The Coen Brothers shared a Celebrating the Living column some years ago. I felt kind of guilty about this, but since I am apparently completely and totally incapable of telling the pair apart—no, really; I will learn which is which and will have forgotten in five minutes—and since at the time, all their works had been joint works, it felt reasonable. It is not, in fact, true that the Sherman Brothers have only ever worked together. In the years since Robert B. Sherman died, Richard M. has actually gotten another credit—he wrote “Make Way For Tomorrow Today” for Iron Man 2, which is one of the truly inspired bits of that movie. Still, most of their work is together, and one is alive and one is dead, and therefore they don’t actually qualify for either column, really.
But my Gods do they belong here. Oh, sure, they have some non-Disney history. None of their work in the ‘50s was for Disney, though Annette Funicello covered the worst song they ever wrote, “Tall Paul,” at one point. (They also wrote “You’re Sixteen,” later covered by Ringo Starr.) They also wrote the songs for such films as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Snoopy, Come Home, in case just their Disney work hadn’t scored enough of your childhood. In fact, they cowrote even the screenplay to Tom Sawyer, starring eight-year-old Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher.
Still, when you think of them, you think of their Disney years. In the documentary The Boys, they joke about the famous picture of them with Julie Andrews, each of the three holding an Oscar—because you see, they’d each won two Oscars that night, and poor Julie only got one. They would go on to share seven more nominations and apparently have written more musical song scores for feature films than anyone in history. If only two of their nominations were actually for Disney movies—both for Bedknobs and Broomsticks—the point is that it’s also the most memorable of their nominated music.
There are dozens of songs you can name by The Boys that will get the music playing in your head. Obviously the Oscar-winning “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” in my opinion not even the best song of Mary Poppins (why, hello, “Feed the Birds”!), though I’ll admit “The Age of Not Believing” is not the most memorable Bedknobs and Broomsticks song. (“Portobello Road.”) But while I loathe The Happiest Millionaire, I’ll always have a weak spot for “Let’s Have a Drink on It.” And of course not a lot of people know Summer Magic, which is a shame, because it’s a phenomenal score.
Maybe “The Bare Necessities,” the one song they didn’t write for The Jungle Book, is its best, but “Trust in Me” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” are both delightful. I’m not a huge Winnie the Pooh fan, but “I’m Just a Little Black Rain Cloud” is charming. “Mad Madam Mim” is a perfect introduction to a frankly minor character from The Sword in the Stone. And if it takes astonishingly little to get “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” stuck in my head, I would really have loved to see their musical adaptation of Roman Holiday, which doubtless would’ve been full of similar earworms.
Yes, we’ve resisted mentioning their most notorious earworm of all time. Supposedly the most-played song of all time, in fact. This is of course because it’s on a loop in multiple theme parks. You know which song I’m talking about. Actually, I quite like it, including believing the lyrics are pretty darn good. I know a lot of people disagree with me, but I think it’s mostly because it is one of the most astoundingly effective earworms ever written, and if you hear it—for a lot of you, if you even hear the name, which is why I’m not using the name here—it will likely be in your brain for quite some time.
Let’s be real. Even if you actually do hate the song, and certainly you have that right, you have to admit it’s a pretty interesting piece of writing. Because I’m reasonably sure some of you have had it stuck in your head just from hearing the composers mentioned. In a different world, you could assume that there is quite literally magic involved, that the song has a spell on it. Okay, even I who like it will go so far as a curse, because having a song you like stuck in your head this easily is kind of a curse as well.
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