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Tunes for ’Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon
University of California Press, 2005
243 pp., $85.00
John H. McWhorter
For most people who grew up enjoying the music in Warner Brothers cartoons on television in the 1960s and 1970s, what stood out were the classical music parodies such as What's Opera, Doc's reduction of the Ring Cycle, and the magnificent Rabbit of Seville. But there have always been oddballs who got a kick out of the ordinary pop music swinging, sliding, and sparking along under the action.
I was one of those as a kid. Watching the cartoons week after week, I started wondering, for example, "What is that little song that always plays when somebody falls into a lot of money?" My father, a natural song encyclopedia, told me that it was the Twenties hit "Lucky Day." I went down to the Philadelphia Free Library to xerox the sheet music, the beginning of a lifetime's delight in, first, vintage pop, and second, the marvelous work of the man who put the Looney Tunes scores together, Carl Stalling. Stalling's musical accompaniment is as deft as Max Steiner's or Ennio Morricone's, and is aural ambrosia besides.
Daniel Goldmark's Tunes for 'Toons is a book-length treatment of Hollywood cartoon musical scoring, and naturally gives Stalling pride of place. Yet Goldmark's take on cartoon music is the rare one that finds fault with Stalling's approach. He enjoys Stalling as much as anyone but considers his reliance on pop tunes a lazy fallback. For Goldmark, Stalling remained always the silent film pianist, endlessly mining the dingdong joke of linking each screen event to a pop tune whose title corresponded to the action.
Goldmark considers the joke not only overused but underpowered. Many of the tunes Stalling used were not timeless standards but merely ephemeral top-forties bonbons or even third-string ditties that never made any major mark, now recognizable only by the elderly or hard-core vintage pop buffs. And even when the cartoons were new, audiences still likely missed the jokes as often as they caught them.
Goldmark's general perspective in the book hinges on the question ...