Howdy all...your pal Joe here with Kev (of Expeditions KEVerest) right at hand...
A while back, one of our favorite podcasts, WDW Radio, did a whole show about their top ten favorite Disney attraction theme songs. Now, being a fan of Disney attractions, lists, and podcasts, Kevbot was enthralled. So enthralled, in fact, that he emailed me, his pal in all things Disney and asked if I’d be interested in doing a cross-post entry about just that topic.
When Kev next heard from me, I had compiled my list – with commentary! – and was only waiting for him to compile his. Which he, um, kind of dragged his feet on (with justifiable reasons). Until now!
What follows is the closest Kev and I can textually render a podcast dialogue experience for all you good readers. Strap in, hold on to your hats and glasses, and enjoy: Our Top Ten Disney Attraction Theme Songs!
Where I opted to just go for more of an overall approach going for pieces that stick out in my mind or have stayed with me over the years/decades, Kev went all numbered-listy on us creating an actual ranking for himself. Now, though I have the breadth of park history behind me going back to late-71/early-72 I’ve been a bad Joezer in not really paying attention to the songs/music used in DHS and AK (go ahead and spank me).
Since Kev went through the extra effort to creating his rankings, we'll start off with his and go from there...
It certainly looks like we have a few overlapping choices though, Kev. Pardon my interjections as we look through our selections… *wink*
This one's a doozy...so make sure to visit the restroom first, then grab a cool drink and find a spot to get comfy...
10. “Hapa Duniani” – Kilimanjaro Safaris, Animal Kingdom
When compiling my list, I tried to cast my net wide and include all the parks. I was only mostly successful, as we’ll see. A fair bit of this song plays during the Kilimanjaro Safaris, and it’s always this nice bit of calm in between the driver’s patter and the theming of the ride (which I like, but “Come in, Simba-1!” can get a little much.) I’d like to try to hear this on the safari at sunset someday; it seems like it would fit in well.
9. “it’s a small world” – “it’s a small world,” Magic Kingdom
I worry that most of my picks come from the Magic Kingdom, which has a few advantages over the other parks. For one, it’s the one that closest resembles Disneyland, which had a lot of these rides and their attendant theme songs in place as classics decades before Disney World even opened. For another, because of the nature of the park itself – more like being in a movie than any of the other parks, even Hollywood Studios – it lends itself more toward theme music.
A part of me thought I was picking “it’s a small world” simply because it’s a classic. But the truth is, despite its bad rap, I actually really like it. People rag on it because it’s sappy, but I’m not sure “it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears / it’s a world of hope, it’s a world of fear”? The Sherman Brothers – a big-time successful music duo Walt favored – concocted this one, and what a lasting concoction it was.
Joe: I had thought of this one…even contemplating listing it as an “Honorable Mention” for my selections. It would have been for the historical aspect of it as “it’s a small world” was developed for a World’s Fair before it appeared in Disneyland and later, Walt Disney World. However, I elected to pass on it. I’m happy to see that it is being recognized, though.
8. “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” – Carousel of Progress/Horizons, Magic Kingdom, Epcot
More Sherman Brothers. I actually love this song on the Carousel of Progress, and the different iterations it goes through as the carousel goes through different twentieth-century American eras. (For awhile, it was replaced with “Now Is the Time,” my friend Mark’s least favorite bit of music ever, excepting Genesis’s “I Can’t Dance.”)
But my favorite version of this was actually in the defunct Epcot attraction Horizons – the Carousel’s sequel attraction – which I sadly never visited. I’ve seen ride-throughs, though, and there’s a moment where you see a TV screen featuring a gentleman singing this one in an old-timey big-band style. It’s similar to the first iteration on the Carousel, but sung solo. It’s terrific.
Joe: The Carousel of Progress is definitely a classic; another attraction that Walt developed for a World’s Fair that was saved and given a home at WDW in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. With this one, my inclusion of it was based on how the music has stayed with me over the years (going back to when ticket booklets were in use at the Magic Kingdom). Now, I know that, technically, there are two pieces of music or songs that have been used for Carousel of Progress: “Now is the Time” and “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. Me? I guess you could say that I’m a “Now is the Time” fan as it’s been the only one of the two I’ve heard in use. It’s a simple yet catchy melody and lyrics with the music style easily melding from one time period to the next as you traveled around from one scene to another. The upbeat, optimism extolled with Now is the time, now is the best time, now is the best time of your life… as the electrical age began, grew and evolved enticed you to bounce your foot in time and sing along.
Kev: I suppose I don’t know “Now Is the Time” well enough. I’ve only heard “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” at the Carousel, so I don’t have the personal connection that you do. That said, I want to hear it more now!
