The Missus and I took a much-needed mini-vacation this past weekend, trekking off to central Florida for (among other things) our first visit to the other theme park in that neighborhood. We love amusement parks and fairs (county, state, you name it), but neither of us is a big roller-coaster fan; most of the rides at our destination park were pure roller coasters, or adaptations of the genre. And if you look through the place’s Web site, you will observe that pretty much all the happy, screaming people in the photos are no more than half our age, and the majority much younger.
Still, we found plenty to do, although we spent only about five or six hours at the park itself (counting a full dinner).
The single activity I spent most of the four days engaged in — other than driving, haha — was reading. It felt almost irresponsible, reading so much. I finished one book I’d been reading for weeks; started and finished another in the next 24 hours; and put a huge dent in a third. I read for hours at a clip. (Of course, it helped that I’d sorta-but-not-quiiiiiite-finished this draft of Seems to Fit a couple days before. The very last chapter still needs work, but even so, my head was largely empty of responsibility to my own story.)
Anyway, headed into the midweek I got thinking about theme- and amusement-park music. Usually — at least to my mind — this music is associated with carousels, merry-go-rounds, whatever-you-call them, and often has that characteristic hurdy-gurdy sound. (The rides’ up-and-down round-and-round rhythms favor short songs played over, and over, and over, and over…) When I was a kid, a carousel appeared on the streets of our own town every now and again in summer, and the single number I remember it playing was (maybe unsurprisingly) “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down.”
[It was] written in 1937 by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin. It is best known as the theme tune for the Looney Tunes cartoon series produced by Warner Bros. Cartoons, used from 1937 to 1969.
Here’s one Looney Tunes rendition, not the opening-titles instrumental but as sung by an early version of guess-who in “Daffy Duck and Egghead” (1938):
But the cartoon version was (is) waaay too fast to be played by any carousel other than one about to fly apart at its welded seams. The one I remember was paced more like this disturbing version from television’s old Lawrence Welk Show:
(The cartoon version of the song, though, provided me with the title for Merry-Go-Round. The sequel to that, called Merrily We Roll Along, gets its title from the theme song for the Merry Melodies cartoon series — also by Warner Brothers.)
Now it occurs to me that another carousel song was adapted for use in short comedies from the same mid-1930s era: “Listen to the Mockingbird,” the first theme song for The Three Stooges’ films. (They later switched to “Three Blind Mice,” but I’ve never heard a carousel play that one. Maybe the transference works in only one direction.)
At any rate, no matter how much I enjoy theme and amusement parks, especially those in central Florida, I can never dissociate them from this song:
Yeah. That (the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair) was the first place I ever heard it, too — maybe fifteen, twenty years before first re-encountering it at Disney World. What a surprise *cough* that it stayed with me during all that time in between!
In the above clip, the voiceover celebrates how many languages sing the song during the ride. Of course, the more languages in which it’s sung and instruments on which it’s played, the more times the maddening tune must be played, and the more desperate the riders grow to be freed from the little boats they’re trapped in. I like to imagine the Disney crew in their white short-sleeved shirts and ties, brainstorming around a table in a bar in late-1950s Southern California, laughing, growing ever drunker as they call out, “We’ve gotta do it in Sanskrit!” “Wait — Tagalog!” “Don’t forget Urdu!” “Old Norse!” “Pygmy Bantu!”…
I opted here not to use any of the videos which play all of “It’s a Small World.” If you’re a glutton for punishment, you’ve got a lot of them to choose from.