12 Disney Songs of Christmas – Part One

The holiday season is upon us. With Thanksgiving just around the corner in the United States, radio stations and stores have gone all in on everything holly jolly. My own home is no exception. Our Christmas tree has found its place in our living room and an assortment of festive decor can be found throughout the apartment.   

To get everyone in the spirit, I’ve put together a list of 12 classic Disney holiday songs (one for each day of Christmas). This week, we’ll hit on the first six songs. 

Christmas is Starting Now (Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation!)

I’ll be honest. One of the ways that I know it’s time to deck the halls is when Tim & Jenn Tracker begin singing “Christmas is Starting Now” on their daily vlogs. The song is part of the hilarious and utterly brilliant cartoon Phineas and Ferb. It appears in the Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation! special, which was originally broadcast on December 6, 2009.  

Written by Danny Jacob, Martin Olson, and Dan Povenmire, and performed by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (best known for You & Me & the Bottle Makes 3, Mr. Pinstripe Suite, and Go Daddy-O), the song actually debuted before the cartoon on November 27 when the special’s entire soundtrack played on Disney Radio.

12 Days of Christmas (Disney’s Merry Christmas Carols)

No one quite knows the origins of the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas, but the best-known English version was published in 1780. Listed as Number 68 in the Roud Folk Song Index, the song has been covered countless times by artists ranging from Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters to Alvin and the Chipmunks. The Muppets and John Denver performed the song on the Christmas special John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together television special and comedian Allan Sherman recorded two different versions of his parody The Twelve Gifts of Christmas.  

But for me, the definitive version will always be track four on side two of Disney’s Merry Christmas Carols. Performed by Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Chip n’ Dale, Clarabelle Cow, and Larry Groce (a singer, songwriter, and radio host famous for his novelty song Junk Food Junkie). Once you’ve heard Goofy sing, “Five Onion rings!” during the song, there’s simply no going back. 

Making Christmas (Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas)

The age-old debate continues. Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Christmas or Halloween movie? The correct answer is both. Always both. 

Really, any number of songs from this soundtrack could have been selected: What’s This?, Kidnap the Sandy Claws, maybe even Oogie Boogie’s song. But ultimately I had to go with Making Christmas. The song features Jack Skellington (whose singing voice was provided by Danny Elfman), the Mayor (voiced by Glenn Shadix), and the other residents of Halloweentown.

Composed by Disney Legend Danny Elfman (Class of 2015), the song borrows its opening notes from Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) which can be traced back to the 13th century, and is attributed to either Thomas of Celano or Latino Malabrancac Orsini. While the song in the movie is a rather joyous number, celebrating the townspeople’s preparations for their own version of Halloween, this connection to Dies Irae lends it a sense of foreboding. The melody used coincides with Latin lyrics that translate, “Day of wrath and doom impending,” a hint of the calamity soon to befall Jack and his friends. 

Once Upon a Christmastime (Once Upon a Christmastime Parade)

An embarrassing confession: despite my best efforts, there’s not much that I can tell you about this song. It’s even a bit of a stretch to refer to it as a song. I’ve yet to find it on a musical streaming service. To listen to it, I’ve had to find videos on YouTube. And it lasts about 15 minutes and 39 seconds, or roughly ¼ of a live Grateful Dead song. But outside of that, there isn’t much I can tell you about it. I attempted to find out who composed the piece, but with no luck. After all, I’m an amateur Disney historian. Not a professional. 

What I can tell you is once you’ve listened to the song, it will be stuck in your head until NEXT Christmas, when you will re-listen to it and start the process all over again. 

Radiator Rockin’ Holiday (Season’s Speedings from Cars Land: Holiday Songs from Mater & Luigi)

Ah, Christmas. Who can forget the dulcet tones and velvety smooth voice of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” or Larry the Cable Guy singing Radiator Rockin’ Holiday? That’s right. Larry the Cable Guy. Singing. 

