Hoyt Curtin: Composer of The Soundtrack Of Our Lives

In the late 1970’s, a radio executive and jingle writer named Al Ham came up with a brilliant idea that kept AM music radio afloat in a time when most popular music radio was shifting to the AM band to the FM band.  Al Ham repackaged the radio music format known primarily in the 1960’s as Middle of the Road music, or MOR, into a presentation that featured not only the primary MOR artists of that era, like ‘50’s pop music stars like Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page and groups like The Four Lads and Four Aces, as well as longtime MOR favorites through the ‘60’s like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, plus the music of the Big Band era.  Al Ham called this presentation “The Music Of Your Life”.  Al Ham thought that people in his age group, in their fifties and sixties, would appreciate this mix of music.  Plus, seeing that most of that generation had not gravitated to the FM radio band as their children may have, the AM band was the perfect platform to serve up this musical montage for more mature audiences.   Al Ham was right.  Hundreds of radio stations across the United States presented his “Music Of Your Life” format during the 1980’s.

Today, if Al Ham were still alive, he’d be 90 years old, and many of those for whom the “Music Of Your Life” format was created would be in anywhere from 75 to 100+ years old, and that radio format that Al Ham popularized is now known as the Adult Standards or the Nostalgia format, which now airs on only a handful of radio stations in the nation.  Those of us in our fifties and sixties hear a different sort of “Music Of Our Lives”, and it generally starts with the Beatles and ends around when Paula Abdul decided to sing.  Still, for many in that age bracket, there’s another form of music that fits just as well and meaningfully as a music for our lives.  The music was composed by a man named Hoyt Curtin.  According to the Space Age Pop Music page (http://www.spaceagepop.com/curtin.htm)…

“After serving in the US Navy during World War Two, Curtin studied music at the University of Southern California on the G.I. Bill. He tried to get work as a composer and arranger for the movie studios, but instead he ended up writing music for television and radio commercials. One of the commercials he composed, for Schiltz beer, was produced by budding cartoon producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.  Hanna and Barbera were preparing a show for NBC Saturday morning TV when they cut the Schiltz commercial. Still looking for a theme to ‘Ruff and Ready,’ they asked Curtin to provide a melody to go along with the words they’d already written for the theme. ‘About five minutes later,’ recalled Curtin, he had a tune ready for them.  Curtin’s jazz-influenced no fuss/no bother approach matched up with Hanna and Barbera’s way of doing business exceptionally well. Over the next 25 years, Curtin composed most of the themes and much of the incidental music for Hanna/Barbera shows (“The Flintstones, “The Jetsons,” “Top Cat,” “Yogi Bear,” “Magilla Gorilla,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Quick Draw McGraw,” “Huckleberry Hound,” and “Jonny Quest” among them). Usually, it was a very casual relationship. The producers would call of Curtin and describe the new shows they were working on. Curtin would write the songs, hire the musicians, book the orchestra, and conduct the orchestra, provided the final tape to Hanna/Barbera. When Hanna/Barbera was at its peak in the early 1970s, Curtin would single-handedly write and record the scores for at least 13 episodes each of up to 9 series.   Although Curtin preferred jazz to rock, he used both styles with ease. Originally writing ‘The Jetsons’ theme for a small combo, he adapted it to a full orchestra at William Hanna’s request.”

At the end of the Space Age Pop Music bio of Hoyt Curtin, Jean MacCurdy, president of animation at Warner Brothers*, closes the piece by stating “His (Curtin’s) strong suit was coming up with themes that almost anyone on the street could sing at the drop of the hat.”  Well, I think “sing” is the wrong word.  Hum?  Whistle?  Perhaps.  Rapidly recognize?  Now that hits the nail on the head.  A Hoyt Curtin melody doesn’t come to you out of the blue very often.  But once you hear one (as you do with a series of them in the attached video), you are taken back in time and know this music like the back of your hand.  It’s music that permeated many a Saturday morning or local kids’ TV program in our memories.  What Hoyt Curtin did was not only create a bright and lively underscore for some of the most loved cartoons of a later-stage baby boomer’s lifetime; he also created a soundtrack for many cherished childhood recollections.

Hoyt Curtin may not be remembered as a composer of great works of music, like classical composers or the Gershwin brothers or Cole Porter, Bachrach-David or even Lennon-McCartney, but the late Hoyt Curtin is getting this honor from me for his great work as a musician and composer of the music that some therapist may play me if—heaven forbit—I’m ever stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Once I hear this stuff, I’ll remember plenty!  Thank you, Hoyt Curtin!

*-proprietors of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon collection after Ted Turner bought it, and Turner was absorbed into Time Warner, thus having the peculiar scenario of Bugs Bunny and Yogi Bear getting their paychecks from the same employer

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