Looking at the History of Walt Disney Records

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer
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Looking at the History of Walt Disney Records

Mouse Tracks holds a wealth of knowledge about the label and those who were a part of it

While much attention has been paid to the life of Walt Disney—and to Disney motion pictures and theme parks—in various books over the years, Walt Disney Records has gone virtually unmentioned in the literary world. But Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar wanted to remedy that. They decided to write the story of the music that has meant so much to so many.

Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records (University Press of Mississippi: ISBN 1578068495) essentially amounts to a love letter to Walt Disney Records, telling the story of its rough early years, its breakthrough years, and up through the current day.

The book starts with the early days of Disney music, when all of the functions were contracted out. Music publishing was done by Irving Berlin Music, and later by the Bourne Music Company. Recordings were done by just about every major (and minor) record label, from RCA and Decca to Columbia, Cadence, Golden Records, and more. First Disney brought the music publishing business in-house, then in 1956 started the Disneyland Records music label.

Hollis and Ehrbar tell the story of how Jimmy Johnson was first handed the reins of the Walt Disney Music Company (ASCAP) and Wonderland Music Company (BMI) music publishing operations, and later given the green light to launch Disneyland Records, which later became Walt Disney Records.

There is a lot of really interesting information about how the record company originally positioned the albums as adult records instead of children's records, and that the company's fortunes changed when they started targeting the children's market instead. In the meantime, the company also tried to release general pop songs that weren't directly related to Disney.

Hollis and Ehrbar explain the difference between soundtracks, second cast recordings, and other derivative recordings from movies, and talk about why certain types of albums would be released for particular movies.

But this isn't just a book about the history of Walt Disney Records. While that story is an entire book in itself, that wouldn't provide enough color and background about all of the people who played a part in the success of the business. So the book also contains dozens of biographical profiles of the people involved with Walt Disney Records, from the well-known (such as the Sherman Brothers, Annette Funicello, and Sterling Holloway) to those known primarily for their voice acting talents (Paul Frees, Pete Renaday, Corey Burton) to lesser-known performers (Gene Merlino, Desiree Goyette, Rica Moore).

The biographical information, located near prominent mentions of each profile subject in the book, provide great extra background on the people who were the voices of Walt Disney Records.

To me, the profiles are the best part of the book. Not to take anything away from the main narrative, which is a great story in itself, but reading the details about all of the singers and voice artists was a wonderful way to fill out my knowledge of my favorites and learn about those that I hadn't yet heard of.

The profiles about folks more identified with their non-Disney projects provide interesting information, as well. For example, I had no idea that Sesame Street's Bob McGrath performed every year with the All-American College Orchestra at Epcot's America Gardens Theater.

While I knew that Mr. Ed's Alan Young (Wilbur) supplied the voice of Scrooge McDuck since 1975, I was unaware that Young's Scottish burr as Uncle Scrooge is his natural accent, which he suppressed when acting as Wilbur. I also did not know that Hal Smith (Otis the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show) not only did many educational and read-along recordings for Disney, he also provided the voice of Goofy on some records.

The only problem that I have with the book is that I always seem to have trouble reading books with too many sidebars because I'm never sure what order to read things in. While I can't think of a better way to integrate the two types of content, it still disrupts my normal reading process. While I realize that it will not pose the same difficulty for everyone, for those who have difficulty dealing with distractions like me, it can be a little frustrating.

Still, this book is a great resource for those who want information about Walt Disney Records, as well as a great story about the building of a company. If you order from Greg and Tim's Web site (link), Greg will personalize his signature for you. The book is also available from Amazon.com (link).

Enjoy the book!

If you'd like to hear more about this topic, join us this week on our MouseStation podcast (link), where we talk with Greg Ehrbar about the book and many other topics.