Friday, April 19, 2013


Timely trivia: with the recent death of Annette Funicello, and Paul Anka hitting the talk show circuit to promote his autobiography "My Way," the blog finally gets around to mentioning the origin of Johnny Carson's iconic "The Tonight Show" theme. Which was recycled from Anka's "It's Really Love," a minor tune that Annette once sang. Which was itself recycled from Paul's instrumental called "Toot Sweet," perhaps titled as a tribute to the tootin' Salvatore "Tutti" Camarata, the Disney orchestra leader and arranger. "Toot Sweet" was recorded by Camarata on the Disney "Vista" label, under the name Tutti's Trumpets.

When Annette happened to sing during a hayride moment on a "Mickey Mouse Club" episode, and fans demanded the tune be released as a single, "Tutti" became her patient tutor and taught her how to sing along to a guide track. Though her voice would never be distinctive, and she remained a personality more than a singer, for a while there was great demand for new Annette singles and albums.

You probably know that briefly Paul and Annette were an item, and they sang songs to each other, which dribbled onto the charts for a while. Annette's hit was "Tall Paul" and Anka warbled "Puppy Love" her way. Her second album, released on Disney's Buena Vista label in 1960, was titled "Annette Sings Anka."

Two years later, and Paul learned that quiz show host Johnny Carson, was taking over "The Tonight Show," and wanted a new theme song. Paul checked his catalog for something handy, and sent Johnny his instrumental, "Toot Sweet."

Anka (writing on page 153 of his new book) has oddly forgotten this fact; that the song he handed Johnny was over two years old. He writes: "I thought of Johnny Carson when I was writing the Tonight Show theme. I thought cool, late night, big band, and the rest was easy…" No, he didn't write that theme for Johnny! But embellishing his brilliance as a writer is nothing new for Anka. He's often said that "My Way" was another mystic, magical creation, and all he had to do was channel Frank's personality. He told Tavis Smiley only last week that he knocked out "My Way" in one night, inspired by learning that Frank was going to retire after one more album. Anka, determined to be on that album, sat up all night to hatch the hit. OK. Paul didn't add that the music to "My Way" was not his at all. The shrewd Mr. Anka was buying up music for his company, and that happened to include a French-language pop hit of the day.

Johnny, an avid drummer and big band fan, liked Anka's instrumental (apparently he never heard Annette's song at all) but thought the arrangement pop-dinky. It was more kiddie-daytime, and not a hip tune for late night. Johnny had the idea to kickstart the theme with a sharp little drum solo, and swing the tempo. Anka didn't mind, and even offered Johnny a co-write. This was done, Anka admitted (to Tavis Smiley) to ice Skitch Henderson out of the picture. Skitch was Johnny's band leader back then, and was angling to get involved in the theme song. But Johnny getting the co-write credit sealed the deal. It meant Anka-Carson would split the approximately $200 royalty given for EACH NIGHT'S PERFORMANCE of the song. Johnny was aware of original "Tonight Show" host Steve Allen's bonanza in having written his own theme song, "This Could Be The Start of Something Big." Carson wasn't such a superstar back then that he couldn't use an extra $500 a week in theme song royalties. Who knew if he'd last even a year or two in trying to replace a legend like Paar? And who expected any host to last more than a few years grinding out shows night after night? Steve Allen and Jack Paar had both felt the strain fairly quickly.

As it turned out, for over 30 years, fans loved that opening minute of "The Tonight Show," and Johnny and Paul had to love the big royalty checks that ended up being worth millions. The big bucks Johnny got would later influence many, including Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Joan Rivers and Craig Ferguson, to hum, co-write or completely write their TV theme song. Below, the original "Toot Sweet," Annette's version with lyrics, and the swingin' "Tonight Show" theme with the famous opening drum solo.


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