7. “Soarin’” – Soarin’, Epcot
Composer Jerry Goldsmith created this rousing theme, changing mood and tone with each shift in the scenery, while keeping it a cohesive whole. It’s actually no surprise that I like this as much as I do – Goldsmith did both the Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager theme songs. Soarin’ is one attraction where the theme song is completely integral to the experience; if it hadn’t been as good as it is, it would have sunk the attraction.
Joe: I can easily agree with this…though I’d also be happy in Soarin’ with just hearing the sounds of nature as we drifted through each scene.
6. “Grim Grinning Ghosts” – The Haunted Mansion, Magic Kingdom
I love this classic – yes! – Sherman Brothers song in part because you don’t entirely realize that it’s playing throughout the whole attraction unless you really listen. Another part of why I love it so much is that Thurl Ravenscroft, my favorite Disney voice artist (and voice of Tony the Tiger), has a very pronounced part in the song. But most of the reason why I love this is that I liked the song years before I knew any other Disney theme songs. Barenaked Ladies did a cover of it a long time ago, and I listened to it over and over, nearly a decade before I ever went to the parks.
Joe: Ahhh, yes…The Haunted Mansion. Its soundtrack begins setting the tone outside with sounds of gusting winds, wolves howling and thunder strikes. Inside, it changes over to soft music played in a minor key that continues through the attraction. When you get to that attic scene and the music shifts to a sinister twist on “Here Comes the Bride”…a piece of music we’re all used to hearing, but played in a minor chord influencing the mood. After the exit from the attic we’re now partying away with the ghostly and ghoulish denizens of the cemetery singing “Grim Grinning Ghosts”. Unlike you, Kev…I didn’t know BNL did a cover of “Grim Grinning Ghosts”. But, I do have an audio “walk-through” of sorts of the attraction to listen too on dark stormy nights alone.
5. “Bear Band Serenade” – The Country Bears Jamboree, Magic Kingdom
There are so many songs to choose from in Country Bears. “Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine” is probably the best song, and there’s no doubt that “Blood on the Saddle” is the absolute funniest. (Liver-Lips McGrowl scares me.) But I love this one because it introduces the Bear Band, and it’s fun and funny without going over the top. Plus, Henry’s singing along!
Joe: Ok, Kev…it’s getting creepy how we’re aligning with our attraction choices here. Country Bear Jamboree – another classic that gets people clapping, stomping their feet and singing along.. The sounds are down-home folksy country and bluegrass. The lyrics encourage both singing along and laughing. The show closes with a crescendo to a heck of a hoedown for all the family to enjoy. “Blood on the Saddle” and the lament of the three girl cubby bears are upper stand outs for me in a show full of catchy ditties.
Kev: My favorite part about them is the film-strip that plays out behind them. It’s SO 70s and hilarious. Doodle-doodle-doodle-do, bom bom!
4. “Star Tunnel” – Space Mountain, Magic Kingdom
Hands-down the most relaxing music in all of Walt Disney World. You don’t think of a theme park – and especially a turbulent roller coaster – as being a place you can go to relax, but this queue music subtly captures the essence of the calm silence of space. At the same time, the electronic beats make it seem futuristic, putting it squarely in the theming of Tomorrowland. Also, it almost – almost – seems meandering, unless you listen closely. There’s definitely a song structure going on here, and it’s wonderful to pick up on.
Joe: Ok…the creepy, shared-brain thing is ramping up, y’know. This one is a great atmospheric piece: the queue line music for Space Mountain. Here, you’re in the dark for the most part…light coming from blue shaded lamps or different astronomic photographs of starscapes. What should be a nerve-wracking wait – underground – in dim lighting – wondering what was at the other end is tempered by the soft tones and wandering melodies of the electronic music (WDW doing “new age” before it the term was even considered as a musical genre…at least in a mainstream sense).
3. “Golden Dreams” – The American Adventure, Epcot
Call me jingoistic if you want, but this song at the end of the American Adventure show in the United States pavilion brings me to tears every single time. Part of it, obviously, is the images of American history playing out across the screen, but a lot of it has to do with the song itself – patriotic without being campy or sounding square.
Joe: Agreeing again I am.
Kev: Are you Yoda?
Joe: Please...do I look green and two feet tall? I'm actually his younger, hairier, more handsome cousin twenty-three times removed from his great-grandmother's college roommate side.
Kev: I see your Schwartz is as big as mine!
Joe: “Golden Dreams”, the closing piece to the presentation in the American Adventure and its sweeping orchestrations, pictures and videos of historic elements, rousing lyrics…gives me chills sometimes.
