Discuss: What’s the Best M*A*S*H Musical Moment?

Welcome to the first installment of Monday M*A*S*H Discussions, a new blog feature I’m testing out. As I announced last week, after reviewing 251 episodes of M*A*S*H, I’m ready for a break from the grind of weekly reviews. So, rather than immediately starting to review AfterMASH, instead I’ll be posting discussion questions relating to M*A*S*H every Monday for the next eight weeks.

I want to kick off these discussions with something fun. Not something that may pit lifelong, diehard fans against one another.

Today’s topic: What’s the best musical moment from M*A*S*H?

Funny vs. Poignant

There are a lot of musical moments to consider. Some funny, some poignant. For funny, I’m partial to Hawkeye, Trapper, and Margaret drunkenly singing “Come on in, take off your skin, and rattle around in your bones” halfway through “Alcoholics Unanimous.”

You can’t discuss funny musical moments without talking quite a bit about “Movie Tonight” and the many verses of “Gee, Ma, I Wanna Go Home.” With the exception of Frank’s verse, they’re all funny to some degree.

Poignant musical moments include Captain Spalding’s song about nurses from “There Is Nothing Like a Nurse” and the camp singing “Dona Nobis Pacem,” from “Dear Sis.”

Then there are non-vocal musical moments, like the depressing version of the M*A*S*H theme heard at the end of “Abyssinia, Henry” or Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet from “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”

The camp singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” near the end of “Dear Sis” is perhaps the most emotional musical moment of M*A*S*H for me, personally. Although, having recently watched “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” I have to admit the POWs performing Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet as they’re driven away from the 4077th and from Charles certainly packs an emotional wallop. I also think the somber rendition of the M*A*S*H theme heard at the end of “Abyssinia, Henry” is very moving.

Let’s Discuss

My hope is these Monday M*A*S*H Discussion topics will spark significant debate in the comments each week. So, think about which musical moment from M*A*S*H you consider the very best. Can you pick just one? Do you have to chose a funny musical moment and a second, poignant musical moment? Hit the comments with your thoughts.

23 Comments

  • Farret Face says:

    Comedically, I’d say “My Blue Heaven,” from “Dear Dad… Again,” with Margaret over-powering Hawkeye’s performance, and his reaction to it.

    Dramatically, I have to agree with Charles’ story in the finale. Both the scene where he’s watching the musicians leave, and when he starts to play the record after finding out what happened to them were very effective IMO.

    • Farret Face says:

      There’s another moment I want to mention. I’m not 100% sure it fits what you’re going for with this discussion, but I love the extended opening sequence in the pilot episode. I love the way they show glimpses at the characters and their zany antics, only to have it get cut short by choppers, followed by the theme song being used to great effect, IMO. It all does a great job of setting the tone for the show (particularly those early seasons), and basically saying “welcome to our show.” And for that reason, I also get a weird kind of nostalgic feeling whenever watching it, after seeing everything that comes after it.

      • RJ says:

        I agree. The extended opening sequence from the series premiere is a wonderful musical moment.

      • DHLA says:

        Ditto. About the only way to see this is on the DVDs and every time I see it, it is a treat. Not just for the music but also the clarity of the main titles which is missing from every other episodes in the series.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    I would have to go with “Dona Nobis Pacem” from “Dear Sis”. It was a powerful rendition by the cast.

    For a funny musical moment, I’d pick Hawkeye, Trapper, and Margaret’s drunken singing in “Alcoholics Unanimous”.
    Both are emblematic of the show’s balance between humor and drama.

  • BDOR says:

    So are we talking strictly when a song or “show-stopping number” was sung in camp, or can this discuss also cover moments when actual background music was used? Because if the latter is also part of the discussion, three moments pop into mind:

    1. “To Market, To Market,” which perhaps the most background music of any episode, not to mention the quirkiness of the music that was used: the lovesick violin music that plays as Margaret and Frank slip away for their interlude in the Supply Tent, the thrilling brass notes that play when Hawkeye discovers he and Trapper have been locked in Henry’s office, and even the groovy little bit as Henry and Frank discover the wall having been torn down and watch as Henry’s desk is whisked away by chopper – all wonderful moments.

