NEEDLE DROP NOTES
August 10, 2021 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: 1931 – More Bouncing Balls

One of the things that attracts record collectors to these old cartoons is their music. The orchestra heard on Fleischer cartoons during this period features some of New York’s finest studio musicians, especially Mike Mosiello (trumpet) and Andy Sannella (clarinet, saxophone, and Hawaiian steel guitar), both of whom were regulars on Nat Shilkret’s call list for CVictor record dates. Top studio musicians of the day, such as Benny Goodman, could pull in $400 a week, from radio programs, recording dates, and movie soundtracks. This was at a time when $400 was quite precious, and middle-class incomes hovered around $22 to $34 a week – if you could hold a job. A top musician who could play anything you put in front of him, as well as improvise a jazz solo, could pretty much write his own ticket. Even then, New York was one of the more expensive cities in which to live – and with this kind of salary, a musician could afford to live within easy taxi ride of the stuidios. Sometimes the taxi ride wasn’t so easy – Paramount’s main studio was in Astoria on Long Island, where most of their one and two reel shorts were filmed. Possibly the Fleischer scores were recorded there, despite the animators’ home digs being closer to Manhattan.

I’d Climb the Highest Mountain (3/4/31) – A collection of mountain climbing gags, with Bimbo and several friends (one of whom keeps lagging behind and need to be pulled up). Possibly the earliest use of the crossing-a-canyon gag by lassoing an object on the opposite mountain, and pulling the backgriound to you to close the gap (a later staple for Popeye cartoons). The title song is the only one featured – a 1926 song loosely based on “Humoresque” by Antonin Dvorak. It was recorded as a dance record by the California Ramblers on Columbia, and Roger Wolfe Kahn on Victor, and as a vocal by Jack Smith (the Whispering Baritone) on Victor, Irving Kaufman for the low priced Harmony label, and Al Jolson (under the alternate title “If I Knew I’d Find You”) for Brunswick. Oddly, the tune was used as the template for Frank Trumbauer’s “For No Reason at All in C” on Okeh, with Bix Beiderbecke featured on a woefully out-of-tune piano. The song was revived in the 1940’s by the Ink Spots for Decca.


Somebody Stole My Gal (3/20/31) – A dejected lover is considering ways to end it all, after having been dumped by his girlfried. Laying down on train tracks, the train merely deriails itself temporarily, then jumps back on the rails, to avoid running him over. He decides to do a lover’s leap off a cliff, but a tree stump on the opposite bank extends its limbs to catch him, then razzes him at preventing the suicide. Songs include “I Ain’t Got Nobody” (a 1915 pop song, recorded vocally by Marion Harris in 1916 for Victor, and Bessie Smith in 1925 for Columbia. It also became very popular with musicians, recorded in 1927 by the Coon-Sanders Orchestra for Vicror, 1928 by the California Ramblers on Edison, and the same year by Ted Lewis for Columbia. It would be revisited by Fleischer as a vehicle for the Mills Brothers, to be discussed in a later article. Fats Waller performed a version on Victor. It would become an extended specialty romp for Louis Prima, which stayed in his band book for years – first recorded in a swing style (coupled with “Just a Gigolo”) as an extended-length V-Disc side, then remade in the more well known Capitol EP-45 side with Sam Butera and the Witnesses in the 1950’s. Louis Armstrong would get around to it on an album for Audio Fidelity in the late 1950’s).

Also in the film, “My Future Just Passed”, and the title tune (a 1923 song, recorded in 1924 by Ted Weems and his orchestra on Victor acoustic. Fletcher Henderson did it for Columbia in the 20’s, and remade it for Crown in 1931 Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang perfrmee it for Okeh in 1928, Bennie Moten got it in 1930 for Victor, with a scat vocal by Count Basie. Ted Lewis cut it in 1930 for Columbia, Cab Calloway in 1931 for Perfect et al., Fats Waller on Victor, and Billy Cotton in England for Regal Zonopjone. Others included Benny Goodman on Columbia, and Miltin Brown and his Brownies in Western Swing style for Decca. It was revived in the early 50’s by Johnny Ray for Columbia, and Tennessee Ernie Ford for Capitol.. Joe Fingers Carr (Lou Busch) and Pee Wee Hunt dueted it in honky-tonk style on Capitol. Max Byfraves recorded in in the 1970’s for one of his sing-along albums.


