Animal Music Monday: Baby Elephant Walk
Posted by Richard Conniff on July 4, 2016
This song was an unlikely pop hit from the early 1960s, by Henry Mancini. He wrote it for the 1962 Howard Hawks film “Hatari!” about the adventurous characters who made a living then catching elephants, rhinos, and other African wildlife to stock zoos. These days we would call that line of work “dubious” or even “criminal.” But those were different times.
Hawks had filmed an impromptu scene of the Martinelli character leading three baby elephants to a watering hole. But he didn’t know what to do with it. Before giving up on it, Hawks came to Mancini and said, “Take a look and let me know if you have any ideas.”
Mancini later wrote:
“So I looked at the scene several times and still thought it was wonderful. As the little elephants went down to the water, there was a shot of them from behind. Their little backsides were
definitely moving in rhythm with something. I kept thinking about it; it reminded me of something. I thought Yeah, they’re walking eight to the bar, and that brought something to mind, an old Will Bradley boogie-woogie number called “Down the Road a Piece” … Those little elephants were definitely walking boogie-woogie, eight to the bar. I wrote “Baby Elephant Walk” as a result.
Mancini sat down at a piano to audition the song for Hawks, who kept the scene in the movie.
Two weird afterthoughts: The pop version that made the Billboard Top 100 was by Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers. Welk was the impresario of a relentlessly wholesome variety show then, and stupefyingly dull. I feel bad saying that, though, as he was my mom’s favorite television personality.
An episode of “The Simpsons” also featured this song, though the backside moving eight to the bar belonged to Homer Simpson: