by Becky Ebenkamp
While the studio may not garner the type of respect reserved for animation behemoths Disney and Warner Brothers, indisputably, Hanna-Barbera rules the cartoon kingdom in one contest: the battle of the bands. Sure, The Alvin Show may have technically invented the animated music video, and Filmation proved a worthy competitor in the ‘70s with The Brady Kids and The Archies. But per cartoon capita, HB gave us the most rock ‘n’ roll bang for our buck, serving up more beat-crazed bands—both of the real and imaginary variety—than you could shake a tambourine at. The result: instant bubblegum.
The Impossibles (1966) were HB’s first experiment with a full rock ‘n’ roll concept cartoon, although rarely was more than a line or two of lyric heard before these superheroes-masquerading-as-pop-stars were summoned to go fight crime via a TV monitor in Coil Man’s guitar. The shaggy-haired trio married a jangly Rickenbacker-type sound with generic teenybopper lyrics, an effect that rendered them a less contemplative Beau Brummels. Songs are hooky, but these snippets are unsatisfying, and one gets the sense that full songs were never penned. Case in point, the lyrics to “Caesar’s Place”:
Let’s go to Caesar’s Place
Let’s go to Caesar’s Place
Let’s go to Caesar’s Place
Let’s go to Caesar’s Place
Get the picture?
A year after Gram Parsons introduced the Byrds to the pedal steel guitar, the Cattanooga Cats were busy adding some country flavor to Saturday morning TV. Scoots, Country, Groove and go-go girl Kitty Jo didn’t solve any crimes, but as a band on constant tour they were presented with many a wacky adventure to sing their way out of. But while the Cats’ look and accents clearly originated below the Mason-Dixon line, their music was pure pop, with song duties handled by singer/ songwriter Michael Lloyd, who headed psychedelic cult faves The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Smoke and October Country. Peggy Clinger of recording group the Clinger Sisters handled Kitty Jo’s vocals and wrote material as well. Producer of the project: Mike Curb. Lloyd and Clinger didn’t need any help rattling off perfect three-minute pop songs in even less time, so HB’s relatively hands-off strategy paid off. Furthermore, songs penned and performed by the youthful musicians—Lloyd was 17 at the time—instead of hacks trying to knock off Billboard hits lent the project a credible vibe and allowed for the dissemination of cryptic counter-culture messages like free love and non-conformity, as witnessed in the winning theme song:
The Cattanooga Cats don’t go meow
Wouldn’t try if they knew how
They’re doin’ their thing
The idea that this was going to be something special is relayed fully in the show opener, where the song is paired with animation master Iwao Takamoto‘s stroblelike series of op art images and shots of the kitty cat group playing their instruments to a psychedelic light show. In the children’s-game-as-metaphor-for-love songwriting subgenre, the Cats’ “Mother May I” and “Alle Alle Oxen Free” stand up to “Simon Says,” “1-2-3 Red Light” or any other 1910 Fruitgum Company song for that matter. In the latter, Lloyd’s breathy vocals imbue the lyrics and bouncy organ with a deliciously dangerous, dirty feel:
Hey little girl starin’ down at me
From your window can’t you see
It’s gonna be a groovy day
Why don’t you come out and play
Alle Alle Oxen Free
C’mon run on home with me
Just by nimble and be quick
We’re gonna jump the candlestick
Eleven tunes were released on a Forward Records LP, and many more were featured during the show’s psychedelic “videos,” where lyrics were visually interpreted with animation reminiscent of Yellow Submarine and Peter Max.
While the studio probably didn’t realize it at the time, the launch of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969) signaled a new direction in cartooning and ignited a trend that would stampede the airwaves over the next decade. With Scooby, HB laid out the plot and character archetypes that would be trotted out again and again and again as the ‘70s dawned and animation became increasingly recyclable: the rockin’ sleuths.
Of course, the Scooby Gang never strapped on Stratocasters, but bubblegum music composed and sung by Danny Janssen accompanied the meddling teens as they took chase from ghouls, mummies and various villains in the show’s second season. Not to mention a theme song (Written by David Mook/Ben Raleigh) so inherently swell that even a Third Eye Blind couldn’t wreck it.
