Friday, August 18, 2006

The Voices Of Walter Schumann - The Voices Of Christmas

In yesterday's yuleblog entry, we had a rather long album title I downloaded from Ernie (not Bert's) blog as a headline. Today, we have another album from Ernie (not Bert's) blog and another long album title as a headline!

Some of you might be asking "Who is Walter Schumann and why did he have so many voices?" Here's just the facts:

Schumann was born in New York, New York on October 8, 1913. In the early 1930s, he was attending the law school of USC when he abruptly quit to play in a college dance band.

Eventually, the band went its separate ways and Schumann continued on into the music business, working with Eddie Cantor on his radio show, and recording with Andre Kostelanetz.

World War II started, Walter enlisted, and became the musical director of the Armed Forces Radio Service. He worked with most of the major acts of the war on all the radio shows AFRS produced during this time. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles and worked in the movie and television industry as a composer and arranger, mostly for several Abbott & Costello films.

In 1949, Schumann was asked to compose a new theme for a police detective show about to make its debut on the NBC Radio network. He began his theme with a four note motif - quite possibly the second most famous four note motif after Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: "Dumm-da-dumm-dummmmm".

"Dragnet" was a HUGE smash and Schumann's theme quickly became instantly recognizable. Ray Anthony quickly recorded a cover of the theme and it went gold. In a classic episode of "The Honeymooners", Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton realize the money they found on a bus is counterfeit and the real owners would come calling. A knock at the door. Ralph and Ed freeze. Ralph's eyes bulge in fear. Ed Norton hums the "Dragnet" theme. Huge laughs!

MAD Magazine parodied "Dragnet" twice in their early days (issues number three and eleven, respectively), both times savagely using Schumann's blaring theme to blow them off the comic frame.

Stan Freberg wanted to parody "Dragnet" as well and asked Jack Webb for his blessing. Webb gave the okay and even suggested that Stan use Walter Schumann and his Orchestra for the parodies.

The only problem was while they recorded "St. George And The Dragonet", Schumann and company kept breaking out into laughter, ruining take after take. Two other parodies were recorded: "Little Blue Riding Hood" used Schumann's theme both as a doorbell and doorknock, and the immortal Christmas classic:





Inbetween all of this, Schumann banded together 20 talented vocalists and The Voices Of Walter Schumann were born. They recorded several easy listening albums a la Jackie Gleason for both Capitol and RCA.

Schumann was busy in 1955. He composed & conducted the score to the classic Robert Mitchum film "The Night Of The Hunter", he won an Emmy for his "Dragnet" theme, recorded an amazing space age spoken word album entitled "Exploring the Unknown", and the Voices recorded 19 tracks for this Christmas album.

Most of the album is pretty much straightforward, simple and elegant. Several standout tracks include a fun version of "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" (was that Thurl Ravenscroft as Santa?), "Fum Fum Fum" is an amazing track, "Christmas Gift" is a rollickin' good time thanks to Jester Hairston, and "Christmas Chopsticks" perfectly ends the album.

Overall, not the first album I'd grab from the shelf but I'm glad its there!

Walter Schumann continued on recording with the Voices and appearing on the first season of "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show". Poor health led him to travel to the Mayo Clinic in the summer of 1958 where he underwent one of the first open heart surgeries in the United States.

Complications quickly arose and Schumann died on August 21, 1958 - weeks before the second season of "Tennessee Ernie" began. The Voices were stunned but pressed on. They were renamed "The Top Twenty" and carried on with Ford for another five years.

I bet every time a Tums commercial comes on the air, Walter spins in his grave.

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

This old Walter Schumann album was a family favorite for years. I, fortunately, made a recording of it some years ago on my old reel to reel recorder, but time is taking its toll on the sound quality. Is this album available anywhere as a CD?

Anonymous said...

I have an original album (cover and vinyl record) of Schumann's Voices of Christmas...just like your picture. Way too scratched up to play anymore, but I keep it because of the memories. As kids, we played it to death back in the 60s.

I have the same question as the other commenter. Is this available anywhere as a CD?

Anonymous said...

you can get all the mp3s and the artwork here:
http://ernienotbert.blogspot.com/2006/11/voices-in-my-head.html

Anonymous said...

It is now on cd. You can purchase from ccmusic.com

CaptainOT said...

Anons - Thanks for answering someone's questions for me!


Capt

Willy said...

The CD is available at Circuit City.
I have the original album too--very good--brings back memories too.

CaptainOT said...

Willy - The CD was reissued for Christmas, 2007 and everyone needs to go buy this at their local store for two reasons:

1.) It's great Christmas music
2.) The music industry needs to put the vinyl sharity network out of business by reissuing more lost classics!


Capt