Michigan J. Frog's memorable tune was the first popular song about calling your sweetie on the telephone
"Hello! Ma Baby" is all about the utter joy of reaching out and touching someone.
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There are plenty of memorable songs from practically every decade about the special feeling of picking up your phone to call a loved one.
Whether it's Tommy Tutone dialing up Jenny at "867-5309" or the Big Bopper calling up the "big-eyed girl" who makes him "feel so funny" that he wants to spend his money, the telephone has served as a muse for many songwriters through time.
But did you know that the first popular song written about reaching out to touch your sweetheart across the airwaves is a song best remembered for being unexpectedly delivered by a cartoon frog?
In the 1955 cartoon "One Froggy Evening," the world met Michigan J. Frog, when he transformed from a normal, croaking amphibian into a singing, dancing sensation, with a top hat and cane to match his booming voice and high kicks.
Animator Chuck Jones called "One Froggy Evening" the best cartoon he ever did, and Steven Spielberg once called it the Citizen Kane of cartoons.
"Probably, of all my pictures, I like that one best," Jones said in his 2005 memoir Chuck Jones: Conversations. "Strangely enough, it was one of the most difficult."
That challenge might explain why Michigan J. Frog is such a rare sighting. Michigan appeared in just one original Merrie Melodies / Looney Tunes cartoon in the golden era, that 1955 gem. He would not resurface for another 40 years, until 1995, when he became the face of the upstart television network The WB.
Jones' struggle to make "One Froggy Evening" funny was in trying to convince the audience a real frog was singing. To do that, he studied how real frogs move. He wanted to nail the contrast between the resting Michigan J.Frog, who was "built like a real frog" (which Jones described as "just a bony blob") and the anthropomorphic version deftly doing the cakewalk on his hind legs.
The explosive quality of the cartoon came from the build-up of tension between these two different frog-types — because audiences never knew when to expect the ordinary-looking frog to suddenly break into song.
Explosive it was. Audiences never forgot. And the song the frog crooned ever is the one that's stuck with cartoon fans forever.
"Hello! Ma baby! Hello! My honey…" have been words sung in the style of Michigan J. Frog since that cartoon debuted more than 60 years ago. You may not realize that these lyrics were written 60 years prior to that, in 1899.
Similar to the relationship Barney Fife shared with the unseen Juanita on The Andy Griffith Show, "Hello! Ma Baby" is about a lovesick guy who only knows the woman who holds his heart through their conversations on the telephone.
When this song was written, only 10% of Americans even owned a phone to know what that feeling felt like.
Now, of course, we all know intimately how it feels to have our hearts tugged by a voice we hear only through our devices, whether it's a sweetheart, family or an old friend.
But in 1899, the telephone was so obscure that the standard greeting of "hello" wasn't even an established thing. Later on, during World War I, telephone operators started saying "hello" to begin their phone calls and got nicknamed "Hello Girls” in 1917. Then, we all started doing it.
So next time you answer your phone with a forgettable-feeling "Hello," maybe consider going really old school and jazzing it up — it's a way to pick up your loved ones a little bit, too! Show some enthusiasm and sing out "Hello, Ma Baby!" in the style of Michigan J. Frog instead?