Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Gem from the Musical Archives

What I truly love about the various worlds of Disney is that there are so many gems of entertainment that can still be mined from the company’s long and prolific history. I came upon one such example recently from the archives of Walt Disney Records that has proven to be a happy discovery indeed.

Over the past year, Disney has been quietly re-releasing selections from its extensive music library via iTunes, many of which have been out of mainstream distribution for decades. One of these titles, Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland: Music form the Score Conducted by Camarata, is the treasure of which I speak. A studio album produced and released six years after its film counterpart, it evolved the original film’s disjointed musical presentation into a more cohesive soundtrack offering. In their excellent and very extensive book Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records, authors Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar provide the following explanation as to how the album came about:

For Disneyland Records to produce an Alice soundtrack LP, the company would have to take on substantial performance fees, making the budget unfeasible by 1956. Another difficulty was that in the Alice soundtrack, most of the songs were performed in a fragmentary manner, usually with no defined beginning or end. Some lasted for less than thirty seconds. The solution was to produce an entirely new recording of the Alice score, a type of album sometimes referred to as a "studio cast" or "second cast" album. Second cast versions were handy when a film soundtrack, TV performance, or theme park attraction lacked contractual provisions for recordings. Second casts also added to the product line, even when a soundtrack was available. For example, Sleeping Beauty's film release in 1959 was complemented not only by a soundtrack LP but by a reported fourteen separate Disney record releases. Second cast albums usually sold at lower prices than soundtracks, but again, Alice in Wonderland was an exception. Camarata pulled out all the stops for his version, using a concert-sized orchestra and full chorus. In what many Disney audiophiles regard as her finest work, Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie sang Alice's three solos with compelling depth. This version of Alice sold consistently even though the film remained out of theatrical release between 1956 and 1974 and received only a few early broadcasts on the Disneyland TV show. The album's success occurred largely independently of its source material.

It was a hearty recommendation from Hollis and Erhbar but one that I pretty much let fade from my memory after I had finished reading Mouse Tracks shortly after it was released last year. Then, even after I had seen a number of hardcore Disney music aficionados passionately endorse the album on various blogs and forums, neither my interest nor curiosity was still sufficiently piqued. While I have always enjoyed Disney’s animated version of Alice in Wonderland, it was never enough of a favorite to entice me to purchase a soundtrack or musical collection.

But a chance exposure to one of Darlene Gillespie’s three performances from the album made me immediately take notice of this endeavor that I had long disregarded. Her rendition of “All in A Golden Afternoon” happened to be included on the recent iTunes-released Walt Disney Records Archive Collection Volume 1 that I did purchase. (An awesome collection by the way; if you use iTunes, definitely check it out.) Camarata’s skillful arrangement combined with Gillespie’s exceptionally rich vocals proved a revelation. It quickly sent me scurrying to purchase and download the complete Alice in Wonderland album.

Being tone deaf and musically dysfunctional, I am particularly unqualified to provide any type of critique or review, other than to say that I really love this album! It is a joyful revisiting of the music from the film, with a sophistication that transcends the material it was derived from. Gillespie’s vocals are particularly inspiring, and it’s a shame that she was never able to fully emerge from fellow Mouseketeer Annette Funicello’s more commercial shadow, because the skill and talent were certainly there. As Hollis and Ehrbar noted, the album was a sleeper hit for many years, and has proven to be a kind of cult hit among current Disney music scholars and enthusiasts.

Alice in Wonderland: Music form the Score Conducted by Camarata is available exclusively through iTunes. Digital downloads appear to be the only distribution method Disney considers viable for this and the other Walt Disney Archive titles they have recently made available again. While many lament this very limited accessibility, any degree of availability for these gems of Disney entertainment is certainly better than nothing at all.


Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

I'm glad my wife hasn't caught wind that Disney is releasing older material on iTunes.

Unfortunately, I have a hard time getting past my spend thriftiness

Klark Kent 007 said...

I just wish they would make Disneyland, Wonderful World of Disney & the Wonderful World of Color episodes available.

Michael said...

This is a great find, but I wish they would be released on CD. I'm not a fan of digital downloads.

My dad has some original record releases that I listened to as a kid. They are both very well done story read along of The Jungle Book and Peter and the Wolf. I should get them into a digital format while I can I guess.


