Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004
Music was the principal reason the Warner Brothers cartoon series came into existence. Then, as now, Warner Brothers was a major music publisher, with a catalog that included songs from movie musicals as well as popular music. The Looney Tunes series was originally conceived as, in effect, a series of music videos. Later, the Merrie Melodies series would take over this role with the proviso that each Merrie Melodie contain a chorus from a Warner Brothers song. Indeed, a great many of the Merrie Melodies produced through the late 1930s bear titles based on songs, rather than on the plot, such as it was, of the cartoon. While these factors make the cartoons interesting from the standpoint of a music lover, they do tend to stop the cartoon in its tracks where plot is concerned. It was only when the cartoons stopped putting in choruses that the cartoons picked up the speed they needed to break free of then-current conventions.
Frank Marsales was the first musical director for Warner cartoons, scoring the cartoons throughout the Harman-Ising era, with a few exceptions: principally the first few Merrie Melodies, which utilized the Brunswick Recording Orchestra, directed by Abe Lyman and Gus Arnheim. For the most part, the scoring of a Merrie Melodie relied heavily on whatever song was being plugged, severely limiting the range of what Marsales could do. Bernard Brown and Norman Spencer, who succeeded Marsales and carried through until the mid 1930s, were similarly limited by the structure of the cartoons. While all three present very fine arrangements of the songs, there are relatively few opportunities for any of these musical directors to inject anything particularly fresh or funny into their music.
All that would change radically with the arrival of Carl Stalling from the Iwerks studio. In his virtually uninterrupted 22 year stint (1936-1958) at Warner’s, Stalling, already an innovator in cartoon scoring, would set a radically new style. Stalling did not scorn the Warner Brothers music catalog: far from it. Stalling would use Warner-owned songs, in snippets mixed and matched with his own original compositions to provide a backdrop that greatly enhanced the humor of the cartoons. Never merely “Mickey Mousing” the score, Stalling would use musical cues to sharpen and accentuate gags.
While Stalling was given to certain habits -- there was a long-standing joke about his use of “The Lady in Red” -- Stalling was very much able to laugh at his own work without ever diminishing from the cartoon itself. Witness Porky’s Preview (Avery, 1941), the music of which is probably best appreciated by hearing the portions presented on The Carl Stalling Project, the first of two recently issued Compact Disks that explores the music of Stalling. Some of the complete tracks on this set, stripped of the voices of Mel Blanc and the sound effects of Treg Brown, are amazing. Even though they were never meant to be heard alone, without the input of these masters of their craft, they have a distinct beauty of their own. Listen in particular to the versions of Jumpin’ Jupiter (Jones, 1955) and Barbary Coast Bunny (Jones, 1956) on the Bugs Bunny on Broadway CD. Stalling, of course, may be best remembered for his liberal use of the unique compositions of Raymond Scott, to whom separate reference must be made.
Stalling was succeeded as Musical Director in 1958 by Milt Franklyn, long his arranger and sometimes conductor of the Warner Brothers Orchestra, with whom he had shared musical direction duties in the mid-1950s. Franklyn was the logical successor, and while he may not have had the particular zip and fire of Stalling, his compositions have a weight of their own, particularly What’s Opera, Doc? (Jones, 1957), a masterful Wagnerian pastiche.
Franklyn died in 1962, and his successor, Bill Lava, was much less successful in evoking imagery to support the cartoons. His music tends to be mostly of the Muzak type, with only the occasional hint of Scott to evoke the classic scores of the past. A sad ending to a great tradition of music. Mercifully, Richard Stone, the current musical director for Warner Brothers Television Animation, appears to consider himself a disciple of Carl Stalling, and to the extent allowed by the budgets for television animation, his scores often capture the same spark as those of Stalling. Stone has even used Scott’s compositions as Stalling never did, as in a complete usage of the old warhorse “Powerhouse”, in homage both to Stalling and Scott in the Animaniacs short Toy Shop Terror.
What follows is a list of songs utilized in Warner Brothers cartoons and some examples of their usage, aside from cartoons where it was the “plug” tune. The various compositions of Raymond Scott are listed separately under the above linked entry. Caveat: I make no claims that this list is in any way complete, or that I have accurately set forth the titles of the various songs. This list is one of those things that is subject to change and addition. With that in mind:
“A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich and You” (Billy Rose):
Nasty Quacks (Tashlin, 1945), while Daffy is holding forth at the breakfast table.
“Sweet Dreams, Sweetheart” (Jerome/Koehler):
What’s Brewin’ Bruin (Jones, 1948) as Mama Bear and Papa Bear battle over whether to keep the window open
Peck Up Your Troubles (Freleng, 1945) as a conscience-struck Sylvester considers the fate of the little woodpecker he thinks he has killed
“Angel in Disguise”:
Peck Up Your Troubles (Freleng, 1945) used by the little woodpecker when, naturally, he is disguised as an angel
Yankee Doodle Daffy (Freleng, 1943) sung by Daffy as he mimics a parachute
“Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” (“Who? Franz Liszt? Never hoid of him.”):
A great favorite of Freleng, used in two undisputably classic cartoons:
Rhapsody in Rivets (1941) and
Rhapsody Rabbit (1946).
