Warner’s One-Hit Wonders
By Steve Herte
So far we’ve written about the most repeated songs in the library of Warner cartoons and the cartoons with the most musical pieces in their soundtracks. It’s only fair that we present the rare songs that appear just once, as a scene enhancement or only as a lyric reference to add to the humor. Although there are several tunes that fit this category, most of them have been covered in the two previous articles of Animation Orchestration. I’ve put together 10 of my favorites (there are probably more that the die-hard fans can come up with) from cartoons with which I will always associate these melodies.
1. “Alouette,” an 1879 French-Canadian children's song, composer unknown, was sung at the end of French Rarebit (1951 - Robert McKimson) by two wacky French chefs while basting themselves and sitting in a roasting pan in an oven. They were celebrating being taught the recipe for “Louisiana Back-Bay Bayou Bunny Bordelaise” a la Antoine of New Orleans by whom else? Bugs Bunny.
2. “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” was written in 1616 by Ben Jonson and was instrumentally played in the opening of The Hardship of Miles Standish (1940 – Friz Freleng). The original story is retold by a grandfather and has Elmer Fudd as John Alden performing a singing telegraph (“You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby”) to an Edna Mae Oliver-styled Priscilla just before Indians attack them.
3. “I Love to Singa” came out on July 18, 1936, and was written by Harold Arlen and sung by both Al Jolson and Cab Calloway. But in the cartoon I Love to Singa it is performed by a little owl (Owl Jolson) who is born to sing jazz rather than the traditional classical music his father teaches. (1936 – Tex Avery) “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” is sung partially in this cartoon as well.
4. “Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?” by Billy Austin and Louis Jordan in 1940 is one song that was not sung or played. In fact only the title appeared as a line spoken by Bugs Bunny in a comically “romantic” moment with Elmer Fudd in The Unruly Hare (1945 – Frank Tashlin) He had just shown a series of pin-up girls to Elmer through his surveyor’s scope.
5. “Mutiny in the Nursery” is a bouncy, jazzy tune composed in 1938 by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. A chorus of book characters come-to-life in the cartoon Sniffles and the Bookworm (Chuck Jones – 1939) sings it. The climax of this mild version of Book Revue has Sniffles the mouse saving the shy, retiring bookworm from the Frankenstein monster merely by tripping him.
6. “Sweet Georgia Brown” is a song I’ll remember not only from a cartoon but also from my Barbershop quartet career. I sang it in a competition with a quartet and we were fortunate enough to place second. (Don’t ask me who was first; too long ago.) Written in 1925 by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard (music) and Kenneth Casey (lyrics), it was played on trumpet by Yosemite Sam to Granny (“Emma” in this case) in Hare Trimmed (1953 – Friz Freleng). Sam is trying to woo the flattered Granny into marrying him so he can get her money and Bugs Bunny competes with him to thwart Sam’s avaricious plans.
7. “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” is a strange song about a lover’s promise to return (on the title occasion) but it never happens. It was sung most notably by the Ink Spots and later by Pat Boone, and was written by Leon René in 1940. It devolved into the comic and trivial when Bugs Bunny sang it nonchalantly while bathing in a cooking pot in Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt (1941 – Friz Freleng). This is also the only cartoon I can recall where Bugs misses his rabbit hole on one of his famous “dives” and has to shame-facedly skulk to where the hole actually is.
8. “We're in the Money” was the hit song of the movie Gold Diggers of 1933, written by Al Dubin & Harry Warren that year to cheer up a population going through the Great Depression by forecasting a time of plenty. A cartoon of the same name was also released in 1933. Produced by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising and animated by Friz Freling and Larry Martin, it takes place in a closed department store where a group of toys come to life and sing the title song.
9. “A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You,” one of the most memorable tunes (but not for its original lyrics) was written in 1925 by Joseph Meyer, with lyrics by Al Dubin and Billy Rose. In Broomstick Bunny (1955 – Chuck Jones), Witch Hazel stirs her cauldron while adding “A cup of arsenic, a spider, some glue…” before meeting Bugs Bunny dressed as a witch on Halloween. Later, she sings “A cup of tea, a cookie and you…” when she mixes up a potion Bugs tricks her into drinking that makes her beautiful. This cartoon is one of my all-time favorites.
10. Lastly, “The Five O'Clock Whistle,” by Josef Myrow, Kim Gannon and Gene Irwin from 1940, so wonderfully sung by Ella Fitzgerald and orchestrated by Glen Miller, appeared in Little Red Riding Rabbit (1944 – Friz Freleng). Here it lost any class it originally had by being sung by an obnoxious, loud-mouthed, Bobby-Soxer, Red Riding Hood, who interrupts every scene with her annoying, gargled “Heeey, Grandma!” Even the Big Bad Wolf doesn’t want her. Bugs Bunny makes sure she gets her due in the end with, “I’ll hate myself in the morning, but I’ll do it.”
On the television show Seinfeld’s episode, The Opera, Elaine tells Jerry, “All of your knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs Bunny cartoons.” When it comes to music, that is true of me in great part. The rest of the obscure melodies in my memory were supplied by 35 years in Barbershop choruses and quartets. Add in all the Rock and Roll music I’ve collected, classical college courses I took and 45 rpm records my family inherited from others, and everything in life has become a song cue for me. Come to think of it, writing about these cartoons has made me want to watch them again. I think I’ll do just that. Want to join me?
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