The cats with the finest address in Paree made their debut 50 years ago this year, so here’s a look at the Storyteller album that recreated the story of the film on two continents.
From the WALT DISNEY STUDIO
The Story of
Disneyland Records – Storyteller Series STER-3995 (12” 33 rpm LP with Book / Stereo & Mono)
Released in August, 1970. Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Musical Director: Tutti Camarata. Vocal Director: Mike Sammes. Orchestrations: Brian Fahey. Vocal Assistance: Robie Lester. Story: Larry Clemmons, Vance Gerry, Ken Anderson, Frank Thomas, Eric Larson, Julius Svensen, Ralph Wright, from a Story by Tom McGowan, Tom Rowe. Recorded in Hollywood at Sunset Sound Recorders and London at Abbey Road Studios. Running Time: 44 minutes.
Voices: From Film Cast: Sterling Holloway (Roquefort/Narrator); Phil Harris (O’Malley).
From Studio Cast: Robie Lester (Duchess, Toulouse, Frou-Frou, Madame Bonfamille); Susan Novack (Marie); Gregory Novack (Berlioz); Sam Edwards (Edgar); Victor Sweier (Vocalist).
From Soundtrack: Pat Buttram (Napoleon); George Lindsey (Lafayette); Carole Shelley (Amelia Gabble); Monica Evans (Abigail Gabble).
Songs: “The Aristocats,” “Scales and Arpeggios,” “She Never Felt Alone” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman; “Thomas O’Malley Cat” by Terry Gilkyson; “Ev’rybody Wants to Wants to Be A Cat” by Floyd Huddleston, Al Rinker.
The early seventies were a time of change (time to rearrange) for Disneyland and Buena Vista Records, as an extension of the changes at Walt Disney Productions post-Walt, the record business and what kids and parents were buying and the ever-increasing challenges of time and budget.
Unlike the previous Jungle Book storyteller, a smashing success utilizing original soundtrack dialogue, the decision was made to forego using any dialogue from The Aristocats except the slapstick sequence with the two country dogs and the witty sequence between the geese and O’Malley. Obviously based on the “Pigeon sisters” from Neil Simon’s play and movie The Odd Couple, Amelia and Abigail Gabble were voiced by the same actors Monica Evans and Carole Shelley (who went on to be in the original cast of Wicked among many other films and shows). Evans and Shelley returned to Disney to voice Maid Marian and Lady Kluck for 1973’s Robin Hood (please visit this Spin).
Phil Harris’ soundtrack dialogue with the geese was not used. Instead he re-recorded his dialogue and it was added in to Shelley and Evans soundtracks. His knack for vocal timing in his interaction with the studio cast members does, however, sound as if he might have been there with them. Based on the layout of Sunset Sound, Harris could have been in Studio “A” while the other actors were in the isolation booth nearby. There was a window so they could see each other. His voice has a different sound quality, as if he is in a different room. The combo for Harris’ solos may have also been done at Sunset with him and a small combo, with other elements added in London.
This is the last Disney animated film to be produced by Disneyland Records President Jimmy Johnson and Musical Director Tutti Camarata’s creative and technical group, and to be dramatized with what might be called “The Sunset Players,” the stock company that Tutti and Jimmy assembled over the previous decade when soundtrack dialogue was not cleared for commercial recordings. For this album, they included Robie Lester, Sam Edwards and Sterling Holloway (who was under contract to Disneyland Records for a time). Others included Dal McKennon, Ginny Tyler, Teri York, Thurl Ravenscroft, Bill Lee, Ron Howard, Jimmy Macdonald and Gerry Hoff. The last live-action Disney film to be done by members of this “company” was The Boatniks in the same year. 1971’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks had only a narrator, Dal McKennon.
Inexplicably, this album is stereophonic even though 99% of it plays in mono. The music was recorded and released in stereo on Disneyland’s “songs-only” LP, Songs from the Aristocats and Other Cat Songs, which we explored in this Spin, but they are not heard on stereo on the Storyteller.
The only stereo section on the whole LP is the scene in which Roquefort the mouse (Holloway) joins the cats in drinking the milk that had been drugged by Edgar the butler. His voice comes from one channel and that is it for the stereo effect. One theory is that mono music tracks were mistakenly delivered to the editor for mixing the story and songs. Between the arrangements, the sound quality and the engineering, the mono sound is quite good, although it’s highly recommended to seek out the Camarata stereo tracks either on the DQ-1333 vinyl LP or the Legacy CD.
Walt Disney Productions’
Disneyland Records Little Book & Record LLP-349 (7” 33 rpm LLP with Book / Mono)
Released in September, 1970. Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Musical Director: Tutti Camarata. Disneyland Story Reader: Lois Lane. Narration Recorded in London at Abbey Road Studios. Running Time: 9 minutes.
The first version of The Aristocats on the little book and record read-along series featured British singer Lois Wilkinson (under her stage name of “Lois Lane,” from the comic book heroine of the same name). Her wonderfully elegant pronunciation of “AAH-ristocats” was of special note. Two songs from the Camarata version appeared on side two.
Walt Disney Productions’
Disneyland Records Storyteller Book & Cassette 513-B (Audio Cassette with Book / Mono)
Revised in 1987. Producer: Ted Kryczko. Storyteller: Linda Gary. Music: Disneyland Record Stock Library. Running Time: 10 minutes.
Disneyland Records was in the midst of change when the second read-along of The Aristocats was made. Read-along and album producer Jymn Magon had moved on to Walt Disney Television Animation with such classics as Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears (see this Spin) and Duck Tales (see this Spin), and one of his successors Bambi Moé was also at WDTVA as an Associate Producer of Music (and later Vice-President). Ted Kryczko has enjoyed the career associated with Walt Disney Records, on staff and freelance. To this day, he produces CD read-alongs for the publishing division, as does longtime Disney records producer and restoration pioneer Randy Thornton.
Most of Disneyland’s post-1977 read-along series featured a full cast, but there were a few exceptions. Two were this title and It’s a Small World, both narrated by Linda Gary (the voice of Maleficent in the Disneyland show Fantasmic!, Queen Marlena on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Aunt May on Marvel’s 1994 Spider-Man).
The text was adapted from the 1970 book with music from the Disney read-along music library by such composers as Gary Powell and Jim Andron. The two Camarata versions of “The Aristocats” and “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” finish out the recording. The original, complete George Bruns score was not yet available for commercial recordings in the United States as yet. Randy Thornton’s Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection soundtrack album was another 18 years away.
By this time, Disneyland/Vista Records, along with most of the children’s record industry had decided to transition completely from seven-inch vinyl 45 and 33 1/3 rpm records to cassettes, following the consumer use of cassettes in their homes and cars. Unless some limited run of Aristocats vinyl LLP and book sets existed somewhere, the cassette seems to have been the only format in which this was available. The following year, all Disney albums would shift from vinyl to CD or cassette (but not forever!)