Featured on the album Season’s Speedings from Cars Land: Holiday Songs from Mater & Luigi, and heard on the attraction Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at Disney California Adventure. The song is a holiday variation on the song Radiator Rock which has been performed by Larry the Cable Guy and blues musician Joe Louis Walker. It was written by composer Bruno Coon and Imagineer Kevin Rafferty and is, as I’m told the kids these days say, a bop. 

All I Want for Christmas Is You (Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration Stage Show)

Written by Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff, All I Want for Christmas Is You might just be the most ubiquitous holiday pop song (though Last Christmas by Wham! certainly has to be in the conversation). Originally released on the 1994 album Merry Christmas, the song has sold an estimated 16 million copies worldwide, and even topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019, 25 years after its release. 

Of course, as talented a singer as Mariah Carey is, she simply can’t compare to the unbridled genius of one Clarabell Cow, who unleashes her inner diva on the number as part of Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration Stage Show, a part of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World. In future years, I trust that the performance will rightly take its place alongside the Sistine Chapel, Citizen Kane, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when it comes to timeless works of art. 

And that, my friends, is the first half of our 12-song holiday extravaganza of holiday music. Join us next week for part two, when we’ll slow things down a little bit and get a bit sentimental. In the meantime, put on some hot cocoa, hang some mistletoe, and get busy rockin’ around the Christmas tree!

Mad About Mad About Me: The Story of the Mos Eisley Cantina Band

Writing about the Star Wars universe is a dicey proposition. Pull at a single string and you’ll find that it seems to extend forever. Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written on the subject, both fiction and non-fiction. Even the most minor of characters have detailed backstories. 

Such is the case for Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, better known to most as the Cantina Band. The group made their first appearance in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, but have since had appearances ranging from the ill-fated Star Wars Holiday Special to books like Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and Tales from Jabba’s Palace. 

The group is best known for the infectious ditty “Mad About Mad About Me,” better known as “the Cantina Song,” a jaunty little earworm that has been making toes tap across the universe since it was first played in the most wretched hive of scum and villainy you’ll ever find.

Of course, there’s a real-world history to the music as well. But before exploring that, let’s take a look at the fictional backstory behind the piece. 

Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes

Hailing from the planet of Clak’dor VII, the group was fronted by the ill-tempered and perfectionistic Figrin D’an. During the Clone Wars, they performed as part of Jasod Revoc’s Galactic Revue, before entering into an exclusive contract with Jabba Desilijic Tiure (known to most as Jabba the Hutt) to perform at his palace and in the Mos Eisley Cantina on the planet of Tatooine. 

Without further ado, let’s meet the boys in the band and the respective instruments each plays. 

  • Doikk Na’ts — Dorenian Beshniquel
  • Figrin D’an — kloo horn, gasan string drum
  • Ickabel G’ont — Double Jocimer
  • Lirin Car’n — second kloo horn
  • Nalan Cheel — bandfil
  • Sun’il Ei’de — drums
  • Tech Mo’r — Ommni Box
  • Tedn Dahai — fanfar

In terms of musical style, the group was known for playing both jizz and jatz music, the former of which has numerous sub-genres such as jizz-wail, aubade, and glitz. Alas, what separates each style from the other is an arcane knowledge that your humble author does not possess.

Over time, the group began to fear for their safety in regard to Jabba the Hutt. Despite this, the group took the opportunity (and 3000 credits) offered to perform at the wedding of Lady Valarian, Jabba’s chief rival. When he learned of this betrayal, he sent bounty hunters after the group. However, they managed to escape during the confusion as a group of Imperial Stormtroopers happened to raid the event at the same time. But the group didn’t travel far, taking a job at the Wookie Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina, otherwise known as the Mos Eisley Cantina. 

It is reported that in later years they performed in venues like Shanko’s Hive and the floating casinos on Dac, eventually wending their way to the SkyCenter Galleria at Cloud City.   

Follow all of that? I’m going to assume you’re nodding your head yes and move on to the slightly less fictional history behind the music. Still a bit confused? Not to worry. Just pick up a copy of Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and read the short story, “We Don’t Do Weddings: The Band’s Tale” by Kathy Tyers. 

