September 19, 2016 posted by

‘Needle Drop’ Recordings in Classic Fleischer & Iwerks Cartoons

In the early sound era it was apparently easier to use, on occasion, “Needle Drop” music from commercial records to score a cartoon. Ye Cartoon Research editor, Jerry Beck, knowing of my keen interest in identifying these recordings, asked me (with additional research from my colleague Charles Gardner) to compile a list of such cartoons containing established records. Readers are asked to submit any additions I may have overlooked – or any corrections.


The Fleischer studio used ‘needle-drops’ between 1930 and 1936, providing soundtrack music for some of his cartoons. Why he felt this necessary is anybody’s guess, as Manny Baer had a peppy little band that provided not only incidental music for the shorts, but employment for such musicians as Mike Mosiello (trumpet) and Andy Sannella (alto sax).

These are the Fleischer shorts we’ve noted with needle-drops on the soundtracks.

tiger-ragHOT DOG (Eddie Peabody: “St. Louis Blues’)
WISE FLIES (Eddie Peabody: “Some of these Days”)
THE DANCING FOOL (Don Carlos and his Rumba Band: “Mama Inez”)
BETTY BOOP M. D. (Red Pepper Sam: “Nobody’s Sweetheart”)
BETTY BOOP’S UPS AND DOWNS (Gene’s Merrymakers: “Goofus”, and Billy Banks’ Rhythmakers: “Bugle Call Rag”, the latter sped up.
RED HOT MAMA (Gene’s Merrymakers: “Hell’s Bells”)
THE KIDS IN THE SHOE (Smiley Burnette: “Mama Don’t Allow It”)
BETTY BOOP AND GRAMPY ( Maple City Four: “Tiger Rag”)
A SONG A DAY (Hoosier Hot Shots: “Ha-Cha-Nan (The Daughter of San)”, sped up.)

Now, all these recordings were made for the American Record Company’s “dime-store” labels. They appeared on Perfect, Banner, Romeo and Oriole, and could well have appeared on Conqueror. Some of the later ones also appeared on Melotone.

If memory serves, Fleischer’s studio was situated mid-town Manhattan. I seem to remember reading in Cabarga that some Fleischer employee had to take the subway up to Harlem, in order to buy one of the records needed–only to have it broken in halves on the way back on the subway.

It has also been claimed that Ace of Spades uses a needle-drop of a blackface comedy recording. Unfortunately, this cartoon has not shown up in a complete form. What little has shown up suggests that the usual Fleischer voice talent may be there, putting burnt cork on their vocal cords, in order to “play” in blackface.


Willie-whopperUb Iwerks’ period of needle-drops seem to run from 1933 to 1935. And, whereas Fleischer used low-priced “dime-store” records, Iwerks favored discs from the major record label of the age: Victor.

Herewith: a list of the Ub Iwerks cartoons we’ve found with needle-drops:

SODA SQUIRT (Flip) (Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra: “By Heck”, and Havana Novelty Orchestra: “Mama Inez”)
THE AIR RACE (Willie Whopper) (Victor Symphony Orchestra: “Zampa” Overture by Herold)
GOOD SCOUT (Willie Whopper) (Boyd Senter: “Smiles” and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers: “Milenberg Joys”)
THE CAVE MAN (Willie Whopper) (Bennie Moten: “Somebody Stole My Gal” and “Lafayette”)
BALLOON LAND (ComiColor) (Victor Concert Orchestra: “Buffoon”, and International Novelty Orchestra: “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”, the latter sped up.

There is also Summertime, another Comicolor short. But all of is music is from classical records and neither of us has encyclopedic knowledge of the field.

Most of the records referred to above are avilable on YouTube. Notable exceptions are the Gene’s Merrymakers (Gene Kardos) tems. To find them online, Google “Gene Kardos145” and you will get to something over at, which has 145 Kados recordings, running from 1931 to 1938.

