Thursday, 5 January 2012

Songs you didn't know you didn't know

Over the Christmas period there was a series of ads running on ITV for Crabbie's alcoholic ginger beer in which different people, singly and in groups and regardless of key, all sing along to a familiar little tune. Here's one of the ads:

You know the tune don't you? I know you do. It's often used in TV shows to take us back to the years just after the war. I particularly remember it being used during the cycling scenes in The Comic Strip's splendid Famous Five spoof - Five go mad in Dorset. It was originally used on the BBC Children's Favourites radio program, which ran from 1952 to 1966. It was also used for Down your way and the Australian TV series Captain Kangaroo that ran from 1955 to 1974. But what's the tune called?

Well, it's called Puffing Billy and it was composed by Edward White in 1952 (I expect you saw that on the YouTube clip). It's all about a train of the same name. 'Puffing Billy' was an early railway steam locomotive, constructed in 1813-1814 by engineer William Hedley, enginewright Jonathan Forster and blacksmith Timothy Hackworth for Christopher Blackett, the owner of Wylam Colliery near Newcastle upon Tyne, in the United Kingdom. It is the world's oldest surviving steam locomotive. It was the first commercial adhesion steam locomotive (i.e. didn't require cogs and rack-rails) and was employed to haul coal wagons from the mine at Wylam to the docks at Lemington-on-Tyne in Northumberland.

Interestingly, the train may be the origin of the phrase 'like Billy-O' meaning to do something with real effort. The date of the expression (late 19th century) points to Puffing Billy as the likeliest contender: it was more efficient than previous engines and achieved some celebrity. That said, there are other possible origins. Some say it commemorates Joseph Billio, a zealous 17th century Nonconformist minister from Maldon, Essex. Others point to Nino Biglio, a dashing officer in Garibaldi's army, reputed to have often urged his men to fight 'like Biglio!'

Listening to Puffing Billy I found myself wondering about other tunes that we all know (in the UK anyway) that maybe we associate with ads or TV shows but don't know the actual names of. So I tracked some down. Here's the first one I thought of. It was used as the music bed during the gallery segment of children's TV art show Vision On in the 60s and 70s. But did you know what it was called?

Left Bank Two was composed by Wayne Hill in 1963 and recorded by the Noveltones, a group of session musicians from Holland. It's now become synonymous with art but younger readers might also recognise it from the LittleBigPlanet video game. Before we leave Vision On, it's worth mentioning the 'tick tock' song used during some of the animated segments. It's called Gurney Slade and was written by Max Harris originally as the theme to a TV series called The Strange World of Gurney Slade:

Now then, this tune became world famous as the signature of much-loved funny man Benny Hill. But do you know its proper name?

It's called Yakety Sax and was written by James Q 'Spider' Rich in 1963. The man who made it famous (apart from Benny) was the saxophonist Boots Randolph.

Let's have another. This one became really popular after it was used as the theme song for Mike Myers' Austin Powers series of films. And the name is ...?

It's Soul Bossanova by the magnificent Quincy Jones. Too easy? Try this one then. It's Dick Barton, Special Agent! Or is it?

Actually, it's Charles Williams' The Devil's Galop, written in the 1940s. In case you're wondering why it's spelled that way, it refers to a type of prancing 19th century dance called a galop rather than a horse's gallop. That said, many people associate it now with a furious horse ride. I have no idea what dance you could do to this piece of music. It would be frantic to say the least.

And finally (for the moment anyway), a tune that we all know from UK cinemas. It's the Pearl and Dean advert break music! But have you ever heard the full song?

It's called Asteroid and it was written by Pete Moore in groovy 1968. I bloody love it.

So, are there any more I should have included? Or any others you'd like hunted down?

Do let me know by leaving a comment. Or email me (see top right of this blog). Or catch me on Twitter - I'm @stevyncolgan.

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