The Composer

Attempting to sum up a career as prolific as that of John Williams is no easy task. As his own webpage notes, “In a career that spans five decades, John Williams has become one of America’s most accomplished and successful composers for film and for the concert stage. He has served as music director and laureate conductor of one of the country’s treasured musical institutions, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and he maintains thriving artistic relationships with many of the world’s great orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mr. Williams has received a variety of prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honor, the Olympic Order, and numerous Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards, and Golden Globe Awards,” and has, “composed the music and served as music director for more than one hundred films.”

His music has become a cultural touchstone for many, whether it be in films like Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and the Indiana Jones series, or dramatic classics such as Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, and Empire of the Sun. 

Born in 1932, Williams grew up in New York before relocating to Los Angeles 16 years later. While there, he studied composition under Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco before entering service in the Air Force. He then attended Julliard and began working as a jazz pianist in nightclubs before returning to California to write music for television.

Williams eventually worked with director Steven Spielberg on his groundbreaking thriller Jaws, creating a score that would become one of the most iconic in cinema history. Which is why Spielberg readily recommended him to George Lucas when he needed someone to score his film Star Wars. An article by Udiscovermusic relates, “he handed…the film over to Williams – who won the job thanks to the recommendation of Steven Spielberg after Williams delivered the most iconic horror score since Psycho for his fish movie Jaws – and said: “That. But better.”

 When it came time to compose the music for the Mos Eisley Cantina scene, Lucas had very specific direction for Williams. He asked him to, “imagine several creatures in a future century finding some 1930s Benny Goodman swing band music in a time capsule or under a rock someplace — and how they might attempt to interpret it…”

Williams assembled a nine-piece jazz band to perform the piece, featuring the trumpet, saxophones, clarinet, piano, steel drum, a synthesizer, and an assortment of percussion instruments. According to an article by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, “To give it that alien quality, the bottom end of the sound was minimized, with added reverb working to thin the instruments out even more.”

The piece became wildly popular and even attained massive success outside of the cinema. The instrumental disco album Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk was released in 1977 by Millennium Records. It featured the single “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” which rose to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for two weeks. The album and single would both be certified platinum a year later. 

A brief historical note on AllMusic states, “John Williams supposedly did not know anything about disco when he returned from London. When he was asked to listen to Meco’s version of his now-famous recording, Williams was apprehensive. But, in the end, he credited Meco with helping bring symphonic music further into the mainstream.”

Today, fans of the catchy little ditty can hear it inside Oga’s Cantina at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. It’s been a wild ride for the swinging tune that began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. 

8 Favorite Musical Experiences in Walt Disney World

Note: A version of this article was previously published by Celebrations Press on March 13, 2022: 8 Favorite Musical Experiences in Walt Disney World – Celebrations Press

November is Thankful Season in the United States, a time to celebrate the things that make our lives better. The little sparks of wonder that light up the darkness, even if it’s only for a moment. It doesn’t matter how big or small, if it spreads joy, it deserves to be recognized. With that in mind, here are a few of the best musical experiences in Walt Disney World (past and present). Without them, life would be a little less magical.

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

1) Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing (Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Magic Kingdom)

The song “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room” tends to get all the glory at this attraction, and not without good cause. It’s a classic composed by the legendary Sherman brothers, and it is imminently singable. Add to that the voice talents of Wally Boag, Fulton Burley, Ernie Newton, and Thurl Ravenscroft, and it’s clear why Guests love it so much.

That said, there’s just something perfect about “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing.” Originally written in 1932 by a group of songwriters, including Tolchard Evans, the piece is sung by the Showgirl Birds. Hosts Jose, Pierre, Fritz, and Michael join in as well. Maybe it’s the beauty of the Bird Mobile, which holds the cockatoos, or the fact that José does his best Bing Crosby impression during the piece, but it just holds a special place in our hearts. 

