The creative range of the two-time Oscar winning songwriters shines in two superb (if little-known) albums featuring their unforgettable music and lyrics.
Walt Disney Presents
Buena Vista Records BV-3330 (Mono) STER-3330 (Stereo)
(12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1965)
Reissue: Wonderland Music on Demand CD (2006)
Available on iTunes
Executive Producer/Liner Notes: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Arranger/Conductor: Camarata. Running Time: 28 minutes.
Performers: Paul Frees, Gloria Wood, Jerry Madison, Bill Lee, Betty Taylor, Skip Farrell, Richard Sherman, Billy Strange, Billy Storm, Carol Lombard, Ron Hicklin, Bob Swirn, Al Capps.
“Symposium” Songs: “Rutabaga Rag,” “Charleston Charlie,” “Although I Dropped 1,000,000 in the Market, Baby (I Found a Million Dollars in Your Smile),” “I’m Blue for You (Boo Boo Boo Boo Boo),” Boogie Woogie Bakery Man,” “Puppy Love is Here to Stay” by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
Additional Songs: “Shrub Herbs in the Suburbs,” “Close Your Eye, Mister Moon,” “Cousin Victor’s Elixir,” “Fountain of Teardrops (In the Valley of Sorrow),” “You Bug Me, Ann-Arlene” by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
1962’s A Symposium on Popular Songs (embed below) is also a symposium on Disney’s stop motion animation and on Disney’s record company. Both entities involved dalliances in styles that might have seemed ephemeral on the surface, but were seminal in reality.
Disney artists Bill Justice, X. Atencio and T. Hee brought a unique twist to stop motion with their Oscar-winning Noah’s Ark in 1959. Like Justice and Atencio’s animation for 1961’s The Parent Trap, the Disney animators did with stop motion what UPA did with cel animation: put it into a flat, two dimensional plane. Unlike the works of George Pal, Rankin/Bass or Burton and Selick, Disney’s stop motion figures are virtually all shot on “table top,” either against stylized backgrounds or positioned over them on a glass layer. When asked about the stop motion projects, Bill Justice recalled, “They were the toughest work I’d ever done.”
It’s not too much of a stretch to assume a connection between animating stop motion characters and “living, breathing” Disneyland ones. Well aware of how entertainment and animation were changing, Walt Disney was encouraging experimentation in creative approaches and staff assignments. Justice and Atencio would both become major figures in the development of the greatest Disney park attractions in history and the development of Audio-Animatronics.
At the same time, Disneyland and Buena Vista Records were still finding their way in the marketplace. The success of Annette Funicello’s records buoyed the record division when it faced possible shutdown. Though these early records are “of their time,” they created a business model through which Walt Disney Records continues to straddle the classic and the popular—always finding its greatest success when avoiding the temptations to fall to deeply into formula, or pandering to current tastes to the point of self-caricature.
By the last segment of Symposium, the animated figures have transitioned from the “found objects” of Noah’s Ark to the paper cutouts like those in the titles for 1963’s The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (which, by the way, re-purposes the musicians from “Puppy Love is Here to Stay”).
Professor Ludwig Von Drake, introduced on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color the previous year, makes his big-screen debut with Symposium (I love it when he holds up a Disneyland Record onscreen—complete with a Xeroxed label of his own album). Von Drake’s presence means the film benefits from the voice work of Paul Frees, in addition to fine Hollywood vocalists like Gloria Wood and Skip Farrell—plus R&B legend Billy Storm, who recorded an outstanding solo album for Buena Vista in 1963.
Buena Vista’s Tinpanorama LP demonstrates, like no other single work, the Sherman Brothers’ tremendous ability to write in any style. The album combines the six Symposium songs with six additional tunes, all exemplifying (and gently kidding) pop music through the mid-60s. “Mary Poppins had done so well, Tutti Camarata asked my brother and I to do more songs to fill out the entire Tinpanorama album, which was wonderful to do,” said Richard Sherman, who sings “Close Your Eyes, Mister Moon” with a comic vocal vibrato unassisted by electronics.
For the brothers, working on the film and the album were personally gratifying as they could revel in the era of their hit songwriting father, Al Sherman, and then journey to the age in which they created their first top tunes. Tinpanorama even contains references to their dad’s work. In “Although I Dropped 1,000,000 in the Market, Baby,” Paul Frees sings (a la Jolson): “Although potatoes are cheaper/Now was definitely NOT the time to fall in love.” This is a nod to “(Potatoes Are Cheaper, Tomatoes Are Cheaper) Now’s The Time To Fall In Love,” an Eddie Cantor hit penned by Al Sherman.
Gloria Wood, who also voiced Dale (of Chip ‘n Dale), Oswald the Rabbit (for records) and sang on hundreds of commercials and TV themes (including Dobie Gillis), is heard as the flapper “Charleston Charlie” and as Andrews Sister-types in “Boogie Woogie Bakery Man.” For the latter, Tinpanorama’s notes also credit “Betty Allan” and “Diane Pendleton” as singers, but they’re all Gloria Wood. (You can also hear her scat singing in the background of The Parent Trap theme).
Among the six additional Tinpanorama tunes is “Cousin Victor’s Elixir,” a western novelty song sung by master guitarist Billy Strange, and a wickedly funny folk “downer” introduced and sung by Carol Lombard—not Carole the movie star, but Carol the studio singer and vocal arranger whose vast credits include the theme to the anime classic Prince Planet.
