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9 Great Songs from the Walt Disney Parks

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While I was planning for my trip to Disney World back in October, one of the challenges I perceived was the 10 hour drive that we were facing. Even the most loquacious of car mates can run out of steam on that kind of trek. Initially we weren’t sure what our schedule would be either, so it was possible that some of the drive would be during night time hours in which some folks tend to drift off. In that case I would definitely need something to keep me going.

I decided to address these concerns in part by compiling a Disney-themed playlist that would literally last the entire 10 hours, taking us from a driveway in Raleigh, North Carolina all the way to Disney World property. And I succeeded in creating just that. I was already in possession of enough Disney music that I had been able to put together a pretty good playlist for a previous trip, but that one was just about four hours long, meaning that I’d need to come up with six more hours worth of musical magic. It wasn’t easy, but several different sources made it happen.

One thing that I realized about some of the music I was compiling was that because it was from rides or shows in the parks it had been written expressly to fill limited spaces of time. The result in some cases was very short, very catchy songs. I’m going to share some of my favorites with you here. Some are very famous, while others are pretty obscure, but all of them put a smile on my face. All of these will be sing-alongs with lyrics.


9 – Universe of Energy

This is one of the songs I’ll be sharing that isn’t being used in the parks like it once was. When I first visited EPCOT back in the early 80s, the attraction included a couple of original songs to go along with some impressive and futuristic films. While the show-opener “Energy (You Make the World Go ‘Round)” was paired with the more imaginative presentation, the song which stuck in my head was the groovy futuristic-sounding one we heard not long before exiting the pavilion. I’m sure by the mid 90s it had been sounding pretty square for a few years, leading to its expulsion when the attraction was re-done in 1996, but sometimes if you wait out “square” it becomes “classic.”

8 – One Little Spark

This attraction song was so popular that its absence from an updated version of the ride was part of the reason that incarnation was so unpopular and lasted only three years. A third version was placed in the Imagination Pavilion which does prominently feature both the song and an expanded role for the little purple dragon “Figment,” but continues to be unpopular with Disney fans and boast very short wait times. Nobody will ever be happy until the original version is brought back. Hopefully one day they’ll figure out how to make the ride system work the way they want it to. Until then, we’ve got the great Sherman brothers song to buoy our spirits.

7 – It’s A Small World

Yes, I know, I know. This is one of the most loved/reviled songs in the history of English-speaking peoples. How could I think of including it? And why is it so low on my list? Well, to answer the second question first, there are better songs here attached to better attractions. And in response to those of you who hate it: well…I have to admit that I’ve never personally been stuck on the ride during a technical issue. I’d also say that if a song gets stuck in your head it may be maddening, but that also means that it’s a pretty good song. This is another of multiple park tunes that were written by the legendary Sherman brothers. You may know them as Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak from “Saving Mr. Banks.” Here’s an hour of it:

6 – The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room

The Enchanted Tiki Room was one of my Mother’s favorite attractions from when we lived in California and went to Disneyland a few times. I was pretty young at the time, so it’s one of the few snapshot memories I actually have of the original Disney park. The jokes are corny and the idea that the tropical birds are mostly from European countries is a little curious, but this opening song never fails to make me bounce along happily.

5 – Makin’ Memories

As far as I know, “Makin’ Memories” hasn’t played regularly in the parks since the 3-D movie “Magic Journeys” which it preceded was moved out of the Imagination Pavilion in EPCOT and over to the Magic Kingdom. This is another Sherman brothers piece, and just one of the reasons that the Imagination Pavilion was considered one of the top features of early EPCOT years. The progression of musical styles with the years could have been done with more detail and it is so obviously a plug for the pavilion’s sponsor Kodak, but man alive is it catchy.

4 – Grim Grinning Ghosts (the Screaming Song)

The Haunted Mansion continues to be my absolute favorite theme park attraction (despite the recent “improvements” made at the Orlando version), so this song was destined to make this list as soon as it was conceived. It was composed by Buddy Baker and X Atencio and sung, in part, by Tony the Tiger himself, the great Thurl Ravenscroft. Part of what is so great about this piece of music is how the folks at Disney used it in different forms throughout the attraction depending on the needs of the individual show scene. When the 999 happy haunts are finally truly revealed to be just looking for a good time, that’s when the song’s lyrics are also introduced, proclaiming that they only “pretend to terrorize” and are “out to socialize.” The song is extraordinarily well-integrated into the attraction and is just one reason the Mansion is so great.

3 – River country

Okay, so technically this song was created for a Mouseketeers television program a year after River Country opened, but just listening to it brings about memories of the first Disney water park. Never mind that I never actually went to River Country. I guess all of my memories of it are from marketing. It was closed in 2001 due to Florida state regulations requiring chlorination and only certain kinds of water supplies. Since then there have been claims that the closure was because of “the deadly Naegleria Fowleri bacteria,” which was responsible for multiple deaths in the area. Whatever the reason, River Country is still there, simply abandoned as if all of the guests just disappeared one day. The song is a hoot.

2 – Listen to the Land

Perhaps this song gradually fell out of step with music trends and started to sound a little preachy to those who are conservation averse, but I just love it. Nowadays you can only hear instrumental versions of this perky little melody around the Land Pavilion, but what is now “Living With the Land” used to be called “Listen to the Land” and featured the wonderful acoustic sing-along. The change seems weird to me, as if the land is something we “just have to learn to live with.” Never mind that we can’t live without it. Ah well, enjoy the song!

1 – There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

Kids who grew up near Disney World may prefer “The Best Time of Your Life” since that is the song they remember as being paired with the Carousel of Progress. I understand this impulse, but I can’t agree. “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” was the original song when the Carousel of Progress was introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and the newer song (both were written by the Sherman brothers) was commissioned by the attraction’s sponsor General Electric because they didn’t want people waiting until tomorrow to buy a new dish washer. The newer song stressed that “now is the time” to purchase that shiny electric range. Both are snappy songs, but I’ll stick with the original.

What do you think?

I know I left a couple of songs out (Yo Ho, anybody?), but these are the songs that really stand out for me.

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Posted on February 1, 2014, in Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Music, theme parks, Top Ten, Walt Disney World. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Great selections. I have never been to River Country as it opened and closed during my not-at-all-interested-in-Disney years. But the rest are all classics to me. Even Small World. I get why people hate it, but damn it’s catchy. The music at Epcot was really terrific. A lot of it still is, but I miss some of the older songs.

    I could be mistaken, but I think I read that Makin’ Memories played before Captain Eo when it was brought back in Disneyland. Not sure if it came back for the Orland version as I haven’t seen it there. I am 99.9% sure we heard it on the pre-show before Honey I Shrunk the Audience in 2003.

    If I have to choose between Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow and Best Time of Your Life, I’ll give the nod to the original. But they are both great songs. I wouldn’t have minded at all if you had extended the list to 10 and included them both.

    The song from Pirates is easy to sing along to. But it doesn’t stay with me the way these other songs do. If I were to make a suggestion, I think it would be Spectromagic.

    I actually listen to WDW background loops quite a bit while working. If you’re looking for something a little longer than ride songs, there are some great instrumentals.

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    • oh I ended up with some crazy stuff in my 10-hour playlist, including things like the exit area music for Space Mountain and a whole lot of area music from Frontierland. Some of my favorite stuff were 50s era Mouseketeer songs. One of them was a “cooking with Minnie Mouse” song that completely reinforces nuclear family gender roles.

      I decided to make this list all vocal ditties with lyrics because it is too hard for me to compare Listen to the Land with Reflections of China. Maybe instrumentals will be a different post.

      The 9-song limit was completely arbitrary, but I knew I’d end up leaving good stuff out because of it.

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      • Yeah I guess for a 10-hour playlist you had to dig pretty deep.

        You list is solid. I can’t think of anything you left off that I would consider an omission. And with the exception of River Country (which I just missed that whole experience) all the songs are ones I would include myself.

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        • I’m sure some people would list “Golden Dream,” or “Tomorrow’s Child,” or maybe “Bear Band Serenade.” Also, there’s “Big Blue World” from the Nemo show.

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  2. 5 star musical post by Daffy Stardust and you will never know what seeing that album cover just did to me.
    And I LOVE “It’s a small world” 🙂 I truly believe that singing this song at elementary school assemblies in the 1960s has made me a better person today.

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    • so that’s what made you awesome!
      There’s something about old record album covers that touches a part of the brain inaccessible to anything else.
      When I was a little kid we had a series of Disneyland records featuring stuff like Pecos Bill, Hans Brinker and his silver skates and the Incredible Journey which we listened to while going to sleep just about every night for a while. I recently saw a copy of this long-lost record album on line and it gave me a brain boom.

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    • Go Sherman brothers!

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  3. I’ve got this record. 🙂 Still plays, too. It may well be out of print and I never checked to see if it became a CD or not. Despite the widely circulated threats of the 80s/90s that vinyl and record players would soon be obsolete, they still sell actual record players and you can still play anything vinyl from 78s to 33s. That Disney record is absolute gold and every song on it is a genuine masterpiece. You are so right, Daffy, it was excellent going to sleep music, and more. We are talking, hours upon hours of acting out skits while we sang along, which is a memory I wouldn’t trade for any ipad or ipod or any other electronic device. The lack of readily accessible visuals might be seen as a drawback in 2014, but it enabled us kids back then to visualize on our own, and to express, and also to jump around a lot. Another experience I wouldn’t trade!

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