Imagine there’s no Mickey, imagine there’s no Scrooge – at least on this record – and you have the original Disneyland LP released before Alan Young made history.
DICKENS’ CHRISTMAS CAROL
PRESENTED BY THE WALT DISNEY PLAYERS
Disneyland Records – Storyteller Series #3811 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo)
Released in 1975. Music: Buddy Baker. Lyrics: Tom and Frances Adair. Running Time: 31 minutes.
Voices: Bill Lee (Narrator/Ebenezer Scrooge); Peter Renaday (Jacob Marley, Ghost of Christmas Past); Jimmy Macdonald (Ghost of Christmas Present).
Songs: “Money,” “This is the Way Christmas Ought to Be,” “Being Tight is Not All Right,” “Under the Mistletoe,” “We Have Love,” “What a Glorious Christmas Morning,” “They Won’t Know Me/What a Glorious Christmas Morning (Reprise),” “That’s What Christmas Ought to Be (Reprise),” “What a Glorious Christmas Morning (Finale).”
It is well known among Disney and animation enthusiasts that the 1982 Oscar-nominated Mickey’s Christmas Carol was based on a 1975 record album in which various Disney characters played the famous roles. That album, entitled Dickens’ Christmas Carol Featuring The Walt Disney Players, was co-written by oh-c’mon-when-is-he-gonna-be-a-Disney-Legend Alan Young (Mister Ed, The Time Machine), who assumed the Scrooge McDuck role until his passing last year.
The 1975 Alan Young version–and the 1982 soundtrack hybrid—were both explored in one of my earlier “Animation Spins”. This time, we look at the very strange “lost” version of the 1975 album that existed before the Young version. Produced during the transition period from one set of Disneyland Records management personnel to another, it contained the songs by Tom and Frances Adair, the same arrangements by Buddy Baker, and the same choral work. Most of the songs, however, were longer, either by additional verses or musical bridges and the overall fidelity of the music was stronger than its subsequent versions. The cover and enclosed book are completely identical.
That is where the similarity ends. The original album takes a different script approach. For the most part, it takes a more serious tone, though there are amusing comedic lines here and there. Instead of acknowledging that the Disney characters are playing the roles, the story takes a coy approach. Bill Lee narrates as Dickens’ Scrooge, not as Scrooge McDuck, however the appearance of Merlin as a Wizard (playing the Ghost of Christmas Past) is described as such even though Dickens’ Ghost looked very different.
We talked about Bill Lee in a previous Spin. A leading Hollywood “ghost singer,” his most famous off-screen singing was for Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music. Although he recorded dozens of Disney records and was a member of the Mellomen quartet (Lady and the Tramp, Trick or Treat, Alice in Wonderland), this is his only Storyteller narration.
The album also has exactly the same cover and 11-page illustrated book, which makes it difficult, but not impossible, to find today. The only distinguishing characteristic is the purple record label, which lists Bill Lee as narrator. Thus, in order to know which album is which, it’s necessary to see the record inside the cover. (One version to avoid altogether has the catalog number “D-3811” with the book tucked inside instead of attached. The “D” signifies Vista Marketing’s direct-mail pressing of the Young version that accompanied a compilation called Merry Christmas Songs, sold through this TV commercial. It’s a mono recording with especially weak sound.)
THE SOUNDS OF CHRISTMAS
A Story with Songs & Sound Effects
Plus Over 100 Christmas Sound Effects for Your Own Stories
Disneyland Records #1348 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo)
Released in September, 1973. Writer/Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Narration and Dialogue Director: Peter Renaday (listed as “Pete Renoudet”). Effect Recorders: Jimmy Macdonald, Jimmy Johnson, John Wood. Effect Compilations: Lee Carmichael, Jack Wood. Engineers: Paul Elmore, Frank Kejmar. Running Time: 45 minutes.
Voices: Pete Renoudet (Narrator/Father, Santa Claus); Florence Daniel (Mother); Dana Laurita (Jenny); Richie Sanders (Johnny).
Songs: “The Sounds of Christmas” by P.L. Renoudet; “Here He Comes” by Francis R. Brunner, Barbara J. Brunner; “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (Traditional, from the album 30 Favorite Songs of Christmas); “Home Sweet Home” (Traditional, from Lady and the Tramp).
Sound Effects: “Bells,” “Laughs,” “Weather,” “Toys,” Transportation,” “Around the Tree,” “Around the Fireplace,” “Around the Kitchen,” “Around the House,” “Animal Sounds.”
Peter Renaday, who made frequent appearances in Disney films at the time (remember Herbie’s suicide scene?), recorded this unusual album two years before the Dickens’ Christmas Carol LP. A follow-up to the best-selling Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, side one features a father taking listeners through his family’s Christmas. Sound effects, either created for the album or selected from the vast Walt Disney Studios library, punctuated the entire story. The effects were created with the participation of Disney Legend Jimmy Macdonald, who also worked on the Chilling, Thrilling LP.
The mother is played by Florence Daniel, a Walt Disney Music Company staff member since 1958. The two children are Richie Sanders and Dana Laurita, who voiced Toby Tortoise and Sister Rabbit in Disney’s 1973 animated version of Robin Hood (see this Spin). Renaday also directed the two for a Robin Hood Story and Songs album the same year, so this is likely to have been part of the same recording session.
Among the best things about the album are the songs. Renaday, who sings both with mellow aplomb, wrote the title tune. The other song, “Here He Comes,” is a pre-WWII tune written by Francis and Barbara Brunner, parents of the album’s musical director, Bob Brunner. Brunner performed the song in his childhood with his siblings for GI’s in USO shows. This album marks one of the surprisingly few appearances of Brunner’s work on Disneyland/Buena Vista Records, despite his large resume of films and TV show scores. One exception is the soundtrack score for That Darn Cat.
When the dogs come into the house to howl, it’s actually the Mellomen performing “Home Sweet Home,” from the soundtrack of Lady and the Tramp. The other canine, “Joshua” was recorded at the home of Disneyland Records’ President Jimmy Johnson with the family dog.
Side two of The Sounds of Christmas was entirely made up of sound effects like tinkling tinsel, airplanes arriving filled with relatives and toys. But unlike a Halloween album, which has scary functions for parties and trick-or-treat, how many ways can one use sound effects on Christmas? Pickwick Records produced a similar album called Fun and Sounds of Christmas.
Veteran character and animation voice actor Peter Renaday–or “Renoudet” as he is also credited—appeared earlier this year on a premiere CD on the never-before-released symphonic version of the song “Love” from Robin Hood. He recorded this when there was discussion among the animation team of Robin Hood singing on camera. This alternate version of the Oscar-nominated “Love” is one of the bonus tracks on this year’s Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection release of Robin Hood.
His humming of the tune remained in the final film: