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Ruminations: Tunes from the Warner Brothers toons

Ruminations: Tunes from the Warner Brothers toons

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Thanks to the genius of Carl Stalling, Milt Franklyn and others, the music that was such an integral part of the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes has become a part of popular culture. Living on past an initial appearance is rare for any music on film, but these little cues have found life in other movies, television shows and even commercials.

The Warner Brothers Studio was one of the best at making use of popular music. After it may have paid for the rights to use a particular song, there seemed to be no stopping point. For example, say that a popular song was used for a key moment in one film. That didn't stop it from being used in another film or one of the Studio's short subjects; especially those animated films.

And why not? If you were faced with having to come up with musical selections for one of those many projects, original compositions tend to take up a great deal more time to produce than an arrangement of an existing piece. And that is why, say the melody from a song such as "You Ought To Be In Pictures" by Dana Suesse, went on to have a life in a number of musical films and even as a short subject combining live action and animation starring Porky Pig and Daffy Duck in 1940.

Luckily for us, a great deal of the music from those Warner Brothers animated films is available today on compact disc or as part of the recent releases of DVD's. Looking over the titles, these are something any fan of animation should have in the collection.

Carl Stalling is usually the name associated with music and Warner Brothers animation. Deservedly so, as he was the genius who made all the right decisions in taking musical cues from the pieces in the Warner catalog and using them for all the right moments. There are two compact discs -- "The Carl Stalling Project" and "The Carl Stalling Project: Volume II" - from the Warner vaults that clearly illustrate just how much that genius title is deserved. The tracks on these discs include complete musical tracks from such titles such as 1939's "The Good Egg","There They Go Go Go" (a complete Road Runner and Coyote cartoon from 1956), "Barbary Coast Bunny" (also from 1956) and Stalling's last Warner Brothers score for 1958's "To Itch His Own".

Carl Stalling got his start in music and animation at Disney, being one of those whose affiliation went back to the days of Kansas City. Among his accomplishments was the creation of a system that used a metronome to establish beats for coordination of the placement of sounds (effects or music) with the projected images.

Stalling had a fondness for the stylized musical works of Raymond Scott. Most notable among the Scott compositions that was used by Stalling was "Powerhouse" with its themes reminiscent of automation and mechanical motion so well recreated. Check this link for a great list of Scott music used in Warner Brothers shorts. (Scott had a career of his own with a stint as a bandleader with his own radio program on NBC. The compact disc "Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights" offers performances of the music as Scott directed it. Another out-of-print disc, "The Raymond Scott Project - Powerhouse Volume One" has a good selection of some of those radio performances.) Scott's music also found its way into modern animation as it was used in a number "Ren and Stimpy" cartoons in the 90's.

Particularly interesting among the tracks is one with a series of takes from various recording sessions between 1951 and 1956 under the direction of both Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn. (Franklyn was far from just Stalling's successor as he had come onboard in 1950 as an arranger working closely with Stalling. He carried on in the same style as Stalling until his untimely passing in 1962. He was replaced by William Lava, whose own musical choices tended more towards atonality and away from popular music references.) Some of the tracks on both discs offer sound effects and dialogue as well, so listeners get examples of tracks with and without.

Rhino Records offered an addition to these discs with their set, "That's All Folks!" It also has clips from various shorts offered in similar groups and some complete soundtracks. Most notable on this title is the soundtrack for the fan favorite "What's Opera Doc?" from 1957.

Someone in management at Warner Brothers must have been convinced by their marketing folks that there was room for more exploitation of these tracks as they took the act on the road with "Bugs Bunny On Broadway". With a 50-piece orchestra playing the music for various animated clips and shorts projected behind them, it was a good way to expose another generation to this great music. Remember, this was 1991 and those restored DVD volumes were a long way off yet. And even though this is not the original music soundtrack for these shorts, the recording recreates what it was like to have been present for one of these live shows, either during it's Broadway run or during one of the road company performances around the country.

As a side note, a wonderful Dutch orchestra, the "Beau Hunks" has taken to recreating some great music from the 20's and 30's. Among the titles in their catalog are a number of Raymond Scott tributes, and music from Hal Roach comedies including the Little Rascals and Laurel & Hardy. Real treats here, especially as some of the music was recreated without sheet music but following the film soundtracks.

With the recent releases of many of the Warner Brothers animated short subjects on DVD, there is no likelihood of this music going missing again from our popular culture. But it would be nice if there were further releases in a similar vein. More discs of the "Carl Stalling Project" would be welcomed, as promised in the liner notes in Volume 2 by Co-Producer Hal Willner. That was over ten years ago, and I am certain that I am not alone in wanting more.

So if you haven't added these discs to your own collection, why wait? All the better to enjoy them now! Volume One of the "Carl Stalling Project" is also available on iTunes as is "Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights" (alas as a partial album only).

Speaking of iTunes... The march is on for the one-billionth song to be sold on the iTunes Music Store. And there are some true goodies to be had if you manage to be one of the lucky people. You can even watch the countdown to time your purchase just right.

From the Apple web site:

Music lovers like you in 21 countries around the globe have purchased nearly one billion songs from the iTunes Music Store. And as we count down to this massive milestone in digital music history, we'd like to thank you for joining us.

We've got one billion reasons to celebrate, and we're starting with you. As we mark our way to one billion, the music fans who download every 100,000th song will receive a prize package featuring a black 4GB iPod nano and a $100 iTunes Music Card.

And if you're the lucky grand-prize winner who downloads the billionth song from the iTunes Music Store, you'll receive a 20-inch iMac, 10 60GB iPods, and a $10,000 iTunes Music Card to jumpstart your digital music collection. In addition, Apple will create a full-ride scholarship in your name to a world-renowned music school. Just think: You could help launch the careers of an entire generation of musicians.

How cool is that! Ah, a great time to be enjoying music, isn't it?

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