Friday, April 3, 2015

Shmoo songs of 1948-49

The merchandizing blitz around the shmoo character from Al Capp's comic strip L'il Abner was so excessive in the late 1940s that Capp quipped, "I think they even had shmoo toilet seats." Shmoo appeared on the cover of Time, and a headline in Life announced "The U.S. Becomes Shmoo-Struck." In addition to all of the shmoo toys and novelties in 1948-49, a number of shmoo recordings hit the racks.

The shmoo character was a social satire for which Capp was labeled a radical, because some people thought that shmoos were socialists or were anti-capitalist. Shmoos were happy, whimsical creatures that "willingly, gleefully sacrificed themselves for the good of humanity," as Rodger Brown wrote in Southern ChangesThey were delicious to eat, and every part of their blobby bodies could be used to make useful items such as leather, buttons, and toothpicks.

The shmoo craze had mostly run its course by 1950. In 1949, the U.S. Treasury Department officially designated the shmoo as its mascot for a security bond drive. Ads for shmoo novelties continued to appear in trade publications in 1950 but tapered off soon thereafter. In 1950, Atlantic Records acquired the rights to Capp's L'il Abner characters, including the shmoo, for a series of children's records that were to be composed by Leo Israel. Two years later, Atlantic was still saying that the records were forthcoming. As far as I can tell, the songs were never released.

Songs of the Shmoo – no artist (Music You Enjoy, 1948)

  • The Snuggable, Huggable Shmoo b/w The Shmoo Doesn't Cost a Cent (SS-100, 1948)
  • The Shmoo Club b/w The Shmoo Is Clean, The Shmoo Is Neat (SS-105, 1948)
  • Shmoo Lesson b/w A Shmoo Can Do Most Anything (SS-110, 1948)
These were the first three shmoo records, which were issued individually on 7-inch, 78-RPM records that featured Capp's artwork on the picture sleeves (shown at the top of this page). The songs were written by Gerald Marks, the composer of the pop and jazz standard "All of Me," and the orchestrations were directed by Justin Stone, who led the Justin Stone Orchestra. Here's a snippet of lyrics from "A Shmoo Can Do Most Anything":
A shmoo can do most anything because he is a shmoo 
A shmoo can be most anything that you want him to 
If he's in trouble he won't cry 
He knows just how to multiply
Four of these songs appeared again the following year on a 10-inch LP that was released by Allegro Records.

The Shmoo Sings – Earl Rogers (Allegro, 1949)

  • The Broken Down Town of Dogpatch/A Shmoo Can Do Most Anything/The Snuggable, Huggable Shmoo//The Shmoo Doesn't Cost a Cent/The Shmoo Is Clean, The Shmoo Is Neat/Shmoo Music
Billboard, March 12, 1949
In 1949, Allegro Records obtained exclusive rights to re-record the songs from Music You Enjoy, and the new recordings were performed by vocalist Earl Rogers. Rogers was a tenor who recorded classical and children's music for Allegro and later served as the president of the New York Singing Teachers' Association from 1960-62.

Rogers' versions featured backing by the anonymous "Shmoo Band," directed by Daniel Mendelsohn, who also led the Daniel Mendelsohn Orchestra. The two new cuts, "The Broken Down Town of Dogpatch" and "Shmoo Music," were instrumentals.

The record received a lukewarm review in Billboard, in which it was given a rating of 82 out of 100:
An especially attractive cover by cartoonist Al Capp, and the popularity of the L'il Abner strip, in which the Shmoo appears, should sell a lot of these sets. Most of the tunes are undistinctive, and the rendition is mediocre, altho the toy-size rural orking is very cute. One tune, 'The Shmoo Is Clean' is catchier than the rest, and drives home a good point.

"The Shmoo Song" – John Jacob Loeb and Jule Styne (1948)

A song called "The Shmoo Song" was published as sheet music in 1948, but it doesn't appear to have been recorded. It was cowritten by Jule Styne, who wrote the winter classic "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" "The Shmoo Song" includes the following lyrics:
The shmoo is the power of jet propulsion 
The laugh convulsion of Bob Hope or Shmilton Berle 
The rich, foamy lather in your shampoo 
Was caused by Mr. Shmoo 

"The Kigmy Song" – Joe Rosenfeld and Fay Tishman (1949)

A lesser craze for Capp's shmoo-like kigmy creatures followed the shmoo craze, and at least one song about them was published. The kigmy ("kick me") was kind of like a shmoo that liked to be kicked in the butt.

In 1979-80, the shmoo was revived in the animated children's series The New Shmoo. Hanna-Barbera packaged together The New Shmoo and The Flinstones as Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo. Here's the theme: