August 12, 2018 posted by James Parten

Like, Slap that “Bongo”, Man!

As I said last week, when Fun and Fancy Free came out, the record industry ignored the “Mickey and the Beanstalk” section completely. They showed interest in the film’s title song.

But their real interest was centered around the other major section of the film–the tale of Bongo, a circus bear who yearned for the the freedom of the wild.

There were three songs featured in Bongo. Two of them were ballads, while another was a “rhythm number”. The only song from “Bongo” that clicked was “Lazy Countryside”, a song written by Bobby Worth. And the music industry plugged it for all it was… ahem! … worth!

The song itself spent eight consecutive weeks on the Cash Box chart of top-selling songs. It never got higher than #20 (on October 27,1947–the first week it was listed). And of the various versions, the only one that made any of the Billboard charts was the Capitol record (461) by Margaret Whiting.

Whiting was the daughter of the late, and prolific composer Richard Whiting (with too many songs to his credit to list here), and sang in a pleasant mezzo-soprano voice. Her style was such that the lyrics were not eclipsed by any stylistic tricks or quirks.

But Margaret Whiting had competition for the song. Dinah Shore had introduced the song in the film, and on a Columbia records “kiddie” set (See Greg Ehrbar’s Animation Spin). She got to cut a separate version (matrix HCO 2490), distinct from the version she sang on the “Bongo” album (HCO 2483).

Johnny Johnston, now recording for M-G-M (after a spell with Capitol), wrapped his tonsils around this song on M-G-M 10076. And Tony Martin–no small name there–got to do the song for RCA Victor (20-2396). Neither version made the charts.

Even one of the smaller companies–Apollo, based in Harlem and run by Ike and Bess Beman–decided to give “Lazy Countryside” a spin.

They gave it to the Four Vagabonds, an African-American vocal group that sang in a pre-doo-wop harmony style that owed more to groups such as the Delta Rhythm Boys or the Charioteers.

The record was issued in the label’s popular series. This record (1075) sold only modestly, at that. But, curiously, around 1953, Apollo set up a subsidiary label, Lloyd’s Records. And they reissued “Lazy Countryside” (112), issuing it not only on 78, but on the relatively new-fangled 45 rpm discs.

It probably didn’t sell any better in 1953 than it did in 1947. The 45 is a desirable disc for the doo-wop collector who has to have everything–despite its style being closer to that of the Mills Brothers then, say, that of the Orioles.

The song was plugged on radio as well as records. Buddy Clark–a crooner who was entering into his most commercially-successful period–is known to have sung “Lazy Countryside” on a program of the “Carnation Contented Hour”, with an orchestra conducted by Percy Faith.

The Disney music people must have remembered the song, too. In 1956, when “Bongo” made an early appearance on “Disneyland”, the newly-minted record division put out a “storyteller” version of “Bongo”, featuring Cliff Edwards, who was doing a lot of work at Disney at the time. This disc–issued as a ten-inch microgrooved polystyrene 78–includes a charming version of “Lazy Countryside”, as sung by Edwards.

NEXT WEEK: More “Bongo” Beating


  • The title of the Disneyland program was “Jiminy Cricket Presents Bongo” and it utilized the opening scenes of “Fun and Fancy Free,” adding footage from other cartoons such as “Chicken Little” before settling into the Bongo story. Cliff Edwards’ narration replaced that of Dinah Shore, and he re-recorded some of the songs. “A Bear Likes to Say it with a Slap” was a bit of a reach for him vocally in places, probably because the key couldn’t be changed as it was the same instrumental version that was used for Dinah.

    There are interesting differences between the original “Bongo” as presented in “Fun and Fancy Free” and the version re-dubbed and re-cut for “Jiminy Cricket Presents Bongo.”

  • “Lazy Countryside” was also recorded by the Joe Mooney Quartet on Decca 24174

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