So far as I know, the only person who doesn’t think Angela Lansbury should be—let’s be honest, here—a one-hit wonder for “Beauty and the Beast” is Peabo Bryson, who apparently genuinely believes that people prefer his version. It’s a take, certainly. The far more normal take is that Disney should stop releasing all those radio versions of their songs and just, you know, release the version from the movie as a single. Maybe, maybe, rerecord the song with the original artist from the movie and not the stuff surrounding it in the film. What people don’t realize is that radio versions are not the weirdest releases of Disney songs.
In 1996, Disney released Music From the Park. This featured a few songs that are stretching the definition of “from the park,” as they were preexisting songs that just get used in the park a lot. Which is how you get Tim Curry singing “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” Which I highly recommend you seek out, because wow. This is the first of these albums that came to my attention, I think, but it’s hardly the first of them. That is 1949’s Mary Martin Hi-Ho. What’s impressive is that it features songs from Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, which hadn’t even come out yet when the album was released.
These seem to seldom get much attention. Oh, I’m sure most people are aware of the Los Lobos cover of “You’ve Got a Friend In Me,” on the grounds of it actually made it into one of the movies. But in 2009, they released Los Lobos Goes Disney, which even featured their cover of “The Ugly Bug Ball,” which is awfully obscure—how many of you even know what movie that’s from? Louis Armstrong did a full Disney cover album in 1968—Disney Songs the Satchmo Way—that I suspect most Armstrong fans haven’t heard. Or most Disney fans.
It’s a shame these are all so obscure, because these albums are at the very least fascinating. Sure, not always good, but fascinating. If nothing else, they’re often a time capsule of their era. You want Smash Mouth singing “I Wan’na Be Like You”? You can have it! That’s Disneymania, from 2002, and it also includes Jessica Simpson singing “Part of Your World.” 2004 gave us Mosh Pit on Disney, produced by someone unfamiliar with moshing. I like Reel Big Fish, and their cover of “It’s Not Easy” isn’t bad, but you can’t mosh to it.
Conversely, there are albums like La Vida Mickey, a 2000 album that featured “Disney Mambo #5,” because of course it does. Just as 1994’s Mickey Unrapped features Minnie singing “Ice Ice Mickey.” 1996 gave us Dance House Remixes, which is exactly what it sounds like, unless it’s as bizarre as that mosh pit album. (So bizarre.) Disney’s not the only company to do this sort of thing—I also remember the Simpsons albums that were basically this sort of thing—but it’s a weird thing that people seem to enjoy enough to make it worth Disney’s while.
To my delight, there are even international versions. The We Love Disney series includes albums released to highlight musicians from such disparate places as Sweden, Indonesia, and Australia. (That last features what I assume to be Kylie Minogue’s sister and is one of the only two in the series completely in English.) I would imagine those are difficult for the average American to get their hands on, but I love discovering that things like this even exist.
Yes, this is another one of those places where you can’t help going down the rabbit hole, an extremely appropriate turn of phrase in this situation. In a way, it’s not terribly surprising. Disney, after all, has a long, fine history of songwriting. Not technically belonging on this list but something I desperately want (and which you can provide me by contributing to my Patreon or Ko-fi!) is the Sherman Brothers’ songbook, something like four discs of songs just by the company’s most iconic songwriters without getting into such lights as, say, Ashman and Menken. Disney’s first Oscar nomination for music came with Pinocchio, and as I’ve gone over the Best Original Song nominees within the last week, I can tell you that Snow White was robbed.
If you’re a recording artist, why wouldn’t you do a Disney cover album, given the opportunity? The music’s good. The market is already there. The fan base is obsessive. Heck, they’ll probably even stock your album in some of the stores in the parks, and that’s not a sales location just anyone can get. And there is no such thing, clearly, as a musical artist who doesn’t mesh with the Disney sound. You just have to have a dream.