I am always happy to fill requests and this one, from friend and musicologist Tom Samuels, is certainly request-worthy. Tom, like many of us, is a fan of Raymond Scott’s music, and Tom asked how many of Scott’s composition are heard in Soundies. As it turns out, there are five in total, and over the next few weeks we will view at least four of them, the fifth if I can locate the reel it is on. For today, it’s “Huckleberry Duck.”
Those who are into the Great American Songbook are familiar with the team of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, best known for “The Trolly Song,” “Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas,” and “The Boy Next Door.” Before settling in Hollywood to write for the movies, Martin and Blane partnered with sisters Phyllis and Jo Jean Rogers to form a close harmony quartet called the Martins. The vocal blend of the quartet was strong, and the arrangements by Martin inventive, not straying too far from the melody, but always adding harmonic twists that keep the listener totally involved.
Raymond Scott is one of the most unique American songwriters, a composer who deftly combined elements of jazz, classical music and popular sounds to create a style of descriptive program music that resonated with listeners. (His tune “Powerhouse” was used many times in Warner Bros. cartoon of the period when anything “manic” was happening on screen.) “Huckleberry Duck” dates from 1940 and, as one might expect, the rhythmic foundation of the song indeed does suggest the waddling of a duck.
A lengthy interview with Hugh Martin is included in the upcoming Soundies book. Regarding this Soundie, Hugh recalled, “I remember recording the songs (with the orchestra) in Manhattan, and then trekking out to Long Island and lip-synching for the cameras. In Huckleberry Duck I am seated at the piano, but I wasn’t really playing it. I look nervous. Maybe I was scared of the duck.” Said duck, identified in production papers as Oscar, is used effectively to add comedy to the three-minute exploration of Raymond Scott’s tune.