Back in the late seventies when Dinah Shore ruled the world of daytime TV with a peppy talk show, she was demonstrating modern furniture ideas with her guest, comedian Don Rickles. Each took a seat in low, cylindrical plastic chairs. Rickles instantly saw that the two of them looked like they were getting into theme park ride vehicles.
“Hey, Dinah!” he quipped. “It’s like we’re at Disneyland!!” Waving his arms like a conductor, Rickles sang, “Da-da-DAAH-DAAH-DAAH, da-da-DAAH-DAAH- DAAH!“ The audience roared.
It is said that there is a Disney Park somewhere in the world in which the song is playing twenty-four hours a day. If not, at least it’s playing in thousands of heads. Over the years, Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman nodded with good humor at their “earworm” and how it can drive folks crazy. The most serious layers woven into the song have meant mean the most to them. Like a lot of their songs, it’s not all sunshine and daisies.
The recording of “it’s a small world” is significant as well. The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board recently inducted one of its many vinyl issues into its Hall of Fame.
This is a demo recording of ‘it’s a small world” in which you can hear the Shermans, particularly Richard, as well as Ginny Tyler (who does her “Polynesia” parrot squawks) with what sounds like Robie Lester, who sang a lot of demos for the Shermans, very likely recorded at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, where all of them were involved in ongoing projects.
The specific version inducted into the Hall of Fame was a souvenir 45 rpm single released as a Disneyland “Little Gem” 45 rpm single and a specially-packaged edition sold at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair Pepsi-Cola pavilion. It’s a medley of several renditions of the song culled from throughout the attraction’s “countries.” It was also released on Disneyland Records as a “Little Gem” record.
Speaking of gems, here’s a little-known one. “It’s a small world” had a strong presence in Florida long before Walt Disney World opened in 1971. It was not in Central, but South Florida at the ultra-modern Pepsi-Cola plant opened in 1964 amid much excitement and hoopla.
It was a landmark of sorts as seen from the Palmetto Expressway because it boasted a round, flat “bottlecap” building that was actually a theater/conference room. Schoolkids who were fortunate enough to tour the Pepsi plant were finally able to see what was inside that strange building as a finale – it was a film promoting Walt Disney’s “it’s a small world.”
Pepsi did not sponsor the Walt Disney World version of the attraction (which capitalizes It’s a Small World without the quotation marks). The plant is now closed, but to a select few, the attraction offers an extra bit of nostalgia for the Miami “bottle cap.”
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and “it’s a small world” were released as soundtrack albums at roughly the same time. Lincoln already had narration by Paul Frees and require little additional production other than editing and remixing from the multiple tracks for stereo and mono (certainly not a slight accomplishment in any case). “it’s a small world” was only released in mono (and was only available that way until producer Randy Thornton remastered the tracks many decades later.
For an LP version of “it’s a small world,” there also had to be some kind of story. Although they are not credited, the Sherman Brothers produced it for Disneyland records with Jimmy Johnson (and Tutti Camarata, because during this time almost all the storytellers and compilations were being recorded, mixed, edited, and mastered at Sunset Sound).
Disney story artist turned producer Winston Hibler was the narrator. The Shermans adapted the script from the promotional materials written by Walt Disney Imagineering Legend Marty Sklar. This is the only Disney record with Hibler narration. (Pairing this disc with Rex Allen’s Incredible Journey LP creates a True-Life Adventure-style double feature.)
The first issue of the album tied into the World’s Fair, with a rendering of Imagineer Rolly Crump’s fanciful “Tower of the Four Winds” on the front cover. The tower is mentioned on the recording and was not changed even after the front cover was revised with a Disneyland attraction photo. It may have confused a listener or two unfamiliar with the “missing tower” but not so much now, thanks to plentiful information about the attraction—just google our colleague Jim Korkis and “small world.”
Presumably, Jimmy Johnson came up with the story for the read-along for “it’s a small world,” as he wrote almost every Storyteller and read-along in the sixties, including The Haunted Mansion album. The premise contrives a fictional orphan named Bobby who has no sense of his identity until he rides “it’s a small world,” which assures him that he is a part of everywhere. Robie Lester read (and partially sang) the book for the 1968 edition of the read-along.
Ten years later, Linda Gary narrated it with the attraction soundtracks nicely edited behind the text. This version continued to be available on cassette through the nineties.
The Disneyland Boys Choir recorded the second most heard recording of ‘it’s a small world’ on Disneyland Records, released on single discs, extended play records, compilations and even Walt Disney’s memorial LP, The Music of Walt Disney, explored in this Animation Spin. It was part of an album of folk songs adorned with Mary Blair’s only signed artwork for the record label.
The Disneyland Boys Choir was a generic studio group name created for the record. Generic names for orchestral or vocal ensembles are common in the recording industry. It’s not unusual to find the same version of one song on several recordings under different names. The Mike Sammes Singers were called The Maury Laws Singers for the Rankin/Bass special The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians, and most often uncredited. The Ron Hicklin Singers were The Charlie Fox Singers for Love American Style. Ron Hicklin also contracted singers for Ray Conniff’s albums in the seventies. It didn’t matter all that much as long as there were solid contracts.
The Disneyland Boys Choir was actually the choir from St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood. The conductor, Paul Salamunovich, who is credited on the “it’s a small world” folk song album, was also the musical director for the church. He had a legendary vocal career of his own (he is one of the a cappella singers in the I Married Joan theme song). St. Charles Borromeo’s adult church choir sang for The Robert Shaw Choir on RCA Victor Records and the children’s choir appeared in several movies, including Dead Ringer with Bette Davis. Some of the former choir kids from the days of the record album are still in the choir. A huge plaque honoring Salamunovich is mounted in the lobby of St. Charles, where parishioners also included Bob and Delores Hope, Henry and Ginny Mancini, and Rose Marie.