An oddball collection of easy listening show tunes inspired by the children’s TV favourites of the early 1970s.
When I was a small child, I owned an LP that was so odd and so unlikely that, years later, I started to wonder if it was simply a false memory that I had dreamed up as a nipper. The record had left my possession when it was traded in a pile of children’s LPs that I had outgrown to a local record shop for the soundtrack album of The Exorcist (as deals go, this was not the best in retrospect, though it did give me an early and startling introduction to the world of avant-garde modern classical music) and as I couldn’t remember the title of the album, it was entirely possible that its existence may have remained a mystery forever. But one day during an unrelated Google search, up popped an LP cover that looked strangely familiar. A bit more digging confirmed that the odd album that I owned as a five-year-old really did exist – and really was as bizarre as I remembered.
Spin A Magic Tune was released in 1973 by Tempo Records and offered “20 fantastic new songs about your favourite cartoon characters”. The word ‘new’ was a clue that I suspect many children and their parents overlooked as excited nippers stared goggle-eyed at the collection of their animated favourites – from Penelope Pitstop to Dastardly and Mutley, from Bugs Bunny to the Roadrunner and Wile-E-Coyote – that adored the cover. An equally scant amount of attention was probably paid to the back cover sleeve notes, because who had the time (or, for many pre-schoolers, the ability) to read that? I’m sure I was far from the only kid to excitedly receive this as a gift, looking forward to listening to the iconic theme tunes to Scooby-Doo Where Are You?, The Hair Bear Bunch and Rupert the Bear only to find upon playing that the record was a collection of unnecessary new songs based on the characters. It was less disappointing than baffling and while I certainly played the record a lot – because I didn’t have many records back then – it never stopped feeling as though I’d somehow been conned. Which, of course, I had.
Opportunist and low-cost cover version albums were commonplace in the 1970s, from the Top of the Pops LPs and soundalike bands covering Abba to bandleaders like Geoff Love who would crank out collections for the Music for Pleasure label, pitched at people who wanted top movie themes but were disinclined to buy the more expensive official soundtrack albums. These albums made sense – the content might not be authentic, but the tracks were familiar and if you didn’t pay too much attention would pass as the real thing. Had Spin A Magic Tune been a similar collection of cover versions – much as The Mike Sammes Singers and others recorded for Music for Pleasure as seven-inch singles for kids – it might have made more sense as a low-cost cash-in for less fussy children to enjoy. But this was something else – twenty brand-new songs about your TV favourites, linked with a spoken narrative about John and his talking dog Samson who spin a vaguely-described spinny thing that transports them from their bed to the magical land of cartoon characters. Essentially, it’s a concept album.
Songwriters Ken Martyne and Mike McNaught had already produced a couple of Rupert the Bear adventure albums and it’s clear that they are trying to capture the flavour of the shows in their songs – they’d obviously watched the various cartoons before writing this. The songs themselves are very odd though – they feel like swinging easy listening rather than music for little kids, which admittedly makes the album now very entertaining. This is groovy stuff that you could imagine being performed on Saturday night variety shows by Lulu or Tom Jones, along with a few wistful numbers that seem to be channelling Burt Bacharach – Rupert feels like a knock-off of Raindrops Are Falling On My Head – and a few play like show tunes. All this is oddly brilliant when heard now – an album full of easy listening and big band numbers about Scooby-Doo and Motor Mouse and Autocat (remember them?) is such a deliriously mad idea that it’s hard to resist. If someone ever wanted to turn Hanna-Barbera cartoons into a West End musical (and don’t laugh, it’s entirely possible that someone is working on that even as we speak), they could do worse than to mine this for inspiration.
I do wonder just what the point is though. Given that the characters had to be licensed and the songs written and recorded, would it really have been much more expensive to simply buy the rights to use the actual cartoon themes? The album seems to be a weird collision of over-ambition and contempt for the listener – because as much as a lot effort went into creating this, surely no one who owned it preferred this to the tunes they knew and loved. I imagine a lot of these albums were bought – it was, after all, promoted with TV advertising – and most were filed away and forgotten soon afterwards. It’s not exactly a collectable record – though it’s certainly rare these days – but as a misguided and pointless curiosity, it’s well worth a listen.
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