Saturday, October 30, 2010

You Can't Reason With a Headless Man
By Jeffrey Pepper
Originally published October 27, 2007

While Donald Duck's 1952 cartoon Trick or Treat bears the Disney Studio's most direct homage to the Halloween holiday, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment from the feature film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad serves up equal amounts of ghostly chills and jack-o'-lantern imagery. For All Hallows Eve is in fact the setting for Ichabod Crane's penultimate encounter with perhaps one of Disney's most underrated villains, the Headless Horseman.

One of the true highlights of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and perhaps one of the most overlooked musical vignettes in Disney films, is the song "The Headless Horseman" from composers Don Raye and Gene de Paul, noted Hollywood talents, both with extensive popular music resumes.

Don Raye transitioned in the mid-1930s from vaudeville entertainment to songwriting, working with other bright young composers, most notably Sammy Cohn. A fortuitous match was made in 1939 when the Andrew Sisters began performing his material. This led to work in Hollywood, first on the 1939 movie Argentine Nights and later the 1941 Abbott and Costello debut film Buck Privates, both of which prominently featured Andrews Sisters' performances. He became a resident song smith for Universal Studios, teaming with Gene de Paul beginning in late 1941 and the two subsequently collaborated on such films as In the Navy, San Antonio Rose, Keep 'Em Flying and Ride 'Em Cowboy. de Paul was also on the Hollywood fast track; that same year he was Oscar nominated for work on the film Hellzapoppin. The two found their way to Disney in the late 1940s, contributing to So Dear to My Heart, Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and Raye later on Alice in Wonderland. Shortly thereafter, dePaul would become especially famous for the musical numbers in MGM's classic Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, released in 1954.

Distinctly reflecting their own musical backgrounds, Raye and de Paul infused the colonial American setting of Sleepy Hollow with the popular music styles of the mid 20th century. Frequent Andrew Sisters co-performer Bing Crosby tells the story via narration and song, and at one point provided vocal instructor Ichabod with his trademark "bo bo bo baba bo" crooning. But the segment's true musical highlight is in fact Crosby's vocalization of villain Brom Bones performance of the Headless Horseman ghost story.

Famous for such wartime hits as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar," Raye's skills for clever, densely-worded lyrics are clearly evident in the tale of Sleepy Hollow's resident pumpkin thrower:

Now gather round while I elucidate,
On what happens outside when it gets late.
Along about midnight the ghosts and banshees,
Get together for their nightly jamboree.
There's ghosts
with horns and saucer eyes,
And some with fangs about this size.
Some short and fat, some tall and thin,

And some don't even bother to where their skin.
I'm telling you brother it's a frightful sight,
To see what goes on Halloween night.

Oh, when the spooks have a midnight jamboree,
They break it up with fiendish glee.
Ghosts are bad but the one that's cursed,
Is the Headless Horseman, he's the worst.
When he goes a jockeying across the land,
Holding his noggin in his hand.
Demons take one look and groan,
And hit the road for parts unknown.
There's no spook like a spook that spurned,
They don't like him and he's really burned.
Swears to the longest day he's dead,
He'll show them that he can get a head.

They say he's tired of his flaming top,
He's got a yen to make a swap.
So he rides one night a year,
To find a head in the hollow here.
And he likes 'em little, he likes 'em big,
Part in the middle, or a wig.
Black or white or even red,

The Headless Horseman needs a head.
With a hip, hip and a clippity clop,
He's out looking for a top to chop.
So don't stop to figure out a plan,
You can't reason with a headless man.

Now if you doubt this tale is so,

I met that spook just a year ago.
Now I didn't stop for a second look,
But made for the bridge that spans the brook.

For once you cross that bridge my friend,
The ghost is through, his power ends.
So when you're riding home tonight,
Make for the bridge with all your might.
He'll be down in the hollow there,
He needs your head. Lookout! Beware!
With a hip, hip and a clippity clop,
He's out looking for a head to chop.
So don't stop to figure out a plan,
You can't reason with a headless man.

"Grim Grinning Ghosts" vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft did an equally fun yet slightly more sinister studio version of the song that was recently included on the iTunes exclusive Walt Disney Records Archive Collection Volume One.


Snow White Archive said...

I watched this 2 days ago (for like the twentieth-something time). The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is just the perfect little film. It has everything--solid story, character development, humor, music, mood. It's so funny and spooky at the same time...and what a superb climax. It really is one of Disney's finest hidden gems.

"Are those shovels or are those feet?"