Highlights include “Tell Me, Tell Me,” with a great fakeout opening that steals its gospely strains from Joe Cocker’s version of “A Little Help From My Friends” (something scarier than any Scooby episode). Thankfully, the tune quickly shifts to a winning combo of longing-for-love lyrics, off-kilter time changes and Partridge Family structure, all reeled in with a catchy “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na” hook. “Recipe for My Love” has the singer struggling with the issue of a how to concoct his girlfriend, although the reason why he needs to isn’t clear (Did they break up? Is she out of town on a business trip?). Ingredients include the bubblegum-friendly “cup full of sunshine,” “touch of a rainbow” and “a little bit from a song I know.” But, he adds wistfully, “All that couldn’t make up my baby and what my baby means to me.” Janssen’s songs are available on Scooby-Doo’s Snack Tracks, released by Rhino in 1998.
1970 was a year that unleashed a pair of female-led musical trios that straddled the fine line between exploitation and feminism. In Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the hedonistic Carry Nations slept and rocked their way to the top. But considering its broader audience comprised of young, impressionable viewers, HB’s girl group had much more impact on our collective psyche. Like the Carry Nations, Josie & the Pussycats played their own instruments. Dressed in feline outfits that appeared to be lifted off the marquee of L.A.’s Pussycat Theater porn chain, these good girls chased the bad guys around the globe as their touring schedule allowed, and later they were blasted into outer space. The show featured performances by the band, and songs also accompanied chase scenes.
For the recording of songs for the show and a companion LP, attractive female singers took on the roles of cartoon band members: Cathy Dougher as Josie, Patrice Holloway as Valerie and future Charlie’s chick Cheryl Ladd as ditzy drummer Melody. This was no rush job: The tunes are laden with clever hooks, sophisticated harmonies and unique instrumentation that belie the throwaway nature of bubblegum. Versions of current hits like Bread’s “It Don’t Matter to Me” and the J5’s “I’ll Be There” pale in comparison to Pussycat originals such as “Inside Outside Upside Down and “Hand Clapping Song,” but vocal parts and other nuances on the cover songs imply that the project was approached with time and care.
Butch Cassidy strove for rock n roll credibility in a teenybopper world, as did David Cassidy, his progenitor, doppelganger—and, one can assume— inspiration. Vehemently resentful of his teen idol image, the Partridge Family star’s bio is so full of “I was into Hendrix, man!”-type outbursts, it seems as if the has been suffers from some rare rock substrain of Tourette’s syndrome. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids (1973) professed their rock roots through a sound heavier than a lead zeppelin (and other poppy HB fare) and lyrical signposts that marked their Saturday morning slot as a wimp-free zone. During performances, the band customarily got beeped to go fight crime via Butch’s mod ring, so we don’t often hear more than bits and pieces—a wailing guitar here, an overly dramatized lyric there. But this axe-to-grind is evident in songs like “Just a Rock n’ Roll Song,” where the hip-huggered heartthrob sings, “You can call it dumb, or bubblegum, but you can’t help singin’ along,” adding the taunt, “Have some!” before launching into a masturbatory ‘70s guitar solo. Okay, okay, we believe you!
Characters—including drummer Harvey, voiced by Micky Dolenz—spit out rock references at the drop of a hat. When the group rescued a vaguely exotic prince who was a fan, rock ‘n’ roll trivia weeded out an imposter: The fake didn’t flinch when Butch said he’d be playing the “Rolling Tones’” song “Yesterday” at a concert. When the prince correctly identified who wrote “Woodstock” and “Alice’s Restaurant,” the true royal was revealed. The moniker of the gang’s obligatory pooch: Elvis. Off screen, musicians were hired to tour the country as the Butch Cassidy band, but no album was ever released.
Confucius say, “The family who sleuths together, grooves together.” At least that’s the M.O. of the Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. Blatantly mocking China’s one-child policy, the show revolves around legendary private eye Charlie Chan, here a cartoon widower raising ten Chan children (which may explain why Mrs. Chan is no longer with us). The junior Chans are also crime solvers, a job that, naturally, requires them to rock!
