Other than reruns of The Jetsons, I can’t think of a single Hanna-Barbera cartoon I’d want to watch on a Saturday morning 40 years ago (the 1974-75 season). That’s despite the presence of some of H-B’s original people from 1957—Ken Muse, Lew Marshall, Daws Butler, Fernando Montealegre, just to name a few. Oh, and Hoyt Curtin.
Curtin wrote some wonderful background music for the prime time Hanna-Barbera cartoons, ones that were supposedly “adult.” But that was the early 1960s. Ten years later, the studio was churning out cartoons as Saturday morning companions for kids. No need for the Gershwin-esque melodies heard on Top Cat or the dramatic horns and drums on the Jonny Quest soundtracks. Something simpler would do. Of course, music styles had changed over the course of the ‘60s, too.
Here’s Hoyt talking about scoring cartoons, mid-‘70s style, in a story in Billboard magazine of December 14, 1974. Remember that Curtin didn’t score to fit the action of each scene. He came up with a tracking library and the sound cutters would simply pick the music they felt would suit the mood of what was on the screen.
KIDDIE ROCK: Hoyt Curtin Uses Today’s Sounds In His TV Programs
LOS ANGELES—The dinosaur churns down the jungle path on Saturday morning television and, entwined with the shuddering sound effects of its footsteps, the music rises in the background like a rock record.
“Kids want to hear the same kind of music that they are buying on records,” says Hoyt Curtin, who creates music for 16 and a half hours of television programming each week, week in and week out.
“So, I have to stay tuned to trends in the music industry in order to give the listeners the sounds they like. Not that I would do rock music . . . in fact, that’s the challenge: To give them sounds they like without going overboard. Even the music to fit the coming of a dinosaur has to have a rock kind of beat.”
Curtin is the head of Soundtrack Music and he spends 10 hours a week in recording studios creating anywhere from 50 to 75 minutes of original music. His music is heard mostly on Saturday morning kiddie TV shows, especially the Hanna-Barbera shows, but you can listen to Curtin music, too, on weeknights on “Wait ‘Til Your Father Gets Home.”
Curtin composes the music; his firm has four arrangers working constantly on material. He is involved in the cartoons from the initial sketch stages. The music is suggested by the script and is paced along the lines of the action. The music is keyed to the public by digital metronomes, a device that makes clicks when Curtin and his musicians hear via headphones.
The music is written to the tempo of the metronome and “if the music has been written properly, it will fit the picture.” Only about half the time does Curtin have the opportunity to see the film as he’s composing or conducting the music in the recording session.
All music is written via a book that tells how many beats per length of film.
“And the production schedule is so tight,” says Curtin, “there’s no time to redo anything; it has to be right the first time.”
The other day, he says, a music editor was picking up the music “as we finished it in the studio to dub to film. It couldn’t have taken more than half an hour between the time we finished the music and it was on the film.”
Curtin praises Jack Sterm, “my arranger. I’ve kept him chained to his desk in a cave and all he’s allowed to do is occasionally come out to look at the sun.”
For his band, he demands all professionals. The same goes for his in-house crew. “Sometimes, I would like to try a new writer or musician, but there’s just not any time allowed for mistakes.”
The cartoon field is extremely limited. Hanna-Barbera is the biggest supplier of animation. And Curtin feels there might be a couple of others of note. H-B just celebrated its 100th different series. Their ‘Last Of The Curtaws” and “The Runaways,” both of which Curtin did the music, have won Emmys.
Curtin has been involved with H-B almost from the beginning. He’d worked with them on commercials and around 1957 they called one day and dictated some lyrics over the phone. He called back and gave them the music a while later. Since then, their business association has been “amazing.” Curtin says there’s no contract and no hemming and hawing. “Those two fellows say what they want and say if they like it or not.”
A lot of his business was over the phone in the early days. “It wasn’t until ‘The Flintstones’ that we had a formal meeting about a particular show to decide what we were going to do.”
Curtin, who had been primarily in music for commercials prior to H-B, still does commercials—the beers, Datsun.
His aim is to be consistent in each show—“hopefully, you should be able to identify the show by the sound of the music.” It usually takes a three-hour session to do music for a half-hour TV show. The score for this show will weigh 40 pounds.
On a recent Saturday morning, starting at 7 a.m., Curtin’s music was featured on “Addams Family,” “Yogi’s Gang,” “Chopper Bunch,” “Speed Buggy,” “Emergency Plus 4,” “Hong Kong Phooey,” “Scooby Doo,” “Jeannie, “Devlin,” “Partridge Family,” “Korg: 70,000 BC,” “Valley of the Dinosaurs,” “Super Friends,” and “These Are The Days,” which carried him through 11:30 a.m.
I like Curtin’s careful phraseology that he wanted to give kids (I presume he means teenagers) the sound of music they buy, not the real thing, because he had no intention of writing rock music. Production music libraries of the ‘70s and beyond do the same sort of thing; they supply music that evokes a genre but it’s watered down enough not to distract anyone from the announcer’s voice reading the pitch over top.
The last time a Curtin post popped up on the blog, it was accompanied by some of his unreleased music. So let the same thing happen again! If you think I’m going to post Curtin’s 1975 work, forget it. We mentioned The Jetsons off the top, so let’s give you some Jetsons cues. A number of people have pointed out the first two bars of the “B” melody used in various arrangements on the show was reworked as the start of the chorus of the theme to Josie and the Pussycats. The first tune below is a snappy little version that I don’t believe was actually used on The Jetsons. The second one is a big band-ish arrangement that is quintessential Curtin. Hoyt loved cues with button endings and you’ll hear a bunch of them below. These sound like they came from a cassette dub, so you’ll hear some tape hiss. These cues may have been from a second session; there’s another full set that start with “J.” Some were used in the first Jetsons cartoon. Only one of these cues has an alternate name besides an alpha-numeric.
Click on the arrow to start or stop them.
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