Origins of non-sensical little snippet of music heard in many places

It’s only two bars long. It’s basically the main melody of the Carter Family recording “Chewing Gum”, which is probably the most explicit and locatable place I can point to.

It’s also present in a lot of cartoon soundtracks and the like. E.g., the Simpsons’ “Itchy and Scratchy” used it at least once that I remember.

You can hear it in “Northwest Hounded Police”, an MGM cartoon directed by Tex Avery: when an escaped fugitive lays eyes on a plastic surgeon’s sign (and subsequently gets an operation to evade Officer Droopy), it plays ominously and loudly.

This is a sketch of the outline of the melody (syncopated flourishes around which are often added):



(C is the highest note hee, G the lowest).

The Carter Family song is the earliest place I’ve found it, but I suspect it may be even older.


Here’s “Chewing Gum” for those who don’t know it.

It sounds like one of those progressions that have been around forever. I would guess it has more of an obvious folk tradition as an antecedent, but I’m sure there’s a classical piece (possibly operetta, because of its playfulness) that mined that particular sequence somewhere out there.

Isn’t that the riff from the theme from Looney Tunes cartoons, aka ‘The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down’? Or maybe it’s a quote there as well.Here’s an mp3.

Here’s the cartoon. The moment is at 5:32.

Spike Jones used it in “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (excerpt here). ISTR watching someone play it on the piano when I was a kid. However, the best I can come up with is that it’s just a stereotype of German oom-pah-pah music. It might be a quote of some traditional German song or dance music still popular in the US in Spike’s day.

Although the moods are similar, they’re not the same music.

I would agree that it may be Germanic in origin, and did time in light opera.

This discussion has dispelled a crazy notion I got from the Droopy cartoon: that there was some intentional evocation of ‘chewing gum’ to denote a plastic surgeon bending and shaping flesh.

They most certainly are! :slight_smile: Listen to the link – the riff occurs in the intro, third measure, right before the main melody begins.

You’re right, they are the same music – since I was familiar with main melody of the ‘Looney Tunes’ theme (and since I have dialup) I hadn’t bothered to listen to your clip. My bad.