The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine – Laurel & Hardy
Give the gentlemen the best in the house !
Yes Sir !
I’ll be back in a minute…
One of the weird things about getting old – or getting older I should say, and listen, whoever you are you ARE getting older – is realising with some chagrin that people who are younger than you don’t necessarily understand your references. There are some exceptions to this – there are cultural moments that seem eternal, whatever your age, whatever TV shows you watched as a child, whatever music you loved as a teenager – and I would humbly suggest that perhaps Laurel & Hardy are one – or two -of these treasures. Perhaps I’m wrong. I watched them throughout my life – they were always on the TV in the 1960s, and the 1970s, particularly at Christmas I seem to remember, in the morning. They are the funniest double-act I’ve ever seen, I can literally weep until it hurts watching their foolishness.
Is it possible that people don’t know about these guys? I’ll have to surrender that point. Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel were already established performers and had already worked together (although not as a team) when they were both signed up by Hal Roach’s Studio in Hollywood in 1926. Their first film was called Putting Pants on Philip (1927) and they worked together from that date until the late 1940s, starting out as silent comedians and finishing their considerable careers together in a music hall tour of the UK and Ireland, where they were adored and celebrated wherever they went.
The early films were all 3-reel shorts – up to 25 minutes usually, including the classics Pardon Us, The Music Box and Big Business, to name but three and they turned to features in 1933, including Sons Of The Desert and Way Out West, although carried on making shorts too. They were astoundingly consistent – overweight, pompous vain Ollie is the perfect foil for scaredy-cat dimwit physical comedian Stan. In fact Stan Laurel, who was English, produced almost all of their films, although he largely went uncredited. My favourite moments though are almost all Oliver Hardy, his comic timing is impeccable and his incredulous looks directly into the lens are quite simply awesome.
Irritation has never been so utterly hilarious. But in truth they are a double act and Ollie’s looks and internal fury would not be funny without Stan clowning cleverly around in befuddlement, breaking things, spilling things, dropping things, losing things, and crying.
In 1937 they made the feature Way Out West with regular foil, actor James Finlayson and co-star Rosina Lawrence as the heroine in distress.
At one point in the saloon bar of the western town they sing The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine : after a young cowboy sings the opening verse, Ollie takes verse two, then they harmonise the chorus together before the comic finale. Earlier in the film they dance outside the saloon bar to another song – “At The Ball, That’s All” by The Avalon Brothers, another sweet and funny moment, also linked, but not embedded, below.
The song Trail Of The Lonesome Pine was written in 1913 by Ballard McDonald & Harry Carroll, Tin Pan Alley turned Broadway songwriters and it was the title song in a Broadway play of the same name, itself based on a novel. In 1936 Henry Hathaway directed the film version of Trail Of The Lonesome Pine starring Fred MacMurray, Silvia Sydney and Henry Fonda and the title song was sung over the opening credits. A 78 record by The Hillbillies may have inspired Stan and Ollie to cover the song with The Avalon Brothers as it has a similar harmonic arrangement.
Almost all of Laurel and Hardy’s short films have a comic piece of music which introduces them – their signature tune called KuKu or The Cuckoo Song was composed by Marvin Hatley and originally features two clarinets, one pompous and pleased with itself, the other playing two simple cuckoo notes – Oliver Hardy heard it at the studio and asked if they could use it for their shorts. It was later orchestrated and I include a link to the original double clarinet version below.
This song – Lonesome Pine – though short, is rather wonderful, even without the visuals it works as a record – indeed it was released as a single in 1975 and got to number two in the charts in the UK, on the back of an LP release of their music “The Golden Age Of Hollywood Comedy“. John Peel played the single three times in one week and it climbed almost to the top of the charts that Christmas, only being held off the Number One slot by another novelty record but of a completely different kind : Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
One of the joys of Top Of The Pops (our weekly Thursday night fix of pop music on TV) was seeing this clip from Way Out West followed by the early pop promo efforts of Freddie Mercury and his pals. If you listen to the song without watching the film you can hear James Finlayson (the Scottish regular in their movies) set them up with a drink before Chill Wills from the Avalon Brothers sings the first verse. Ollie takes over then Stan and Ollie sing in harmony. Oliver Hardy actually was a trained singer and his is the higher voice. When Stan starts “singing” in a foolish bass voice – he’s actually miming over Chill Wills who provided the bass part – you can almost hear Ollie summon the barman to give him a hammer, and you can definitely hear him “testing” it on the bar before giving Stan a bop on the head. The song finishes with Stan miming the soprano part, provided by co-star Rosina Lawrence, and falling over into the spittoon. Perfect.
I have the 45rpm 7-inch single somewhere among my treasures, with “Honolulu Baby” on the B-side. John Peel played that too.
Trail Of The Lonesome Pine from Way Out West, not embedded by request just click on the link :
and here are The Hillbillies from a 1930 78rpm Regal Zonophone record :
and here is a piano roll from the early 1920s – probably Mae Brown :
Dance Of The Cuckoos :
you’ve got this far, why not click below on the classic dance routine by Stan and Ollie to the Avalon Brothers with Chill Wills singing “At The Ball, That’s All” from 1937 :