Part of Your World. Can You Feel the Love Tonight. Let It Go. When You Wish Upon a Star. When it comes to the world of Disney, there’s a seemingly endless list of superhits. But what about the lesser known numbers? The overlooked gems?
The catalog of oft-forgotten and underrated Disney songs would put most song books to shame. This week we’ll be shining a spotlight on five of our favorites.
Someone’s Waiting for You
Let’s get things started with a tear-jerker. “Someone’s Waiting for You” from the animated masterpiece The Rescuers. The song writing duo of Carol Conners and Ayn Robbins (who gained an Academy Award nomination for “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky) teamed up with Sammy Fain (who earned 10 Academy Award nominations and won two over the course of his career) to write the number.
Singer Shelby Flint performed the song in the film. The combination of Conners, Robbins, Fain, and Flint resulted in something truly magical. It’s simultaneously heartrending and hopeful. The song earned a nomination for Best Original Song at the 1977 Academy Awards, though it would ultimately lose to “You Light Up My Life” from the film of the same name.
(1) The Rescuers (1977) – Someone’s Waiting For You – YouTube
The Best Time of Your Life
In 1974, the prolific songwriting duo of Richard and Robert Sherman sat down to compose a new theme song for Disney’s Carousel of Progress. The result was “The Best Time of Your Life,” which replaced the iconic “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” (also penned by the Shermans).
According to Richard Sherman, GE’s president approached them and declared, “”I don’t want to talk about tomorrows, I want to talk about today, I want to talk about what now is all about.” With that in mind, the Sherman’s penned a song that is a celebration of the world around us. As with everything the Sherman’s write, it’s incredibly catchy and tends to get stuck in your head. But there are worse messages to have running on repeat in your brain.
(1) The Best Time Of Your Life (Carousel of Progress Song) – DisneyAvenue.com – YouTube
Once Upon a Time in New York City
Between 1989 and his death in 1991, Howard Ashman penned songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. They’re some of the richest songs in the Disney canon, and solidified Ashman’s place as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century.
But his first Disney lyrics appeared in the 1988 Disney film Oliver & Company. The song, “Once Upon a Time in New York City” featured music by Barry Mann (marking the only Disney song written by Ashman that was not a collaboration with Alan Menken).
The song plays over the movie’s opening and is performed by Huey Lewis, and in a lot of ways feels like the quintessential Ashman song. There’s struggle mixed with a sense of dogged optimism, and behind it all is the big, beautiful mess known as New York City.
(1) Oliver And Company – Once Upon A Time In New York City (English) – YouTube
Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?
It’s safe to say that 2004’s Home on the Range will probably not land itself on many people’s Mount Rushmore of Disney animated features. Released to somewhat disappointing box office numbers and middling critical reviews, the movie none-the-less boasts one of the best songs in Disney history.
Written by Alan Menken, “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?” was performed by Bonnie Raitt in the movie. Incorporating country and western with blues, Raitt’s gorgeous alto voice perfectly captures the pathos of Menken’s lyrics and music.
Speaking of his work on Home on the Range, Menken noted that he went on an authentic 19th century cattle drive as part of his research for the film. In his one man show at the D23 Expo, he also spoke of “Will The Sun Ever Shine Again?” stating, “One thing about this song besides the experience of working with Bonnie…this song got written very shortly after the 9/11 attack, and…a lot of songwriters tried to write something that expressed how they felt about it, and somehow this song, in a movie about cows, did it for me…”
(1) Home on the Range – Will The Sun Ever Shine Again? – YouTube
Swamp Fox (Theme Song)
Beginning in 1959 and running through 1961, The Swamp Fox was an eight-part mini-series released as part of “Walt Disney Presents.” Each episode featured the exploits of American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, who was portrayed by Leslie Neilsen.
While the series failed to duplicate the wild success of Davy Crockett (released in 1955), it was nevertheless an entertaining program. It clearly showed Walt Disney’s personal blend of patriotism and romanticism in regard to American history, though (as one might expect) it is more of a sanitized, mythologized version of the events than precise retelling.
Like Davy Crockett, the Swamp Fox had his own theme song, this one composed by Buddy Baker and Lewis R. Foster. The lyrics reflection the difficult conditions that Marion’s men fought under and the scrappy spirit that kept them going.
(1) Swamp Fox Theme Song (Golden Records) – YouTube
But wait, there’s more!
As stated at the outset, music has always been key to the Disney magic. Walt Disney himself once noted, “There’s a terrific power to music. You can run any of these pictures and they’d be dragging and boring, but the minute you put music behind them, they have life and vitality they don’t get any other way.” And on another occasion stated, “”Music had always had a prominent part in all our products from the early cartoon days. So much so, in fact, that I cannot think of the pictorial story without thinking about the complementary music that will fulfill it . . . “
This emphasis on the importance of melody explains why so many of his films, cartoons, and indeed the parks, are filled with brilliant music. Next week we’ll dive into five more overlooked musical gems from the Disney songbook.