ANIMATION SPIN
July 5, 2016 posted by

Hanna-Barbera’s “Secret Squirrel” on Records

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-LP

Hanna-Barbara Presents
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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 6.32.21 PMDuring 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?

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 6.32.35 PMIt 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.

Writer Charlie Shows Palm Springs honors.

Writer Charlie Shows Palm Springs honors.

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.

12 Comments

  • At least they got Mel Blanc for the record this time. This wasn’t the case with some of the “Flintstones” albums.

  • What’s kind of odd is that Paul Frees was the voices of both Morroco Mole and The Chief (even though I would love to hear Daws version of Morroco Mole). Also when they came out with the retooled version of Secret Squirrel (now know as Super Super Secret Squirrel ) I love the way how they turned It into a non human Funny Animal cartoon with the addition of Penny (with her dressing in the Mod style fashions from the mid 1960’s) and the late Tony Jay as the Chief. But the only thing I didn’t like about it was having Morocco Mole (voiced by Rob Paulsen) acting like a total idiot unlike his 1960’s counterpart who was s little bit smarter (even though my favorite SSSS episode was Egg where Secret and the Chief was trying to have Morroco hold a simple egg to pass a Secret agent exam but disaster struck on poor Secret after Morocco drops the egg).

    • I though Jim Cummings voiced Morroco Mole in the 1993 shorts, not Rob Paulsen.

  • I’d always felt that SECRET SQUIRREL was such a visual character, with his gadgetry. I don’t know how all that could have been “translated” to dialogue alone, although an accompanying book of images could have accompanied the album. Also, I did find it kind of odd that Mel Blanc gave the character a kind of similar voice to Sylvester, but I liked the look of the show when I saw it s a kid, and I can only imagine how good it looks now on DVD, but I have to agree with Greg’s assessment of this album. There certainly had to be far more colorful plot lines than the Sacred Cow plot, although I could picture this as a SECRET SQUIRREL cartoon. There were times, within the series, where you saw these opening credits and the episodes weren’t quite as exciting as those great openings and closings.

  • The storyline on this one borders on bad taste, as cows are actually sacred in India. It does seem an odd choice as a representative story for Secret Squirrel on records. There are several actual SS episodes from TV that would have served the purpose better. And oddly, here we have Daws Butler filling in for Paul Frees, when Frees had filled in for Butler on “Monster Shindig”, “Huckleberry Hound Tells Uncle Remus,” and “Mr. Jinks Tells Cinderella.” Also oddly, we have Mel Blanc and Daws together, where on some of the Flintstones albums it’s as though Mel Blanc (the definitive Barney voice) is totally unavailable and Daws covers the part of Barney. (There was a precedent in the TV series, however, as Daws provided the Barney voice in several episodes while Mel was recovering from his accident.) So with Daws frequently covering for Mel on records, it seems highly unusual for the two of them to be together on this album.

    The voice work is actually very clever on this album, and it makes up for the inanities of the plot. I love Daws’ interpretation of Yellow Pinky as Sidney Greenstreet. Of course, he uses his Peter Lorre voice for Morocco Mole, similarly to the way Paul Frees voices the character in the TV episodes. In fact, it’s the voice work that really saves this album and makes it a good listen.

    The Palm Springs bit on Side Two is a little closer to the type of modern (as opposed to Old West) setting that we expect for Secret Squirrel. There are some funny, though predictable gags.And it builds up to one of the best endings on these HBR albums. (Certainly one of the funniest.) I do wonder, though, why they used the actual James Bond name here when the name James Bomb had been established on a previous album. Generally in those days parody names were used to avoid legal difficulties. Did the producers figure not too many people would be listening, so it didn’t matter?

    Like so many of these albums, a little more attention could have been given to the script and the plot. Another factor that seems not to have been considered greatly is that the album might have been a listener’s introduction to the character so a more “typical” plot would be advisable. The Winsome Witch album does a similar thing in giving her a Wild West adventure rather than the usual urban or enchanted forest-type setting. And on Atom Ant’s album, hilarious as it is, the main character doesn’t even make his entrance until Side II. And Magilla Gorilla’s take on Alice in Wonderland is so far off base that one truly wonders what the writer was thinking. Considering all of those others, the Secret Squirrel album at least keeps the gadgetry and characters, even though the adventure is by no means representative.

    All of these quibbles don’t take away from the fact that it is still a fun album to listen to. The characters come through loud and clear and there are plenty of good gags. The songs are decent, too, though not as inventive as on some other albums in the series. Maybe the series was running out of steam by this time, but it is nice to have SS at least represented.

    Another great post, Greg! Thanks!

    • Frederick (I sound like Fred Flintstone when he got that weird type of amnesia in that very early episode, “THe Split Personality” and became a Transatlantic accented aristocrat while writing the name Frederick..) you’ve got my interest piqued here with the Magilla/LOgee album (I remember that but the same studio did the Alkice ine from the TV special already covered.) I’m now WAITING for a “Magilla Tells the story of Alice” review!

  • Paul Frees may have just charged his usual higher scale premium and that most likely why he’s not on. This red us. Union scale issues

    • Of course I meant on this record stupid spellchecker

  • Just the thought of Lamp Unto My Feet having a spy episode got me wondering. The bad guy is easy:Agent H E Double Hockey Sticks. The good guy:Well, Lord Buckley got a lot of mileage out of The Nazz. Sounds mysterious. Evokes the Middle East that many a James Bond spoof used for exotic locale. From here,things break down as I remember Sol Weinstein’s Yiddish takes of the spy genre with Israel Bond as Agent Oy- Oy- Seven in his satirical books from the ’60s. But Ecumenical Spy Stories,you gotta admit,that’s a weird as Christian Punk music.

  • There was another goof. Butler (Morocco) refers to Yellow Pinky as Gold Pinky who was a character from the Super Snooper & Blabbermouse album “James Bomb”.

  • I like this cartoon character and I really like the super Secret show.

  • What’s a records value though

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