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“Ann-Arlene and Granny Sweet”
Disney and Hanna-Barbera Records have several creative people in common. At least two studio singers who performed the Shermans’ Beatle send-up, “You Bug Me, Ann-Arlene” also are heard in the opening song to HBR’s Hot Rod Granny. The two songs sound similar but their intentions and results are very different. The first is highly satirical, the other is unabashedly goofy, but both offer a groovy kind of fun.
Original Broadway Cast
Columbia Masterworks KS-32961 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo / 1974)
Reissue: Sony Broadway SFK-32961 (Compact Disc / 1992)
Available on iTunes
Produced for the Broadway Stage by Kenneth Waissman and Maxine Fox. Album Producers: Charles Koppleman, Teo Macero. Music Coordination/Vocal Arrangements/Special Dance Music: Louis St. Louis. Orchestrations: Michael Gibson, Jim Tyler. Musical Direction: Joseph Klein. Liner Notes: Mort Goode. Running Time: 45 minutes.
Performers: Patty Andrews, Maxene Andrews, Jim Weston, Douglass Watson, William Griffis, MacIntyre Dixon, April Shawhan, John Driver, Janie Sell, Samuel E. Wright, John Travolta, Phyllis Somerville, Ann Reinking, Marilu Henner, Treat Williams, Bette Henritze, William Newman, John Mineo.
Songs: “Since You’re Not Around,” “Over Here!” “Buy a Victory Bond,” “Charlie’s Place,” “Hey, Yvette,” “The Grass Grows Green,” “My Dream for Tomorrow,” “The Good Time Girl,” “Wait for Me, Marlena,” “We Got It!” “Wartime Wedding,” “Don’t Shoot the Hooey To Me, Louie,” “Where Did the Good Times Go?” “Dream Drummin’,” “Soft Music,” “No Goodbyes” by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
Instrumental: “The Beat Begins (Overture).”
Like A Symposium on Popular Songs and Tinpanorama, The Sherman Brothers’ first Broadway show, Over Here! showcased their remarkable ability to embrace any musical era with equal measures of originality and authenticity. In this instance, they focused on the sounds of the Big Band era during WWII, capturing the styles to such a degree that it even baffled the experts.
“When the iconic big band leader Benny Goodman saw the show, he was overheard saying that the songs sounded so genuine, it was hard to believe they were written so recently,” explained Robert Sherman’s son, Robbie. “Other than the Andrews Sisters themselves, the cast and company of Over Here! were relatively young. Of everyone, only my dad had actually served in the military during the war.”
The Over Here! score was one of many under-recognized examples of Shermans’ capabilities with sophisticated, dark, even searing material in addition to the joyous, heartwarming and/or heartrending songs they were sometimes too closely identified with. Over Here! has both. You can hear the familiar Sherman touch of “Zuckerman’s Famous Pig” in “Hey, Yvette” and a touch of Epcot’s “The World Showcase March” in “Buy a Victory Bond.” However, songs like the gritty “Goodtime Girl” (a peppy polka about STD’s) are definitely not Mary Poppins territory.
Over Here! was a smash. The critics were largely positive, it won three Drama Desk Awards, three Theatre World Awards and received five Tony nominations (including Best Musical) with a win for Janie Sell, who played a Nazi spy posing as the Andrews’ third singer (Laverne passed away in 1967). By complete coincidence, Sell lampooned the sultry manner and distinctive speech of Marlene Dietrich just as Madeline did in Blazing Saddles the same year. The Shermans’ “Wait for Me, Marlena” achieved its goals of story, character and comedy level just as Mel Brooks’ “I’m Tired” did. (One great “Marlena” line: “Smile! Smile ‘til it hurts your face!”)
But even though Over Here! had the potential to become a cherished and much-revived Broadway classic, a bitter legal tangle eventually put the cast and crew out of work. Patty Andrews’ husband claimed credit (and compensation) for co-writing the songs. The case was thrown out of court, but it suspended performances of the show and left the Shubert Theatre dark for months. “A theater can’t survive without a show,” said Robbie Sherman.
A new musical stage horizon for the Shermans would have to wait until over a quarter century later, when Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins finally made them the toast of Broadway and London’s West End.One of Over Here’s musical numbers, “Charlie’s Place,” gained a life of its own. With choreography by Patricia Birch (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Grease), the great Ann Reinking and John Mineo stopped the stage show and as the 1974 Tony Awards broadcast. Reinking recreated the dance with Don Correia in 1980 on The Merv Griffin Show (“Oooooooooo… we’ll be right back”). And in 1981, another Broadway (and Dark Shadows) star, Donna McKecknie, performed it on The American Dance Machine with Wayne Cilento.
It’s interesting to note how each of these incarnations of “Charlie’s Place” tells a different story. In the first, Reinking’s Veronica Lodge-like Maggie character test-dances with men in the cast until a young soldier proves to be her equal (or equivalent). In the second, she is the “girl next door,” ignoring the soldier until he dazzles her with his dancing. The third is a duet in which the soldier has no lack of confidence and their dance is highly “charged,” so to speak.
The cast album was recorded just as Quadrophonic sound came and went. Over Here! is one of the few discs that could play on Quad and conventional stereo systems. The wide range of tracks involved in producing Quad made for a fantastically rich listening experience, made even more lavish on the lovingly remastered compact disc release.
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“John Travolta Sings The Sherman Brothers”
Over Here! was a ’40s follow up to Grease, with the same producers and staff. According to the libretto, Treat Williams’ character was supposed to sing and dance this song, but perhaps Travolta—whose character was minor in the script—impressed the producers and director so much, he was given the song to perform with Phyllis Somerville.