon returning to an aggrieved wife after one of these benders, he was shocked to hear her complain that her sweetheart was the man in the moon.
Hung over he may have been, but if that was the truth, he recognized inspiration when it smacked him across he chops. Result: another hit song.
“Give My Regards to Broadway” is one of the more famous songs in Bullwinkle’s repertoire. It was written and introduced by George M. Cohan, whose story was told for the ages in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy. Cohan was not a singer per se. But he could DELIVER a song without actually hitting a note, as his few records attest. And his career encompassed decades, going from before the turn of the Twentieth Century, to films and Broadway shows in the 1930’s.
Of course,you know the rest. Boris, eager to regain control over the lunar mice, becomes first a Pottsylvanian Elvis with his electric balalaika, then a takeoff on Colonel Tom Parker–who managed somebody by the name of Elvis Presley. And, eventually, all the schemes of Boris–and of his Pottsylvanian topkick, Mr. Big–went up in smoke.