Powerhouse (instrumental)

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Brunswick 78 rpm issue of Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse"

"Powerhouse" (1937) is an instrumental musical composition by Raymond Scott, perhaps best known today as the iconic "assembly line" music in animated cartoons released by Warner Bros..

History[edit]

In scripted comments read on the First Anniversary Special of CBS Radio's Saturday Night Swing Club, on which the Raymond Scott Quintette performed, host Paul Douglas announced that "Powerhouse" had been premiered on that program in January or early February 1937.[1]

Scott's Quintette (actually a sextet) first recorded "Powerhouse" in New York on February 20, 1937, along with three other titles. This recording was first commercially issued on the Irving Mills-owned Master Records label as Master 111 (mx. M-120-1), coupled with another Scott composition, "The Toy Trumpet." After the demise of the Master label late in 1937, "Powerhouse" was reissued on Brunswick 7993, and subsequently on Columbia 36311 (after the CBS purchase of ARC, which included the Brunswick catalog). The same take was issued on all releases.[2] (An unreleased 1939 recording by the original Scott Quintette was issued in 2002 on the 2-CD Scott compilation Microphone Music.)

Both "Powerhouse" and "The Toy Trumpet" remained in Scott's repertoire for decades, both were adapted for Warner Bros. cartoon soundtracks by WB music director Carl Stalling along with a dozen other Scott titles, and both have been recorded by numerous other artists. Stalling, who spiced his scores with "Powerhouse" dozens of times,[3] never created a complete version of the work, with all his adaptations existing as excerpts.

The United States publisher of the title is Music Sales Corporation. Outside the U.S., the title is controlled by Warner/Chappell Music.

Structure[edit]

Structurally, "Powerhouse" consists of two distinct - and seemingly unrelated - musical themes, played at different tempos. Both have been used in numerous cartoons. The first theme, sometimes referred to as "Powerhouse A," is a frantic passage typically employed in chase and high-speed vehicle scenes to imply whirlwind velocity. The slower theme, "Powerhouse B," is the "assembly line" music, which sometimes accompanies scenes of repetitive, machine-like activity. "Powerhouse" in its entirety places "B" in the center while "A" opens and closes the work in the sequence A-B-A (Ternary form).

Acquisition of Scott catalog by Warner Bros.[edit]

In 1943, Scott's music publishing company, Circle Music, was sold to Warner Bros. Because Scott's titles were now controlled by Warner, Stalling was given access to the composer's catalog to adapt his popular melodies in Warner cartoon scores. Research has not yet determined whether the acquisition of Scott's catalog and subsequent adaptions by Stalling were intentional or serendipitous. Many of Scott's late 1930s compositions had an animated, frenetic quality, and his titles were humorous and absurd (e.g., "Boy Scout in Switzerland," "War Dance for Wooden Indians," "Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner," and "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals," all of which were quoted by Stalling in various cartoons).

There is a prevalent misconception that Scott composed music for Warner cartoons. However, the Scott titles adapted by Carl Stalling were originally composed between 1936 and 1942 for Scott's small jazz ensemble (his "Quintette") or his expanded big band. Scott had no involvement with Stalling's usages, he never worked for Warner Bros., and except for a one-minute TV commercial for County Fair Bread in the 1960s, he never composed music for animation.

Use in cartoons[edit]

The first use of "Powerhouse" in a cartoon occurred in the 1943 Warner Bros. Looney Tunes short Porky Pig's Feat, directed by Frank Tashlin. Also in 1943, it was used in the Private Snafu shorts Gripes, Spies,[4] and Rumors. It was subsequently featured in over 40 other Warner Bros. cartoons.[5] The most well-known "assembly-line" usage of "Powerhouse B" occurs in Bob Clampett's Baby Bottleneck (1946), in which newborn babies (of various species) are processed on a conveyor belt in time to the melody.

The "Powerhouse A" section featured prominently during Bugs Bunny's altercation with a gremlin in Clampett's 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon Falling Hare. The 1953 Merrie Melodies cartoon Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, directed by Chuck Jones, contains Stalling's lengthiest adaptation of the "Powerhouse A" section, clocking in at one minute and twenty-five seconds.

