The Syncopated Clock
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. 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 various 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. The album, catalog number 16005, entered the charts on March 23, 1951 and spent 14 weeks on chart, reaching number twelve, while a version credited to the Boston Pops Orchestra (released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 10-3044) entered on June 1, 1951, spent two weeks on the charts, and reached number 28.
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 would have known the name of its composer.
Listeners are probably most familiar with the version recorded by Percy Faith in 1951 (released by Columbia Records as catalog number 39328, with the flip side “On Top of Old Smokey”). It is this 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 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 which is heard throughout the number, except for a brief section in the middle. The piece is in 4/4 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.
In the sixth season episode of the television series M*A*S*H*, 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.”
- Eileen Barton (recorded December 1950, released by National Records as catalog number 9152, with the flip side “Lock the Barn Door”)
- Capitol Symphony Band (released by Capitol Records as catalog number 984, with the flip side “Sleigh Ride”)
- Louis Castelucci (released by Capitol Records as catalog number 1620, with the flip side “Sleigh Ride”)
- Rosemary Clooney, as a track on a 4-record compilation of children's music released by Columbia Records
- Ken Griffin (recorded April 1951, released by Columbia Records as catalog number 39386, with the flip side “Red Sails in the Sunset”)
- Perez Prado (as "The Syncopated Clock Mambo," 1951) (released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-4196, with the flip side “Broadway”)
- David Rose and his orchestra (released by MGM Records as catalog number 30353, with the flip side “Mask Waltz”)
- Ethel Smith (Decca Records catalog number 27583) in 1951.
- The Three Suns (released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-4090, with the flip side “March of the Cards”)
- Isao Tomita (released in 1982 by RCA Red Seal Records as catalog number ARL 1-4317 as the closing piece on an album primarily featuring the Grand Canyon Suite by Grofe).
- On an extended-play 45 RPM record (Peter Pan Records, aimed at children); on the same side was "Grandfather's Clock", and on the flip side were "Arkansas Traveler" and "Red River Valley". This version of "Syncopated Clock" did have a vocal, using the lyrics listed above.
- List of Leroy Anderson's published music works
- Speed, Burgess; Eleanor Anderson; Steve Metcalf (September 2004). Leroy Anderson: A Bio-Bibliography. Praeger. ISBN 0-313-32176-0.
- Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research.
- Columbia Records in the 39000 to 39499 series
- "WCBS The Late Show". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
- [dead link]
- National Records in the 3001 to 25000 series
- Capitol Records in the 500 to 999 series
- Capitol Records in the 1500 to 1999 series
- RCA Victor Records in the 20-4000 to 20-4499 series
- MGM Records in the 30000 to 30499 series
- Decca Records in the 27500 to 27999 series