Tuesday, June 3, 2008

From One Holloway to Another

I am taking a risk this week, but it’s one my readers should have seen coming. Though I was exposed to lots of very good (and very bad) pop music for adults when I was three to five years old, don’t forget that caithiseach was three years old, and for every ten Nat “King” Cole or Fats Domino tunes, there was one child’s recording of note.

Even so, I would have backed off the idea of sharing today’s story if there weren’t such a strong indication of grass-roots popularity among nostalgic adults for the tunes I have in mind today. I’m not talking about such terrible kiddie panderings as Strawberry Shortcake or Hello Kitty Sings Your Favourite Metal Lullabies. I’m talking about honest attempts to entertain children with enriching music and stories.

There is even a difference between child-oriented material that can get into the souls of adults, like “Sugar, Sugar,” and today’s featured music, which really didn’t try to hook parents. But I didn’t hear a lot of griping from my parents when I played this stuff, unlike the feedback that comes from overdoses of purple dinosaurs nowadays.

I suspect that today’s pieces got a pass from parents because, just as Red Holloway is a sax player for the ages, Sterling Holloway was blessed with a voice for the ages. And while you are sure to know that Sterling Holloway was the voice of Winnie the Pooh, you may not have heard some of his other classic work for children. Most of it has been unavailable for a long time, for reasons that can’t be made clear. Here’s your chance to check out these sounds, even if only to evaluate them for your children.

Most of us audiophiles have succumbed at times to the temptation to join a music-subscription service. I have been a member of the Columbia House Record Club, later the BMG CD Club, and I am about to bite the bullet and get into a CD-a-month club suggested by my friend whiteray. I don’t know how many of you had the good fortune to have your parents enroll you in a music club when you were two, but two-year-old caithiseach got an LP every month from Disneyland Records. The records tended to include the audio from films, including Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland.

What I found to be the cool thing about Disneyland records was that sides 1 and 2 were differentiated by showing one dot for Side 1 and two dots for Side 2. That was probably so kids who didn’t know their numbers could decide which side to put on. Since I was a fan of record labeling, I noted the innovation and remembered it.

Non-movie works came in the Disneyland series as well, and my two favorite LPs featured narration by Sterling Holloway. Both as the voice of Mother Goose (Disneyland DQ-1211) and the narrator of Peter and the Wolf, (DQ 1242), this Mr. Holloway provided me with just as much enjoyment as last week’s Mr. Holloway.

Sterling Holloway was born in 1905 in Cedartown, Georgia and died in 1992. He never lost his southern accent, and in a world where actors still affected Shakespearean tones in films, he logged about 100 feature films, many as a voice artist. He cropped up on television series often when I was a kid, and it was always a thrill to see the narrator of Peter and the Wolf acting live.

For that’s what he was to me: the narrator. I know he voiced Winnie the Pooh, and I was only six when he started that gig, but he had already imprinted himself on my musical consciousness via Disneyland Records by then.

I had a lively mind as a child, and I didn’t stand for baby crap in my audio world. Well, almost never. (Wait till December.) Mother Goose rhymes had the advantage of using big words and telling vivid stories, like maids having their noses snapped off by blackbirds. The way Sterling Holloway put the rhymes together, the story held your interest. Throughout this two-sided escapade, Sterling tried to recite “Peter Piper.” He flubbed it over and over, once getting as far as the final word, where he said “plick” for “pick.” [Spoiler here:] When he finally got the rhyme right at the end of the record, everyone on the recording cheered, and so did I. How could you not want Sterling Holloway to make good?

The other record on which he figured heavily was Peter and the Wolf/The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The Peter and the Wolf sequence came originally from a Disney film made up of shorts called Make Mine Music (1946). As far as I’m concerned, this is a legitimate rendering of Сергей Прокофьев’s wonderful work for children, which is the quintessential example of how to expose children to music. The Holloway narration is lively and imaginative; once my copy of this classic went away, I tried out some others, including Boris Karloff and (I think) Laurence Olivier. They stuck to Prokofiev’s narration, which is charming, but the Disney people (maybe Holloway himself) gave the animals names (the duck was Sonya, for example), which made all the difference for me. The emotion Holloway was willing to invest in his narration was unparalleled as well.

