The Syncopated Clock

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"The Syncopated Clock" is a piece of light music by American composer Leroy Anderson, which has become a feature of the pops orchestra repertoire.


Anderson wrote "The Syncopated Clock" in 1945 while serving with the U.S. Army and assigned as Chief of the Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence in Washington.[1] Anderson had been invited by Arthur Fiedler to guest-conduct the Boston Popular ("Pops") Orchestra during their annual Harvard Night. Anderson wanted to introduce a new work to Fiedler and composed a song about a clock with a syncopated rhythm. The idea of the title reportedly occurred to him before he wrote the music. In a few hours he wrote the music, scored it for orchestra and then mailed it to Boston Symphony Hall. Fiedler had the orchestra parts copied from the score. Then, with a three-day pass, Anderson traveled from his home in Arlington, Virginia to Boston, where he conducted the premiere on May 28, 1945.

Anderson recorded the work for Decca Records in 1950 with the best musicians selected from New York orchestras. This was true for all of his recordings for Decca, billed as "Leroy Anderson and his Orchestra". Anderson's "orchestra" was an assemblage of musicians hired by Decca specially for Anderson's recordings.[2]

The record entered the charts on March 23, 1951 and spent 14 weeks there, reaching number 12.[3] A version by Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra (released by RCA Victor Red Seal) entered on June 1, 1951, spent two weeks on the charts, and reached number 28.[3]

When "The Syncopated Clock" was recorded in 1950, it was noticed by the producers of a new WCBS-TV program called The Late Show, a nightly program with a format of old movies that was to be the station's first venture into late night television. The piece was chosen as the theme music for The Late Show and that helped publicize Anderson's music. "The Syncopated Clock" was used by the show for the next 25 years and became a piece that many Americans could readily hum or whistle, even if few knew the name of its composer.[2]

Also in 1950, Mitchell Parish wrote lyrics for the piece, published with Anderson by EMI.[4]

Movie theme[edit]

Listeners are probably most familiar[citation needed] with the version recorded by Percy Faith in 1951 (released by Columbia Records with the flip side "On Top of Old Smokey"[5]). This is the version that CBS (for whose Columbia Records label Faith recorded) chose to introduce The Late Show—the late night movie—on some of its owned-and-operated stations, most notably WCBS-TV in New York City[6][7] and WBBM-TV in Chicago. WCBS would also use that recording to introduce a weekday afternoon movie (The Early Show) and a later-night movie offering, The Late Late Show.


The arrangement requires temple blocks to be used as the sound of the clock that is heard throughout, except for a brief section in the middle. The piece is in 4
time; the opening establishes a perfectly regular "tick-tock" accompaniment, beginning with a roll off the orchestra's staccato strike of an A chord, creating an expectation that it will continue. In the sixth measure, there is an eighth-note rest on the second beat, and two syncopated "ticks" are heard before the "clock" returns to its normal rhythm. As the piece proceeds, the "clock" continues to indulge in brief moments of syncopation. Some are expected by the listener (as the tune repeats the passage in which the first syncopation occurred); others are not, creating a whimsical and comic effect. The song's basic arrangement and comical effect makes it a favourite for school bands. In the bridge section, the sound of an old-fashioned clock alarm ringing goes off a few times. In the coda, a group of sound effects are heard, including a BOING!! heard before the last group of orchestral chords.

Cultural references[edit]

In a sixth-season episode of the television series M*A*S*H ("Your Hit Parade"), the tune is played over the public announcement system during a particularly grueling session in the operating room. B.J. Hunnicutt mistakenly identifies it as "The Musical Clock."[8]

Other recordings[edit]


  1. ^ List of Leroy Anderson's published music works Archived 2008-08-27 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b Speed, Burgess; Eleanor Anderson; Steve Metcalf (September 2004). Leroy Anderson: A Bio-Bibliography. Praeger. ISBN 0-313-32176-0.
  3. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research.
  4. ^ Leroy Anderson official site, "Lyrics of Leroy Anderson's music by Mitchell Parish," URL=
  5. ^ a b Columbia Records in the 39000 to 39499 series
  6. ^ "WCBS The Late Show". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^
  9. ^ National Records in the 3001 to 25000 series
  10. ^ Capitol Records in the 500 to 999 series
  11. ^ Capitol Records in the 1500 to 1999 series
  12. ^ a b RCA Victor Records in the 20-4000 to 20-4499 series
  13. ^ MGM Records in the 30000 to 30499 series
  14. ^ Decca Records in the 27500 to 27999 series