Search This Blog

Friday, September 28, 2007

SOUND & FURY: KICKASS KID'S ALBUMS OF YORE

Fred Flintstone blackmails his creators with compromising photographs — thereby guaranteeing THE FLINTSTONES perpetual reruns and residuals — while hired muscle Yogi Bear looks on.

Back in the days when I was but a wee Bunche, Hanna-Barbera, the animation studio responsible for THE FLINTSTONES and a slew of cartoons destined to dominate American TV reruns for nearly three decades, put out a series of children's LP's featuring pretty much all of their characters who'd been unleashed up to that time (roughly 1964-1966). My parents gave me several of them and I wish I still had them on vinyl because they're rather rare these days and fetch a high price on the collector's market, plus they had really gorgeous cover art, something you don't see anymore thanks to how fucking tiny CDs are. But it's all good since I found a guy who had damned near all of the HB albums burned to disc and was kind enough to dupe them for me — for an unbelievably small fee — and I'm happy to say that they hold up quite well.

Each LP had performances by the voice actors from the cartoons, as well as the familiar sound effects and music, giving further credence to comments made by HB's detractors who described the company's output as "illustrated radio," but that not-inaccurately-perceived drawback worked in favor of the material when enjoyed sans visuals. Most kids at the time knew who the stars were — although some of them, like Super Snooper, Wally Gator, and Touche Turtle didn't play in syndication by the time I was six, their timeslots now usurped by the first wave of Japanese imports like SPEED RACER and MARINE BOY — so little was required by way of back story and the actors could just drop back into familiar characters and get to do a bit more acting than they normally would in the cartoons because they had to work a little harder to sell the stories since there was no visual accompaniment.

Like anything that's produced as a series, not all of the HB albums were great, a state of quality that had to do with, in some cases, having a dud character to start with and then placing said dud into an uninvolving story. Even as a child I felt some of the albums were disposable and only listened to those once or twice, but there were three that absolutely stayed with me to this very day and are still ranked among my favorite recordings.

1966's ATOM ANT IN: MUSCLE MAGIC is a terrific piece of "illustrated radio" that tells of an invasion from outer space by malevolent giant ants. After an album-side of some hayseed cops and the Air Force failing to repel the invaders, wee Atom Ant is called in by the President and, with his trademark war cry of "Up and at 'em!" (or "atom" if you prefer) exploding from the speakers, the tiny superhero rushes into the fray and kicks ass like nothing I've heard on a children's record before or since (with the notable exception of "Parker, Well Done," in which Lady Penelope and Parker from THUNDERBIRDS pursue a saboteur down a British highway and actually kill the guy by machine-gunning his car off the road to a fiery death in twisted metal). The battle, though aimed at the kiddies, is very exciting and the running commentary provided by the cops — Officers Bo-Diddly and Chief Mildew — is vivid enough to make you think you're seeing it from the sidelines. And then there's the kickass, jazzy re-do of the Atom Ant theme song, this time minus Ted "Lurch" Cassidy's unmistakable vocals, that gets the listener ready for the ass-kicking to come:

He's Atom Ant/that tiny ant
And his atomic power
Has what it takes/and always makes
The vilest villain cower

He's rough! He's Tough!
And bad guys yell, "Enough!"
'Cause he is up and at 'em'
Atom Ant!

Every hero needs a good signature tune, and man, that's some good shit.

Moving away from the superhero stuff we now venture into that most venerable genre in kiddie records, the fairytale, and Hanna-Barbera's LPs retold a shitload of the classics in their own inimitable way. Many of the HB versions merely opted for a retelling rendered by whatever cartoon character was headlining that particular album, and as result the stories were often irritating. But there were a couple of gems among the assembly line product, one of which was the 1965 album of Snagglepuss recounting THE WIZARD OF OZ.

For those of you out there who are too young to know who the fuck Snagglepuss was, he was a flowery, scenery-chewing pink mountain lion in a collar and bowtie...

"Exit, stage left!"

And as queer as that was, the whole effect was compounded by voice-acting veteran Daws Butler performing Snagglepuss as sounding like Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion and a less-nasal Paul Lynde, a delivery that lead some of my mates on the playground to refer to the character as "Faggotpuss." Hey, I always liked Faggotpuss, er, Snagglepuss, because — unlike many in the HB repertory company — he had a discernable personality, so I don't know how I escaped getting the shit beaten of me on a daily basis during second grade.

Daws Butler (1918-1988), the voice of Snagglepuss, as well as Chilly Willy, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Elroy Jetson, The Funky Phantom, and many, many more.

Snag's version of the story is a bit of an update on the L. Frank Baum original and it's a boatload of fun thanks to Snagglepuss' languorously fruity storytelling style that practically turns the air lavender, and by a unique rendition of the Scarecrow that re-imagines him as the cleverest retard of all time. Mention must also be made of voice-acting goddess and eternal teenager Janet Waldo.

