About this Recording
8.120777 - Children's Favourites, Vol. 2: Original Recordings (1933-1952)

Original Recordings 1933–1952

In our second volume of vintage children’s recordings,we present more selections from what can arguably be called the “golden age” for this genre. Ever since the advent of phonograph records, catering to the younger set has been a big moneymaker for record companies, and in creating a “kiddie catalogue,” the majors trotted out their most popular performers, who performed songs and stories while adding in a dollop of their own personalities and trademarks. It was almost a badge of honour for these artists and in many cases, you can tell that they were having the time of their lives at the sessions.

What might have been a tough session for the average recording artist was the proverbial piece of cake for Spike Jones and his City Slickers, who were accustomed to synchronized sound effects and assorted noises.The Slickers, with Del Porter leading the way, coast through Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

Western film and recording star Maurice Woodward “Tex” Ritter (1905-1974) is nearly upstaged by the vocal antics of fellow cowboy actor Max Terhune. Terhune (1891-1973), an accomplished ventriloquist, provided the animal impressions on Capitol’s imaginative Animal Fair, with the help of Capitol’s extensive sound effects library.

Some of Warner Brothers’ most enduring “Looney Tunes” cartoon shorts were lampoons of classical music, most notably The Rabbit of Seville and What’s Opera, Doc? Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody targets Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, in which the manic mallard complains about being a target himself of hunters.Warner Brothers voice genius Mel Blanc is at the top of his game in this track, accompanied by Capitol stalwart Billy May’s orchestra.

Danny Kaye (né David Kaminsky) (1913- 1987) spent a lifetime as a film star, entertainer, and recording artist, but it was his uncanny way with children that endeared him to countless kids of all ages. The Little Fiddle, first called “Symphony for Unstrung Tongue,”was featured in the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and was easily adapted for a Decca children’s 78 later that year. No doubt some of the gags and musical puns went straight over the heads of most children, but the result shows the faciletongued Kaye at his best, using his talent for dialects and voices.The song was written by Kaye’s wife and Svengali, Sylvia Fine, who wrote all of his zany material.

Although Jack Mercer became the most famous voice of Popeye, he wasn’t the first to breathe life into Max and Dave Fleischer’s spinach-addicted sailor.That credit belongs to Billy Costello (aka “Red Pepper Sam”), who provided the voice for Popeye for the first two years of its run (1933-35) in theatres. Costello was, according to some accounts, a “head case,” and was fired from the role shortly after recording Sammy Lerner’s identifying theme song, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, written to sound like a traditional sea shanty.

The New York-born Mae Questel (1908- 1998) provided the voice for two of early cartoons’ most celebrated females: Popeye’s “goil friend” Olive Oyl, and the ’20s flapper icon, Betty Boop. On the Good Ship Lollipop was featured in the Shirley Temple feature Bright Eyes (1934), winning an honorary Oscar for its six-year-old star.The song quickly became a popular bedtime song for parents to sing to their children. Mae makes sure to add a perky “boop-boop-be-doop” to the tag.

Civil War songwriter Henry Clay Work (1832- 1884) wrote My Grandfather’s Clock in 1876, inspired by a story he had heard about two elderly brothers who died within a short time of each other, their grandfather’s clock running out simultaneously.The stentorian oh-so-veddy proper reading by Australian Harold Williams could only have been performed standing up with his hands behind his back.

Little Man You’ve Had a Busy Day is a wonderful lullaby performed most effectively by Paul Robeson (1898-1976), who in 1934 was hugely popular in England from his stage performance in Othello.The innocence of the recording, tastefully accompanied by Ray Noble’s orchestra,was in direct contrast to the storm of controversy that would follow when Robeson made his first fateful trip to the Soviet Union later that year.

British child star Ann Stephens (1931-1959) was ten years old and on the verge of a successful career in film when she recorded the charming Christopher Robin, a song based on A.A. Milne’s poem,“Vespers”.This poem, as well as Buckingham Palace, first appeared in Milne’s book, When We Were Very Young (1924), a collection of children’s verses written for Milne’s real life four-year-old son, Christopher Robin Milne, who became the inspiration for the boy in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories beginning two years later.The real Christopher Robin died in 1996 at the age of 76.

The King Who Couldn’t Dance (The Worry Song) was featured in the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.The sequence in the movie featured the famous dance routine with Jerry the Mouse matching Kelly step for step.

In 1946, Capitol Records decided to make an entrance into the children’s market with a series of recordings by prominent music and film stars. The head of the new children’s division,Alan Livingston (“Rusty in Orchestraville”), came up with an idea for a book that would have a record included. This resulted in the first “readalong” book, which was narrated by a clown named Bozo, featuring the voice of Vance “Pinto” Colvig (1892-1967). Bozo became so popular, that the character made the transition to television in 1949 on KTTV, Channel 11 in Los Angeles. Colvig, who also provided the voice for Walt Disney’s Goofy, became a television institution, thanks in part to the infectious Bozo’s Laughing Song.

Suzy Snowflake is a seasonal song that somehow lost favour in the half-century since it was recorded by Rosemary Clooney (1928- 2002).Written by Tin Pan Alley stalwarts Sid Tepper and Roy Brodsky, the song had the misfortune of coming out when “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” were also fresh entries into the secular Christmas derby.Thus, Suzy was relegated to the dustbin of forgotten holiday songs. Brodsky changed his name to Roy C. Bennett and had better luck, becoming a writer of music material in Elvis Presley’s early films. He also wrote the hit “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.”

As lead trumpet player for Spike Jones’ City Slickers, George Rock (1919-1988) was better known for his falsetto gap-toothed vocals, most famously on All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth). Rock had been playing with the pre-Jonesian music butcher Freddie Fisher when he joined Jones in the mid-1940s.

One of the first children’s shows to hit television was “The Howdy Doody Show,” which made its TV debut on 27 December 1947.The creation of “Buffalo” Bob Smith, the idea was germinated from a Saturday morning radio quiz show for children, featuring a bumpkin character named Elmer.This soon evolved into Howdy Doody (voiced by Smith), personified by a wooden marionette when the show made its transition to television. The Popcorn Song was co-written by Smith and the show’s longtime co-producer and songwriter Eddie Kean.

Along with “Rusty in Orchestraville,” the story of Tubby the Tuba was one of the best primers for youngsters on the makeup of the symphony orchestra.“Tubby”was a collaborative effort between Paul Tripp, aka “Mr. I. Magination” (1911-2002), who wrote the story, and George Kleinsinger (1914-1982), who supplied the music.Tripp thought up the story of the lonely tuba who couldn’t get a solo while serving in the Army in China during World War II.When it was released in 1945, it became an immediate hit, eventually selling over eight million copies. Critics gave the recording, narrated by actor Victor Jory (1902-1982), universal praise (despite Jory’s mispronunciation of “xylophone”), even comparing it to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, in which characters also had specific musical motifs.A ten-minute cartoon short by Pal Puppetoon s was produced in 1947.The story was later narrated by Dick Van Dyke, Danny Kaye, and Carol Channing, among others.

Puffin’ Billy, more commonly known as the theme song for the long-running Captain Kangaroo children’s television program starring Bob Keeshan,was originally a track from the British-based Chappell Recorded Music Library, which supplied production music for broadcast programs.The song, which was first published in 1954, referred to a British steam locomotive, and became so popular that in 1957, lyrics were added by Mary Rodgers.

– Cary Ginell
(folklorist, radio broadcaster and awardwinning author of four books on American music. He lives in Thousand Oaks, California)

Close the window