Back Alley Oproar (Freleng, 1948) features Sylvester doing a version with boots on a sleepy Elmer’s back door steps.
“Hungarian Dances” (Brahms):
Pigs in a Polka (Freleng, 1943) uses this composition throughout the cartoon, expertly.
“As Time Goes By” (Hupfeld):
Hiss and Make Up (Freleng, 1943) as Roscoe and Wellington are foced to play kissy-kiss, and
Hare Force (Freleng, 1944) as sung briefly by both Bugs and Sylvester -- dog, not cat.
“Am I Blue?” (Clarke/Akst):
Brillaint usage in the Private Snafu short Payday (Freleng, 1944), as Snafu loses everything.
“Forty-Second Street” (Warren/Dubin):
Used during chases between Porky and Daffy in Daffy Doodles (McKimson, 1946), and in
What’s Up Doc (McKimson, 1950) over the montage of stops of the Bugs/Elmer vaudeville team.
“Shuffle Off to Buffalo” (Warren/Dubin):
Rebel Rabbit (McKimson, 1949) during the scene in the post office and in the scene where Bugs messes with Niagara Falls.
Hair-Raising Hare (Jones, 1946) uses the tune when Bugs poses as a lamp to fool Gossamer.
“I Only Have Eyes for You” (Warren/Dubin):
Jumpin’ Jupiter (Jones, 1955)
Lights Fantastic (Freleng, 1942) during the eye-test gag
Punch Trunk (Jones, 1953) in a nifty gag involving a chap who has just bought glasses, and then confronts Teeny.
“Don’t Give Up the Ship” (Warren/Dubin):
A Star is Hatched (Freleng, 1937): Sung by the Dick Powell caricature á la “Shipmates Forever”, and used very well in
A Tale of Two Kitties (Clampett, 1942) during the perilous drop of Catstello
“About a Quarter to Nine” (Warren/Dubin):
Used as background music to Bugs in evening dress in Slick Hare (Freleng, 1947).
“The Lady in Red” (Wrubel/Dixon):
The classic Stalling musical gag. The use in the credits of
Little Red Riding Rabbit (Freleng, 1944) and in
Hollywood Canine Canteen (McKimson, 1946) by the Carmen Miranda pooch barely scratch the surface of this musical gag.
“Lullaby of Broadway” (Warren/Dubin):
Used at the beginning of Lights Fantastic (Freleng, 1942), and
by the Jimmy Durante rooster in The Swooner Crooner (Tashlin, 1944).
“Hooray for Hollywood” (Mercer/Whiting):
Most notable use may be in What’s Up Doc? (McKimson, 1950), though
Count Me Out (Hardaway/Dalton, 1938) makes a notably interesting use, in introducing Biff Stew, the heavyweight champ.
“September in the Rain” (Warren/Dubin):
A satricial use in Porky’s Preview (Avery, 1941), and
a great use by an Al Jolson bird in The Swooner Crooner (Tashlin, 1944).
“Jeepers Creepers” (Warren/Mercer):
Sung by the cat in Notes to You (Freleng, 1941) and
danced to by Daffy in Show Biz Bugs (Freleng, 1957)
“You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” (Warren/Mercer):
Sung by Elmer Fudd in The Hardship of Miles Standish (Freleng, 1940). We are given the lyrics in a shot of a singing telegram, and Elmer helpfully points out the spot where we are to pick up.
“I’m Just Wild About Harry” (Sissle/Blake):
Sung by Daffy in Yankee Doodle Daffy (Freleng, 1943) and
by Michigan J. Frog in One Froggy Evening (Jones, 1955).
“Blues in the Night” (Arlen/Mercer):
Two great uses in
The Swooner Crooner (Tashlin, 1944) by the Cab Calloway rooster and
by Daffy in My Favorite Duck (Jones, 1942).
The classic drunk song in WB cartoons, as in
Trap Happy Porky (Jones, 1945), but
also sung by mild-mannered, sober Porky in My Favorite Duck (Jones, 1942).
“Freddie the Freshman”:
Classic sports musical gag, a typical use can be seen in
The Unruly Hare (Tashlin, 1945), with Bugs using a stick of TNT in an ersatz relay.
“It Can’t Be Wrong” (Steiner/Gannon):
Used by the harp-playing mermaid Bugs in Hare Ribbin’ (Clampett, 1944).
used by the harp-playing mermaid Wacky Worm in Greetings Bait (Freleng, 1943) and
sung by Bugs in Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips (Freleng, 1944)
“Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat”:
sung by Bugs in both
The Big Snooze (Clampett, 1946) and
Gorilla My Dreams (McKimson, 1948)
sung by Bugs in The Big Snooze (Clampett, 1946).
“A Rainy Night in Rio” (Schwartz/Robin):
Classic version used by Bugs in Long Haired Hare (Jones, 1949).
“It’s Magic” (Styne/Cahn):
Bugs sings a modified version in Rabbit Every Monday (Freleng, 1951).
“Secret Love” (Fain/Webster):
Sung by Bugs in Rabbitson Crusoe (Freleng, 1956).