A look at the vinyl disc debuts of two mighty defenders of justice – Thor and Hercules – who weren’t as powerful as the budget restraints of children’s records in the ‘60s.
THE MIGHTY HERCULES
Golden Records LP-108 (Mono)
(12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1963)
CD Reissues: Drive Archive GD2-47108 (1998); Liberty International/Image Entertainment PUR-0954 (2001) Available on iTunes
Producer: Arthur Shimkin. Writer: Abbot Lutz. Arranger/Conductor: Jim Timmens. Character Design: George Peed. Running Time: 36 minutes.
Performers: Rose Marie Jun, The Golden Orchestra and Chorus.
Songs: “The Mighty Hercules Theme Song,” “Newton’s Song,” “You Were Rich the Day You Were Born,” “You’ve Got to Be Strong,” “Tootle a Flute,” “You Can Do Anything You Want,” “The Kind of Man I Know You’ll Be,” “A Bad, Bad Man” by Winston Sharples and Win Singleton.
When Old Iron Thighs made his vinyl debut, no doubt a group of his fans were startled when the contents of the record itself had little sonic resemblance to the delightfully overwrought Trans-Lux cartoon.
Instead of stories from the TV series, this album chronicles the legend of Hercules’ twelve labors; retooled to include the cartoon characters (“That’s me! That’s me!”). But instead of a full cast dramatization, there is a single narrator (who may be Mike Stewart) who tells the story while a group of singers sing in the roles of the characters. It’s done in early ‘60s Golden Records/Jim Timmens style, an intimate supper club sound with a signature vibraphone.
The female lead singer is Rose Marie Jun, who appeared on many Golden Records including The Jetsons and Three Billion Millionaires. Though not a household name, Jun is an important figure in New York-based studio music, as an actor and studio singer who co-starred with Barbra Streisand in the Off-Broadway revue Pins and Needles. She was also one of Broadway’s most prominent demo singers. “…The real find is Rose Marie Jun, who handles all the female leads with warmth and perfect diction, but without imposing her own personality on the material,” wrote William Ruhlmann of Rovi, an entertainment data company, about Jun’s performances on the album Broadway First Take. “No wonder Hello, Dolly! composer Jerry Herman, whose work has been manipulated by generations of divas, praises her so highly.”
Even though this album doesn’t sound very true to the show, there is one specific aspect that makes it very significant to the cartoon world. It’s one of few records (if not the only record) with original songs by Winston Sharples, legendary composer of hundreds of Van Beuren, Fleisher and Paramount cartoon scores, most of which were repurposed as stock music for Felix the Cat, Milton the Monster and so on. (The LP credits also mention “Additional Lyrics by Win Singleton,” is likely to be Winston Singleton Sharples, Jr.)
This album was a difficult collectible to find until its reissue on CD by Drive Entertainment, which lovingly remastered over two dozen Golden Records. The Drive version never stated that this was The Mighty Hercules TV soundtrack. But after Drive folded, Image Entertainment/Liberty International repackaged several Golden CD’s without as much care and attention, so some their issues claim the album as an “Original TV Soundtrack,” leading to incorrect listings on amazon, iTunes and others.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Mighty Hercules Theme Song”
This sounds nothing like Johnny Nash’s TV soundtrack version (released on the CD’s Toon Tunes: Action-Packed Anthems on Rhino and Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol.4: Black & White Classics. This version does, however, have a second verse never heard on the TV show.
MARVEL AGE COMIC SPECTACULARS:
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY – THE MIGHTY THOR
A Marvel Comic Group Book and Record
Golden Story Teller SLP-188 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo / 1966)
Executive Producer: Arthur Shimkin. Writers: Larry Lieber, Stan Lee. Art/Character Design: Jack Kirby. Recording/Sound Effects: Hamilton O’Hara. Production: Sol Brodsky. Running Time: 38 minutes.
Voices: Ralph Bell (Thor/Dr. Don Blake); Elaine Rost (Jane Foster); Dan Ocko (Narrator), Ronn Liss (Dr. Andrews), Hamilton O’Hara.
Golden Records was the first children’s label to adapt comic books into read-along recordings, which are highly collectible today. This release included a 1966 reprint of the 1962 issue of Journey Into Mystery #83, introducing Marvel’s Thor.
The album features actors with vast credits. Ralph Bell appeared in Woody Allen’s Zelig, had a long-running role on The Guiding Light, announced on hundreds of commercials and worked on dozens of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater—along with Dan Ocko, another familiar face in movies and TV, as well as Golden Records performer. Bell’s voice is pitched up and down as he changes between Thor and Don Blake.
But because very young listeners might have been reading along, the performances of these seasoned veterans are noticeably slow-paced, with pauses after every few words. With these Marvel Comics albums, Golden was aiming for an older audience than The Poky Little Puppy and their other read-alongs. They still had to make them accessible to little ones, so that would explain these actors were directed to be hesitant and stilted.
The sound effects—humble though they may be—are passable, but the total absence of music does not do justice to the vibrant comic book images. A decade later, Peter Pan Records captured the verve more effectively in their action-based Power series (also often packaged with books) with bolder (and sometimes histrionic) performances and lots of stock music.
Nevertheless, this album is a fascinating slice of history for record enthusiasts and comic book fans. Both the album and the comic book are also highly sought-after collectibles, commanding hefty prices online. Thor’s origin story can be found in subsequent Marvel reprints and compilations, but the record was never reissued, though several of Golden’s other comic book albums (with similar casts and production values) were released on CD by Liberty International and Image Entertainment.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Thor Defeats the Lava Man”
Thor gets all glowy and emerges triumphant in his battle against the Lava Man—a creature resulting from the sinister mischief of his high-maintenance brother, Loki. But after changing back to Don Blake, he’s ditched by Jane Foster. Pure Marvel angst: A mighty Thunder God who’s lucky is battle but unlucky in love.