My colleague, Charles Gardner, found another Ub Iwerks cartoon whose soundtrack seems mostly made up of needle-drops. However, we cannot identify the material used, although I’ve a theory about their source. It’s the Comicolor cartoon The Three Bears, and most of the soundtrack is needle-drops. However, these are not from commercial Victor records.

We suspect that the sources for this cartoon are in Victor’s large library of “Pict-Ur Music” records, made for use by silent theaters as mood music to accompany a film – or for playing during intermission. Many of these were recorded for this express purpose, with only a small number of the series taken from commercial discs of the day. Most of the are by a large house orchestra, and are pretty generic-sounding. It would be interesting to speculate as to how these records came into the hands of the Fleischer and Iwerks studios.

picturmusiclabelIn the case of Fleischer, all of the records found to have been used were on “dime-store” labels. We do know that Banner records were sold at S. S. Kresge stores, among others. Oriole records were sold at McCrory’s stores, while Romeo was sold at S. H. Kress stores. We also know that a later (1933-34) incarnation of Domino was sold at John Gabel stores -but we don’t know if the earlier (1924-30) one was, too. We don’t know just how Melotone, Perfect, or Regal records were marketed.

I don’t think that records like these would be found at midtown venues such as Liberty Music Shops. Those places catered to a very tony clientele, and the records that are often seen with either their stickers, or on their own label, tend to be material aimed at a high-class trade — not Smiley Burnette caterwauling defiance at his mamma.

Iwerks, on the other hand, may have had a direct connection to Victor. If the snippets heard in The Three Bears were, in fact, from the Victor Pict-Ur Music library, then he wouldn’t have had the need of dealing with an established Victor dealer.

There are two other, later cartoons that use needle drops to good effect. The Mr. Magoo short Spellbound Hound makes good use of Frank Crumit’s 1927 recording of “Frankie and Johnnie”. And then there’s Walter Lantz’s SH-H-H-H!, which uses the old OKeh Laughing record.


And we don’t need to concern ourselves here with the Hanna-Babera cartoons (or others) that used needle-drops from Capitol or other sources. Yowp has been taking care of that over at his invaluable Blogspot site.

Next Week: More about the folks behind these ‘needle-drops’.


  • Don’t forget one of my favorite needle-drops: “Heat Waves” by Baron Lee & His Blue Rhythm Band, used in “Betty Boop’s Penthouse.”

  • What’s the name of the chase music in “The Three Bears?” I heard a clip of it in “Two Gun Mickey.”

  • And the needle-drop tradition continues with SpongeBob!

    Anyways, I wonder what tunes were used in “Dick Whittington’s Cat”, one of the last ComiColors………..

  • Or course Balloonland is also known as The Pin Cushion Man. There was a Happy Tree Friends cartoon that used Needle Drop recording of the overture of Zampa and a ragtime march that i can’t recall called Dino-Sore featuring Cro-Marmot in the vintage “squash and stretch” animation style of animation of the 1920’s and.1930’s.

  • Magnificent article and research! So many IDs I didn’t know.

    The complete Fleischer ACE OF SPADES bears out your hunch. It doesn’t use needle-drops of a blackface comedy record; it’s the usual Fleischer voice talent (including Billy Murray) doing reworded spoofs of songs, rather than the original songs themselves.

    All lyrics are rewritten to match the cartoon storyline of card sharp Bimbo trying to win a poker game, so that “Push Dem Clouds Away” becomes “Push Dem Cards Away,” and so forth.

    • I REALLY want to see it.

  • This is an amazing article – and, yes, the music needle-dropped into “THE THREE BEARS” almost reminds me of the music used in early sound OUR GANG comedies like “WHEN THE WIND BLOWS” and “BEAR SHOOTERS”, among others. Such music was produced for late silents that had soundtracks tailor-made for them, like “CAT, DOG AND COMPANY” and a favorite, “WIGGLE YOUR EARS”, some of which was used in the backdrop of the talkie, “BEAR SHOOTERS”.

