Our secret mission: figure out why, since most Hanna-Barbera Records were audio masterworks, this album isn’t quite as funny and fantastic as it could have been…
SECRET SQUIRREL in “Super Spy”
Hanna-Barbera Records Cartoon Series HLP-2042 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono / 1965)
Executive Producers: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera. Producer/Writer/Director: Charles Shows. Music: Hoyt Curtin, Ted Nichols. Song Arrangements: Al Capps, Stan Farber. Editor: Larry Cowan. Engineer: Richard Olsen. Mastering: Dave Diller, Joe Leahy. Hand Lettering: Robert Schaefer. Cover Art: Fernando Montealegre. Running Time: 35 minutes.
Voices: Mel Blanc (Secret Squirrel, Tyrone); Daws Butler (Morocco Mole, Opening Narrator, Chief, Cowboy, Tex, Hotel Manager); Stan Farber, Al Capps, Ron Hicklin, Ricky Page (The Hanna-Barbera Singers).
Songs: “Secret Squirrel,” “Morocco Mole,” “Agent O Double O,” “Super Spy” by Lynn Bryson and Charles & Peggy Shows.
During the James Bond craze in the 1960’s, the only TV show that didn’t jump on the spy bandwagon may have been Lamp Unto My Feet. Hanna-Barbera was already working spy stories into their existing shows, but Secret Squirrel was their first dedicated spy spoof (Jonny Quest having a non-comic approach).
Secret Squirrel was one of six H-B cartoons packaged as NBC’s Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show on Saturday mornings in 1965. Hanna-Barbera Records were introduced the same year. It made sense at the time to release one HBR LP based on each cartoon. With this album, now all six have been covered on Spin: Atom Ant, Precious Pupp, The Hillbilly Bears, Squiddly Diddly, and Winsome Witch. The six LP’s featured the same spectacular title card artwork used on the actual cartoons (what a thrill in the mid-‘60s to have any of these albums by your side while watching the TV shows!)
Secret Squirrel cartoons incorporated Bond-like gadgetry with Jetson-style touches (the flying briefcase car on the album cover for one). They enjoyed a nice long run on NBC, then appeared in syndication as part of The Banana Splits and Friends daily series.
In 1993, when 2 Stupid Dogs creator Donovan Cook was asked to revive an H-B cartoon to fill out his half hour show, he chose Secret Squirrel as his favorite. The ’93 version was retitled Super Secret Secret Squirrel and was loaded with satiric gags and sharp in-jokes, including using the Hanna-Barbera building (at 3400 Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, now an LA Fitness center) as the spy headquarters.
This Super Secret Secret Squirrel episode, “Quark,” written by Bobs Gannaway, references Magic Kingdom Park and Epcot (check out that giant rolling golf ball!)
Hanna-Barbera’s 1965 vinyl version of Secret Squirrel album should have been among the best in the entire Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series catalog. It had so much going for it: the writing strengths of Charles Shows (especially in the action/fantasy genre), the superb music and sound effects editing on HBR discs, and the fact that Super Snooper and Blabber Mouse’s James Bomb LP had turned out so well. How could “Super Spy” miss?
It turns out that “Super Spy,” while certainly not a terrible album by any stretch, falls short of its vast potential. Almost anything is possible to depict through audio, especially with a character with so many aspects, from outlandish locations to outrageous gadgets. The story might have, for example, taken place on the island of a master criminal with a secret airplane hangar concealing a gigantic futuristic war craft—but instead the whole record is about a cow.
Basically, the album finds Secret and Morocco assigned to rescue a sacred cow and return it to the Kingdom of Moo. On side one, they don a cow disguise to infiltrate a band of cattle rustlers. On side two, the three of them check into a hotel in Palm Springs. Yellow Pinky also pursues them throughout side two. There is also some use of the briefcase/flying car (or is it a helicopter?)
That’s pretty much it. The best aspects are, of course, the voices of Mel Blanc and Daws Butler (playing Morocco in place of Paul Frees, who must have been booked elsewhere) and the music—some of which comes from Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel scoring sessions and is not heard on any other records. There’s even a nifty vinyl version of the actual TV theme by The Hanna-Barbera Singers. But background music is conspicuously absent from some action scenes and the sound effects are sparse and sometimes strangely subtle.
Maybe the album was rushed to completion after all the other mixing work was done, studio time was running out and the deadline was near. Or perhaps it was slapped together on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. It’s certainly wonderful to have Secret and Morocco on records at all; it’s just that one cannot help but wonder what else might have been done with such a promising premise.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Secret Squirrel Goes to Palm Springs”
Note the repeated “What’s wrong, Morocco?” line (an editing boo-boo) and the topical mention of Fidel Castro. Here’s a fun fact: 32 years after this album was released (March 15, 1997), writer/director Charles Shows was awarded a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame. It is located at 139 South Palm Canyon Road.