A Note of Recognition For: Ren and Stimpy's Music
Music is, and always has been, a huge factor in entertainment. Imagine Jaws or Star Wars without their legendary John Williams scores; try telling the story of Casablanca with no “As Time Goes By”. This is even more true for animation, a medium that has been timed and sold along with its accompanying music for as long as it has existed. And music was certainly a big part of Ren and Stimpy, one of the most influential animated series of the 1990s.
Let me give you some examples to illustrate what I’m talking about. In “Marooned”, Ren and Stimpy are trapped on a remote planet. Towards the end of the episode, Ren and Stimpy are sleeping in a tent, and Stimpy remarks that the moon is out. “Softly She Sleeps” plays, a serene, peaceful piece that evokes images of beauty, perfect for the glow of the moon outside the tent. Ren goes to see what the fuss is about, but runs into the moon, which is quite literally right next to the tent. At this point, “The Cat” (from “Peter and the Wolf”) plays, to emphasize the goofy tone of such a weird phenomenon. Ren, in annoyance, ties up Stimpy to prevent him from waking him up again. “Song of the Volga Boat Men” plays, a traditional Russian song which consists of solemn Gregorian chants. Soon after, Ren is awoken yet again by a knock at the tent. Since it’s unknown what awaits this time, since Stimpy is tied up, a more creepy song plays to emphasize the mystery of the situation; we hear “Suspense Musical Saw”. Ren answers and finds a vision of a female chihuahua. Appropriately, sexy big band music plays, with emphasis on the clarinets and saxes. However, not all is at it seems, as the female morphs into an alien tentacle. At this point, the music shifts to ominous, very tense piece with plenty of shivering strings and dissonant horns. After the alien swallows Ren and Stimpy, a fast-paced piece, often used in the show, “Inferno”, plays as the duo is attacked by stomach bacteria. It’s like something you’d hear during the big battle with an evil villain in a melodramatic ’50s B-movie.
Another example is from the episode “Fire Dogs”. It opens with an optimistic, high-energy string piece called “Blues in a Hurry”, which evokes images of the big city, appropriate since Ren and Stimpy are slogging through the metropolis streets, poor and hungry. “Drama Link (n)” plays as Ren laments that he has no food and fears he shall starve. As the title suggests, it’s a dramatic bridge with sad violins. Stimpy offers Ren a morsel to eat. “Drama Link (m)” plays, which is hesitant but more optimistic. As Ren enjoys the morsel, Wolfang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21 (Elvira Madigan)” plays, a famous classical piece which you may have heard in The Spy Who Loved Me. When Stimpy reveals that Ren ate Gritty Kitty Litter, “Blues in a Hurry” starts up again, to emphasize the silly nature of what was revealed. Stimpy changes the subject of Ren’s annoyance as he sees a sign advertising for fire dogs at the fire station, and the brass fanfare “Clarion Call” plays. Unfortunately, the two aren’t dalmatians, but Ren gets around that by painting himself and Stimpy white with black spots. During this, “Valse Moderne”, a quick French-style waltz used many times in the show, plays. The two knock on the fireman door, but are greeted less than ideally as the fireman bursts out and almost hits them with an axe. High tension music plays. But the fireman recoils and explains that he thought they were circus midgets, at which point “Saw Theme” plays, a slow, creepy piece which is often used for scenes where characters are clearly disturbed by what they’re seeing. And the fireman easily fits that description of a disturbing individual.
Finally, in “Stimpy’s Big Day/The Big Shot”, numerous Hollywood-themed pieces play, understandable since part of it takes place in Hollywood as Stimpy becomes famous after winning a contest. When we first see L.A., the glamorous and glitzy “Big Show Theme” blares. Later on, Stimpy hosts an infomercial in a supermarket. “Stop Gap”, another fast string, Red Carpet-esque theme plays. We also hear “Gala Premiere”, another high-energy piece which you can imagine when big celebrities are interviewed. “Hollywood Holiday” plays when Stimpy swims in a pool of Gritty Kitty Litter. It’s a dainty, easy-going piece that is perfect for the relaxing vacation feel of the scene.