By 1972, HB’s animation had become pretty rote, and costs were cut by recycling not only backgrounds, but plots, characters and movements as well. A single animated band sequence serves as the “video” for every song the Chans performed, noticeable from its familiar procession of group shot cutting away to sister Suzie playing the tambourine, cut to guitar fingerboard, cut to hulkazoid brother Henry, who hunches over his drum kit like a giant Chinese crab. As the younger, non-musical Chans watch their siblings perform, it appears as if someone is yanking a common chain to activate their synchronized movements. In one episode the singer/ guitarist Stanley’s head actually disappears for a few frames.
What HB didn’t skimp on, thankfully, was the Chan band’s music, which flourished under the direction of Monkees’ creator Don Kirshner and Ron Dante, fresh out of his previous gig for Mr. K as lead singer of the Archies. While Jeff Barry wrote most Archies’ tunes, Dante handled music-writing duties for the Clan and sang Howard Greenfield’s (“Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Calendar Girl”) lyrics. Songs incorporated the most pleasing elements of Dante’s previous chart-topping project: soaring vocal melodies, hand claps and the participation of Hugh McCracken, David Spinoza and other Archies’ session players. Creeping bass lines suited the show’s mystery theme.
“I tried to use a little different sound for my vocal and not make it a copy of the Archies’ sound,” Dante recalls. “The Archies’ sound was a little more hushed, and this was more full-out strong singing; more pop than bubblegum.” Greenfield’s lyrics generally centered on an espionage theme, often as a metaphor for love. “I’ve Got the Goods on You” details a cheating partner, while “Whodunnit” seeks to find the culprit of the protagonist’s lovesickness. “I Got My Eye on You” requires no further explanation. Additionally, the Clan’s songs introduce the Ugly American to the Chinese cultural condition, and lyrics showed a cliche-free sophistication and sensitivity relatively unheard of in the stereotype-friendly cartoon world. “I’m the Number One Son” relays the culture’s respect for elders and tradition, a new concept for a viewership comprised of the tail end of the egocentric Baby Boom:
When I was just a boy
My daddy said to me
You know the apple shouldn’t fall
Too far from the family tree
Countless generations hang their hopes on you
Ages of tradition depend on what you do
Okay, that’s a pretty heavy trip to lay on a kid, but it’s a responsibility countered with pride:
The first born of my father
It makes me feel so glad
Whenever people tell me
You’re just like your dad
Out of all the fathers
I’m glad that I got mine
Out of all my brothers
I’m the first in line
I’m the number one son of the number one man
The number one hope of my family clan
Gonna be like my dad any way that I can
I am his number one son
Dante described HB’s approach as fairly hands off, which explain the range of quality from cartoon to cartoon. “Howie and I believed this was a quality project and took the time to write the best songs we could,” he said. “ We had very little contact with the producers of the show. All our direction came from what we wanted to project with the music…” Failing to realize their potential, HB never released the Chan Clan songs on vinyl.
Jabberjaw (1976) featured a rock—and I use that term loosely—band called the Neptunes, whose Jaws-era albatross was an oversized shark channeling the spirit of Curly from the Three Stooges. Painful to watch and listen to, the proto-disco songs, thankfully, went away as soon as a caper diverted the group’s attention.
HB’s influence on bubblegum cartoons lives on today as hip animators who grew up with these shows unleash their satires and tributes. In an episode of Ralph Bakshi’s ‘80s series The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse , characters found themselves trapped in an HB world, escaping each toon only to wind up in another. As they fled a Scooby set, a bubblegum song dropped references to mood rings and other ‘70s kitsch. Arguably, Saturday Night Live’s sole funny recurring segment is Robert Smigel’s animated offering The Four Ex-Presidents, where a retired Ford, Reagan, Carter and Bush rescue Bill Clinton from space aliens, communists and other unsavories. Each skit culminates with the former commanders-in-chief rocking out in an Archies-style band.
In 1995, The Cartoon Network—a division of Warner Brothers, as is Hanna-Barbera today—aired Saturday Morning Cartoons, with alternative bands performing show themes and songs from musical episodes. In the station’s Cartoon Cartoon original programming, the Powerpuff Girls break out into “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” a dose of pop ecstasy so cheery it has the capacity to restore color to a city drained of it by an evil mime. A Dexter’s Lab segment sees the protagonist being chased by a scary, Keane-eyed waif to the tune of a bubbly pop song. The station even made the insufferable Jabberjaw digestible via an interstitial video where the show’s characters come to life off a lunchbox and jam with punk band Pain.