Any Little Girl That’s a Nice Little Girl (4/18/31) – A tomcat has a busy schedule. Answering several phone calls at once, he sets up dates for consecutive days with different tabbies. He gets to the point where two of his phones have a catfight over who he’s going to see on Friday. He sorts through various photos of other tabbies hes rejected (too skinny, too fat, etc.) He finally settes on one, and tries to get a little amorous, until she discovers how many others he has got on his string. In the last scene, all the girls wind up dumped by the Tom and having to walk home from a mass date. A brief cameo of Betty Boop appears in the sinng-along, complete with a gag about “rats in her hair”. (Rats were a kind of hair extension that was considered fashionable around 1910). Songs: “Oh, You Beautful Doll”. “Where Did You Get That Girl?” (an early Kalmar and Ruby song, which would also be featured in the later MGM retrospective, “Three Little Words”. The song was covered by Billy Murray and the American Quartet on Victor, and Walter J. Van Brunt on Columbia. A 30’s version was performed by Shep Fields’ Rippling Rhythm on Bluebird, with vocal by Hal Derwin. A revival version in the 1940’s appeared by Al Trace on Hit, and an MGM recording from the “Three Little Words” soundtrack by Fred Astaire and Anita Ellis.), “What Wouldn’t I Do For That Man?”. “There’s a Long, Long Trail” (as the girls walk home), and the title song (from 1910, recorded by Walter J. Van Brunt on Columbia, and on 2 minute Edison cylinder by Ada Jones and the Premier Quartet (the same personnel as Billy Murray’s American Quartet on Victor).


Alexander’s Ragtime Band (5/9/31) – A lion conductor is having trouble with several of his musicians, including a pup whose saxophone “scales” are quite “fishy”. We’ve discussed recording history of the title song previously.


And the Green Grass Grew All Around (5/20/31) – This is not the well known children’s song with the seemingly endless add-on verses (though you’d have thought such number would have presented substantial possibilities for the animators). Plot has us attending a shotgun wedding inside a hollowed-out apple, which serves as the insects’ wedding chapel. Much dancing follows the ceremony, while a bug with many hands over-partakes of the buffet table, including one of the earliest uses of the cutting-the-cake gag where one slice is neatly cut, but the guest eats the other seven-eighths of the cake. Betty Boop (Mae Questal)’s voice is heard inviting the audience to join in the song. The title tune is from 1912, cut for Columbia by Walter J. Van Brunt, and (unconfirmed as to whether it is the same song) the Heidelberg Quartet on Victor. A revival version appears around 1940 by Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five on Decca Sepia Series. The score also includes the perennial “Arkansas Traveler”, and “By Heck”, recorded by Nat Shilkret for Victor (the actual recording of which became a needle-drop soundtrack for Flip the Frog’s Soda Squirt), and twice by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra on both Brunswick and Decca, with a higher fidelity version cut for radio use on World Transcriptions. The film also ontroduces a new “theme” for the Screen Song series, a custom lyric to “Smile, Darn Ya’, Smile”, renamed “Sing, Darn Ya’, Sing”. Said original tune would also become a Merrie Melodie subject reviewed long ago, and the anthem of Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


My Wife’s Gone To the Country (5/31/31) – Plot points have been covered previously in a write-up on the Animation Trails “Party Animals” series from New Years’. Featuring a dog who sends wife and kids away on a train trip, then gets caught in the act as he is heard carousing over the air waves at a posh night club with a radio hookup. Wifey doles out revenge by reaching right into the radio receiver. Betty Boop makes a cameo at the hubby’s table. The Irving Berlin song has been previously reviewed in prior discussion of its 1920’s silent predecessor in the Song Car-Tune series.


That Old Gang Of Mine (7/12/31) – An alley cat is in his old neighborhood, trying to renew fond memories. He winds up being the target of assorted bric-a-brac from neighbors, who don’t appreciate his nocturnal serenade on the fence. Songs include “Hearts and Flowers”, “Peek a Boo”, “London Bridge”, “When You Hear Jackson Moan on His Saxophone” (cut by Billy Mittay’s Premier Quartet on Edison Diamond Disc and as a solo vocal on Victor), “Smile a Little Bit” (cut by Ted Weems on Victor, the Little Ramblers on Columbia, and a vocal by Nick Lucas on Brinswick) and “Smiles”. The title song was given to Billy Murray and Ed Smalle on Victor, and the Criterion Quartet on Vocalion. The California Ramblers performed a dance version on Columbia, and Nathan Glantz also was on Columbia with vocal by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare. Bennie Krueger also performed it on Brinswick. The tune would for a time provide one of the earliest theme songs for the sound “Our Gang” comedies from Hal Roach. Dean Martin on Capitiol, and also the Ravens on Okeh, would provide 50’s revival. It would be a perennial by the days of the “sing along” albums, included among Mitch Miller’s repertoire on Columbia.


