Golden, Golden… Gone! A look at two little-known compilations from the once-mighty label where major cartoon, TV and film stars spun grooves into gold.
Your Golden Childhood
THE BEST OF LITTLE GOLDEN RECORDS VOL. 1
MicroWerks (Shout! Factory) WWK-021 (Compact Disc)
Released in 2009. Golden Records Producer: Arthur Shimkin. Shout! Factory Producers: David McLees, Brian Schuman. Creative Consultant / Liner Notes: Greg Ehrbar. Project Assistance: Bill Smith, Robert Kim. Musical Direction: Mitch Miller, Jimmy Carroll, Jim Timmens, Arthur Norman. Remastering: Jerry Peterson. Package Design: Etc. Studios. Special Thanks: Carl Shimkin. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Performers: Jack Mercer, Jimmy Durante, Art Carney, Shari Lewis (with Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse), Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Mel Allen, Betty Clooney, Anne Lloyd, Gil Mack, Mike Stewart, The Sandpiper Singers, The Rita Williams Singers.
Songs: “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” by Sammy Lerner; “Fuzzy Wuzzy” by Al Hoffman, Milton Drake and Jerry Livingston; “You’re a Grand Old Flag” by George M. Cohan; “Yankee Doodle Bunny (The Holiday Bunny)” by Cliff Friend; “Scuffy the Tugboat” by Alec Wilder, Mitchell Barer; “Oklahoma!” by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II; “Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sun Shine In)” by Stuart Hamblin; “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” by Sammy Fain, Irving Kahal, Francis Wheeler; “The Ugly Duckling” (from Hans Christian Andersen) by Frank Loesser; “On Top of Spaghetti” by Tom Glazer; “The Farmer in the Dell,” “London Bridge,” “Three Blind Mice” (Traditional).
Spoken Word: “Casey at the Bat” adapted from the Verse by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, by Marshall Barer. Your Golden Childhood
THE BEST OF LITTLE GOLDEN RECORDS VOL. 2
MicroWerks (Shout! Factory) WWK-022 (Compact Disc)
Released in 2009. Golden Records Producer: Arthur Shimkin. Shout! Factory Producers: David McLees, Brian Schuman. Creative Consultant / Liner Notes: Greg Ehrbar. Project Assistance: Bill Smith, Robert Kim. Musical Direction: Mitch Miller, Jimmy Carroll, Jim Timmens, Arthur Norman. Remastering: Jerry Peterson. Package Design: Etc. Studios. Special Thanks: Carl Shimkin. Running Time: 30 minutes.
Performers: Roy Halee, Cliff Edwards, Shari Lewis (with Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse), Jimmy Durante, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Bert Parks, Paul Tripp, Mike Stewart, Anne Lloyd, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Heinrich, Ralph Branco, Roy Campanella, The Sandpiper Singers, The Golden Singers.
Songs: “Mighty Mouse Theme,” by Philip Scheib, Marshall Barer; “Give a Little Whistle” (from Pinocchio) by Ned Washington, Leigh Harline; “Peter Cottontail” (Year Round Version) by Steve Nelson, Jack Rollins; “Yankee Doodle Dandy” by George M. Cohan; “I Like People (The Friendly Song)” by Mitchell Barer, Margaret Wise Brown, Ruth Cleary; “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” by Jack Northworth, Albert Von Tilzer; “The Little Engine That Could” by Milton Pascal, Gerald Marks; “The Carousel Waltz” (from Carousel) by Richard Rodgers; “Song Wagon” by Dean Fuller, Marshall Barer; “Tubby the Tuba” by Paul Tripp, George Kleinsinger; “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” (from Lili) by Bronislau Kaper; “The Ballad of the Alamo” (from The Alamo) by Dimitri Tiomkin, Paul Webster; “Puff, the Magic Dragon” by Peter Yarrow, Leonard Lipton; “Clementine” (Traditional)
Little Golden Records were introduced in 1948 as companion products to the wildly successful Little Golden Books. Unlike the books, which are still abundant today, Golden Records have all but disappeared from mainstream public consciousness and are not available in their former abundance.
