Mickey's Music Box: Walt Disney Records - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Mickey's Music Box: Walt Disney Records

Chris Morley catches a wave and lends an ear to Walt Disney Records most notable signing...

Time now for us & indeed Mickey to find a comfortable corner, stick some obligatory mouse-ear headphones on, chill out and take in Walt Disney Records - as it's been called since 1989, having been founded in 1956 as Disneyland Records.

The audio arm of Walt's near all-encompassing brainchild wasn't actually his idea, though. That honour goes to his brother Roy, who subsequently appointed Jimmy Johnson to run it. And one of Jim's own first moves was to bring in composer, arranger, trumpeter & producer Tutti Camarata as his A & R (Artists & Repertoire) man - vital as both talent scout & guiding hand for such talent once they'd signed on the dotted line.

The new label's first release was an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry collection A Child's Garden Of Verses with music by Gwyn Conger. Building a reputation as a children's music outlet, seven Disney feature film soundtracks followed it as Camarata's contacts book was plundered to great effect, perhaps most notably in bringing Louis Prima aboard for The Jungle Book.

The role of King Louis was instrumental in achieving the jazz sound the Sherman Brothers were after having been directed to think outside the box for ways to make the music fun. It was Tutti who had discovered the Sherman dream team while hunting high & low for the right songs for former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, once she became Disneyland Records' first signing as an artist in her own right.

Among Disneyland Records output was its popular read-along series, which began in 1965. The following decade they'd partner with Rankin/Bass for six releases tied to The Hobbit 1977 animated film, before enjoying success with the Mickey Mouse Disco Album.

Long before the glamour and glitz of the 70s disco scene, Tutti Camarata had left the company, leaving a legacy of over three hundred albums he'd produced during his 16-year association with Disney. One of the later motion pictures in which he oversaw the music supervision was Disney 1965 production, The Monkey's Uncle. The film featured Annette Funicello, with Tutti teaming her up with The Beach Boys for the title track...

Formed by a young Brian Wilson, who took his first steps towards acclaim as a stonewall pop genius with the Beach Boys, 1961's Surfin', showing the world his rather exceptional ear for a decent harmony vocal, the collaboration came about during a transitional phase for the Californian band. Wilson had penned his last surfing track, and was moving into a new direction. The year after The Monkey's Uncle he'd find it with something a little more sophisticated than cars and surf boards. 1966's Pet Sounds...

Having given up live performances with the group following a panic attack on a pre-Christmas 1964 flight to Houston, Wilson began to focus on composition in the recording studio - which in itself became but one more instrument in his sonic armoury. The Beach Boys Today & Summer Days And Summer Nights albums of 1965 had served as appetisers for the full on banquet that was to come, with Pet Sounds including, perhaps, the biggest sign of a shift towards the intensely personal with God Only Knows...

God Only Knows was the first pop record to invoke the Lord. A bold move indeed! And not without risk. Brian & collaborator Tony Asher feared it wouldn't be played on the radio as a result. His then-wife Marilyn would recall of the first time he played it for her,
“Brian played it for me at the piano. And I went, "Oh my God, he's talking about God in a record." It was pretty daring to me.

And it was another time I thought to myself, "Oh, boy, he's really taking a chance." I thought it was almost too religious. Too square. At that time. Yes, it was so great that he would say it and not be intimidated by what anybody else would think of the words or what he meant."
Ironically though, given where his later career would take him, it wasn't Wilson who penned Disney Girls for 1971's Surf's Up!

Initially brought into the fold as a touring replacement for Brian, Bruce Johnston would become a fully contributing Beach Boy in time to write the ode to nostalgia, which he still performs as a solo piece to this day when the Brian-less Boys go out on the road.
Clearing skies and drying eyes
Now I see your smile
Darkness goes and softness shows
A changing style

Just in time words that rhyme
Well bless your soul
Now I'll fill your hands
With kisses and a Tootsie Roll

Oh reality, it's not for me
And it makes me laugh
Oh, fantasy world and Disney girls
I'm coming back
Bringing things more up to date, and a clashing of the two worlds occurred once again when in 2010 Walt Disney Records pulled off its biggest coup & signed Brian Wilson to a two-album contract. The first, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin could be read as the first part of a two- way exchange in that they let him relive his childhood in revisiting the George & Ira Gershwin songbook, which he'd first been exposed to at just two years old after hearing Rhapsody In Blue. In return, his gift would be In The Key Of Disney, on which he'd reinterpret selections from Disney's own considerable library of classics!

And so it was that You've Got A Friend In Me, The Bare Necessities, Baby Mine, Kiss The Girl, Colours Of The Wind, Can You Feel The Love Tonight, We Belong Together, I Just Can't Wait To Be King, Stay Awake and a closing medley of Heigh-Ho, Whistle While You Work & Yo-Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me were subjected to rearrangement at Brian's piano, which once stood in the centre of a sandbox so he could feel the joy of the beach by way of inspiration!

Rather modestly he said before the album's release that "I tried to do justice to all their songs", and also revealing that Pinocchio inspired one of his earlier hits into the bargain through When You Wish Upon A Star...

"I heard it while I was driving my car, and I started humming a melody in my head. I went home and finished it, and it was called Surfer Girl."

The perfect marriage of two of California's great creative minds, sealed on record.

Next time we'll take a look at the Disney Channel's attempt to muscle in on the comparatively more modern pop of the early Noughties through Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana.

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