Janet Waldo, with Sam Edwards during her days on the long-running radio series MEET CORLISS ARCHER (1943-1956).

She's on hand here as Dorothy, but her voice is instantly recognizable to anyone who's seen an Anerican television cartoon in the last forty-some-odd years as Judy Jetson and Penelope Pitstop, a character that she gave voice to as recently as the year 2000 at the age of eighty-two (!!!). Possessed of a voice that perfectly conveys a cute, teenaged girl, Waldo conjured up all manner of questionable fantasies when I was a pre-teen — I used to wonder if Judy Jetson's bush was as stark white as the hair on her head, and I know some of you out there did as well — and I still think she sounds sexy as hell when her cartoons air today.

Judy Jetson: does the carpet match the drapes?

But no other HB album shines quite as brilliantly as another 1965 entry, PIXIE AND DIXIE with MR. JINX TELL THE STORY OF CINDERELLA.

Note Cinderella's borderline-delinquent/biker chick look.

Doing the near-impossible, the writers and cast transform what is perhaps the girliest fairytale of them all into an hilariously anachronistic yarn involving Elvis gags, a pumpkin that gets transformed into a souped-up dragster — referred to by the narrator, Jinx the cat, as "a real tool job" — with custom augmentations that would make the Nascar set weep, a rock 'n' roll ball, and a kingdom filled with girls so ugly that Prince Charming, when ordered by his dad to choose a bride, asks his father, "Have seen some of the goons around here?" to which his father thoughtfully replies, "Yeah, son...I see whatcha mean!" The gags fly fast and furious, many of which go right over the heads of the intended audience, and even now I still laugh my ass off when I listen to it. Hands down, this is one of the funniest albums in my collection, and they even had the decency to hold off on the songs until after the story's over; at the end of the tale, Pixie and Dixie — two mice who share the house with Jinx, a living arrangement that allowed for a latter day Tom & Jerry scenario, which is ironic since HB created Tom & Jerry for MGM back in the 1940's and were now essentially ripping off themselves — call Jinx on his obviously bullshitted version of the details in Cinderella's story, after which they throw in a nauseating and girly song about the real story, a tune I listened to exactly once back in 1969 and have skipped ever since.

Yeah, those three HB albums are gold in my book, and one or two of the others have their merits — considering my tastes, how could I not have a soft spot for SQUIDDLY DIDDLY'S SURFIN' SAFARI? —

but the one thing that the majority of them had going on was the previously-mentioned excellent cover art that lured the kids and delighted fans of quality cartoon design. I mean, look at some of these:








If I had all of these in mint condition and sold them for what they fetch on eBay, I could pay my rent for a good three months.

And in closing I would like to single out one HB album in particular for special derision, namely JONNY QUEST IN 20. 000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1966).

Very much a sought-after collector's item thanks to the cult popularity of its excellent source TV series from 1964 — probably the best thing HB ever did — this album bombs because the story is in no way up to the sci-fi/espionage/adventure offerings found in even the weakest episode of JONNY QUEST, it was recorded two years after the series so Tim "Jonny Quest" Mathieson's voice had begun to deepen, features an overlong and dull version of the show's awesome and classic theme tune, and, worst of all, doesn't include Hadji.

(STUNNED PAUSE)

How the fuck do you have a Jonny Quest story and leave Hadji out of it? That's like making a Fantastic Four movie and excising the Thing, for fuck's sake! It just doesn't work.

Model sheet for Hadji's head, c. 1964. Art by Doug Wildey.

Simply put, this album is a huge disappointment (although the cover looks great hanging on my album wall).

4 comments:

Stopheles said...

I will go to my grave certain that there isn't a more enjoyably-knuckleheaded kid's album than SONGS AND STORIES OF THE JUSTICE LEAGUE.

I used the first half or so of the "Justice League Roll Call" as my college radio theme song for the entirety of the 90s (going on the mic at the point where the song is 'interrupted' for a "special broadcast direct from the Secret Sanctuary of the Justice League of America," where Superman is about to address the council at an emergency meeting.) This was maybe not the best intro for my late-90s hip-hop-dub-and-weird-electronic show, but fuck em if they ain't down with the League.

jessicago said...

What a super-fun post--as interesting to look at as it was to read.

Jes

Dave said...

re all of these LPs HERE.

Dave

Amber Love said...

I didn't have the HB albums but I did have a collection of books on vinyl like today's digital audio, they were golden books or fairy tales read to you. You followed along with the book and when Tinkerbell jingles her wand, you flipped to the next page. I've been thinking about them a lot lately for some strange reason.