Of course, many of might be considered are dated,as are other (but not all) children’s records of the baby boomer era. Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, Rootie Kazootie and Ding Dong School are Smithsonian artifacts now, as time inevitably marches on. Stars like Art Carney, Bert Parks, Paul Tripp and Gail Davis are not big names in households unfamiliar with The Honeymooners, the early Miss America pageants, Mr. I. Magination and Annie Oakley. Even mentioning the Mickey Mouse Club only suggests celebrities like Ryan Gosling to less-enlightened young audiences.
But Golden Records were also a place where listeners could hear music and stories from cartoons, films and many Disney titles, in addition to classic and popular children’s tunes. Sometimes they were performed by original casts, more often there were “studio” voices recorded at lower budgets, but nonetheless there were relatively few instances of uninspired efforts, even when the Golden pockets were at their emptiest and as the teen and bubblegum pop all but sent “kiddie” records to the dark reaches of the retail stores.
There were other reasons Golden Records began losing their shine. Arthur Shimkin left for Columbia—founding another major children’s line in what became Sesame Street Records. In his place, a succession of fine producers, like Ralph Stein, Howard Scott and finally Dennis Scott did what they could to release exceptional records in an increasingly complex marketplace. That they could hold on so long is, in itself, remarkable. Gradually the label’s name transitioned to “Wonderland,” as the license to “Golden” reverted to Western Publishing. Budgets prevented the label from using the name “Disney” on any products, nor character likenesses, which is why a few of the very last cartoon reissues (like Popeye) were issued with generic covers.
It was all still hanging by a Golden thread, not because of creative teams, but due to legal entanglements behind the scenes that your befuddled author has yet to fully comprehend. The entire enterprise folded in the ‘80s. The recordings floated in limbo for about a decade as various media companies did whatever they could to disentangle things and get some of the recordings back on the market.
The first company to do so was Drive Entertainment, releasing over two dozen albums with only partial access to background materials. They brought me aboard to identify (and sometimes re-identify) Golden and Columbia tracks, artists and create at least one compilation to go with an adaptation of “Madeline’s Rescue” from a Columbia recording. These are some of the restored titles:
The next reissues were released by Image Entertainment and Liberty International without my input because they were unaware I existed. They did, however, pick up my liner notes without giving credit (now, was that nice?) The Image/Liberty packaging explained little or nothing about the contents of each album. The art was pleasant but nondescript. All the previous design was gone. The upside was that, if one could figure out that these were indeed Golden Records, it was nice to have even more titles on CD (including some superhero records that are hard to find on vinyl):
Shout! Factory made the most extensive efforts to comb the frizzies out of what was still tangled in the curls of Golden’s legal tresses. We had also enjoyed a long association, so I was delighted to work on a fresh new line of reissues, all featuring original album art. Also fortuitous was meeting the wonderful Bill Smith, who is just as knowledgeable about Golden Records as I, perhaps more so, since he has firsthand contact with Arthur Shimkin and his family. Bill helped provide materials and information that made the recordings and the support materials better than ever. The following reissues appeared on Shout!’s MicroWerks label:
Somewhere along the way, one super low-budget company released inferior discs of a few titles, including Babes in Toyland with different art, also generic. But most recently, a firm called Verse Music tried the novel technique of adding contemporary celebrity tracks to classic Golden music beds in their “Golden Celebrity Series” and also providing fans with original versions in the “Timeless Series.”
Only two of these CDs were complete compilations of ’50s and ’60s music. Assembly of these two volumes entitled “Your Golden Childhood: The Best of Little Golden Records” began shortly before Shout! assigned me to the project, but I was still welcomed to make a few contributions here and there. Chiefly among them was to ask that the two most historically significant tracks, Popeye and Mighty Mouse, be the first tracks in each collection, instead of putting the tracks in the chronological order as originally planned.
They were kind enough to agree, and to also include such Golden greats as Shari Lewis’ lovely rendition of “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo”; Jimmy Carroll’s unique arrangement “Carousel Waltz”; a lesser-known Cliff Edwards performance of “Give a Little Whistle”; and “On Top of Spaghetti” recorded by The Rita Williams Singers in London, arranged and conducted by Vic Flick, who played the original lead guitar in the James Bond theme.