    2. The groovy and adventuresome tune that plays as Klinger goes hang-gliding out of camp in “The Trial of Henry Blake.” Somebody even once had the music on YouTube with the dialogue from Hawkeye and Trapper and the laugh track removed, but I don’t believe it’s available anymore.

    3. The unstructured little piece that plays during the sequence of Flagg tearing up the VIP tent in “White Gold,” which really helped set the mood that Flagg was up to something strange.

    • HannibalMO says:

      I have to agree with #2. The music made the scene.

    • RJ says:

      Background or incidental music is fair game.

      I did originally assume the discussion would focus on musical moments involving the characters, i.e. someone singing or performing. But then without thinking about it I mentioned the rendition of “Suicide is Painless” played at the end of “Abyssinia, Henry.”

  • penguinphysics says:

    My two favorites of the zany sort are the “Come on in! Take off your skin! and rattle around in your bones!” I’ve been known to recite this one whenever I see someone whom I haven’s seen in several months.

    Even more memorable, my wife and I are also brought to hysterics with Col. Potter’s shower song (from Bug-Out) “…I love to go swimmin’ with bow-legged women and swim between their legs…Oh…Hi Padre!” Something about Harry Morgan’s delivery is just so perfect

    • penguinphysics says:

      Not to leave out poignant musical moments: The one that always gets me in the gut is Hawkeye singing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in Dr. Pierce and Mr Hyde. His emotional delivery is just perfect and showcases what a magnificent actor he can be with the proper writing and direction.

  • HannibalMO says:

    For the poignant musical scene, the rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem from “Dear Sis” gets my vote. It’s such a great scene and its juxtaposition with the snow that starts to fall afterwards gives the whole scene a sense of peace. A close second would be the opening scene in “A War for All Seasons” where the camp is singing “Auld Lang Syne”. There is a sense of anticipation and weariness that comes through while they’re singing and, ironically, watching it brings a sense of nostalgia rushing over me.

    The funniest is the Army song from “Movie Tonight”.

    I know this isn’t a specific scene or song, but I love all of the incidental and background music that is played thought the PA system, the officer’s club, etc… The big band, swing, and jazz songs help set the series firmly in the early 1950s and IMO, makes the series feel more natural and less like it was filmed on a sound stage or a ranch.

    • Jon says:

      Summer 1977 at Boy Scout camp, someone in my troop had the idea for us to sing a version of the Army song with “camping” replacing “Army” and various verses. I hadn’t seen “Movie Tonight” at the time, so I didn’t know where he got the tune, but looking back, I figure he did, since the episode had just aired that spring. We had a lot of fun singing about “Camp Parnell” in the same way.

      I’d also never heard of “Mississippi Mud” at the time when I first saw “The General Flipped at Dawn”, but it was fun to watch and showed that Gen. Steele was a bit nuts. Of course it’s a very non-PC song nowadays.

  • 007 says:

    Everyone here already touched upon all the ones that I would mention. For most humorous, I’d go with the Movie Tonight singing. That was a great sequence.

    For most poignant, as touched upon also, the Quintet for a Clarinet and Strings being done by the musicians in GFA is the one for me. The finale does a good job of capturing the horrors of war for each person individually, and for Charles specifically, one of my favorites from the show, no other musical piece is as memorable.

    Alot of folks here mentioned “Dona Nobis Pacem” That one never did it for me. Maybe I’m too young or just not knowledgeable on the song, but that one never did anything for me in Dear Sis.

    The sad version of the main theme in the Abyssinia Henry farewell is also very poignant and sad.

    While not funny or poignant, the extended intro in the Pilot is always nice.

