Dear Straight Dope:
The opening tune to the cartoons--can you tell me who wrote it? I'm in a debate with my musical director. He claims George M Cohan wrote it, but I can't find any information pertaining to the subject. I think the words say "Merrily we go rolling along . . . da dada da dadada dadadada daaaaaaaa." If you can get back to me by Monday, 6 p.m. eastern standard you would be helping me a great deal.
John Corrado replies:
Sorry, we’re not good with deadlines, Lynn. Did you lose the ten dollars?
Okay, first off. There’s a lot of confusion as to what is a Merrie Melodie and what is a Looney Tune. If you have any questions on that, please see Cecil’s fine column here: www.straightdope.com/classics/a5_00 6.html.
Now that that’s straight, let’s talk about theme songs. According to the Toon Zone, the Merrie Melodie theme songs were as follows:
1930-1933: “Get Happy” by Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler
1933-1936: “I Think You’re Ducky” by Gerald Marks, Sidney Clare & Charles Tobias
1936-1943: “Merrily We Roll Along” by Charles Tobias, Murray Mencher & Eddie Cantor
Given you think the words involve “merrily we go rolling along," I expect you’re thinking of the Tobias/Mencher/Cantor song. It wasn’t actually written by Tobias, Mencher or Cantor; it’s an old nursery rhyme tune. But by adapting and re-arranging it, they made the tune their own, for royalty purposes anyway.
Just in case you actually meant Looney Tunes, the theme songs for those were:
1930-1932: “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” by Theodore Metz
1932-1933: “Whistle And Blow Your Blues Away” by Carmen Lombardo & Joseph Young
1933-1936: “Beauty and the Beast” by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby
1936-1937: Untitled by M.K. Jerome
1937-1943: “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin
Of all of these, “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” is probably the most famous of all of these songs–or, at least, the one we most directly associate with cartoons.
As a young man, Cliff Friend wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps–his father was the first violinist with the Woods Theater orchestra, and Cliff attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in the hopes of becoming a concert pianist. But instead, he ended up joining the vaudeville circuit in the late nineteen-teens.
In California, Cliff met Al Jolson–a major star on the vaudeville tour–and Jolson was impressed with Cliff’s songwriting ability. Jolson encouraged Cliff to go to New York and write songs full time, and Jolson pushed for the shows he was in to carry Cliff’s songs. This paved the way for Cliff’s first hit, “You Tell Her–I Stutter," in 1922.
For thirty years, Cliff worked in Tin Pan Alley, producing songs for vaudeville, radio, and music publishers, most often collaborating with David Franklin. Their biggest customer was Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. Friend and Franklin wrote songs such as “Concert In The Park” and “When My Dream Boat Comes Home."
The pair’s biggest success came in 1937, when their song “You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming” spent 12 weeks at number 1 on the Lucky Strikes Cigarette Hit Parade Radio Show, while their song “Merry Go Round Broke Down” spent 10 weeks at number 2. I’ll bet you can find ten people who can hum “Merry Go Round Broke Down” before I find a single one who can hum “You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming.”
Getting back to your question, there’s no George M. Cohan on either list, so it looks like you win the debate. If there was actual money riding on this and it’s not too late to collect, please remember to send 10% of your after-tax winnings to Cecil Adams, c/o The Chicago Reader.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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