When I was a kid I would retreat to my room and play my dad’s old 78 rpm records. I would make believe I was a disc jockey playing the top 40 hits, and “Powerhouse” by Raymond Scott would always be No. 1.
Maybe not always – you can’t be No. 1 forever – I just remember being amazed by that song, and the day I accidentally broke the record may have been the first time I ever felt horror and unspeakable loss.
I still love “Powerhouse,” which was recorded in 1937. Raymond Scott is one of the most inventive composers of the 20th century. He’s most known for the cartoon soundtracks that adapted his wacky works. “Powerhouse” was used in a number of Looney Tunes. And for good reason: It’s loony, but it sounds like a powerhouse. You can feel the electricity from the opening notes, and the organized chaos sounds like what you would expect electricity to sound.
The day I bought a new copy of “Powerhouse” through eBay, 40 years or so after I broke my dad’s copy, it was like being reunited with an old friend. Maybe it was like an old friend being resurrected from the dead: He’s alive! He’s alive!
The above video of a live performance of the song shows how amazing a composition it is, to get all of that sound out of a piano, drums, a muted trumpet, clarinet, saxophone and bass. An eclectic classic.
Scott did not write “Powerhouse” for cartoons, but the cartoons made exquisite use of it, as Warner Brothers showed when it compiled this montage in honor of all the great moments that used the piece as a soundtrack.