Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Pop Culture Caught in a Dragnet

There’s a difference between a satire of a TV show and a send-up of its theme song. But bandleader Ray Anthony doesn’t appear to have understood that.

“Dragnet” began on TV the same year as “I Love Lucy” and both have probably never left the tube since then. “Lucy” had a huge audience, but “Dragnet” must beat it when it comes to parodies and rip-offs. Jack Webb’s monotone style delivery of abrupt lines and the show’s theme have been imitated countless times for laughs. And I suspect the first person to see the lampooning value in Webb’s cop show was the master satirist Stan Freberg, who scored a huge hit with “St. George and the Dragonet” on Capitol records. He and the great writer and voice actor Daws Butler took the “Dragnet” concept, theme and all, and plunked it in mediaeval times.

Meanwhile, others thought the theme itself could be a money-maker. And that’s where Anthony comes in. But he griped to Associated Press reporter Bob Thomas about Freberg. Neither seems to have understood “St. George” wasn’t competing with anyone; it wasn’t as if someone was going to decide between buying Freberg’s parody of Webb’s show and a jazzed-up version of the show’s theme.

This is from 1953.

'Dragnet' Music and Takeoffs Score Huge Success

HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 8—(AP)—Dumm da dum dummm.
The opening theme of "Dragnet," the cops-and-hudlums TV show on NBC tonight, has become the most famous four notes in America today. They have eclipsed "Da da da dum"—the start of Beethoven's fifth symphony that was the victory symbol in World War II.
Reports Variety: "No show biz phenomenon has captured public interest as much as the musical theme of 'Dragnet' since the pioneer radio catchphrase days of 'Voss you dere, Sharlie?' 'Wanna buy a duck?' . . ."
Everywhere you go, it's "Dumm da dum dummm." It blares from juke boxes and radios. TV comics use it as a punch line. My five-year-old even brought it home from kindergarten the other day.
The craze was set off by Ray Anthony's hardrocking disc of the "Dragnet" theme. Now it is reaching a frenzied climax with a runaway record seller called "St. George and the Dragonet." Heaven knows where it will all end.
I sat down with bandleader Anthony to find out how it all happened. The suave musician, who looks like a trumpet playing Cary Grant, said it started over a year ago.
"My manager, Fred Benson, thought it would be a good idea to get out a record on the 'Dragnet' theme," he explained. "We asked one of my arrangers to whip up a treatment. Every month or so, I would ask him how he was coming. He'd say, 'Man, I can't get with it.'
"So we let it slide. There was some doubt whether Jack Webb would release the rights to the music for records.
"When we were in New York last summer, we heard that Buddy Morrow's band was coming out with a 'Dragnet' side on Victor. So I ordered a couple of arrangements in a hurry—one playing it straight and the other in boogie.
"We sat down to the recording date and played both versions. Neither of them sounded right. So we combined them and added some new touches. Four hours later, we came off with the finished product."
Capitol records put a hurry order on the disc and beat Victor to the market. Anthony's version began telling like hot dogs at a world series, it was by far the biggest seller his band ever had.
Then came "St. George and the Dragonet." A hilarious satire of Webb's underplaying, repetitive style, it was whipped up by two "Time for Beany" creators, Stan Freberg and Daws Butler, plus Walter Schumann, who composed the original "Dragnet" music.
The record is one of the fastest stellers in history, reaching 900,000 and still climbing. It has naturally cut into Anthony's sales. Why would his own company bring out a competing record?
"That's what I'd like to know," replies Anthony, who is slightly indignant about it. But he added that his sales are beginning to build up steam again. The latest figure is 700,000.
Many people have wondered how Webb feels about the jazzing up and lampooning of his TV show. He appears to favor the Anthony version and tolerate "St. George." But he has frowned on Spike Jones' record and some others.
"It's the small, commercial outfits which never bothered to secure clearance, that we're out to stop," he said.
The big question about 'Dragnet' is whether the show's theme will make the Hit Parade, which is sponsored by a rival cigaret firm. So far it hasn't made the grade among the top seven tunes. Yet it appears in the top three of most record sales, radio and juke box lists. How now, Hit Parade?

Here’s the Anthony version of the “Dragnet” theme.

And here’s a hissy version of Freberg’s great single featuring him, Daws Butler and June Foray with Hy Averback intoning the opening lines much like George Fenneman did on the TV show.

1 comment:

  1. Ray Anthony's gripe was that Capitol brought out Freberg's record before his own (on the same label) had peaked. It's not an unfair complaint. Anthony's single was moving up the charts, and a mere month later here comes this parody that obviously got a lot more attention. Moreover, the theme's publisher put out two sets of sheet music: one plugging Anthony's record, the other Frebergs. Both versions are pictured in my book MY NAME'S FRIDAY.

    Contrary to what Thomas wrote, Webb was delighted with Freberg's single. He was already a fan of Freberg's work on "Time for Beany", he willingly loaned his arranger Nathan Scott to orchestrate the music for the parody, and when he got the record, he suspended shooting and played it on the set. I don't doubt that he wasn't happy with Spike Jones' version; it's nowhere near as clever. (I'd love to know what he thought of ROCKET SQUAD or UNDER THE COUNTER SPY!)