Friday, October 29, 2010

Toon Music: America Sings- Modern Times

I think the fourth and final act of America Sings is my least favorite. It covers approximately six-and-a-half decades from the '10s to the early '70s (with the '60s barely making a scratch), a period of accelerated musical evolution, and would be more aptly titled "The Jazz Era and Early Rock 'n' Roll squeezed together plus a recent hit tacked on to the end". It's fairly obvious that Buddy Baker (the musical director) and Marc Davis (the character designer), knew next to zip about rock music, evident in that they assigned the rock 'n' roll songs to hippy-dippy Summer-of-Love musicians. Oldies-revival music was only just beginning with such things as "Crocodile Rock" and American Graffiti. The fact that the '60s is almost completely glossed over also shows ignorance of the genre.

Luckily the songs in this act aren't nearly so obscure as past ones.

"Ja-Da", written by Bob Carleton in 1918.

"Darktown Strutters' Ball", written by Shelton Brooks in 1917. Shows up a fair number of times in early Mickey shorts.

"Singin' in the Rain", words by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown, approx. 1929. Best known as the title song of the '52 Gene Kelly musical.

"A-Tisket A-Tasket", based on a nursery rhyme dating back to at least 1879, and transformed into jazz by Ella Fitzgerald and Al Feldman in 1938.

"Boo-Hoo", written by Edward Heyman, Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb, 1937 I think. (One reference seemed to point to Mal Hallett as its author.)

"Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar", written by Don Raye, 1940. The archetypical boogie-woogie song.

"Hound Dog", written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, 1952.

The version upon which Elvis based his own rendition:

"See You Later, Alligator", written Robert Charles Guidry aka Bobby Charles, 1955.

"Shake Rattle & Roll", written by Jesse Stone under the pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun, 1954. Billy Haley's version features the more familiar lyrics.

One problem I have with the above three performances is that none of them are at all original in their arrangement or performance. It's to be expected that they should use the "Elvis version" of "Hound Dog", but the other two are so closely based on The Comets' versions that they might well be taken from a sound-alike record. It doesn't help that the other characters keep interjecting with random "hip" dialogue.

"Twistin' USA", written by Kal Mann, 1960.

The inclusion of this song is quite inexplicable. If they wanted to include a Twist song, "The Twist" or "Let's Twist Again" would have sufficed. If they wanted a song about the US, "Back in the USA" or "Surfin' USA" would have been much better. Chubby Checker did an endless amount of now-obscure Twist songs after making it big, and picking one of these to be sung by a biker stork and his Cloudcuckoolander girlfriend is plain bizarre. Add the fact that this is the only '60s song in the show, from a time when the decade's music hadn't even found a unique sound yet, you get a recipe for a big honkin' WHY?
While most of the '60s was dominated by the British, there were plenty of candidates to choose from: The Beach Boys, the Motown label, bubblegum, Creedence... but nope, we're leaping ahead over ten years to 1971!

"Joy to the World", written by Hoyt Axton, made famous by Three Dog Night, and not to be confused with the Christmas song. Done up by Disney as a gospel song, which is oddly appropriate.

I've thought about it, and I think that if this last act were split apart into "The Jazz Era" and "Rock 'n' Roll", we might have gotten a more coherent ending to the show. The problem is that the original Carousel of Progress building only consisted of four acts as well, and probably the Imagineers had to make do, although I'm not sure why the final "unloading" stage couldn't have been used for the finale.
I have thought of coming up with new "setlists" for a fantasy America Sings reworking, but unfortunately my knowledge of jazz is limited, so I've only come up with the "Rock 'n' Roll" section. If I ever manage to do both, I'll post them.

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