NEEDLE DROP NOTES
July 8, 2018 posted by James Parten

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Y’know, it’s a wonder it didn’t happen earlier than it did.

After all, Woody Woodpecker’s five-note call had been there right from the beginning–right from Knock Knock (1940).

Within a few cartoon releases, Darrell Calker had written an opening theme for the cartoons, which was used up until Walter Lantz took his bag and baggage over to United Artists in 1948.

But nobody thought to set lyrics to Calker’s angular melody, which served as an intro to the cartoons, but which wouldn’t have gone over well on the dance floor (unless played by Stan Kenton or Boyd Raeburn).

Messrs. Tibbls and Idriss–two unheralded composers whose names already sounded like something out of an animated cartoon–thought they had a solution, and they–or their publisher-started shopping it around to the various bands, singers and record companies.

The recording companies were willing to cut just about anything. James Caesar Petrillo–the autocratic head of the American Federation of Musicians–had called another strike against the record industry, effective at midnight, January 1, 1948.

So the record companies spent all of December operating the studios almost twenty-four hours a day–trying to stockpile recordings to tide them over until the strike ended. As a pair of Kansas City entertainers put it–“They All Recorded To Beat The Ban”.

On December 31, 1947, Kay Kyser’s orchestra was in Columbia records’ Hollywood studio, cutting sides that would–they hoped–be successful. One side they cut that day was Tibbles’ and Idriss’s “Woody Woodpecker”.

Gloria Wood did most of the vocal heavy-lifting. Harry Babbot–normally a romantic crooner–handled the Woody laugh.

The record was released in late May, 1948–and took off like a rocket!

One who noticed this was Walter Lantz himself.

Lantz had a cartoon coming out in August, 1948–Wet Blanket Policy, a vehicle for Woody Woodpecker and his new adversary, Buzz Buzzard. And the decision was made–a decision to shoehorn the “Woody Woodpecker” song into the new cartoon.

Gloria Wood and Harry Babbitt were retained, and they provided the vocal and the laughter for a short rendition of the song, taking up the first minute or more of the cartoon.

You can well imagine the surprise when the Oscar nominations were announced. “Woody Woodpecker” had been nominated for Best Song–the only time such a nomination ever came out of such a picture.

It didn’t win. But even to be nominated was a distinct honor, especially for two composers who had not been heard from before.

NEXT WEEK: More Wood-peckin’

3 Comments

  • The way the song has been imposed on top of the cartoon is so painfully obvious. It even makes dialogue inaudible! If Lantz had taken his time to actually build a cartoon around the song, the result might have been wonderful.

  • In the cartoon’s original release with the United Artists titles, there is a credit which reads “WOODY WOODPECKER….Sung by Gloria Wood and Harry Babbitt:. Nice to see that the vocalists were recognized, something of a rarity in a short!

  • Although it spent five weeks at #2 while the Kyser version spent six weeks at #1, I prefer the version I’ve had most of my life by The Sportsmen with Mel Blanc (“and his original Woody Woodpecker voice”!)–even if I think Capitol’s engineers speeded Mel’s singing a tad too fast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=19&v=qJp7m7amMrU

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