As I stated at the end of yesterday’s blog – I could easily write an entire blog about Cartoon Theme songs. Some readers messaged privately with suggestions, while others commented on Facebook. So, I sat down and gathered some thoughts and have come up with a list of some of my favorites. In doing so, I noticed that some cartoons were great cartoons, but their theme songs were just not that memorable to me. Those I will omit. Perhaps they are some of your favorites, and again, feel free to add them to my initial list.
“Overture, curtains, lights. This is it, the night of nights.
No more rehearsing and nursing a part, We know every part by heart
Overture, curtains, lights. This is it, you’ll hit the heights
And oh what heights we’ll hit … On with the show, this is it!”
Every Saturday morning, we’d sit in front of the television and hear Bugs Bunny and his cartoon pals sing this song as the Bugs Bunny Show began. Cartoon after cartoon kicked off with the Merrie Melodies or Looney Tunes theme. We watched Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Sylvester and Tweety, The Roadrunner, Wile E Coyote, and countless others make us laugh with sticks of dynamite and anvils. Oh, what a time to be a kid!
Outside of the Looney Tunes, Hanna Barbera churned out a lot of the classic cartoons we all have come to love. In 1958, kids were introduced to Yogi Bear and his pal Boo Boo. The theme song told us that he was “smarter than the average bear”, and he was! No Pic-a-nic basket was safe! Yogi was a take off of Art Carney’s Honeymooners character Ed Norton. Daws Butler nails the voice perfectly. From opening theme, you know you are in for some great fun with Yogi trying to outsmart Ranger Smith.
Speaking of the Honeymooners – Hanna Barbera literally stole the entire show idea and just set it in the stone age. That’s right, The Flintstones was a direct rip off of the show. It worked. It was the first prime time cartoon show and it did very well. The adventures of Fred and Barney commence after we are introduced to them via the theme song “Flintstones! Meet the Flintstones, they’re the modern stone age family!” Fred and Barney also would up on Saturday morning cartoons with newer versions and varieties of the 1960’s show including a cartoon about their grown up kids Pebbles and Bamm Bamm.
My buddy Vince immediately mentioned the theme song to Jonny Quest in response to my last blog. As far as theme songs, this one is awesome. Quest first appeared on TV in 1964 and from the moment it starts you get the feeling something big is coming. There is a sense of urgency in it. You are joining him on an adventure! In my 30 years of radio, I have heard this theme song as background music for contests, traffic reports, and more. Why? Because it is one cool theme song!
In 1962, Hanna Barbera took us on another travel through time. This time is was the future. “Meet George Jetson” … the theme starts by introducing us to each member of the family. We are wowed with flying cars, tubes that allow people to travel from one place to the other, folding cars, and more. The Jetsons lacked some of the luster of the Flintstones, but it still was a success and a favorite of kids my age.
There were MANY incarnations of Scooby-Doo. The best one in my opinion was Scooby Doo, Where Are You? Some cool teenagers and their dog always seem to stumble on a mystery – and solve it! So many bad guys would have gotten away with it, “If it hadn’t been for those meddling kids”! “Scooby doobie doo – Where are you? We got some work to do now…”. Not only did they have a cool theme, they often had another song that would play during a chase scene!
I want to mention a couple more 60’s cartoons to mention before moving on. I mentioned Henry Mancini in my blog yesterday, he is responsible for one of the all time greatest cartoon themes: The Pink Panther. It was the theme to the 1963 movie, and also used for the cartoon starting in 1964. There are so many things that make it such a magnificent piece, but the one that stands out is the tenor sax solo. It is perfection! The song was released as a single and was a top 10 hit.
Part of the Pink Panther show was the Ant and the Aardvark. It is a very Tom and Jerry/Cat and Mouse type cartoon. John Byner does the voices for the cartoons and his choices were to do the ant in a Dean Martin-ish voice, while doing the aardvark in a Jackie Mason-ish one. The theme reminds me of a Dixieland-swing song. The theme song basically plays as an underscore throughout all 17 of the series cartoons, and you will be humming it for a few hours after you’re done watching!
