Even in this age of the internet making the obscure common place and DVD reissues coupled with YouTube making vague childhood memories concrete again, one cornerstone of pop culture wish lists has remained elusive.
I have never met anyone who does not love the background music from the original animated Spider-man cartoon. Although the theme song from the 1967-1970 series has been released and covered several times, the P.D. Francis, Bob Harris, Stu Phillips and D. Kapross penned ditty (four writers were used for that theme song!) pales in comparison to the underscore. Listen to a muddy sounding bootleg of some of this music here. The problem for years was that no living source could remember from which music library the background ditties were pulled. Doubling the problem is the fact that these amazing instrumentals, most likely, did not have a name - let alone any musicians credited with composing them. As often is the case with music made specifically for the purpose of generic use, whether it be for radio station promos, commercials, or in this case, a low-budget cartoon, the fly-by-night companies that produced this stuff often went out of business and their many hours worth of musical reels soon disappeared, ending up who-knows-where. Furthermore, it can be nearly impossible to unearth music that was used for a particular show when the reels were never marked "background music from Spider-man" but instead with titles like "action scene," "city scape," "outer space," or "police chase."
The way such stock music applied to the cartoon world was described quite well by Barry "Dr. Demento" Hansen in the liner notes to Rhino Records' 1995 CD release Hanna Barbera Classics Volume One. Although Spider-Man was not made by HB, this sums up the type of world so much of Spider-Man's amazing background music was coming from. "In
addition to using limited animation, Hanna Barbera found many other
ways to economize on their TV cartoons. In their early days they used
the musical equivalent of 'stock footage.' Since the 1920s, various
recording companies have produced libraries of stock music - generic
themes created in advance for use by anyone who paid a fee for the
privilege. These recordings, called needle-drops in the trade, were
first used by local theaters to enhance showings of silent films. Later
they were used on the soundtracks of low-budget films, as well as on radio and eventually television. Hanna Barbera used an excellent up-to-date needle drop library produced by Capitol Records. 'We saved a lot of money that way,' Bill Hanna recalled recently, 'our editors used to listen to their library of music and pick out things. I remember going down to the Capitol Tower myself to work on music." Some of the same music used early on by HB also appears in episodes of Art Clokey's classic claymation co-production with the Lutheran Church, Davey and Goliath and on the perennial fifties sictom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
The potential clue to where the Spider-Man underscore lies today might come from where the show was produced - if that in itself weren't so confusing. The makeshift animation company Grantray-Lawrence was formed in the mid-nineteen fifties by former MGM animators Grant Simmons and Ray Patterson in partnership with New York commercial producer Robert Lawrence. Together they produced countless animated commercials in the classic "cartoon modern" style through out the decade. ABC, through producer Steve Krantz, contracted the animation out to Grantray-Lawrence. The animation for the program (as well as for all the other superheros that made up the sister program The Marvel Superheroes) was done in New York City. The vocal tracks, however, were all done in Toronto, where a voice actor could be employed on the cheap. The animation, of course, was already as cheap as you could get, at Grantray-Lawrence in the good old U.S. of A.
Toronto had a large pool of actors in the nineteen fifties that were nourished by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, one of only two major players in Canadian television, and the only major player in Canadian radio drama. This pool came in very handy when voice acting needed to be employed by American producers looking to cut costs. Rankin-Bass was the first American outfit to exploit the Canadian acting community, at a time when its soon-to-be-prolific animation outfit was still nothing in America. The now legendary 1964 stop motion animation special Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer employed an enmormous stable of Canadian voice actors that all went on to provide voices on Spider-man (What? You didn't know Burl Ives played Doc Oc!?). Hemrie the Misfit Elf was done by Paul Soles, the future Spider-man and Peter Parker himself. Billie Richards, Rudolph, often played Paperboys or other anonymous children in the show. Paul Kligman who played both Donner the Reindeer and the Reindeer Coach in the classic holiday special became the cantankerous J. Jonah Jameson. Kligman was employed as regular second-fiddle to Canadian comedy team Wayne & Shuster in virtually every sketch they did for close to thirty years. Peg Dixon provided all the female voices in the Rudolph special and then went on to provide all the female voices in Spider-man and the rest of the Grantray-Lawrence Marvel cartoons. Bernard Cowan, a veteran CBC announcer, narrated the Spiderman cartoon, acted as dialogue coach and also played every random bit part on the show that needed filling in.This same company of actors can be heard time and time again in other cheap American cartoons of the era that were set on cutting costs. You'll recognize all of Spidey's friends and family speaking in cheapies like Tales of the Wizard of Oz, Professor Kitzel, The New Adventures of Pinocchio and Rocket Robin Hood. Today most of these program continue to appear on Canadian television in odd timeslots. The Canadian government's media regulatory body, the CRTC, has strict rules that demand radio and television stations air anywhere from thrity to fifty percent Canadian content every programming day. Most stations have, for years, been scrambling and suffering to fulfill this quota and hence many of the Grantray-Lawrence shows like the ludicrous Rocket Robin Hood, and of course Spider-Man, continue to be rerun on a regular basis.
Grantray-Lawrence went bankrupt in 1967 and Krantz had to take over much of the production itself, employing Ralph Bakshi, fresh off his stint on the cancelled Saturday morning curio, The Mighty Heroes, had left the defunct TerryToons. He directed and designed many sequences in Rocket Robin Hood and Spider-man. Producer Steve Krantz would eventually put up the money for Bakshi's famous take on Robert Crumb's Fritz the Cat. The second and third seasons of Spider-man have a decidedly different look and feel than the brighter, more optimistic first season of the show.
