Welcome to the second edition of Track Tales with Michael Primiani. Track Tales is a series in which we aim to highlight bands, albums and tracks that have a unique story surrounding their music. These stories can be funny, shocking or sad. Everyone loves a good song and a good story. We believe that this juxtaposition works to enhance the enjoyment and experience of both.
The year was 1966, spring time. Frank Sinatra sat in a Hollywood recording studio feeling lonely and despondent. His most recent marriage had failed, his contract with the Sands Casino in Las Vegas was terminated following a fight with a bouncer in which Sinatra’s teeth were knocked out and he hadn’t had a number 1 hit since “Learnin’ The Blues” in 1955. He was begrudgingly working on a song titled “Broken Guitar” that was given to him by composer Avo Uvezian through a friend of a friend. To say Sinatra wasn’t thrilled about singing this composition would be an understatement. According to the book Sinatra: The Life by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, Sinatra called the song “a piece of shit” and “the worst f@%#ing song I’ve ever heard”. Towards the end of the recording, seemingly bored as an orchestra played out, Sinatra improvised some Ella Fitzgerald style scatting to complete the track. The song didn’t end up being called “Broken Guitar”, but that didn’t make Sinatra want to break the violins that opened up this track any less. In fact, when his orchestra repeatedly played the opening of this song to coax him into singing it in a Las Vegas casino, Sinatra threatened the leader of the orchestra that he would “stick that violin bow up where the sun don’t shine” if he didn’t knock it off.
Some Ella Fitzgerald scatting
And why did the orchestra want Ol’ Blue Eyes to sing the song so badly? Because the title of that song was “Strangers in the Night” and it broke number 1 on the Billboard charts AND earned Sinatra a Grammy award.
Regardless of his feelings towards the song, Sinatra was back and his audience loved this track.
The year was 1968, winter time. A concerned child advocacy group called “Action for Children’s Television” was formed to target violence in children’s cartoon shows that they felt to be “lewd” and “gratuitous”. Hanna Barbera bore the brunt of this criticism for shows such as Space Ghost and Birdman and the Galaxy Trio that featured its heroes punching and kicking their way through hundreds of villains to save the day before noon. In response, CBS executive Fred Silverman pitched a new show called The Archies based on the teenage bubble gum comic book of the same name. The show was centered on a group of teens that were in a pop band that performed a new song and dance in each episode. Think Gorillaz, if they were a clean cut vanilla 1960s cartoon. In fact, the song “Sugar, Sugar” written for the fictional band became a real life number 1 single.
With a hit formula on his hands, Silverman began talks with Hanna Barbera to come up with a new program that would adhere to the new popular television guidelines. He also wanted to create a similar show to The Archies to fill an empty spot on the CBS Saturday morning lineup. This time, Silverman’s idea was that the teens would perform in a rock group and solve mysteries on their spare time. Mysteries Five was the title of the pitch (and the fictional band) and the group featured characters named Ronnie, Daphne, Velma, W.W. and a dog named “Too Much”. The canine’s name derived from the popular hippie slang catchphrase “too much, man”, which seemingly would have been said to the pup if he performed an excessive drum solo or overloaded the reverb on a track’s final mix. Before it was pitched to the network, Fred Silverman tinkered with the names – changing W.W’s name to “Shaggy” and “Ronnie” to his own. He also changed the name to “Who’s S-S-Scared” – a move that only scared CBS studio executives. CBS President Frank Stanton read the pitch but because of its horror elements, thought that it was “Too Much” for children to handle. Silverman years later agreed that he “always thought kids in a haunted house would be a good idea” but that the original pitch was “much more serious”. While The Archies was inspired by Archie the comic, “Who’s S-S-Scared” seemed too reminiscent of horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear that sparked a Senate trial for children’s moral values in the decade prior. Facing his first rejection ever from CBS and a hole in the schedule still devoid of content, Silverman booked a red eye flight back to California.
Fred Silverman seated at his desk
Unable to sleep with a brain consumed by how to fix “Who’s S-S-Scared”, Fred Silverman put on some music to attempt to unwind. Frank Sinatra’s hit song from two years ago “Strangers in the Night” began playing. As the golden boy from Hoboken, New Jersey sang “it turned out so right” in the chorus, Silverman hoped that the same would happen for his golden premise for a children’s show. He just didn’t know how. Little did he know that his ship would come in a mere 54 seconds later. When Frank Sinatra started scatting. Like Ella Fitzgerald.
Fred Silverman was jolted from his semi-sleeping daze. “Scooby Doo! That’s it!” he proclaimed, hearing perhaps only what he needed to. A catchy name for a dog that people might want to proclaim as easily as Sinatra did as a break from a cheesy love song. And if they want to say it, then they want to see the dog. In the original draft, “Too Much” was solely a background character. Silverman’s new idea for “Scooby Doo” was to make him the main character. As he told the Archive of American Television, “we’ll take the dog, we’ll call it ‘Scooby Doo’, we’ll move him up front and it’ll be “The Dog Show”. Since the dog was now the main focus, he decided to drop the rock band element and put the focus on the comedic relationship between Shaggy and Scooby. He crowned the duo “our Abbott and Costello” and changed the name of the show to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. This change, influenced by Frank “Chairman of the Board” Sinatra, went over well with the actual chairman of the board – Frank Stanton. He loved the changes and approved the show for CBS Saturday mornings.
Original storyboard artwork for the first ever episode of Scooby Doo where Fred is named “Ronnie”
That’s the story of how some offhand crooner improv playing 20,000 feet in the air made television history. The show went from being about teenagers in a band to being inspired by one of the greatest singers of our time. The scary content and threats to the group found in Silverman’s original pitch remained unaltered, but through the man-and-his-dog, goofy slapstick comedic lens, it became palatable to children. A ghost or goblin is not so scary when you have a Great Dane and its owner comically sharing an ice cream or a multi-layered ham sandwich around the corner. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! premiered on CBS on Saturday, September 13th, 1969 and it has been on air ever since. The franchise has grown to include multiple series, specials, spin-offs, two live action theatrically released movies (with another animated one on the way later this year) and even a team up with Batman.
A nod was made to Frank Sinatra in the live action Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed with Scooby donning Sinatra’s famous fedora while singing it. Truly full circle.
In the end, it turned out so right for a gang of teenagers and their dog unmasking strangers in the night.