2. “If We Can Dream It, We Can Do It,” Horizons, Epcot
Extinct attraction Horizons once again steps up to the plate. And how can it not? A completely sincere, straightforward message about how dreams can come true if we believe in them enough … and work hard at making them realities. “Today holds the challenge to make the world a better place to be!” it goes, “New Horizons for you and me!” And then the chorus of children singing the title riff, followed by “Yes we can! Yes we can!” An absolutely brilliant song about reaching your own potential, for yourself and for the world. God, I wish I’d been able to ride Horizons.
Joe: Another piece that had a hook in its message. Here, the song played to our sense of wonder and hope at what the future might bring and solidified that feeling with using a children’s choir – the voices of our future, in a way – all coming together in the chorus refrain of “Yes we can, yes we can.” And, I’m really not surprised, nor creeped with the shared-brain-ness, about both of us listing this one since I was the mad scientist that gave birth to the Horizons-love-monster in you.
1. “How Do You Do?” – Splash Mountain, Magic Kingdom
With all the songs on Splash Mountain – especially “Zip-a-Dee-Dooh-Dah” and “Everybody’s Got a Laughing Place” – this one has stiff competition. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this is the first one you hear on the ride, or maybe it’s just the folksy sweetness of it. How do you do? Pretty good, sure as you’re born! Plus, it sets up the whole story of the ride, where Br’er Rabbit announces his adventure, declaring, “I’m looking for a little bit of fun now!” Although there are ominous signs, with the critters singing “he’s heading for trouble one of these days.” Absolutely the perfect way to launch into one of the best attractions in all of Disney World.
Some quick thoughts about songs I didn’t pick.
“A Pirate’s Life For Me” – From Pirates of the Caribbean. Love it, but not quite enough to make the top ten.
Joe: Pirates of the Caribbean made it to the main part of my selections. Like the Magic Kingdom, Pirates has been a dear old friend for me – classic in feel – and has music that makes pirating feel fun. The bouncing beat, the flow of the words in the lyrics, the simple and catchy melody line…it all adds up to fun skipping music while you swing your sword around.
“Everybody’s Got a Laughing Place” – An extremely close runner-up for “How Do You Do?” as my favorite song from Splash Mountain
“We’ll Meet Again” – The spooky Vera Lynn version that plays outside the Tower of Terror sometimes. I made a rule not to include pre-existing songs, but this one would have been a great representation of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Joe: Like you, this was the only attraction in DHS that stood out for me. For me, it’s all in how the music in the queue line sets up the atmosphere for the attraction. Outside as you wind your way along the paths through overgrown foliage and misty air there’s haunting jazz era pieces lightly playing. To help set the mood of a dilapidated, potentially haunted, building the music is in a minor key mixing the feel that this used to be a grand place while adding a darker element to the glamour that has long since faded (boy howdy that’s a run-on sentence). How and why that is? Well…that’s for the Guests to find out, right?
“Celebrate You” – This brand-new song plays during the Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Parade at the Magic Kingdom. There’s a version of it by Corbin Bleu from High School Musical, but I like the one that plays at the park. I didn’t include it because a parade isn’t really an attraction, per se.
“Shenendoah” – Which also brings me to tears. This is done a capella, sometimes, by the Voices of Liberty, the group that sings preceding the American Adventure. This is one of my favorite folk songs of all time, and these folks perform it so well.
Joe: All right, shared brain time again. I am definitely with you about The Voices of Liberty. A very hearty thumbs-up recommendation whether as a precursor to the main American Adventure presentation or on their own. The vocal harmonies are splendid and moving – Kev and I can attest. The one song that got my emotional button punched but good was their rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star”.
“Blood on the Saddle” – Because it’s the hands-down funniest thing in all of Walt Disney World.
Muahahahahahaha…now, comes the rest of my selections. These are in no particular order as far as I’m concerned. And, since all things must have a place to start, let’s begin with the Grand Dame of the Orlando Resort, the Magic Kingdom.
Within the MK there are literally scads of music to choose from (as you’ve seen Kev and me touch on) covering parades that have come and gone, shows from the Castle Forecourt stage and other spots within the Kingdom, night-time fireworks, and attractions old and new – existing and extinct. And, when it comes to the Magic Kingdom, I got to give props to a couple of classics: The Haunted Mansion and The Pirates of the Caribbean (as you read above). Both are like siblings to me still living in a place I think of as a second home.
Even though I’ve mentioned a good few attractions there are a couple more I want to shed some pixie dust on from the “Extinct Attractions” category: If You Had Wings and The Main Street Electrical Parade.
