iTunes catch of the day: Dean Elliott’s Zounds! What Sounds!

I have no idea how this LP ended up in my family’s record collection in the mid-60s (except that my father worked tangentially with animators in Hollywood for a while), but I discovered it when I was about 7 and it immediately became my favorite record of all time (surpassing “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by The Royal Guardsmen. Whole afternoons would pass while I played Zounds! What Sounds! over and over in a state of bliss.

What the record is, basically, is a collection of jazz and swing standards conducted by Dean Elliott, who, as far as I can tell, was to Tom and Jerry cartoons as Carl Stalling was to Bugs Bunny cartoons. The arrangements on Zounds! are jumpy enough all by themselves, but then they are augmented by what can only be termed “wacky cartoon sound effects.” And so a song called “Trees” is driven by the sounds of rhythmic sawing, a song called “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” is festooned with spooky crickets and hooting owls, “The Lonesome Road” is punctuated by the sounds of backfiring cars and tooting horns, and a song called “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” is inundated with the sounds of a thousand clocks and watches ticking and bonging. Boy, that sounds really stupid and annoying, doesn’t it? And yet it comes off as endlessly inventive, infectiously enthusiastic and wildly ecstatic. Or at least it did to my seven-year-old brain.

Then my family went bankrupt, my mother died, I ran away from home and endured about twenty years of soul-crushing poverty, and forgot all about the innocent joys of Zounds! What Sounds! so much so that before long I thought perhaps I had dreamed it.

Many years later, I was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music watching a show by Pina Bausch, who uses whole dump-trucks of music snippets in her marathon 3-hour dance pieces, and out of nowhere, between the German cabaret numbers and the Ligeti, “The Lonesome Road” by Dean Elliott came blasting out of the sound system. Needless to say, I forgot all about the cerebral, angular, angsty choreography on display and was once again a seven-year-old in the suburbs of Chicago, innocently, joyously leaping about the house like a bug-eyed idiot to the manic strains of Dean Elliott and his Swinging, Big, Big band. The record I had come to think of as long gone had been found! By a skinny, severe, middle-aged German choreographer! By jiminy, I said, if Pina Bausch can find this record all the way over in godless Germany, I can certainly find a copy in New York City!

Which I did. Needless to say, it was long out of print and never a popular item to begin with (I’m guessing), but I was able to track down a bootleg CD copy at the now-long-gone Footlight Records, which specialized in obscure recordings of Broadway showtunes and other music outside the purview of Tower Records. Hearing it again after thirty years, I was instantly transported back to simpler days, when jazz standards hoked up on cartoon sound-effects could supply all the adrenaline I needed.

When I got my iPod, Zounds! What Sounds! was one of the first CDs I transferred, but it’s only 12 tracks in an ocean of over 18,000, so it doesn’t come up much on shuffle (which is what I almost always have iTunes on). Today “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was” came on, sandwiched in between Fiona Apple and John Zorn, both of whom I think would have been comfortable with the comparison.

For those interested, apparently Basta! has done a proper re-mastering of this left-field classic.

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7 Responses to “iTunes catch of the day: Dean Elliott’s Zounds! What Sounds!”
  1. Anonymous says:


    The words “was to Tom and Jerry cartoons as Carl Stalling was to Bugs Bunny cartoons” and “joyously leaping about the house like a bug-eyed idiot” are enough to convince me.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hmm. Who was your father?

    • Todd says:

      My father was, and still is for that matter, Royal Alcott. In the 60s he worked in advertising, when working in advertising was really the thing to be doing. Back then, advertising clients sponsored entire shows, so the ad people spent a fair amount of time with the show people. My father knew the people at Hanna-Barbera pretty well and we always had all kind of Hanna-Barbera promotional materials lying around the house — Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, that sort of thing.

      • Anonymous says:

        Royal Alcott. Great character name. I just heard a report on NPR Wednesday about a new series called “Mad Men” (Matt Weiner is the creator) that chronicles the “golden age of advertising” of 1960. I wonder if your dad will watch and how close to the actual times the show comes.
        Very sorry about your Mom. She raised a lovely son.

        • Todd says:

          Royal Alcott. Great character name.

          I was upset when Wes Anderson named his wacky father character Royal, partly because now I can’t use it without making it look like I’m copying him, partly because Gene Hackman’s characterization was really close to how my father was but 20% too cartoony (and 1000% more wealthy).

          I’m very curious about Mad Men, but my memories of my father in the 60s can always be recalled by Darren Stevens.

          • Anonymous says:

            Sargent or York? Is there a wacky percentage? A consternated percentage? Interesting choice…
            At least he wasn’t the uber-toady Larry Tate!

            • Todd says:

              Well, Dick York is the real Darren Stevens — Dick Sargent was just some poor schmuck who wandered in off the street.

              And, although these movies are not about advertising per se, I’m also strongly reminded of my father by Jack Lemmon in The Apartment and Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II. Somewhere between the loser schlemiel of the first and the cold, calculating overlord of the second is where the truth probably lies.