When I was a kid, Saturday morning was sacred, not Sunday. Long before there were things like organized play dates or semi-pro youth athletic leagues, there were The Three Investigators, The Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books. And there were Saturday morning cartoons.
A mere three networks offered a veritable smorgasbord of animated viewing from about 8am to noon every weekend, and I navigated that schedule like a treasure map. With the Cleveland Press TV Guide in hand, I plotted my four-hour TV itinerary like a cross country road trip; zig-zagging through the list from one show to the next. Starting on NBC with Atom Ant or CBS with Underdog, then over to ABC for the trifecta of The Fantastic Four, followed by Spider Man, and Journey to the Center of the Earth, then back to NBC for Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, over to ABC again for The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, and finishing up at noon on NBC with secret agent Cool McCool (whose middle name was Danger!).
For four hours every week, my time was my own and my imagination was left to run wild; inspired by the animated adventures of super heros, secret agents, crime fighters, science fiction and fantasy. Later, psychedelic live action variety shows like The Banana Splits Adventure Hour; H.R. Pufnstuf; The Bugaloos; Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp; Lidsville; and, of course, The Monkees were added to the Saturday morning line up. These shows elevated the entertainment value with music and dance which, in retrospect, had to be the creative end product of a production team on a serious diet of hallucinogenic drugs. What more could a kid want?
How about a cartoon series that was so amazing and so unique, it ran on ABC in early primetime on Friday nights amidst a slew of other favorites that kept me inside and out of trouble for at least a few pre-pubescent years. What cartoon could possibly compete with other childhood favorites like The Wild Wild West, Time Tunnel, The Green Hornet, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, or The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? A cartoon that promised jetpacks, flying discs, snow skimmers, hydrofoils, lasers, and a high speed jet called The Dragonfly. A cartoon that battled evil in the form of Dr. Napolean Zin, Kronick, General Fong and Lieutenant Singh. A cartoon that featured a realistic animation style designed to look and sound like live action. And, most importantly, a cartoon that featured amazing theme music that instantly transports me back to a time when I was, at least for four hours, the master of my own bizarre little universe.
The theme music from Jonny Quest was a spy-jazzy, pulse-pounding tune that relied on a steady beat of tom-toms and a tight brass ensemble to create a sense of action and adventure with a little secret agent guitar riff mixed in for just a hint of danger and mystery. The music was composed by Hoyt Curtin—the primary musical director for the Hanna-Barbara animation studio—the John Barry of cartoon action-adventure theme music. Like Barry, Curtin’s compositions were more than “incidental music.” Together with the main Jonny Quest Theme, all the underlying music is integral to the narrative and brilliantly establishes mood, and embellishes pacing and rhythm. In a 1999 interview, Curtin revealed that “the band used for the sessions was a jazz ensemble consisting of four trumpets, six trombones, five woodwind doublers, and a five-man rhythm section including percussion. Two of the drummers were renowned musicians Alvin Stoller and Frankie Capp. According to Curtain, the opening theme took about an hour to produce; however, the shorter “cues” were usually done in one take after a quick rehearsal. The titles of the cues themselves were not named by Curtin, but rather by the sound editors.” Blogger G. Jack Urso captures the appeal of Jonny Quest perfectly when he wrote: “For the space-age baby-boomer generation living in the immediate post-Kennedy era, Jonny Quest modeled our highest aspirations at the time: science and technology, a global community, and rugged individualism. The enemies ranged from primitive fire-god worshippers and organized criminal syndicates to mad scientists and monsters.”
On a (birth)day when sitting in front of the big Zenith console in the family room is starting to feel galaxies away and my 59 years has zoomed by at supersonic speed, I think the “Jonny Quest Main Theme” is the perfect choice for the Happy Medium Song of the Day. (Please use the comments box to share your thoughts.)