June 24, 2018 posted by James Parten

The Hits of “Song of the South”

Even though the Disney film Song of the South was not to have its formal premiere (in Atlanta) until nearly the end of the year, the Music Department people at the Walt Disney Studios were already busy plugging songs from the score.

By this time, two of the three major show-business weekly newspapers had started up charts, delineating the most popular songs and/or records in the United States.

The Cash Box reviews several recordings based on songs of the “South” in its 12/16/47 issue. (click to enlarge)

Indeed, both “The Billboard” and “Cash Box” would have charts listing the most popular songs in the country–charts that would probably contribute to the chart used by the popular radio program, “Your Hit Parade”, in its listing of the top seven songs of the week.

“The Billboard” besides noting the most popular songs of the week in their “Honor Roll of Hits”, would chart the best-selling records in stores the most played by disk-jockeys on the air, and the most popular discs in music machines (commonly called “juke boxes”).

“Cash Box” had their “Hit Disc Box Score” feature. Like the “Honor Roll” at “The Billboard” it was song-oriented, not record-oriented. The song would get listed, in whatever position it held, and then the best-selling record(s) of it.

The individual charts from “The Billboard” have not (yet) been put onto the Web, where anybody can see them. However, those of “Cash Box” are available on the Web–so that’s my primary source for this article.

Both “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “Sooner Or Later” entered the “Cash Box” charts on November 11th, 1946 – a good month before the official premiere.

In those days–in fact, well into the ‘Fifties – songs did not take great leaps up – or back down – the charts,the way they have since the advent of rock-and-roll and more recent musical developments. They took their time, and if the pubic took to them, they would last a while.

From the charts in CASHBOX magazine November 11th, 194g6

Both “Sooner or Later” and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” entered the “Cash Box” charts on November 11, 1946–a good month ahead of the film’s release. And, at first, it looked like “Sooner or Later” might be the bigger hit. However, by the chart of December 9, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” established a primacy that would prove unshakable.

Interestingly, both songs had the same “best-selling recording”–an RCA Victor disc (20-1976) that coupled the two tunes, with both sides played by Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye. Eventually, a second “best-seller” would emerge for each song.

For “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, it would be a Capitol record, sung by Georgia-born lyricist Johnny Mercer. Mercer would be assisted by the Pied Pipers, and all of them accompanied by Paul Weston’s orchestra. (Mercer would also do an album of “Song of the South” for Capitol, aimed at the burgeoning “kiddie” trade.)

For “Sooner or Later”, a Columbia disc (37153) by Les Brown would join Sammy Kaye’s version as a “best-seller”. This version features a vocal by Brown’s up-and-coming singer, Doris Day…

With the chart of January 13th, 1947, a third song from this score entered the “Cash Box” charts. “Uncle Remus Said” had a more intermittent chart run–but it would get some action. Only one disc was tabbed as a “best-selling” recording–another RCA Victor disc (20-2017) by Tex Beneke and the Miller Orchestra. Beneke had taken over the leading of the Glenn Miller orchestra after Miller’s disappearance at the end of 1944. He had been featured on a number of Miller’s biggest hits, such as “In The Mood” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”. Tex had a vocal style in some ways similar to that of Johnny Mercer.

This version of Tex Beneke’s “Uncle Remus Said” is from a broadcast, not from a commercial record – and it has a spoken intro by Beneke:

“Sooner or Later” got up as high as #15 (on January 27, 1947).
“Uncle Remus Said” got up as high as #11 (January 20)

“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” got up as high as #6 (four weeks at that position, during January and February). “Zip-A-Dee. . . ” was also the last of the three songs to leave the charts, not having its last week until April 7th.

All of which should have had the music people at Disney rubbing their hands in glee.

NEXT WEEK: I conclude my series on Song Of The South with a look at the tracks covered by smaller record labels.

1 Comment

  • Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, Walt was heading for a massive payday.

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