Picard Of The Pops: Ray Ellis

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Chris Morley gets animated...

Having considered both small & big screen Star Trek in our journey through the long running sci-fi series' many composers, time for another leap as we make the jump into the animated series!

This 1973 attempt to follow up The Original Series featured music contributed by two primary composers - and its the first of them we look at here. Alongside colleague Norm Prescott, Ray Ellis would supply the incidental music to the Filmation company's 22-episode strong attempt at a cartoon continuation.

Ellis first made his name as an arranger on several Fifties/Sixties records - among them Johnny Mathis' A Certain Smile & Broken Hearted Melody by Sarah Vaughan.

The early Seventies would see him moving into production on Emmylou Harris' first album Gliding Bird after a series of easy listening albums under his own name, the most popular being Ellis In Wonderland.

The Los Angeles Times can tell us more of these early years,
"His break came when a friend introduced him to Mitch Miller, then a leading executive with Columbia, who helped Ellis get work arranging the songs for the Four Lads, including "Moments to Remember" in 1955 and "Standing on the Corner" from the 1956 Frank Loesser musical "The Most Happy Fella." Both songs were hits, and Ellis became Miller's protege at Columbia, where he found steady work producing records and often leading the orchestra for his arrangements."

What was it about this easy listening muzak that made it so popular at the time? As the Wall Street Journal attests,
"Unlike other forms of music, easy listening wasn’t meant to be analyzed or even heard. Instead, albums typically featured lush orchestras playing pop melodies at a slow tempo that subliminally freed minds from the clutches of anxiety and distraction."
And it enjoyed a resurgence thanks to the children of those first listeners!
"Today, given the music’s calming, reflective powers, many aging baby boomers are rediscovering the soothing sounds they once derided in their parents’ dens and station wagons."
Some of them may indeed have watched animated Trek. Their parents might have been more concerned with daily events on NBC News Today, for which Ellis composed two themes.

The first was rejigged after similarities were noticed between it & the song Day By Day from the musical Godspell. A court case, Herald Square Music v Living Music, made the link explicit. As a Columbia Law School summary made clear,
"There seems to be little doubt that Ray Ellis had "Day by Day" in mind when he wrote the theme music for NBC's "Today Show". "Day by Day" had been performed on the "Today Show" and NBC had discussed using the by then fashionable song that obsesses on the word "day" for their weekday program.

Perhaps defendant NBC thought their drawing upon the "Godspell" number would go unchallenged given that what they took could be reduced to a measure or two of music that they wrought into an arguably more artful arrangement than did the plaintiff.

The court found the instrumental arrangement and harmonization of defendant's melody to be substantially similar to that of "Day by Day" but more important, that the differences between the melodies of the two works were "relatively minor"."
A second theme based on the NBC chimes was then commissioned.

Leaving nightly news behind us and returning to Saturday morning television, we find that animation was hardly alien territory to Ellis, as he had also performed musical duties on the original Spider-Man animated series.

Of Trek, the New York Times recounted,
"From 1973 to 1974, the inescapable science-fiction franchise spawned an all-but-forgotten Saturday morning cartoon series that more closely resembled its parent show than any of the prime-time spinoffs or theatrical releases that followed."

The format clearly had its merits.
"Produced by Filmation, “ST: TAS” was able to go where no inexpensive live-action TV series could afford to go before. Freed from the constraints of tiny sound stages and even tinier budgets, Filmation’s artists could conjure up outlandish aliens, epic space battles, exotic civilizations and other fantastic scenarios. For the most part the quality of the stories matched the visuals. A critic for The Los Angeles Times declared that the show was “as out of place in the Saturday morning kiddie ghetto as a Mercedes is in a soapbox derby.”"
But for every pro, there must be a con.
"To save money and time Filmation repeatedly used the same stock shots of the characters, many of them involving a minimum of motion. When new movements were called for, the results were frequently stiff or herky-jerky. In some cases, to avoid the bother of sketching in lip movements, the characters were shown speaking while holding a hand over their mouths. In retrospect this stilted, handmade approach is suffused with a goofy charm"
That it is, making it worthy of examination here!

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