The flip side of that record took the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence from Fantasia (borrowed from Dukas from Goethe from Philopseudes), as well as the Paul Dukas music, and turned it into a short story narrated once again by Sterling Holloway. Peter and the Wolf lasts about 15 minutes, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice about ten. No commercial breaks, no video. Just sounds to make you imagine what was happening.

I mentioned that my record went away. Just one LP survived the Great Meltdown, and these weren’t the one. But a couple of really weird things happened in the 1980s.

One day I was looking at LPs around the time my elder son was born. I happened to be looking through the children’s section, and there it was: Mother Goose. I probably would have bought it anyway, but with the prospect of sharing it with my child, whether he was born yet or not, in mind, I could not pass it up. I remembered virtually all of the record even before I played it, but one song, “Myself” (see link below), sung by a young girl, hadn’t stuck in my memory.

As it turns out, the rhymes on this record were almost certainly drawn from The Real Mother Goose, illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright and published by Rand McNally in 1916. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, you can see the book here.

The second odd thing happened at Wal-Mart. I know, you’re thinking that odd things happen all the time at Wal-Mart, so who is caithiseach to note such a thing? Well, my odd thing was that I was looking at some videos, and a bunch of Disney shorts had been combined on one VHS tape—including Peter and the Wolf. I snatched that one up as well. Just one copy, and I’ve not seen it since.

The original film Make Mine Music seems to have shown Sterling Holloway reading from Peter and the Wolf, whereas he makes no physical appearance in my video. The animation is classic early Disney, nothing cheap. If you or a little one you know likes Disney animation, you need to find this video.

For now, check out part of the audio of Peter and the Wolf, and some snippets from Mother Goose. If you’re a jaded adult, please don’t feel betrayed. There is plenty more oddball pop and R&B from the early 1960s coming your way before 2008 closes up shop. In fact, if you’re a jaded adult, this post, and the next one, are dedicated to you.

In addition to the audio below, I can give you a link to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on YouTube. Embedding was disabled, or I would have the clip here. You can see the LP label and the cover there.

Blog note: After I post this, I am getting in the car and driving to Philadelphia. There, I will be shopping a bit of my writing and meeting one of the artists I have featured here. (My landlord will be making the rounds twice a day to feed my three pit bulls, so don’t get any ideas.) I am uploading the music for the next three posts today, and I should have no trouble staying on track. But if I happen to be late with a post anytime this month, it’s because of technical difficulties caused by my laptop.

If you’re going to be near Philadelphia on Friday, Saturday or Sunday (till noon or so), stop by the Holiday Inn at 4th and Arch and ask around for Seán Dwyer at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. Someone will know who I am and where to find me. I would love to thank you in person for reading this stuff.

For Saturday, I’ll be looking at another concoction aimed partly at kids, but this one is related to a prime-time animated series that dominated the genre until The Simpsons came along. See you Saturday!

Sterling Holloway, Peter and the Wolf Part 1

Mother Goose, Part 1

Mother Goose, Part 2

“Myself,” a song from Mother Goose


stackja1945 said...

Yes Sterling Holloway, I remember him. Again showing my age. Yes there is a
"strong indication of grass-roots popularity among nostalgic adults"

There’s an old story, often quoted by radio producers, about a young man who, when asked whether he preferred radio or television, replied "Radio, because the pictures are better."

Just a Regular Guy said...

I'm also a great fan of Sterling Holloway's narration for Peter and the Wolf.
Of course the version that I had as a child disappeared, but the memories of it never left.
When my children were younger I searched for a copy of this album but I was never able to locate a copy of it.
I have a cd copy of David Bowie doing the narration and also a vinyl copy of Peter Ustinov.
Listening is just not the same as the one I grew up with.
Over the past two months I have been able to obtain two copys of this on vinyl.
Although they are not great greatest copies, I know that this is still out there and I will continue my search.
Nice to see that there are others out there who appreciate the wonderful production that the Disney people did in regards to this work.

Anonymous said...

I don't suppose there's any chance you could repost the Sterling Holloway "Mother Goose Rhymes"? I've been trying to find them for a long time. I used to love the tape as a kid.

caithiseach said...

Anonymous, thanks for your interest. The bits I featured here aren't the whole record, and while I can put those back up, if you email me at sean at sdwyer.net, I'll get the whole thing to you, in eight parts.