Music played a central role in the aforementioned TV shows, but many a Hanna-Barbera classic featured a rock-n-roll episode, a failproof plot device enlisted about as often as the perfunctory “trip to Hawaii” or “robot goes haywire.” Usually, these episodes centered around an accidental dance craze or an unlikely subject becoming a pop star and living out the hellish machinations and experiences detailed in the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star?” Must see ‘toon TV includes:
The Flintstones: Since the show was essentially a parody of modern American life, creators of the Flintstones never missed a chance to poke fun at pop culture’s disposable nature, and in particular, the star-making machine: Over its 1960-66 course, the series had six pop music-themed episodes. In an early one, a Col. Tom caricature makes Fred over as Elvis impersonator Hi-Fi, a plan thwarted when fed-up Wilma convinces fickle teens that he’s actually a square. During the post-payola/ pre-Beatle musical vacuum of 1960-63, the Flintstones managed to chronicle the most interesting genres in music: when singer Rock Roll (voiced by Hal Smith of Otis the Drunk fame) suffers an allergic reaction to pickled dodo eggs, Fred fills in to sing “The Bedrock Twitch,” a Twist-craze spoof. Surfing is exploited in Surfin’ Fred, an episode where The Fantastic Baggys’ “Surfin’ Craze” plays on a radio and Jimmy Darrock croons “Wax Up Your Board.”
Once the Beatles were unleashed, their influence soon crept in to cartoonland. When Pebbles and Bamm Bamm become famous with their song “ Let the Sunshine In”—no relation to Hair’s hippie anthem—the duo is discovered by Brit “Eppy Brianstone.” Extraterrestrial flavors-of-the-week the Way-Outs knock a group called the Beasties off the charts in another episode. The Beau Brummels were an amazing electro-folk group in their own right, but a genius marketing ploy—their name—positioned them parasitically close to the Fab Four in record bins. The band’s brief tenure under the pop spotlight was immortalized in an episode where the Beau Brummelstones performed their hit “Laugh, Laugh” on TV show Shinrock (Based on ABC’s Shindig!). Episodes featuring a singing Ann Margrock and HBR recording artist Danny Hutton, who would later become one-third of Three Dog Night, are also worth mentioning.
Magilla Gorilla: In one of his customary attempts to flee Peebles Pet Shop, Magilla spies a group of surfers en route to the beach and laments, “I wish I was a hotdog and could hang ten.” An attempt to return a runaway board sets in motion a series of events that culminates in the primate shooting the pier. Impressed by the hodad’s bravado, the clique performs the Martha & the Vandellas-sounding dance song “Makin With the Magilla” for their new king of surf.
The Hillbilly Bears: Incessant mutterer Pa Rugg, head of the bear clan and the spiritual father of King of the Hill’s indecipherable Boomhauer, gets discovered by a pair of slick record execs scouring “The Hill Country: Where the sound of today’s big tunes are born” for the Next Big Thing. Pa appears on The Big Rockin’ Show, where he adds the occasional mumbled overlay and guitar twang to “Do the Bear” a Yeah- Yeah-Yeah tune performed by a trio of gals with long, back-combed hair and hip huggers.
The Jetsons: Borrowing from Bye Bye Birdie, the Jet Screamer episode has Judy Jetson winning a date with the intergalactic pop star. He performs “Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah,” basically a rockabilly tune infused with “futuristic” keyboards and other electronic weirdo noises.
Scooby-Doo: The gimmick for The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972) franchise was its celebrity guests stars. Musical walk-ons include Davy Jones, Mama Cass and Sonny & Cher. Some sang, others didn’t.
Many thanks to Ronn Webb (http://w3.nai.net/~wingnut/Hanna_Barbera.html), Ron Dante, Michael Lloyd, Monica Bouldin (Warner Brothers), Laurie Goldberg (Cartoon Network), Johnny Bartlett, Kelly Kuvo and Anita Serwacki for their assistance.