Thanks for the info Jeff. Great as always. Are these albums/music listed under a central heading that is easy to find? Or should I just search on Disney and go from there? Thanks for the help and the info?

Jeff Pepper said...

Unfortunately, finding the Archive releases on iTunes can be a real challenge. They do not appear under one uniform category, and general keyword searches using just "Disney" tend to be too broad.

I've managed to compile a list of the releases. Drop me an email and I'd be happy to forward it on.


Thanks. I will do that

Anonymous said...

Excellent find and post Jeff, I will be sending an e-mail for your list of iTunes releases.

Saludos Amigos is one I happened to find.

I also recently checked Amazon.Com's new MP3 service and found even less Disney material there than iTunes.

Paul B.

D.O.C. said...

I had managed to do without iTunes up until now. Your post has prompted me to take the plunge.

Anonymous said...

This record and a few other vinyl releases were available on restored CD's at Disneyland in the music shop on Main Street about four years ago. I don't recall if they are still available but may be worth a try for those of you who prefer CD's. I remember having this record as a child and even then thinking what a wonderful compilation it was.

Lainey Schallock said...

Jeff thank so much for this! On my last post about the Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos soundtracks I posted a reference to iTunes and gave them props for releasing heretofore exceptionally rare Disney Archived material lately. The Alice Soundtrack which you speak of I came across about a year ago and love it. In fact I had this very version on cassette tape as a little girl that went to a read-along book for Alice that I had. For whatever reason the music was taken from the Gillespie album and not the original movie score. The release of Saludos Amigos music is similar on iTunes. You can find all sorts of gems: even Ludwig von Drake's songs! Thanks so much for this post though. Very informative and thrilled to find it. Best, Lainey

Yonga said...

Hey Jeff, thanks for this! My very first iTunes album download is now in progress (which also gives me a chance to check that feature on my iPod Touch).
But I'm unsure now if I'm downloading the right version.
I found a soundtrack for Alice and bought that. But now I'm wondering if I should have gone looking for a compilation album that has these tracks on it. Hm..
Can anyone clear this up and maybe point me to the correct album (by providing definitve search words for example).
Thanks for this blog!
Cheers from Holland,
Yonga Sun

Yonga said...

I'm listening to the Original Soundtrack now and I love it.
Still, if there's an alternative version I'd love to find that, too!

Greg Ehrbar said...

Thanks very very much for the wonderful post about the Camarata ALICE IN WONDERLAND album. As you can tell from the extensive coverage Tim Hollis and I gave it in MOUSE TRACKS, the album is really something special. It means a great deal to me and I never tire of listening to it.

Apparently it was Tutti Camarata's favorite project too, as Disney record expert Stacia Martin told me.
No less than Richard Sherman also spoke highly of it. Dare I say, it's a masterpiece, and in a way, the culmiantion of Camarata's vast experience in big band, classical, film and other musical styles. And Darlene's performance is like BUTTAH.

As for iTunes, yes it is difficult to find all the Disney titles unless you already know what you're looking for. Plus, iTunes also sells downloads of new Disney soundtracks that NEVER were released otherwise, including BROTHER BEAR 2, THE SANTA CLAUSE 3 and EIGHT BELOW.

On my site, www.mousetracksonline.com, I am trying to eventually list and review them all. You can also get a lot of great information on www.magicmusic.net.

Thanks again for the nice mention!

Anonymous said...

I have looked for this old record my entire adult life...it disappeared when I was a child and I never never never forgot how it was NOT the same as the movie/animation soundtrack...it was soooo much better. It reminds me of being so young and innocent and playing on the floor next to my mom before she became too busy to spend much time with me (boo hoo, I know). I'm incredibly happy to have found it again!!!

Jon the Moonspinner said...

Camarata's "Alice" was issued and reissued for years on vinyl, with a myriad of different covers. The "Magic Mirror" and "Storyteller" records also pilfered from his album (editing the songs to fit in an "Alice" story narration--originally done by Darlene Gillespie herself and later overdubbed by a Disney storyteller, probably Ginny Tyler). It's a blissfully gorgeous album of music that any lover of Disneyland or Big Band should definitely hear. Gillespie's performance? Magical!