An actor, who may-or-may-not have been a big-screen voice of Popeye, had his day in the vinyl sun when he starred on some long-selling Peter Pan Records.
POPEYE THE SAILORMAN
Stories from TV Scripts
Peter Pan Records PP-5017 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
Reissues: Diplomat 5017; Rocking Horse 5017; Peter Pan 1114
Released in 1960. Popeye Cartoons Executive Producer: Al Brodax. Writers: Izzy Klein, Jack Kinney. Running Time: 36 minutes.
Stories: “Skin Divers” (a.k.a. “The Sunken Treasure Affair”; Based on the cartoon, “Popeye and Buddy Brutus”), “Jeep Jeep”, “Flea’s a Crowd” (a.k.a. “Popeye’s Trained Fleas”), “Where There’s a Will”.
This is one of those ubiquitous children’s records that ended up in millions of kid’s record collections if only because it was so easy to pick up for 99 cents at the supermarket or discount store. It’s chief distinction is that it is one of the few (if any) Popeye records based directly on animated Popeye cartoons—the King Features shorts made for TV starting in 1960.
Harry Welch, who apparently did the voice of Popeye on one cartoon (or maybe not) and apparently filled in for Jack Mercer for various functions, doesn’t do the greatest Popeye voice in the world, but he does carry an entire album by himself, narrating and doing all the voices, male and female. His female voices sound a lot like Irene Ryan as Granny Clampett when she’s not yelling at Jethro. Jerry Beck examines the misty, hazy, shrouded, clouds surrounding Mr. Welch in this Cartoon Research story.
The stories depart from the cartoon source material out of necessity, since the record cannot do justice to sight gags like fish that look like Popeye and Brutus in the animated “Popeye and Buddy Brutus”, adapted as “Skin Divers” for the record album. But they’re largely faithful, as the King Features were, to a lot of vintage Popeye lore. For some reason—probably a lack of research material provided for the record makers such as model sheets and 16mm prints—Sweet (not Swee’) is referred to as female (and once as male).
Such is life for a very inexpensive and quickly made record. A record that was divided into parts and parceled on to countless book and record sets, single 45s and 78s and repackaged with new art. In 1979, this album was given a mock-stereo treatment and reissued with retitled stories, along with several other old and new Peter Pan Popeye records to tie into the Robin Williams big-screen Popeye movie release.
All of the music on the disc comes from various Peter Pan Records, including a bit of “Swanee River” sung by the label’s Chipmunk sound alikes, The Grasshoppers. Several cues come specifically from an album released the same year: Musical Stories of Hans Christian Andersen (see below).
ABOVE Popeye and Buddy Brutus(animated version of “Skin Divers”)
BELOW: Fleas a Crowd (animated version)
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Where There’s a Will” and “Popeye the Sailor Man” (Peter Pan Records)
This story contains the greatest number of music cues borrowed from the Hans Christian Andersen album described below. Following the story is the single version of Peter Pan’s “Popeye the Sailor Man” song, which must have startled many a child when they realized it was not “I’m Not Popeye the Sailor Man”. (Peter Pan originally released this record as “Popeye’s NEW song hit” but forgot to do that in subsequent reissues.
BELOW: Where There’s a Will Cartoon:
MUSICAL STORIES OF HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
Thumbelina / The Ugly Duckling
Peter Pan Records PP-5016 ((12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
Released in 1960. Musical Director: Elliot Lawrence. Vocals and Character Voices: The Honeydreamers (Keith & Sylvia Textor, Bob Davis, Bob Mitchell, Lew Anderson, Marion Bye).
Thumbelina Songs: “Thumbelina”, “What Shall I Do?” “Mole Song”, “Thumbelina’s Lament”, “My Pretty Little Bird”, “A Land Above the Snow”.
Ugly Duckling Songs: “Who Wants Him?” “It’s Lovely to Swim”, “The Duckling’s Escape”, “Split the Milk”, “Mister Cat and Mistress Hen”, “Such Birds”, “A Swan Am I”.
There are some records we might have heard so long ago that we’ve largely forgotten them, yet traces of them linger, so much so that one might rack one’s brain to recall “What was that record with the ‘What shall I do?’ song and the snooty hen and cat?”, etc. This was one of them. I know because I’ve been able to un-rack some brains about it.
Like the aforementioned Popeye album, this was a big seller in the ’60s and ’70s, appearing in an endless stream of LP, single and read-along versions. The two stories divide nicely, making the distribution a breeze for the clever merchandising of the Peter Pan people.
The fact is, though, that these are two very fine productions. When you get past the tendency to reflect the cute and precious nature of some children’s records of the era, what emerges is an excellent musical score that accounts for the lingering memories it created for decades. There was also no other Peter Pan Record like it. Usually an album with such a distinctive style has companions in the catalog with similar approaches. This is the only one like it. The Honeydreamers did an excellent Child’s Introduction to Jazz album for Golden Records, but it bears no audio resemblance to this one.
Renowned musical director Elliot Lawrence, whom we mentioned in a Spin about NBC’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, may have composed the music, but there are no songwriting credits, much less song title listings (I made up the ones listed above). These songs are of such a quality that they had to have come from seasoned professionals who, for one reason or another, were not listed on any issue of these recordings.
My guess is that these mini-musicals were intended for children’s theater, TV specials, or some such, as the songs could have come from someone associated with the New York Stage, broadcasting or something related. For all we know, they actually were performed at one time or another. Many children’s records with original “book, music and lyrics” were also published as plays for schools and organizations to rent for local productions.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Part of “The Mole Song” was used on the Popeye album. We like the part when the fairy says, “Take this tiny tulip bulb, plant-it-in-a-flowerpot, water it carefully and then…W-aiT.” Several generations of my family have quoted that, as well as other lines from these stories. This album has been in my life for a very, very long time.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Ugly Duckling”
This has an even better score than “Thumbelina” and has some charming humor, including the cat and the hen. Several cues from this story were used in Popeye’s “Where There’s a Will” and there are some genuinely excellent melodies, like the lovely “A Swan Am I”.