Friday, May 15, 2009

Johnny, Billy and Mickey . . . and the Beanstalk

It was an unexpected but welcome moment of happy serendipity. A vintage children's record adapted from the Mickey and the Beanstalk segment of the film Fun and Fancy Free.

Let me explain . . .

Over the course of the last decade or so, my musical tastes have drifted significantly back in time. More specifically, I've become enamored with pre-rock era popular music, most especially that which filled the airwaves during the 1940s and 1950s. Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, the Andrews Sisters, Louie Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald are just among many of the era's standout recording artists who have become staples on my iPod playlists.

Bing and Rosie are especially endearing to me. I grew up on annual holiday viewings of White Christmas, the 1954 film in which the two initiated their romantic musical chemistry. It would become a partnership that would extend to recordings, concert tours and even a daily CBS radio show, throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. Though history and popular culture will forever best associate the duo with White Christmas, the pair's crowning achievement, at least in my opinion, was their 1958 collaborative LP Fancy Meeting You Here.

I discovered Fancy Meeting You Here while browsing the Pop Standards category in a music store shortly after it was re-released in 2001. It was a revelation; a pop-jazz concept album that thematically traveled around the world, with Bing and Rosie vocalizing such songs as "On a Slow Boat to China," "It Happened in Monterey" and "Brazil." I have since discovered numerous other artists and music of that era, but Fancy Meeting You Here has become my personal favorite.

In my search for similar endeavors, I was introduced to the talents and musical productions of Billy May. One of the premiere individuals of the big band-era and beyond, May was a musician, composer and bandleader, but more relevant to this discussion, was the arranger for Bing and Rosie on Fancy Meeting You Here. He produced similar LPs featuring celebrity pairings. In 1960 he took Crosby and Louie Armstrong to New Orleans on the record Bing & Satchmo. My most recent Billy May discovery involved the 1961 teaming of Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer on the LP Two of a Kind.

Taking all this into account, you will then understand why I was positively joyful when I performed my weekly visit to the wonderful web site Kiddie Records Weekly. As the site's introductory page explains:

"Kiddie Records Weekly began in 2005 as a one year project devoted to the golden age of children's records. This period spanned from the mid forties through the early fifties and produced a wealth of all-time classics. Many of these recordings were extravagant Hollywood productions on major record labels and featured big time celebrities and composers. Over the years, these forgotten treasures slipped off the radar and it became our mission to give them a new lease on life by sharing them with today's generation of online listeners."

The selection this past week? Walt Disney's Mickey and the Beanstalk. But more importantly, Walt Disney's Mickey and the Beanstalk--as told by Johnny Mercer, with the original cast, and music by Billy May. Wow!

Certainly this "kiddie record" is by no means a musical masterpiece. But for me personally it was a fun moment of serendipity that I had not expected, and illustrated another connection between Walt Disney and the popular music scene during the 1940s. Similar connections abound more obviously in Disney's 1940s' package films Make Mine Music, Melody Time, Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Fun and Fancy Free, of which Beanstalk was a part. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters were among the many recording artists who participated in those films. One of my other favorites, Louie Armstrong, recorded his own LP of Disney standards on Disney Songs the Satchmo Way, originally released in 1968.

If you haven't yet visited Kiddie Records Weekly, you are indeed in for a treat. Among its Disney-related offerings--The Story of Robin Hood, Tales of Uncle Remus, Pecos Bill, Saludos Amigos, Three Cabelleros, Bongo, Rob Roy, Mr. Toad, The Flying Mouse, So Dear to My Heart, Elmer Elephant, Melody, Your Trip to Disneyland, Dumbo, Cinderella and The Sorcerer's Apprentice.


Ronn Roxx said...

Thanks for the info. I had forgotten about Kiddie Records Weekly website. I found the site shortly after they started the project and used to visit weekly. Once they fisnished their initial 3years, back in 2007, I forgot about the site. I have the album jackes for a bunch fo the old Disney 78 rpm albums including this one. I picked up the empty album jackets for under a dollar each, well worth it for the amazing artwork! Now I am looking forward to getting the chance to finally listen to them!