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“Weird Uncle Ernie Sings The Hits of Dr. Seuss” In The Heat Of The Night, 1967

"Weird Uncle Ernie Sings The Hits of Dr. Seuss

in one of the strangest musical gems hidden inside a Best Picture film.

Or any other film.

This is not your father’s golden oldie -- but it is a platinum oddity.

Appearing in the middle of the 1968 Best Picture of The Year, In The Heat Of The Night, the song Fowl Owl On The Prowl is written by Quincy Jones, the guy with more Grammys than any other living person (26!), and with lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman, who later went on to write the theme songs for Good Times, Maude, James Bond movies, and the lyrics to The Way We Were, among many other things. The song’s performed by a little-known L.A. duo Boomer & Travis, who also went by The Lewis & Clarke Expedition. (IMDB.com trivia and other places list this as Glen Campbell singing, but that’s not backed up by any solid source, or one's ears.)

The song’s backstory reminds me of George Martin describing how on the set of “Help” they realized they needed an opening song, and the next morning the boys showed up with Help. “Hit songs, written to order,” as Sir George still marveled decades later.

This scene in In The Heat of The Night was originally shot using the creepy classic “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs, but when they couldn’t secure the rights (apparently Sam “the Sham” wanted too much money! who’d a thunk?), Quincy Jones then had to write this on the spot – and with a beat and lurid theme to match the existing footage and intent. Very little has been written about the composition or recording, but the song has stuck in people’s heads since it first appeared on big screens in theaters and drive-ins during the summer of '68. In fact, there’s a thread about this song on one of the internet’s largest songwriters’ databases that has been going on for . . . eight years and counting!

http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=23827&messages=19

Directed by Toronto-born Norman Jewison, who also directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for Jesus Christ Superstar, and directed that twisted comedy Other People’s Money and about 40 other great movies, this atmospheric sixties racial classic features three Triple-A actors -- Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger (who won Best Actor for this), and Warren Oates. Also, viewers of the film are treated to Ray Charles soulfully singing the Quincy-penned title song – as well as Q’s entire soundtrack creatively voicing many mid-sixties themes, sounds and sensibilities. In this song, he features that fabulous hollow-body electric guitar sound that so filled the air back then.

Heat is probably most famous for Sidney Poitier’s, “They call me Mister Tibbs.” (ranked by the American Film Institute as the 16th greatest movie line ever delivered), and Poitier himself has cited this many times as the best movie he ever made. Besides Best Picture and Steiger’s Best Actor, it also won Best Editing, Sound and Writing. (Jewison lost Best Director to Mike Nichols for The Graduate.)

The song is deceptively simple – but with a sinister twist: set to a lilting children’s lullaby it’s actually an ode to the big bad wolf. If you don’t really listen to the words, you think you’re humming along to a happy ditty; but when you actually catch a couplet you find it’s only a baiting hook with a predator lurking behind the tree.

This song works like a punchline off a set-up. One shouldn’t reveal the other. Here, the happy jukebox melody in the country diner is the set-up -- and the lyrics are the punchline.

Written in both the language and tone of a nursery rhyme, it taps the lyrical tradition of the commoner’s (or children’s) language that runs from Homer through Longfellow to Raffi. And it uses the simple symbolism of plants and animals that can be found from the Old Testament through Aesop’s Fables to “The Pet Goat” that George Bush spent so much of the 9/11 attack reading. And the song's done with an almost Dr. Seussian rhyme play – while masking a Dr. Kevorkian death ray.

Add to that, the visual of this dancing small-town weirdo – or is he really a full-blown Hitchcockian psycho? – played by Anthony James, who you’ll recognize as the greasy bad-guy from about a hundred movies and TV shows. I haven’t second-sourced it, but he is rumored to now be a successful modern painter in Massachusetts, having retired from films following his major role in 1992’s Best Picture Unforgiven.

SPOILER CAVEAT:

This clip makes its real punch impact when you simply come upon it unexpectedly in the middle of this tense, atmospheric movie. It’s highly recommended that you watch the film in its entirety – having now memorized the contents of this page! But if you feel like skipping straight to The Munsters moneyshot you can click the link.

YouTube Uploader: lupine22
lupine22

From the 1967 movie "In the Heat of the Night," the "Foul Owl on the Prowl" sequence, played by Boomer & Travis.

All you little birds better lock up tight
'Cause there's a foul owl on the prowl tonight.

Hey, little lark, get outta the dark,
Foul owl on the prowl.
Cute little jay, stay outta his way,
Foul owl on the prowl.
You just might be the quail he'll tail,
Foul owl on the prowl.
You just might be the swallow he'll follow,
Foul owl on the prowl.

If you hear him hoot, scoot,
If you pass his tree, flee,
If you catch his eye, fly,
Don't wait to say goodbye.

He's got a yen for a purty little hen,
Foul owl on the prowl.
He's hungry for a chick, so get home quick,
Foul owl on the prowl...whhhooo.

If you hear him hoot, scoot,
If you pass his tree, flee,
If you catch his eye, fly,
Don't wait to say goodbye.

He's got a yen for a purty little hen,
Foul owl on the prowl.
He's hungry for a chick, so get home quick,
Foul owl on the prowl...whhhooo
Foul owl on the prowl...whhhooo
Foul owl on the prowl...whhhooo
Foul owl on the prowl...whhhooo
Foul owl on the prowl

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