Other Warner cartoons which contain quotes from "Powerhouse" include Birdy and the Beast (1944), Cat-Tails for Two (1953), Early to Bet (1951), Falling Hare (1943), His Bitter Half (1950), House-Hunting Mice (1948), It's Hummer Time (1950), Jumpin' Jupiter (1955), Rocket Squad (1956), Sheep in the Deep (1962), Compressed Hare (1961), and dozens more.[6][7]

In the 1960s, producer Hal Seeger and composer/arranger Winston Sharples adapted "Powerhouse" and other Scott compositions in dozens of episodes of their Batfink cartoon series.[8]

The original Raymond Scott Quintette recordings, including "Powerhouse," were licensed in the early 1990s for soundtrack usage in twelve episodes of The Ren and Stimpy Show.[9] Various passages of the tune have been arranged for use in The Simpsons, Duckman, The Bernie Mac Show, and The Drew Carey Show (in a brief scene involving an animated character). An entire 1993 episode of Animaniacs, "Toy Shop Terror," was set to Warner Bros. music director Richard Stone's arrangement of the composition. "Powerhouse" also served as bumper theme music for the Cartoon Network from 1997 to 2003, and can be heard as a systematic rock theme in the 2003 feature film Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

"Powerhouse" has been used In The Simpsons four times. The first occurs in ""And Maggie Makes Three" (Season 6, Episode 13) during a scene at a bowling alley. In the episode "Bart Has Two Mommies" (Season 17, Episode 14), "Powerhouse" B is adapted in a scene that pays homage to the 1937 Disney short, The Old Mill, when Homer Simpson gets caught in the Old Mill while trying to save his Rubber Duckie. In the episode "Little Big Girl" (Season 18, Episode 12), "Powerhouse" was used during the sequence where the fire at Cletus' farm is lit. In the episode "The Fool Monty" (Season 22, Episode 6), "Powerhouse" was adapted as background music for a construction scene in which Charles Montgomery Burns, having lost his memory, is led to a dangerous construction site by Homer Simpson, who is seeks revenge for Burns' years of cruel behavior. Burns walks along moving girders, narrowly avoids flying rivets, and other well-worn cartoon construction site gags. Simpsons creator Matt Groening once ranked "Powerhouse" as #14 on a list of his "100 Favorite Things." [10]

Recent performances, recordings, and usages[edit]

"Powerhouse" was adapted without attribution by composer James Horner in the soundtrack of the 1989 film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The Horner composition, titled "Power Play," resulted in legal action by Scott's U.S. publisher, Music Sales Corporation, against Walt Disney Pictures for failure to credit the work's original composer. The dispute was ultimately settled out of court.[citation needed]

In recent years, Powerhouse has been recorded by jazz clarinetist Don Byron on his album Bug Music,[11] jazz pianist Ted Kooshian on his 2009 CD Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet: Underdog, and other Stories...,[12] pedal steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse, The Metropole Orchestra, The Beau Hunks Sextette, The Coctails, and jazz guitarist Skip Heller. The title, as arranged by Michelle DiBucci, has been in the repertoire of Kronos Quartet since 1994.

The rock band Rush adapted part of "Powerhouse" in their 1978 instrumental "La Villa Strangiato" (5:49 into the track) on their Hemispheres album, as did ska/soul band The Pietasters in Factory Concerto on their 1993 self-titled album, and alternative band Soul Coughing featured it in their song "Bus to Beelzebub" from their 1994 album Ruby Vroom. The tune has also been appropriated by They Might Be Giants (on the song "Rhythm Section Want Ad"), Devo (on "Fraulein"), and others. Other contemporary artists who have recorded versions of "Powerhouse" include Thelonious Moog, The Tiptons (with Amy Denio), the Grammy Award-nominated string ensemble Quartet San Francisco,[13] and Steroid Maximus (featuring J. G. Thirlwell). Lee Presson and the Nails included the song on their album Jump-swing from Hell: Live At the Hi-ball Lounge.

In 2006-2007, the "assembly line" theme was used in a highly choreographed commercial for the Visa check card. The commercial, entitled "Lunch",[14] was staged in a manner intended to be reminiscent of the song's cartoon uses.

In August 2009, Sinking Ship Productions staged a musical portrait of Raymond Scott entitled Powerhouse at the New York International Fringe Festival. The composition "Powerhouse" was used as a recurring theme.

On August 8, 2013, the Raymond Scott Orchestrette performed an arrangement of "Powerhouse" to accompany Dance Heginbotham's choreographic work Manhattan Research at New York's Lincoln Center Out Of Doors summer concert series.[15][16]

References[edit]

External links[edit]