Good after evening and welcome to lists and things.
So, as it happens, Disney have made a number of songs, in the past little while (about 80 odd years, or something equally insignificant).
Serious talk though, that’s a lot of time to be writing songs (and movies but that’s not why I’m here). As such, I’m here to judge the never-ending list of jingles and tunes and heavily condense it into an incredibly stunted list of just my 5 favourites. This has taken me forever to narrow down any such number, and I’ve kind of just had to close my eyes and pick a random 5 to put in order, otherwise I’d never really be able to create this post. For the most part, I’ve picked songs that have some kind of musical interest to me, as opposed to songs that are simply my favourite for nostalgia values.
As per, I digress.
So, without further ado the first in my list (in backwards order) is…
5. What’s This – The Nightmare Before Christmas
Ok, so though not technically made by Disney, the studio that made TNBC was owned by Disney AND the Disney logo comes up at the beginning of the movie, so that’s enough for me (unlike how people mistake Anastasia for being Disney which is completely wrong but that’s another post right there).
What I love about this song, to be honest, is how one can be so excited in their confusion. There’s not a word or sentence where Jack Skellington isn’t equally as puzzled, as he is elated, and this is so wonderfully reflected in the music. For example, in the first verse, the strings produce (his) excitement by playing straight eighths, in addition to the brass Mickey Mousing the lyrics that are sung.
Musically, there isn’t too much else going on, but Elfman (the composer) keeps it fresh by switching the orchestration from the strings and the brass, to the brass and the winds. This idea of confusion and excitement is also apparent in the rhythmic phrasing of the lyrics, which only adds another layer of colour to this particular track.
Besides all of that, the main ideas from the intro and first verse are mostly repeated throughout the rest of the song which is why I’ve put it at the end despite my own shared excitement with Jack. Musically, there isn’t really enough going on for me to get really into in any further than happy go lucky themes and poetic yet amusing lyrics. In other words, the music itself doesn’t excite me enough to jump at the chance to play it on the piano. However, I still love it every day of my life forever and ever.
4. Feed The Birds – Mary Poppins
Hammer vibrato. Hammer vibrato everywhere.
We all pretty much know what vibrato is, right? When you hear Whitney Houston pull a long note, in the middle of a passionate ballad, and her voice starts warbling towards the end? The thing that people usually replicate by wiggling their jaw up and down, which, by the way, is horrendous technique and means that you have a stiffened jaw which means the muscles in your face and neck are tensed making you work harder to sing and-
The point is, don’t do that.
That sound she makes is what we call “vibrato”. Now, as Mary Poppins sings, her vibrato is much faster and is what we call “hammer vibrato” for mildly obvious reasons. It was the in-thing back in the day to sing like you were pushed down a flight of stairs in a shopping trolley. All the classic Disney Princesses were into it (coughSnowWhitecough).
So, the most obvious reason for my obsession over this song is that it’s in minor. I’m a sucker for most anything in a minor, though the main refrain actually changes tonality to major, but that’s what gives it such a powerful contrast. Especially coupled with rather sad lyrics. It’s not a sad song by any means, it’s meant to teach the Banks children humility (by comparing themselves to an old woman, who was probably a Disney Princess herself at one point, what with her love of birds). But the chord progression creates a sombre feeling that just makes you search your pockets for just a damn tuppence. Those poor birds.
It has always been the norm in movies that are musicals, to have songs that are reasonably shorter than singles, found in the charts. This is because a 3 or 4 minute song in a 90 minute film is quite a chunk of time and risks boring the audience. Therefore, common practice was to have the song last only a couple of minutes, where usually only one or two verses would be sung followed by a chorus that would then be repeated, purely instrumentally by the orchestra, with perhaps a reprise later (if that particular song was the main theme or big number of the movie). This particular song is a fantastic example of that, with just enough lyrics for it to be considered a full song, followed by a beautiful orchestral response, which also happens to be part of the opening piece of music, for the movie (rather typical of the movies from this time period). So a great all rounder, all in all.
3. Mine, Mine, Mine – Pocahontas
First of all, I love the play on words here. All Ratcliffe does, when he arrives in the “new world”, is clamour on about how a) he wants to ‘mine’ it all, and b) how it will “all be ‘mine’ “.
(Fenwick laughs heartily at clever uses of the English language. No one joins in.)
Aside from delightful puns and word play, this is such a triumphant song. To begin with, the piccolo introduces the main theme of the song, but subtly enough that it’s more like musical foreshadowing and you don’t really notice it, unless you go back to look for it. It starts of nice and gentle, as Ratcliffe briefly explains history to his men, then he sets them off to work and the brass section (particularly the horns) follows suit, to demonstrate the strength and power of the men, in their digging and chanting. Which is fantastic for singing along to already.
As it moves through the song, Ratcliffe monologues his wealthy narcissism, imagining himself loved and adorned, with finery and riches, musically translated by a quick run in the wind section (and also the harp). John Smith then has his turn, with the horns being used to exhibit his heroic character, as he loudly proclaims his plans for adventure and spiritual fortune. This then makes for a brilliant call and response, between himself and Ratcliffe, on the return of the chorus as they contradict each other’s feelings with very different passions.
So all in all, this digs its way (I’m not sorry) to number three on my list for it’s bright, if self centred, theatrics.
2. I’ll Make A Man Out of You – Mulan
What. A. Great. ANTHEM.
So already, they’re accentuating the military aspect of (the movie as a whole but in particular) the song and the training sequence. It’s honestly such an uplifting anthem, even though Shang’s very debilitating language throughout the song creates an ironic contrast to the very spirit of the singing men, trying to push forward in spite of his words. The chanting of the men brings it back to its militant base, showing uniformity and discipline, while the lyrics reflect very Chinese spirituality, grounding it with ideas of tranquillity and strength drawn from nature.
What I like most about this song is everything that the strings are doing; all of the little runs and fills that they play, as if emphasising Shang’s importance as their leader, but also giving a sense of urgency to each verse, increasing in length as the song goes along. Towards the middle of the song it introduces the main refrain, Be a man, along with a trumpet line to ring out their message of needing to be the top of their game, if they want to make it in the army to fight for their country, the trumpet cutting through with the clarity of their triumphant desire.
The irony of the whole thing is that they’re singing about being a man, and how their masculinity is what will bring them to victory, but it was actually the woman hidden amongst them that showed her truest determination to prove herself, better than they believed her to be (as a puny man), which then inspired the rest of them to do better for themselves also.
So let that be a lesson to you.
1. Bells of Notre Dame – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
So, this one I can’t explain my joy any more than just the chord progression is beyond my mind.
I just cry.
In fact, I listened to it now and almost did. If I took the time to sit to my piano to figure out the movement of chords, I could explain theoretically what’s happening and why I’m so enthralled by it. I’m sure it has something to do with chords from outside the diatonic scale being played, which adds a lift if used in the right order.
– Diatonic scale is basically C to C on a keyboard. Imagine someone singing a scale and that’s your answer.
However, none of that can account for the emotional reasoning; why it resonates so loudly. Not to mention, the phenomenal ability of the countertenor at the end. Nothing moves me more, than a man singing high notes in full voice. It’s probably also my jealously-turned-admiration, as I can’t hit anything in chest voice above a Bb3 so to hear a man do it just makes me give up and salute him as tears stream down my face.
At this point, I’m too enraptured by this song to really put much more thought into it. But perhaps this shall lead me to study the theory of it, in my own time, and perhaps I’ll revisit this song again in another post.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go cry over all of this now.