Way back when; when Tomorrowland was still all smooth lines and curves, light grays, white and blues there was an attraction that Guests did not require nor need a ticket to experience: “If You Had Wings” (initially sponsored by Eastern Air Lines). Essentially, IYHW was one big travel advertisement. The omnimover vehicles took you past film segments showing off exotic locales and destinations in the Caribbean – lush foliage, brightly colored marketplaces, smiling people – all to the catchy signature tune “If You Had Wings”. It’s been well over 25 years since I’ve last been on this attraction (and the show building has had many refurbs and is now home to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin), but the music still pops in to my head from time to time.
Kev: What I find interesting is that Disney can do blatant marketing without it seeming blatant. Well, okay, it seems blatant in Test Track, but that’s another story. I need to see a ride-through of If You Had Wings…
The Main Street Electrical Parade – while dearly loved, proved to be a bit of an emotional Achilles’ Heel for me later in life. The main portion of the musical track is something known as “Baroque Hoedown” with smaller, specific bits, scattered throughout the parade depending on the float. Like with today’s night-time parades, there’d be voice announcements acting as a countdown to when the spectacle would start. Once at that magic hour…that magic minute…all the lights would go out and the synthesized voice welcoming the viewers and kicking off the parade would be heard. Then…then the goosebumps came for me as the combination of music and light began wending its way along Main Street where my family always made sure to set up spots to sit. The last time I got to see this parade it was wrapping up a final encore appearance at the Magic Kingdom in WDW during Spring 2001. (The emotional reaction I had? Well…there’s another post in the works about the scant few moments I’ve had like that while visiting WDW.)
Now, let’s hop a monorail to the TTC where we can hop another monorail over to EPCOT shall we? Yes, lets.
Now, before I get to pieces from extinct attractions, I get to that quasi level of an attraction still in operation to some degree but being heavily redesigned. For those who know EPCOT, you can pretty much guess I mean Journey Into Imagination. I admit, I am a big fan of the initial version of this attraction – the two following iterations leave me somewhat unsatisfied though Figment has been added to the overall story again with the return of “One Little Spark” towards the end of the current attraction. But, “One Little Spark” is the heart and soul of the story of this attraction. A song putting to words and sprite-ly music the idea that everything we have…anything we have accomplished…anything we can do…all starts with one little glint of imagination.
Kev: Not having the history to fall back on, I don’t really grok the overwhelming emotion that comes with memories of this attraction. The new iteration I like, but don’t know as if I’ll ever love. I’ve seen some videos of the original, and that seems like a little like Horizons – a big omnimover experience that helped you believe anything was possible.
Other catchy and sometimes inspirational pieces can be found by diving in to the past of EPCOT...
Aside from my fondness for Horizons there was another attraction that is no longer with us: World of Motion. In this attraction, the theme song reminded us “It’s Fun to be Free” thanks to the wonders of transportation with the warm vocals and, again, a bouncing, rollicking piece. Near the end of the attraction there was a model of a future city done up with UV reactive paints, fiber optics and such and the music changed to a sweeping, epic orchestration intimating the grandeur of a city where traveling between destinations was hassle-free.
Kev: SIGH. I saw the ride-through for this like three days ago and I already desperately wish I could have ridden this. THIS is why time travel needs to be invented.
Joe: …and here I am with a bum TARDIS…
Surprisingly, this kind of wraps it up for me and EPCOT on our musical highlights tour. How about we hop that bus over to Disney Hollywood Studios, eh? Or, at least I would…but the only one to stand out for me here is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the overall music theme for it. (*points above*)
Under other circumstances I would normally take on Animal Kingdom now…but as my experiences with this park are quite minimal it’d be hard for me to offer any opinions about the music used within it and its attractions. On this one, I defer to my friend and WDW excursion cohort, Kev.
Now…before I wrap up, I have to give props to one piece that has gained quite the cult following. A piece with such a following that no matter when you hear it, there is always at least one person chanting it back in synch with the recording:
Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas”
Kev: I have that shirt!
Yes, folks…our beloved monorail spiel that greets thousands of Guests a day. Though technically not a musical piece, this six to eight second audio segment feels like it is as tied to the atmosphere of the Disney parks as the song for “it’s a small world”.
Music; whether instrumental arrangements or with full-blown lyrics, can add an extra, almost imperceptible sometimes, layer to any experience. This is quite the case within the Disney parks – the melodies that bounce and weave around our ears – the words that sometimes scroll by in our minds – stay with us long after our visits.
Kev: Wonderful co-writing this with you, Joe!
Joe: Just as much fun as last time. I look forward to next time!
Kev: Now, time to be movin’ along…
~ JoeZer and Kev