As you can see, episodes often ran through a number of songs in a short amount of time, and that added up to a memorable score, even if it wasn’t created specifically for the cartoon. Each episode ran the gamut of emotions, and the ever-changing music captured those emotions perfectly. Seriously, for all you fans, just think about some of the famous scenes in the show: Stimpy resisting the urge to press the History Eraser Button. Stimpy’s breakfast tips. Ren’s joyous shouting after being chosen over Stimpy in the pound. Stimpy having to put out a blazing building with a helicopter full of Gritty Kitty litter. Stimpy’s lamenting, “What will we do ’til then?!” in the first season’s epilogues. There are countless others, but I bet if you’ve seen the show, you could hum the melody to these scenes, or at the very least, hear the music and recall the scene(s) it was used in. Such is the power of memorable music combined with memorable scenes.
All of these tracks came from a colossal amount of stock music composers, of which sadly there is often little background on them. Outside of animation historians and music catalogers, it’s highly doubtful that your average Joe will know the names of anybody that composed this music, which is a shame because the work they did can be frequently heard not only in Ren and Stimpy but in other avenues, and is just as well-done as your typical TV or movie score. People like Jack Shaindlin, Dick Walter, Gerhard Trede, Gregor F. Narholz, Cedric King-Palmer, Laurie Johnson, Harry Bluestone, Jack Beaver, Otto Sieben, Richard Myhill, Robert Sharples, Ronald Hanmer, Van Phillips, and countless others may not have known what media their songs would be used in, as some of these composers have been deceased for years, but they still deserve credit (even if posthumously) for their excellent, catchy orchestrations. Certainly, some of the composers had quite a range; one piece would be a high-energy military march, another would evoke carefree images of having a picnic in the park, another would be a teary-eyed goodbye, another would be an ethereal ambience piece, and another would be an ethnic dance song.
Classical music? You betcha. Not only does the APM library contain original compositions, but it also has numerous albums featuring music from the time when Beethovens and Mozarts roamed the Earth, producing familiar melodies that are still famous today. And Ren and Stimpy was no stranger to classical music. Much like Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, and Disney had done decades before, Ren and Stimpy may have been one of the first places young kids, such as myself, were introduced to classical music; of course, being a young kid, I just didn’t know it. Only looking back on the show do I realize the sheer amount. Of course, “mainstream” favorites like “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony”, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, “Can-Can”, and “Night on Bald Mountain” were used, but there were also a plethora of songs not as well-known, such as “Scheherazade”, “Clock Symphony”, “Clarinet Concerto”, “Humoresque”, and others which have certainly been heard numerous times (especially in classic cartoons) but to which people have a hard time placing the names, such as “Spring Song” and “Tritsch-Tratsch Polka”.
While Ren and Stimpy was certainly not the first show to utilize stock music for its score (as I said, it was used decades earlier in shows like Gumby), it was arguably one of the most influential. It made retro stock music popular again. After R&S aired, commercials and other shows began to dip into the APM library, including Nick at Nite (perfect for its retro block), The Simpsons, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Rocko’s Modern Life, Camp Lazlo, My Partner is a Gym Monkey, some theatrical films, and one of the most notable in recent years, SpongeBob SquarePants. Much like Ren and Stimpy from a decade earlier, SpongeBob uses hundreds of tracks in the show, though by contrast to R&S, many of the tracks are Hawaiian-themed, modern orchestral arrangements, ’60s pop, and stirring sports-themed cues from the NFL library, as opposed to the idyllic sitcom and retro sci-fi/horror feel of R&S – though to be fair, SpongeBob has its share of that, too. That makes the APM library even more impressive; the sheer range of material available is amazing; the fact that SpongeBob can use hundreds of tracks and only have a small handful that were also used by Ren and Stimpy is a testament to its selection. Thus, even though SpongeBob used the same production music library, it created its own identity through its music and accentuated many of its scenes, just like Ren and Stimpy did.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these tracks haven’t been released commercially to the general public; about the only option is two volumes of “Music For TV Dinners”, which contain only a tiny fraction of the goodness, and which are now very hard to find. While it’s unknown how much of a demand there is for the casual consumer to purchase a CD of stock music, I’d certainly buy it. Having a label which said “Heard in Ren and Stimpy!”, might arouse the interest of some.
So, here’s to the masters that wrote those addictive melodies that got stuck in my head many a time, as well as to Ren and Stimpy for bringing this wonderful music to the public’s attention after it had faded into relative obscurity for two decades. Not only were these stock music libraries perfect for the show, but it didn’t cost them an arm and a leg to do it, and others realized this was an option if they too didn’t have a fortune to spend on an original score. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to “Shopping Spree” and imagine I’m scoring all kinds of great deals at the mall.