A dive into the first wave of Smurf albums to hit the U.S. when Hanna-Barbera’s series debuted – and the soundtrack to Belvision’s 1975 Animated Smurfeature.
THE SMURFS AND THE MAGIC FLUTE (La Flûte à six schtroumpfs)
Polydor Records (Canada) 2417-317 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo)
Released in 1975. Producer: Michel Legrand. Artistic Collaborator: Marcel Rotbel. Voices: Michel Elías, Jacques Marin, Michel Modo. Running Time: 33 minutes.
Songs: “La Leçon De Schtroumpf (The Lesson of Smurf),” “La Présentation Des Shtroumpfs (The Presentation of the Smurfs),” “Ode Au Vainqueur (Ode to the Winner),” “Hymne Au Travail (Hymn to the Work),” “La Ballade De La Gente Dame (The Ballad Of Gentle Lady)” by Michel Legrand, Peyo, Yvan Delporte.
Instrumentals: “La Flûte À Six Schtroumpfs (The Flute of Six Smurfs),” “Le Duel Des Flûtes (The Duel of the Flutes),” “Le Ballet De Torche Sac (The Ballet of Torch Bag),” “Arrivée Au Pays Des Shtroumpfs (Arrival in the Country of the Smurfs),” “Pirlouit Et La Flûte (Pirlouit and the Flute),” “La Fête (The Feast),” “Le Tournoi (The Tournament),” “Le Roi Et La Flûte (The King and the Flute),” “Pirlouit Et Johan Contre Torche Sac (Pirlouit and Johan Against Bag Torch),” “Le Retour Au Château (The Return to the Castle)” by Michel Legrand.
It is no Smurf-sized feat that Oscar winner Michel Legrand composed the musical score for this, the very first Smurf feature. He is one of the world’s most celebrated composers, with hundreds of songs and several standards (including “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life” and “Watch What Happens”) to his credit. The kinds of performers who have interpreted his music are of such stature that they don’t need last names: Ella, Frank, Perry, Nana, Kiri, and–she whose voice is like buttah–Barbra. His films include two that were strong influences on the recent hit, La La Land: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort.
That’s because The Smurfs—or le schtroumpfs—were a very big deal in ‘70s-era Europe before they exploded on the American scene in 1981 with Hanna-Barbera’s hit Saturday morning series on NBC. When the property hit big in the U.S., it made sense (and box office profits) to dub an already-produced animated feature into English and take advantage of the phenomenon. An English version of the soundtrack album was apparently never released.
Belvision, the same studio that gave us Universal’s Pinocchio in Outer Space (1965), produced The Smurfs and the Magic Flute. The animation is not quite as fluid for Magic Flute as it was for the Pinocchio film; in fact, the Smurfs themselves don’t appear in the film for over 30 minutes. The first portion is dominated by the misadventures of Peewit and his more sensible friend, Johan (they are called “William” and “John” in the English dub). The two later became semi regulars in the H-B series, as well.
The story is simple. Peewit finds a magic flute that makes people feel like dancin’ and a crooked fellow steals it. It’s a thin story for a 71-minute feature. The Smurfs are the equivalent of special guest stars, coming in to solve the problem and then returning home.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“La Flûte à six schtroumpfs / Smurfs and the Magic Flute Theme”
This bears a striking similarity both in melody and earworm danger to Hoyt Curtin’s iconic theme for the 1981 Hanna-Barbera Smurfs TV cartoon. Sounds pretty terrific in stereo.
SMURFING SING SONG
Sessions Records ARI-1018 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo)
Released in the U.S. in 1980 (1979 in Holland). Producer: Frans Erkelens. Recorded at Dureco Studios, Weesp, Holland. Running Time: 39 minutes.
Songs: “Smurfing Land,” “Smurfin’ Cowboy,” “Silly Little Song,” “Summertime,” “Smurf Lullaby” by Pierre Kartner, Barrie Corbett, Linda Erkelens Lee; “Smurf Hop,” “Little Smurf Boat,” “Merry Go Round” by Pierre Kartner, Linda Erkelens Lee, Helna; “You’re a Pink Toothbrush” by Ralph Ruvin, Bob Halfin, Harold Irving and Johnny Sheridan,; “When the Smurfs (Go Marching In)” adapted by Linda Erkelens Lee, Helna, E. Mergency; “Come to the Party” adapted by Gene Martyn, E. Mergency.