It's Tough To Be a Bug

2) Beauty and the Bees (It’s Tough to Be a Bug, Animal Kingdom)

You didn’t read that wrong, and it wasn’t a typo. While waiting to enter It’s Tough to Be a Bug, you’ll see a variety of posters advertising musicals like “A Cockroach Line,” “My Fair Ladybug,” and “Beauty and the Bees.” 

Make sure to listen while you’re in the area, and you’ll even notice music being performed by insects, specifically a chorus of bees performing their version of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” (from the 1991 film of the same name). Once you hear it, the tune will be buzzing in your head all day.

Country Bear Jamboree

3) Heart, We Did All That We Could (The Country Bear Jamboree, Magic Kingdom)

While I will always consider “Blood on the Saddle” as performed by Big Al (above) to be the greatest musical moment of all time, I can’t deny the glitz and glamor of Teddi Barra.

The song she sings, “Heart, We Did All That We Could”, was a 1967 Billboard Country Top 20 hit in 1967, though it was Jean Shepherd singing it that time, instead of a Mae West-influenced bear who descends from the ceiling like a furry angel. While Shepherd’s performance is wonderful, she’s got nothing on the last of the Big Time Swingers. 

World of Motion

4) It’s Fun to Be Free (World of Motion, Epcot)

Long before Test Track, Guests of Walt Disney World could enjoy a slightly more leisurely journey in the World of Motion, a dark ride that carried Guests through the past, present, and future of transportation.

A ubiquitous part of the experience was the song “It’s Fun to Be Free”, a jaunty number composed by Buddy Baker and with lyrics by Xavier “X” Atencio. If that pair sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. They also wrote “Grim Grinning Ghosts” for the Haunted Mansion. Atencio is also responsible for “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)”, a song that he wrote with George Bruns. 

Na'vi River Journey

5) The Shaman’s Song (Na’vi River Journey, Animal Kingdom)

As the boats wind their way through the waters of Pandora on Na’vi River Journey, Guests find themselves surrounded by ethereal, glowing plants, wild animals, and beautiful, haunting music. The climax comes when the Shaman of Songs appears.

A truly stunning piece of Audio-Animatronics, she sings a profoundly gorgeous song with music by James Horner and Simon Frangien, featuring lyrics by Paul Frommer. The song is sung in Na’vi, but there’s no translation needed to convey the sense of wonder, awe, and reverence that it creates. 

Oga's Cantina

6) Cantina Song aka Mad About Mad About Me (Oga’s Cantina, Hollywood Studios)

Music has always been a key part of the Star Wars experience. From the opening credits to the menace of the Imperial March, the score becomes its own character throughout the films. So, it’s no surprise that it plays a huge role in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

One of the best examples comes from DJ R3X in Oga’s Cantina. If the little droid looks familiar, that’s because he used to be a pilot on Star Tours. These days, he spins tunes for tourists. While all of his music is great, his remix of the Cantina Song, originally performed by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes is arguably the most fun. Just listen to a few bars and you’ll start tapping your feet.

Magic Journeys: Epcot

7) Making Memories (Magic Journeys, Epcot)

When Epcot opened in 1982, one of the original attractions was Magic Journeys, located in the Journey Into Imagination Pavilion. The 3D film allowed Guests to view the world through the eyes of a child, where everyday wonders were transformed into flights of fancy. 

Before the movie, there was a pre-show that included the song “Making Memories”, written by the Sherman Brothers. Because the attraction was sponsored by Kodak, the lyrics are all about preserving memories through photographs, and like other pieces composed by the Shermans, it’s incredibly singable.  

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

8) Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (Hollywood Studios)

This one feels a bit like cheating, but if we’re talking about great music at Disney parks, how can we not include the Bad Boys from Boston? Hit Aerosmith songs like “Sweet Emotion,” “Back in the Saddle,” “Walk This Way,” and others can be heard on the high-octane thrill-ride. They’re great to sing along to, that is if you can stop screaming as the coaster rockets along.

If I had to list one complaint about the whole experience, it would be that I still haven’t received those backstage passes that Steven Tyler promised me. What’s the holdup?