Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Through the Courtesy of Fred’s ...What?

Complete this sentence:

“Flintstones. Meet the Flintstones. They’re the .....”

You probably didn’t just finish the words. You probably sang them.

“Infectious” may not quite be the right word to describe Hoyt Curtin’s theme songs for all those early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but everyone of a certain age remembers them and has a sense of delight whenever they’re heard.

And I’m not alone in feeling this way, obviously. The theme to The Flintstones has just been named the most memorable tune in cartoon history—in a survey in England. Read HERE. The irony is even Bill Hanna admitted people didn’t understand what was being sung in the line “Though the courtesy of Fred’s two feet” (mainly, I suspect, because the phrase is so fast and the accents on the syllables of the words don’t follow the beat of 4/4 time).

The article is a bit hasty. The Flintstones don’t turn 50 until September 30th.

For me, what makes the song, and the themes to Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, the Jetsons and Top Cat so memorable—Top Cat placed second, by the way—is the ability to easily sing along with them. They are deceptively simple songs with simple though, at times, indistinguishable lyrics. You can just mumble the part you don’t know and everyone will understand why.

Hanna cited another reason for the theme’s popularity in his autobiography:


I imagine that a big part of it certainly has to do with Hoyt’s bright melody with its distinctive octave leap that really made the thing stick in your ear.

Bill also wrote:

Hoyt and I collaborated on most of the main title themes for our cartoon shows, and the majority of them had been done under the most informal circumstances. I would generally compose the lyrics in my head, and jot them down on a sheet of note paper, give Hoyt a call at his home and recite them over the telephone. Almost invariably, Hoyt would call me back within a day or so with a musical composition and sing the thing to me complete with my lyrics.

What’s remarkable is the song wasn’t the original theme. A pleasant and typically upbeat Curtin number called ‘Rise and Shine’ opened the first two seasons. Hanna doesn’t explain in his book why it was changed, but it obviously was the right decision.

There’s biographical material about Hoyt Curtin to be found on the web, so I needn’t repeat it all. He provided a few scores for UPA cartoons (the studio had no music director like the others did; it hired different freelance composers on an individual cartoon basis). Bad science fiction film fans will point out his contributions to the stellar Howco Productions feature Mesa of Lost Women (1953). You can click HERE to learn a bit more about Hoyt from the fine folks at Spaceagepop.com.

Curtin originally wrote the Hanna-Barbera themes and the underscores for the little segments between the cartoons on the Huck, Yogi and Quick Draw shows. He started compiling his own in-house stock music cues for Loopy De Loop (1960) and his material soon replaced the production library music that the company had in the background of its cartoons since 1957.

The most famous singers you’ve never heard of, the Randy Horne Singers, belted out all the first H-B themes. But my favourite version of the Flintstones theme is probably the one sung by the original cast members, with an extra verse written by, well, I don’t know. I don’t have that for you for now, but I’m going to give you something else. The proprietor of the ‘I’m Learning to Share’ music blog has linked to a bunch of bridges and tag music used on The Flintstones. He invented his own names for them but what I’ve done is dug up the original names listed on The Pic-a-nic Basket Set in 1996. The links aren’t mine so please don’t blame me if you click on them and they won’t work in your computer’s default mp3 player. If they do, you’ll recognise all of them.


Late Yowp note: I see the music links are now blocked for some users but work if you to go the re-directed download page. Sorry.

WORKING IN THE GRAVEL PIT
BRIDGE 1
CUE 1-70
WALK AND TALK
BRIDGE 9
WALKING
BUTTON
BUTTON CUE AL-6
CHASE
BUTTON CUE AL-7
WALK AND TALK #2
CHASE WITH DRUM BREAK
FLINTSTONE DRUNK WALK
UP TEMPO WALK
FLINTSTONE MARCH CUE 6-20
BUTTON

Oh, if you’re wondering, the rest of the top 10 in that survey—because you know you want it—was filled by (remember, this is an English survey) Grange Hill, Jim’ll Fix It, Danger Mouse, Bagpuss and Rainbow, in that order. Frankly, the theme to the Yogi Show should have made it—but with that new 3-D movie coming out, Yogi’s got enough to worry about.