The Smurfs were so popular in Europe by 1980, this elaborate Dutch album of original songs and children’s favorites was already doing fine when Sessions—a record company known to U.S. TV viewers for their direct mail record offers—picked up the rights and struck gold.
Both Smurfing Sing Song and The Smurfs All Star Show (below) became such big sellers, the “big box” department stores were displaying them on racks next to the mainstream pop LP’s. Daytime TV was Smurf-crazy with commercials for the albums. One has to wonder if these records, which sold 24 million copies worldwide, were successful just because of the Smurfs’ popularity, or if the quality of the music was also a factor.
Surely word-of-mouth was pretty good between kids and adults who heard them. Whatever the reasons, Sessions was lucky to have snapped up these imports when they did, probably at a lower cost than creating records from scratch (with smaller budgets and less lavish results).
The orchestrations are considerable, the sped-up vocals (lower pitched than the Chipmunks) are expertly done and the songs are the furthest things from chintzy kiddie throwaways. They’re the work of Pierre Kartner, a Dutch children’s entertainer who performed in a character called “Father Abraham”. One of Kartner’s biggest international hits was “The Little Café By The Harbor,” which he sings with the Smurfs on this album as “Little Smurf Boat.” This has appeared on easy listening playlists, probably leading more than one cartoon fan to wonder why a Smurf song would receive such lush treatment.
Another theory for the remarkable appeal of these records to American kids is that they sound so unlike any other records of their time. As pop music continued to compete for kids’ attention, record producers increasingly needed to make the records more contemporary. The Smurf records sounded completely out of time and space, oblivious to current U.S. trends, so it made them stand out. The same might be said for the music of The Wiggles, which often employed a feel-good rock and beach party sound.
It was just the opposite with the Smurf records. They reflected styles most popular in Holland, like calypso, reggae, rockabilly and big band jazz. The most dominant musical style on the Smurf LP’s is a pop-march beat that suggests the music of Eurovision, ABBA and, in particular, Dutch singer/composer George Baker (Johannes Bouwens), who scored big on this side of the Atlantic with his 1975 soft pop hit called “Paloma Blanca.”
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“You’re a Pink Toothbrush”
The TV mail order commercials featured this song quite a bit. It was a novelty success for British entertainer Max Bygraves. Jack Benny fans might remember when Bygraves was a guest star on his program, and the two sang a music hall chestnut called “Underneath the Arches.”
THE SMURFS ALL STAR SHOW
Sessions Records ARI-1018 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / Also on Cassette & 8-Track)
Released in 1981. Producer: Frans Erkelens. Recorded at Dureco Studios, Weesp, Holland. Running Time: 39 minutes.
Songs: “The Smurfs All Star Show” by Alex Alberts, Linda Erkelens Lee, Helna, Barrie Corbett; “Welcome to Smurfland,” “Smurf a Happy Tune” by Pierre Kartner, Barrie Corbett, Linda Erkelens Lee; “Catch Me” by Steven Schoenzetter, Linda Erkelens Lee, Barrie Corbett; “Silly Shy Smurf,” “Smurfing Days” by Barrie Corbett, John de Plesses; “The Clapping and Jumping Song,” “Space Smurfs” by Barrie Corbett, Helna, John de Plesses; “Old Papa Smurf” Arranged by E. Mergency, Helna, John de Plesses; “Yankee Doodle” Arranged by E. Mergency, R. Klunz; “London Bridge is Falling Down” Arranged by E. Mergency, Helna, R. Klunz.
This album was released after Smurfing Sing Song, but the two were frequently paired in stores and were both part of the TV mail order offer. It’s just as good as the first LP, though there are a few more traditional song parodies in place of original tunes.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Clapping and Jumping Song”
A fine example of the elaborate production quality of the Smurf albums, this original swing tune is done with a large band augmented with electronic accompaniment to expand the sound. Few U.S. children’s LP’s of the ‘80s were quite like this.