Can a non-soundtrack album stand up against the actual soundtrack? This week we look at two Aristocats albums that take both approaches and succeed on their own terms.
WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS’ THE ARISTOCATS & OTHER CAT SONGS
Disneyland Records DQ-1333 (12” 33 1/3 RPM)
Released in 1970. Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Musical Director: Camarata. Vocal Assistance: Robie Lester. Running Time: 25 minutes.
Singing Voices: Phil Harris (O’Malley); Robie Lester (Duchess, Si, Am); Gregory Novack, Susan Novack, Victor Sweier (Kittens), The Mike Sammes Singers, The Wellingtons, Louis Prima.
“Aristocats” 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 Be a Cat” by Floyd Huddleston, Al Rinker.
“Other Cat Songs”: “Thomasina” from The Three Lives of Thomasina; “Siamese Cat Song” from Lady and the Tramp; “That Darn Cat” from That Darn Cat.
Like Disney’s Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, and the ’40s package films, The Aristocats soundtrack music was never fully available as a commercial recording until years after its release. The full music soundtrack for The Aristocats has finally arrived (see below). But the “studio cast”, non-soundtrack album that did accompany the film’s premiere in 1970 is equally marvelous in a good many ways.Chief among them is the presence of Disney Legend Tutti Camarata, in his later years as Musical Director for Disneyland and Buena Vista. Tutti brought a staggering amount of versatility to Disney’s in-house labels, from classical and big band to rock and R & B. Walt was fond enough of his work to give him a go at music for live-action and animated films; Tutti has onscreen credits in Summer Magic and A Symposium on Popular Songs, but he also worked on the title music for The Parent Trap, The Monkey’s Uncle and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.
The Aristocats and Other Songs LP is a showcase for Tutti’s dynamic big band talents, which go back to the days of the Dorseys and Paul Whiteman. No attempt was made to duplicate the soundtrack arrangements of “The Aristocats”, “Thomas O’Malley Cat” and “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat”, but instead spectacular, Vegas-style orchestrations raise the roof on all three (I like to call that brassy sound “Jetson Jazz”). Since the music beds were recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London (along with The Mike Sammes Singers), it is likely that the orchestrations might have been created by Brian Fahey, who performed this duty on a variety of Camarata/Sammes discs.
My favorite, though, is Tutti’s outstanding version of “Scales and Arpeggios”. It’s an important song in the film, as it fortifies the bonds between Duchess, the kittens and the audience. For that reason, George Bruns’ arrangements are lighthearted and somewhat unobstrusive. Tutti’s version, however, is complex and lavish. While it also starts from a simple piano lesson, it then build to a huge crescendo. There’s a hold on the highest note, then the production plunges back down, finishing off with some rather acrobatic arpeggios. I can listen to it over and over again, and often do.
The fact that the album versions outshine the soundtrack versions in some ways does not mean that they would have worked in the film itself. “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” was the film’s only real set piece, as The Aristocats was not a “book” musical, but instead a story with songs. Tutti’s approach turns each song into the kind of set piece that would have worked in a musical, but would have been too off track for the pace and tone of the film as produced. Tutti told me that he really didn’t enjoy film music work because it was somewhat confined in its form and structure. I think this album is an example of why he preferred the creative freedom of choosing whatever style worked for a song, and transforming the film songs into pure recordings that could be as eclectic as he wanted.
Robie Lester, who sang for Eva Gabor in The Aristocats, does the same on this album. Her touching, emotive take on “She Never Felt Alone” became Walt Disney Records’ go-to version for any and every Aristocats recording, as it was not performed to completion (or really sung) in the movie. But again, Robie’s performance of the ballad would work as a big number in a musical, but not in the film as directed by Woolie Reitherman, whose Disney animated features moved away from the musical form, The Jungle Book being the closest of his features to bring an “all-singing, all-dancing” songfest.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
The five Aristocats songs on the LP are followed by three cat songs from other Disney films. This is the most underappreciated, a lovely, haunting tune by Terry Gilkyson. Camarata’s arrangement gives it an Italian twist, and the lyrics differ from those in the actual film. Many movie and stage songs had two sets of lyrics, one that served the story and the other that was less specific.