13 comments:

  1. Besides " Through the courtesy of Fred's two feet ", Back when it was in first run,I had a hard time understanding Top Cat's lyric," Pro-vid-ing it's with dignityyyy". It took me a number of listens to get that one. Good job!! Love the Hoyt Curtain cues. They will be playing in my head all day.

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  2. The Pic-a-nic Basket Set uses the 'reverb' version of The Flintstones theme that showed up in the middle of the 1964-65 season (minus the audio SFX), but which wasn't used on any of the final two seasons worth of episodes when the cartoons were remastered in the 90s (ABC was in love with reverb in the mid-60s, both with their TV shows' on-air jingles and with their Top 40 radio stations' sound, which may explain the mid-season change).

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  3. First, thank you Errol, for spelling out that TOP CAT lyric, which has eluded me despite decades of careful listening!

    Second, by 1962 - with the folk music revival in full swing - there was a trend toward spelling out the premise of a series in its theme song. I'm not positive, but I think the MISTER ED theme was the first of these, followed closely by THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. THE PATTY DUKE SHOW was another ABC series that would have such a theme for its 1963 debut, and I understand the GILLIGAN'S ISLAND theme was the "finishing touch" that guaranteed the sale.

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  4. Would love to see more analysis of The Flintstones at your excellent blog. In my mind, they're still "early HB"--in fact, I'd say things really take a turn directly after The Flintstones, around 1967, for better or worse (worse, of course). The Flintstones, at its best, I think, tend to be a culmination of all HB before it--and also include in later seasons signs of shakiness that would portend a whole different approach by HB.

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  5. I thought I was the only one who couldn't understand those lyrics! Thanks for adding the music clips, too. "Chase" is my favorite of all time!

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  6. I'm downloading all those Hoyt Curtin Flintstones cues right now. They're pure cartoony, musical fun for sure! I always loved how catchy the theme songs for these H-B cartoons were, even for the decadent, awful stuff they would go on to produce later like Scooby-Doo and (gasp!) even Hong Kong Phooey.

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  7. Even though I knew it couldn't be the actual lyrics, as a kid it sounded like, "Through the courtesy of friends to beat."

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  8. Add lyricist to the long list of Mr. Hanna's talents. The man was a genius.

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  9. Top Cat was always one of the best HB themes by Mr.Curtin.

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  10. I always assumed the Flintstones' theme change had something to do with the first few measures' similarity to "This Is It", the theme to "The Bugs Bunny Show," which also premiered in 1960.

    "Rise and Shine" still showed up in the background music of the show, unless I'm just thinking of seeing reruns of earlier episodes with the later opening and closing credits.

    "Providing its with dignity." Thank you. I never could parse that verse.

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    Replies
    1. Also, the original lyrics in the opening theme for season 3 (starting with "Invisible Barney") and up was. . .

      "Through the courtesy of Fred's big feet"

      But after ABC canceled the series and NBC got it in January 1967, the word "big" was changed to "two" (becoming ". . . Fred's two feet") as people thought it sounded like "courtesy of ABC."

      ~Ben

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  11. Daniel, it seems unlikely that the original theme would air for two full seasons before finally being changed if that were the reason. If someone wants to point to a source which says that happened, I’d be quite happy.
    Theme song changes weren't unheard of at one time. ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ used a couple (one was PG-270 from Capitol Hi-Q) and ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ changed, to name a couple.
    As far as I remember, a ‘Rise and Shine’ underscore version was used for a couple of more seasons.

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  12. Brandon, that's funny. I thought it was “Through the courtesy of friends to meet.” I guess I’m less violent. :)

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