All posts by jimofseattle

The Mysterious Pedigree of “Hey, Little Goldfish”

I saw the movie “Hello Down There” in a double feature with “The Boatniks” at Bellevue’s Crossroads theatre with my mother and sister in 1969. It was an exciting day. For those few of you who are not already familiar with “Hello Down There”, it’s a family comedy starring Tony Randall and Janet Leigh about a science experiment wherein a family lived in a special house built at the bottom of the ocean. They had dolphins for pets and mishaps with seals and lots and lots of late 1960’s colors. Someone in the family also was in a band, and the whole band rehearsed in the house under the waves. Typical, silly cheap kid movie of the era.

Funny thing was, it had this terrific song in it, which I’ve never forgotten, “Hey Little Goldfish”

(Yes that is who you think it is pretending to sing lead. And singing about sharks even.)

So, where did this catchy song come from and land in this otherwise forgettable movie? I did a little research. According to Mr. Internet, “Hey Little Goldfish” was written by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston. Who penned a number of other hits…..IN THE 1920’s! Including one of my personal top ten favorite songs of all time (Song starts at 1:20, but the whole scene is great.)

Trusting Mr. Internet as I did, I thought the fact that the same songwriting team wrote these two completely different songs was an extremely cool and obcsure bit of trivia, that this pair of old guys who let the music business leave them behind got hired to write a bubble gum pop song in 1969, and they went and nailed it. Except that Arthur Johnston died in 1954. I guess they could have written it years before and it was discovered by the film’s producers and resurrected. Not likely.

(Also, “Goldfish” makes great use of a soul-influenced humming refrain, and alternates between I and IV chords, both techniques common to pop in the 60’s and unheard of in the sophisticated songwriting styles of 40 years before.The credited composer for the rest of the movie was Jeff Barry. Who DID write bubble gum pop songs in the 1960’s. Most famously, “Sugar Sugar”, also in 1969. Barry certainly wrote “Goldfish” as well.)

The songwriting credits for “Hello Down There” are obviously inaccurate, but I wonder why. Coslow, credited lyricist for “Goldfish”, had left the music business and turned to investment and market analysis by that time. Since one of his and Johnston’s actual songs was heard in “Hello Down There”, perhaps he bamboozled his way into an extra paycheck for songs he didn’t write. Since Jeff Barry is still alive, he certainly knows the answer.

These are both songs I hope of covering some day. When I thought they were written by the same people, I was determined to make a medley of them. Now that I know better, I won’t. But “Hey Little Goldfish” and “Pennies from Heaven” have been long paired in my mind. Weird.