The Wellingtons, a pop quartet that Walt Disney himself signed to his label, are best known for singing the Gilligan’s Island theme for the first season (they also played a fictional rock group called The Mosquitos in the second season):
This is the vinyl record version of “Thomasina”, also sung by The Wellingtons. You can hear the similarity, as this was recorded around the same time as “Gilligan”:
Robie Lester sang “Thomasina” on the soundtrack in the movie main title sequence. With careful listening, it becomes clear that Robie is also saying “Thomasina!” instead of Karen Dotrice:
Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection
Walt Disney Records D002066592 (Stereo & Mono / 2015 / Two CDs and 32-Page Book)
Restoration and Lost Chords Producer: Randy Thornton. Mixing and Mastering: Jeff Sheridan. Lost Chords Arrangements: Jerry Cleveland. Album Version Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Album Version Producer: Camarata. Album Version Vocal Assistance: Robie Lester. Liner Notes: Greg Ehrbar, Russell Schroeder, Randy Thornton, Dave Bossert. Creative Direction: Dave Snow, Steve Gerdes. Package Design: Steve Gerdes. Original Painting and Illustrations: Lorelay Bové. Special Thanks To: Richard Sherman.
Total Running Time: 95 minutes (Soundtrack Music: 60 minutes; Lost Chords Songs: 17 minutes; Album Versions: 18 minutes)
Singing Voices: Phil Harris (O’Malley); Robie Lester (Duchess, Si, Am); Liz English, Dean Clark, Gary Dubin (Kittens), Scatman Crothers, Thurl Ravenscroft (German Cat), Ruth Buzzi (Frou-Frou); Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, Corey Burton, Kate Higgins, Randy Crenshaw, Ty Taylor, Gregory Novack, Susan Novack, Victor Sweier, The Mike Sammes Singers.
Aristocats Soundtrack Songs: “The Aristocats”, “Scales and Arpeggios”, by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman; “Thomas O’Malley Cat” by Terry Gilkyson; “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” by Floyd Huddleston, Al Rinker.
Soundtrack Instrumentals: “She Never Felt Alone” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman; “Main Title (Buena Vista)”, “Thanks, Ed”, “Up the Staircase”, “The Will”, “Kitten Fun”, “Alley Cats”, “Sleep Kitten”, “Nice Melody”, “The Butler Sneak”, “Two Dogs and a Cycle”, “Cold Night”, “No Cats”, “ Cat’s Love Theme”, “Cat’s Meow”, “It’s the Butler”, “Headlines”, “Nine Lives”, “Railroad Depot”, “Safe”, “The Goose Steps High”, “How Romantic”, “The Goose Steps High Again”, “Here Comes Edgar”, “The Butler Speaks”, “Git it Good”, “The Butler Did It”, “My Paree #1”, “Paris Night”, “Pretty Melody”, “”My Paree #2”, “Where Are My Cats?” “Find O’Malley”, “Blues”, “Cat Chase”, “The Butler”, “After Her”, “My Paree #3” by George Bruns; “Duet of Michaela and Don José”, “Habanera” by George Bizet.
Lost Chords: “How Much You Mean to Me”, “Court Me Slowly”, “Pourquous?”, “My Way’s The Highway”, “Le Jazz Hot” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman.
1970 Album Versions: “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 Be a Cat” by Floyd Huddleston, Al Rinker.
There have been a lot of “firsts” in the Disney Legacy Collection soundtrack series, but this is a particularly substantial “first”: it is the first complete recording of Aristocats soundtrack music to be released since the film premiered 45 years ago. A few soundtrack songs were released in the U.K., but there were none available in the U.S. until the several Disney music collections included them. There were even differences between the same selections between the U.S. and the U.K. Both George Bruns’ instrumentation beneath Chevalier’s “Aristocats” and Robie Lester’s solo section in “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” were included in U.K. tracks but excised in the U.S. releases.
Walt Disney Records released Songs from The Aristocats on American CD in 1996. It was essentially a lengthy EP, with the soundtrack songs, Robie’s “She Never Felt Alone” and no extensive background music. Pickwick Records in the U.K. made the first advance toward a soundtrack album in 2006, including some of Bruns’ selections for the first time. But even this album was incomplete and lacked superior quality sound.
Randy Thornton once again makes Disney recording history by completely restoring the most extensive Aristocats soundtrack album ever recorded, sometimes cobbling sections together from various film elements, then working with Jeff Sheridan to mix it so the sound is better than it ever was.
Russell Schroeder presents a collection of “Lost Chords”—those songs that did not make it into the final film. Each is presented in demo form, then heard as fully orchestrated new recordings. Of special note is “My Life’s a Highway”, which was O’Malley’s tune until “Thomas O’Malley Cat” replaced it. However, “My Life’s a Highway” was rewritten by the Shermans and was included on the Disney album, The Story and Songs of The Orange Bird.
To top it all off, you get all five Disneyland Records “studio cast” album versions (from the album described above) in crisp, clear digital sound, making it fun to compare the interpretations. With the exception of “She Never Felt Alone”, these tracks were never released on CD or download.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat”
This is from one of those “Sing-Along” videos, so you won’t hear the kind of sound quality that is on the Legacy release, but it does include the wonderful solo moment by Robie Lester as Duchess.
Disney Music Emporium Aristocats Promo Video