Little Red Monkey

Jack Jordan, Stephen Gale
From the TV series Little Red Monkey

Unless you grew up in mid-1950’s England, you’ve probably never heard “Little Red Monkey,” although Stateside it was covered by Rosemary Clooney and by the Harmonicats, as well as by that jazz luminary, Mel Blanc, of Bugs Bunny fame. Little Red Monkey was first a BBC TV series and later an early-Cold War thriller starring Richard Conte, perhaps best known for his later role in The Godfather. The haunting melody of “Little Red Monkey” was infused liberally throughout its soundtrack, mostly from an organ with an eerie theremin-like sound.

Given how it was used on television and in film, it is ironic that “Little Red Monkey” was also recorded with Stephen Gale’s lyrics as a children’s novelty song by the British comedy team of Joy Nichols, Dick Bentley and Jimmy Edwards. Apparently, if you turned on the radio at that time, you were likely to hear it. Incidentally, this hit version of the song was produced by George Martin a decade before he began working with the Beatles.

We’ve taken a song that was used as an English espionage song and as a children’s song, and placed it in the context of a Harlem swing, where it seems right at home. This all serves as a reminder of just how adaptable music can be.