While trying my best to uncover the original music reels back in the mid-nineties, I met another man on the same mission who had dubbed some of the same music from a 1975 Molson Canadian beer commercial. Seeing as how this was a Canadian commercial, and Toronto being the hub of Canadian commercial production, it would seem logical to conclude that wherever the great music originated, it was probably a stock library somewhere in Toronto. However, it was only the first twenty episodes that were produced in Toronto. Some of Spider-man's groovy licks surface in a low-budget 1966 Doris Wishman film Another Day, Another Man. The film was made in NYC and the melodies provided are courtesy a company called Music Sound Track Service. According to IMDB the company also provided music for three other Wishman productions as well as two for another sexploitation master, Radley Metzger. However, more often than not a company like this was given no credit whatsoever. Once a company paid their fee for the music, neither groups held any kind of contractual obligation to each other for screen credit or anything else. A company with a name even more generic sounding than the music they created doesn't bode well for tracking their remnants down today.
Kevin McCory of Spyder-25.com sheds more light on where some of the other places this Spidey music has been heard, although this tends to add even more confusion to where potential sources for tracking the original masters might be found. "Some of the tunes for Spiderman were library music used in The Fugitive (1963-7), Doctor Who (1963-89) and [in] some American Public Service Announcements. The haunting melody heard when Spidey first enters Mole City in 'Menace From the Bottom of the World' and while he is being 'iced' in the nuclear freezer in 'Cold Storage' was a regular fixture of the soundtrack for the 1980-81 season of Dallas." With the added information on Doctor Who this actually adds an extra country to the mix, meaning that my beloved needle drop Spider-Man music will either be found in Canada, the United States or England. McCorry's site also states that Bob Harris who is co-credited with writing the theme song was also responsible for some of those fast paced instrumentals in the background. This is true. It turns out that the background music can be divided into two camps. The first season and the last two.
The first season of Spider-man featured original music compsoed by both Bob Harris and Ray Ellis. A group of jazz musicians in Alberta who call themselves Mole City, the name presumably taken from that aforementioned episode, have an eleven minute medley of Spider-Man background music in their repertoire. According to their site, one of their bass players corresponded with Bob Harris about nine years ago, trying to pry information from him on the whereabouts of this oh-so-slippery music. Harris stated that he did indeed have the master tapes at his home in New York, which he rarely visits, and was now residing in California but would dig them up next time he went east. Over the course of the next several months, however, Harris' health started to deteriorate and he never went on that next visit. In the year 2000, Harris passed away as did the member of the band who had been corresponding with him, ending the search for the time being. Not long after, another nerd picked up the torch, contacting Bob Harris' widow. She stated that she had no idea about the whereabouts of any tapes, and that on top of that, thieves had recently busted into that New York home, stealing items, and vandalizing the whole place in general. Were they looking for the Spider-Man music? Did they tear up the joint out of total frustration in not being able to find it? I wonder.
I am not certain if Ellis and Harris were flat out fired after their remarkable compositions graced the soundtrack in the first season, but their services were not employed for seasons two and three. Although their tracks were often repeated in the second and third season episodes, no new material by the men was added. Instead, the cheaper method of needle drop music was used exclusively. When I first posted this article in early 2007, the reason did not start and stop with a simple celebration of this music. I actually wanted to track it down. After the initial post, I heard loud and clear from all facets of nerds, many of them angry (you'd be mad too if you went decades without getting laid). The music from the second and third season came almost exclusively from a music library in England. It might all be a blur for the average reader or fan - what music came from what season? I've taken the liberty of putting together an hour podcast that pitts, side by side, the original muddy sounding soundtrack from the show, to the pristine original master tapes of the corresponding song, beautifully preserved, from the KPM library. Listen to it here.
The KPM music library is the oldest and largest music library in Britain - maybe even the world. They still exist today, and for a fee, you too could use the original Spider-man music in a film or TV show. This link is essential and gives you everything you need to know about KPM. Also, a special thanks to this enormous group of nerds who have added insight, information, links and corrections - their message board is well worth checking out. Many people have searched for this music throughout the years, and although they remain anonymous (but super nerdy), their work and persistance paid off. Just finding KPM alone is not enough. The KPM library consists of thousands and thousands of reels, tapes, and LPs and as mentioned before, none of these are labeled "the music from Spider-man." They had to be scoured individually before the correct beds were unearthed. The majority of the songs in the second and third seasons were composed by these British songsmiths: Syd Dale, Alan Hawkshaw, Johnny Hawksworth, David Lindup, Bill Martin and Phil Coulter.
One of the most famous episodes of the Spider-man series was a bizarre, terrifying, and apparently drug induced episode called Revolt in the Fifth Dimension - watch it here. To add to the weirdness of the whole thing, Grantray-Lawrence cut even more corners (previously not thought to be possible) by reusing much the same animation, villain voices and dialogue, in an equally trippy episode of Rocket Robin Hood called Dementia Five - watch it here. It featured a pointedly different soundtrack than most episodes. Laden with reverb, distortion, crazy inexplicable drums, the music was composed by Martin and Coulter. Any doubts I or my acquaintances may have had about the intent to portray psychedelia in this insane cartoon were put to rest when I found the original KPM master for the episode. The generic track was recorded with the intention of it being used for absolutely anybody who needed it, not just Spiderman. Its composers probably would be surprised to hear of its selection for use in a children's cartoon. The actual name of the cut: LSD.
You can hear audio from the episode followed by the original KPM master, also, on this podcast.