In 1967, Hanna Barbera offered up The Abbott and Costello Cartoon show. These cartoons were unique in that Bud Abbott provides the voice for himself. Costello had passed away in 1959, and his voice was provided by Stan Irwin. I don’t recall the cartoon itself much, but I can recall the opening sequence and the music of the theme. The only words spoken …..well, yelled, during the theme are “Hey Abbott!” by Costello.
The Super Heroes
What kid doesn’t want to be a super hero? I know we did. We spent Saturdays after cartoons were done pretending to be Batman, Superman, etc… We could watch them on the Superfriends show. Very heroic music would play as actor Ted Knight (of Caddyshack and the Mary Tyler Moore Show) introduced us to each of them. There were a few different Superfriends shows – one featured Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog, another featured The Wonder Twins, and another featured some of the lesser known heroes.
The Super Heroes had some of the best theme songs. Underdog’s theme was one I can still sing to this day: “When criminals in this world appear, and break the laws that they should fear, the cry goes up both far and near for Underdog!”. Wally Cox voiced Underdog and spoke entirely in rhyme. He was always trying to save Sweet Polly Purebread from Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff. George S. Irving was the narrator of the show – he is known for playing The Heat Miser in the holiday special The Year Without a Santa Claus. It is one of my favorite theme songs.
Who was your number 1 super guy? Well, Hong Kong Phooey, of course! He tells us so in the theme song! It’s another Hanna Barbera classic! The theme is sung by Scatman Crothers, who many may know from the Shining, Sanford and Son, and other films. He plays Penrod “Penry” Pooch, a janitor who is a Kung Fu Master, thanks to his Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu. The theme reminds us that he is quicker than the human eye, and he’s got a groovy style – ah, the 70’s!!!
The all time best super hero cartoon theme song has got to be, hands down, Spiderman! We all know the story of Spiderman – Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and gets his super powers. I love that this is referenced in the theme song: “Is he strong? Listen, bud, he’s got radioactive blood!” That is brilliant writing right there! We all love Spidey, and we know that he’s got our backs…..after all, he is our “friendly neighborhood Spiderman”. There is only one version of the theme that is as cool as the original – be sure to check out Michael Buble’s version of the theme song! It’s pretty sweet!
One Full Musical Toon
I have got to give praise to a cartoon that is entirely musical. This is a cartoon that has been referenced by friends I grew up with as well as my kids. That cartoon is “The Three Little Bops”. It’s a modern day take on the Three Little Pigs.
What makes this cartoon so memorable is that these three pigs are now a musical trio playing jazz for clubs (House of Straw, House of Sticks, and finally, the House of Bricks). The Big Bad Wolf is also a musician….but not a very good one. He keeps trying to join the pigs and they keep telling him to beat it because his playing is awful. The crowds don’t like his playing either. At first, he is kicked out of the house of straw, so he “huffs and puffs” and blows the place down. He does the same for the house of sticks. The house of bricks, however, is a bit more of a challenge. “I’ll show those pigs that I’m not stuck, if I can’t blow it down, I’ll blow it up”. He attempts to light the fuse on a big tub of TNT, and the fuse is blown out. He moves farther away from the target and lights it again, but he’s too far from the building and as he is carrying it back, the TNT explodes – and takes him with it.
The narrator states, “The Big Bad Wolf was really gone and with him went his corny horn. Went out of this world without a trace, didn’t go to heaven, was the other place”. We then see the wolf down there playing his horn brilliantly. One pig notes, “The Big Bad Wolf, he learned the rule – you gotta get hot to play real cool!” The wolf’s spirit, with his horn float up through the floor and join the pigs on the end of the song. The pigs lobby card now reads “The Three Little Bops Plus One”.
The music for the cartoon is done by the great Shorty Rogers who was a jazz composer and trumpeter. The vocal is done by the one and only Stan Freberg. This cartoon is fun, jazzy, hip, and so well written! Another thing that makes this cartoon unique is that Mel Blanc was under contract with Warner Brothers during this time and his voice is not used in the cartoon at all (at least according to all the sources I checked).
Now it’s your turn. Which cartoon theme songs were your favorites?
That’s all folks….