  • futurenurse says:

    I love that our first discussion topic is music, because music is so important to me (as I’m sure it is to so many viewers). For me, the funniest musical moment hands down has to be “Gee Ma, I Wanna Go Home” from Movie Tonight. That episode is one of my favorites because of the musical piece, and many times when I’m stressed of sad I’ll turn to this episode/song to put a smile on my face. My sister was actually able to figure out the Ukulele chords for the song for me! 🙂

    As for most meaningful musical moment, to me it’s Charles teaching the musicians in Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen. This segment of the episode allows us to see a different side of Charles. Not only that, but the song they play was chosen for the episode because it was one of the songs Alan Alda heard his now wife (Arlene) play on clarinet in concert the first time he met her. I think that adds an extra-special meaning to a special moment in the show.

    I’m looking forward to the upcoming discussions each Monday, and I would be completely fine with it if you decide to continue them for longer than 8 weeks. Also, where can I watch AfterM*A*S*H? I’ve never seen the episodes, and I would like to watch them before you post the reviews about them.

    • Farret Face says:

      They actually have the episodes on Youtube.

    • RJ says:

      Yes, YouTube has most episodes of AfterMASH available at the moment. 20th Century Fox must occasionally send take down requests every so often because I’ve seen the episodes disappear and then reappear once or twice over the years.

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    Great topic and comments by everyone!

    The music in M*A*S*H adds much to my enjoyment of the series. It is impossible for me to pick just one moment. I love the “Come on in and take off your skin” from Alcoholics Unanimous, I also love any episode where we see Radar on the drums. Another I really enjoy is Captain Spalding’s appearances — particularly the song “Now when I die, and it won’t be long, well you’re gonna be sorry, that you treated me wrong” (where Hawkeye, Trapper and the rest echo each line after Spalding). Lastly there is Hawkeye’s rendition of “When the Fuehrer says we is the master race, we heil pfff, heil pfff, right in the Fuehrer’s face”

    I have also commented in the past that I very much enjoy the “Japanese” (I assume that is the language used) versions of American pop songs that appear in the series — especially in the early seasons.

    Overall, I think the music did much to anchor the series in the 1950’s and to enhance the unity that the members of the 4077th shared. Despite their individual differences, the cultural touchstone of music was there to remind them that they were all Americans ‘marooned on an island’ in the midst of South Korea.

  • HannibalMO says:

    Seems like the first discussion topic was a success!

  • Latrinogram says:

    I love the incidental music in the first season, particularly in “To Market”. They did away with most of it after that first season. A lot of shows in the 70’s followed the same pattern: All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Barney Miller, etc.

    M*A*S*H used a somber musical piece at the end of several episodes in the first 4 seasons. The episode that I can think of right know is “The Late Captain Pierce” when Hawkeye gets off of the bus and trudges back to camp. It was used other times, and it is very moving.

    Hawkeye, BJ, and Potter singing at the end of “Change of Command” is also very memorable.

    And finally, the music at the end of GFA, when Hawkeye’s chopper is taking off always gets to me.

    • BDOR says:

      The other shows you mentioned were shot on videotape in front on live audiences with multiple cameras, really the only way they could utilize music was to play it over a loud speaker or something in the studio as they’re taping, which sounds kind of weird.

      • Latrinogram says:

        That’s probably true in the early All in the Family episodes. In Sanford and Son and Barney Miller, I think they added the music in post production. I could be wrong though. Either way, I thought is was a nice touch to have it. Most shows in the 70’s were subtle about it. Not like now.

  • Phil says:

    Surprised this moment wasn’t mentioned:

    “There’s a long, long night of waiting…until my dreams all come true…until the day that I’ll be going down that long, long trail with you.”

    A very poignant way to close “Change of Command”. To me, it seemed to officially hearken the new direction of M*A*S*H, a new direction for the better.

  • Phil says:

    Also, at the end of “Welcome to Korea”, the music that played while either Todd Susman or Sal Viscuso read off the “following personnel” who “are assigned to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital”…

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