    It is interesting that needle drops were used in Max Fleischer cartoons since I always thought that guest musicians or musical acts were actually brought into the studio to help score the cartoon, as in “BETTY BOOP’S BAMBOO ISLE” or “I’LL BE GLAD WHEN YOU’RE DEAD, YOU RASCAL YOU”. The practice of “needle drops” would continue with some of the George Pal PUPPETOONS series. I wish I could lay my hands on it immediately, but some of those needle drops can be found on the expansive Duke Ellington box set once available, compiling all of his RCA/Bluebird recordings, some of which appears in George Pal PUPPETOONS cartoons, but it is my hope that you will indeed mention those in the coming weeks.

    An MGM cartoon like “CIRCUS DAZE” is so busy that I’d often thought that some of these are needle drops as well, with members of Scott Bradley’s orchestra just joining in to add to the chaos that you’re watching onscreen. Oh, and there is that curious little tune that you hear in the DROOPY cartoon, “WILD AND WOLFY”; doesn’t quite sound like the alluring little numbers that the sexy girl usually sings to send the wolf into fits of desire, but it does sound slightly like more of a “field” recording.

    • It has been established by experts in matters Ellingtonian that the soundtrack of the Duke Ellington “Puppetoon” is not from needle-drops of Victor recordings.

      The recording sessions were held August 14 and August 16, 1946–during a period when Duke was recording for Musicraft.

      The Royal Samoans never made any commercial records. They contributed to the film directly–especially Miri, who was likely to have been rotoscoped for Betty Boop’s hula dancing.

      Satchhmo, Cab Calloway, and Don Redman all contributed their work without recourse to needle drops, as did the manyy entertainers (and later bands) that appeared in the “Screen Song” cartoons.

  • There was a post a few years ago at the Uncle John’s Crazy Town blog speculating on whether the Fleischers had used a needle drop as late as 1940 in Miami, for the background music in the Popeye cartoon “Shakespearian Spinach”.

  • This is amazing. I didn’t even know that some of these songs WERE commercial records (i.e. KIDS IN THE SHOE and A SONG A DAY). Excellent work!

  • I recall in another Cartoon Research article some months back that Walter Lantz used a sped-up needle drop of the early comedy record “Cohen On The Telephone” to represent a garbled phone conversation in a late 1940’s Woody Woodpecker cartoon.

  • Aside from many Hanna-Barbera shows being held back from DVD release, are there any other cartoons not clear for release at this moment for using third party soundtracks?

    • Important question there!

  • I have the Carbaga book and though it’s been a little while since I last read it, for some reason I remember it being one of the younger, underrapreciated Fliescher bros who had to take the bus ride and got the broken record. I could be remembering that wrong though. Also, I remember it said the Flieschers hated the music guy that the studio forced on them and one time they had found a detuned piano they wanted to sound bad for a cartoon and the music guy TUNED IT!! Ruining the effect they were going for!! I love the Fliescher Story book.

    • Perhaps it was Lou Fleischer, Max and Dave’s brother and their studio’s music director at the time.

  • I have written about several of these commercial recordings being used in the toons..
    No one seems to have yet mentioned the Victor recording of Zez Confrey’s “Buffoon” that opens “Balloonland” it’s Nathaniel Shilkret directing the Victor Salon Orchestra…

  • This is amazing. I didn’t even know that some of these songs WERE commercial records (i.e. KIDS IN THE SHOE and A SONG A DAY). Excellent work!

  • It was not Max Fleischer who selected the records as used in the cartoons, but Lou. As head of the Music Department, he constantly received records from the recording companies in hopes that they might be featured on the soundtracks. His office was piled with them, there were so many from what he told me. This was eventually stopped by The Musician’s Union.

    As for the subway story, it was Lou, when called in on his first job on HOT DOG that the copy of the record of Eddie Peabody got broken by the swaying of the people. He quickly got off at the next stop and bought another copy at a nearby record shop. Not only is that found in THE FLEISCHER STORY, but in the more recent THE ART AND INVENTIONS OF MAX FLEISCHER: AMERICAN ANIMATION PIONEER written by yours truly.

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