By 1936, Walt Disnney’s studios had musicians and lyricists at the ready, willing and able to provide themes and words for any song that might be required for a given cartoon.
That didn’t stop the denizens of Tin Pan Alley from trying, though.
Now, Mickey Mouse had already had a birthday party–on film–in the 1931 short “Mickey’s Birthday Party”. By 1936, that short (originally released through Columbia Pictures) would have looked primitive when placed next to, say “Through The Mirror” or “Mickey’s Polo Team”.
But that didn’t stop one of the Tobias brothers from getting together with a Rothberg and a Meyer (perhaps veteran songsmith George Meyer), to pen “Mickey Mouse’s Birthday Party”. It’s an engaging light melody, bearing a mild resemblance to the theme that would accompany the Mel-O-Toons some twenty years later. It was not recorded widely–but there are at least two American versions of the tune, both from the autumn of 1936.
Victor gave it to a most unlikely artist: Wayne King. King’s band was very popular playing sweet music–with a plurality of waltzes–at the Aragon and Trianon Ballrooms in Chicago. His career as a band leader ran some forty years or so, from the late 1920’s to the late 1960’s.
The other American version was recorded by the so-called “American Novelty Orchestra”, and issued on the “dime store” labels, which we have met before in these posts. Instead of getting the young house-vocalist Chick Bullock, the producer of the date (perhaps Jack Shilkret, John Scott Trotter, or Claude Thormhill), reached back into the mists of recorded history ad brought out fifty-nine-year-old Billy Murray to do the singing.
The arrangement is lively, and includes quotations from two songs that were from Disney shorts–“Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?” and “The World Owes Me A Living”.
The song was also published in the United Kingdom, and one British band got to play it–Billy Cotton. Cotton had a popular “stage” band, which also made a lot of records. This was one of the first they made for the Rex label,which sold for a shilling (equivalent to twenty-four cents at that time).
The lyric of “Mickey Mouse’s Birthday Party” refers to several Disney characters, who are enjoying themselves at the party–characters including the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. Another character is also mentioned–and he was the subject of another song that came out a few months before.
Of course, we are all familiar with the impact Donald Duck made, starting with his appearance in “The Wise Little Hen”. Disney’s confidence in the beaked belligerent proved to be justified–that there was even more proof when Al Bryan, Ira Schuster, and veteran composer-bandleader Gerald Marks penned “Donald Duck” in the spring of 1936.
I only know of one recording of the tune–a Decca record by Victor Young and his Orchestra, with vocal by Dick Robertson. Young had stated out of the Chicago area, achieving some fame within the industry for his violin solo on Isham Jones’ good-selling recording of “Star Dust” in 1930.
The next year, he was in New York, and had taken over from Bob Haring the job of leading house orchestras for Brunswick records and its various subsidiaries. This would be one of the last recordings he would make in New York, before moving to Los Angeles in the summer of 1936, and becoming known as a film-composer, songwriter, and recording artist.
Dick Robertson had already had so many achievements in the record and radio fields by this time.
Indeed, he would soon become known for a series of records in which he sang the current hits of the day–plus some “evergreens”–accompanied by a small, Dixieland-type combo. These records went over well on the “music machines”–that’s juke boxes to the rest of us–of the day.
Curiously, Donald’s name gets dropped (at 1:45) in a 1950 novelty song, “The Chicken Song'” (“I Ain’t Gonna Take It Settin’ Down”), which was recorded by Guy Lombardo, among others.
Next week: Original Mouse-tracks.