Yo ho! Nightrider here.
If you’re a fan of The Looney Tunes Show, you would remember the character Gossamer singing “September in the Rain” in one episode and singing “I Love to Singa” in a short segment of another episode. What people today don’t realize is that “September in the Rain” is a popular song in 1937 from a movie called Melody for Two and “I Love to Singa” is a song from the movie The Singing Kid in 1936 staring Al Jolson and Cab Calloway?
How come we’re living in 2019 and talking about cartoon songs that are either almost or over one hundred years old? The answer: Carl W. Stalling and his work in scoring cartoons from Warner Bros. For 22 years, Stalling produced weekly music and scores for the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes shorts. His musical influence on cartoon music is still in use today. So now, let’s talk about Stalling’s career for a bit and look into his famous pieces of cartoon music.
Warning: there may be clips that are offensive today but were seen as “acceptable” when the shorts were made at the time. We do not condone offensive content in any way. These clips only serve as a device that promotes Stalling’s work and nothing more. Viewer’s discretion advised.
Stalling was born on 10 November 1891. He started to learn the piano when he was six years old. At 12, he worked in his local silent movie house in Lexington, Missouri. Eventually, Stalling conducted his own orchestra in Kansas City where he befriended an animator named Walt Disney. When Disney moved from Kansas City to California to open his new studio, he kept in touch with Stalling; Stalling then moved to New York City and recorded several scores for Disney: Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gaucho to name a few. Disney liked them and gave Stalling a job as his first music director with Stalling heading to California. Silly Symphonies became the result of Stalling’s work with Disney. However, after two years Stalling left Disney and freelanced while working with Ub Iwerks (the real creator of Mickey Mouse) in his studio until Iwerks’ studio shut down in 1936.
Leon Schlesinger, head of his own production company contracted by the Warners to make animated shorts, hired Iwerks and Stalling. Thanks to Schlesinger’s smart decision, he and Stalling created the Looney Tunes series and the Merrie Melodies series that dominated the animation world. Stalling would be the music director for 22 years with his last cartoon being Chuck Jones’ To Itch His Own in 1958. Milt Franklin would replace Stalling with a style very close to Stalling’s work. Stalling died on 29 November 1972 at the age of 81 years 19 days.
Carl Stalling, with fellow Composers Max Steiner and Scott Bradley (from MGM), created the click track. The click track serves as musical cues to synchronize sound and music to a moving image. He created the “musical pun,” where he used classical and popular songs to poke fun, promote, or add humor to whatever action appeared on the screen. Stalling would have direct input with animators as the music that drove the action and not the script. The Warner Brothers’ fifty-piece orchestra was burdened with the complex changes of music whenever something changes on the screen, but the outcomes were masterpieces. Because of the extensive music library from Warner Brothers, Stalling’s scores are timeless and have no competition by even today’s cartoon scores.
And now the music:
- Stalling made different versions of the famous Looney Tunes theme “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” written by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin in 1937. Stalling made it his with the beginning of a Looney Tunes since then with different modifications. Milt Franklin and Bill Lava made their styles of the theme after Stalling’s departure.
- He also did modifications of the 1935 song “Merrily We Roll Along” sung by Eddie Cantor. These modifications were used in the Merrie Melodies series. At time 6:07, you will recognize the famous version we know today.
- Stalling promoted many songs from the Warner music library and, in a way, created music shorts (not music videos) as a result. The first notable example is the song mentioned above “I Love to Sing-A.” This song was famously used in South Park’s first episode “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe.”
- Parodies of well-known songs also serve as a promotion of music. Here, Bugs Bunny sings a parody of “It’s Magic” in the worship of his beloved carrots. Doris Day sang the original in 1947 from her debut movie Romance on the High Seas.
- In certain situations, one’s behavior determines the tone of the scene. In this rendition of Irving Berlin’s 1919 song “The Near Future,” Sniffles the mouse sings the most famous part of the song now called “How Dry I Am.” This song is used whenever characters are drunk.
- “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” was first published in 1894 and first recorded in 1927. Stalling memorably places this when Bugs Bunny first encounters a Gremlin in the short Falling Hare in 1943.
- Classical pieces were used to create humor onscreen. Juventino Rosas’ “Sobre las Olas” is just as memorable as Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” thanks to Stalling’s use. You’ll see at the six-minute mark.
- Speaking of Mozart, the opening of his “Piano Sonata No. 16 in C Major, K545” was used by Raymond Scott for his masterpiece “In an Eighteenth-Century Drawing Room.” He is relevant thanks to Stalling using Scott’s piece for cartoons featuring Granny in the Sylvester and Tweety shorts.
- There is nothing more to be said of the classic Looney Tunes short Rabbit of Seville. Using Gioachino Antonio Rossini’s opera classic Il barbiere di Siviglia or The Barber of Seville. Here is a classic clip with Stalling’s timing on Rossini’s work.
- Again with The Barber of Seville comes the famous “Largo al factorum” aria sung by the character Figaro. Stalling does it again with Bugs Bunny going against Giovanni Jones.
I can’t list any more entries because it’s too extensive to list! So I will leave you all to investigate more of Carl Stalling’s pieces with two albums that will give you a sense of what style of music Stalling created: The Carl Stalling Project: Music from Warner Bros. Cartoons, 1936-1958, and The Carl Stalling Project Volume 2: More Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons, 1939-1957.