In My Merry Oldsmobile (Special sponsored release – Copyright 1931) – A spinster comes home, and tries to ensure she is not being spied upon by various mice and pictures on the wall. Then she doffs various petticoats. In fact, she is being spied upon by a mustachioed villain (voiced by Willian “Wheatcakes” Pennell). This would-be masher bursts in upon her, and offers to take her in his great big sutomobile, which she describes in song as a essentially a hunnk of junk. Even her mice help her repel the villain, by strategically placing objects around that she can use as projectiles. A little Bimbo-ish guy comes around, and she is willing to go with him in his curved-dash Olds. They wind up at the preachers, where, after the ceremony, the preacher pulls a lanyard, which causes the makings of a boxing ring to appear, as the preacher eggs on the newlyweds to go to it. Tunes include “Pizzicato Mysterioso”, “Peek a Boo”, and the title song, which was recorded by Billy Murray both for Victor and Columbia. Henry Burr recorded a version at Columbia around 1920 for an old motor works convention, pressed as a single-faced “personal” record. Gene Goldkette recorded for another convention in 1927, also released as a private record by Victor. The record was reissued for a second convention in 1936, with some spoken intro etched out of the wax from one side to keep the recording from being dated. The Goldkette version is prized among collectors for its inclusion of performance by jazz’s first well-known “romantic/tragic” figure, Leon Bix Beiderbecke. Bing Crosby sang the tune in “The Star Maker”, a tribute to the song’s composer, Gus Edwards, and also recorded the side commercially for Decca. There is also an aircheck where Bing duets on the song with Judy Garland. In the 50’s, Jo Stafford would revive the tune once again with Paul Weston’s orchestra for Capitol. The song would also receive a bit of a musical quote in Jerry Reed’s novelty recording, “Lord, Mr, Ford” for RCA Victor in 1973.

Next Time: Talkartoons 1930-31.

5 Comments

  • I hadn’t noticed the similarity between the Dvorak Humoresque (which later served as a leitmotif for Slappy Squirrel in the Animaniacs cartoons) and “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain”, but now that you mention it, it’s pretty obvious. Just as Annette Funicello’s “How Will I Know My Love?” is derived from “Waltz of the Flowers”, and John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” from the slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. First rule of songwriting: When you steal, steal from the best.

    Long ago I learned about those little wigs known as “rats”. Once when I was watching a Little Rascals short, my mother noticed a woman in the film and said: “Ugh! She’s wearing a rat!” I was immediately intrigued, though somewhat let down when she explained that there was no actual rat involved. The tone in her voice indicated that she thought wearing “rats” was not something a “nice little girl” would do.

    As for “a straight front X-Y-Z”, my wife says it was a kind of corset, plain in front, with crisscross laces in back (approximating the letters X, Y and Z). Thus it could be worn with a dress of sheerer material than a corset that laced down the front, and would have been favoured by the hussies, trollops and slatterns of the time, as well as their admirers.

    I’ve noticed that the Screen Songs of this period use some very interesting backgrounds behind the song lyrics. Instead of the plain black backgrounds of the earliest entries in the series, there are now slow-moving close-ups of various fabrics or patterns, sometimes double-exposed or out of focus, creating strangely beautiful textures. In “Green Grass” the background is an arrangement of what look like goldenrod flowers (it’s hard to tell in black and white) set up on a slowly moving turntable, a forerunner to Fleischer’s patented three-dimensional background sets. It’s a minor matter, but I think it demonstrates the kind of ground-breaking creativity that went into every aspect of the studio’s productions at this time.

    I never heard Bing Crosby’s rendition of “In My Merry Oldsmobile” before. In 1957 he recorded a song about the Edsel, but that song, like the car itself, failed to catch on.

  • After that, Fleischer cartoons gradually began to lack balls.

    • You’re kidding, right? What about “Snow White”, “Popeye”, etc?

  • I’m quite taken with “What Wouldn’t I Do for That Man”, the sensual, bluesy torch song heard in the middle of “Any Little Girl That’s a Nice Little Girl”. I found some vintage recordings of it online as sung by Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting and Eva Taylor — but Annette Hanshaw’s performance gave me chills! Wow! Too bad she was never featured in a Screen Song, but Max Fleischer probably couldn’t afford her.

  • The soundtracks for the Fleischer cartoons were recorded at The Paramount News Lab on West 43rd Street. The news lab also had a small Sound Stage which was used for filming some of the live action sections of the Screen Songs. The Astoria Studio was sold some time around 1932 due to one of Paramount’s bankruptcies and reorganizations.

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