This week, we remember the late animator/writer/Imagineer Xavier Atencio with a look at his cover art for Disneyland Records along with a few stories behind the grooves.
Walt Disney’s Story Of
THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR
Narrated by Sterling Holloway
This is a sparkling comedy gem that was unlike anything Disneyland Records ever did before or since. Two years earlier, The Shaggy Dog inspired a fun Disneyland album of songs with the premise that “Shaggy” (Paul Frees) would become a recording star. For The Absent-Minded Professor album, it was decided to have Sterling Holloway do a tongue-in-cheek narration with vocal effects and double talk by Sam Edwards plus sound and music effects (presumably from Disney Legend Jimmy Macdonald).
Disneyland Records – Storyteller Series (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1961 / Mono)
The result stands on its own as a quintessential kid’s comedy recording. Holloway even ends side one by saying “The crowd was hushed,” as the grooves go silent and the needle travels into the center. There is no writer credited–it might have been Holloway since he did author a story album or two. It’s so much more sharp and satiric that it needs to be, one might go so far to wonder if a veteran comedy writer moonlighted on the script as a lark. Fred MacMurray finishes off the disc with the peppy Sherman Brothers novelty single, “The Flubber Song” (which is available on the current Sherman Brothers Songbook CD).
UKELELE IKE SINGS AGAIN
Disneyland Records WDL-3003 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1956 / Mono)
CD Reissue (2008); Available on iTunes
Though he was one of the biggest stars in show business in the flapper era, Cliff Edwards went through many tough times in his life and he had many Disney friends who loved him and were always finding ways to help in any way possible. One way was to give him a boost back into records with this album of his biggest hits. Note how Atencio makes it seem as if Edwards and Jiminy were combined into one being, suggesting Jiminy’s “I’m No Fool” design. The same year, he appeared on “Guest Star Day” with the Mouseketeers:
Walt Disney’s Jiminy Cricket
‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS and “KRIS KRINGLE”
Disneyland Records F-42 (7” 45 RPM / Mono)
X Atencio’s charming spot-color art adorned what is historically the first Christmas-themed Disneyland Records release. Cliff Edwards recites the entire Clement Moore poem with a celeste background, preceded by a Pinocchio-like story setup about how he and other crickets like to hop into houses and warm themselves at fireplaces. In this case, he is the person in the poem who witnesses the visit from Saint Nicolas. Both this and the Martin Schwab tune “Kris Kringle” on side two would be frequent additions to many a Disneyland holiday compilation throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.
LIFE OF THE PARTY
Disneyland Records WDL-3001 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1956 / Mono)
LP Reissue: Buena Vista BV-1303 (1959)
LIFE OF THE PARTY VOLUMES 2
Disneyland Records 3008 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1957 / Mono)
It would be inconceivable to millions of young people today that millions of young families of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s used to revel in merry sing-alongs on TV (with the top-rated Mitch Miller) and on records (with the chart-topping Mitch Miller). Look in thrift shops and flea markets and you’ll still Mitch’s records and other sing-along albums—including many made for kids like the first two Chipmunk albums. When Disneyland Park opened, there was a Wonderland Music Store in a prime spot on Main Street U.S.A. under the direction of Disneyland Records President Jimmy Johnson. He installed a player piano, which was popular for years. Music rolls were longtime sellers to those who either owned the pianos or just wanted the neat-o rolls. Life of the Party sold well enough to generate another volume, also featuring X Atencio artwork. In 1959, the first LP was issued again with showgirls and a piano player on the cover (well, aren’t we cheesy!).
If you’ve never seen the TV and music industry powerhouse that was “Sing Along with Mitch” or want a zesty little refresher, here’s a clip with guest Milton Berle. If you’re a Sesame Street fan, go to 4:30 for a glimpse of show regular Bob McGrath. Both he and Leslie Uggams’s careers were launched by this series.
SUMMER MAGIC PLAYER PIANO
Disneyland Records DQ-1238 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1963 / Mono)
Available on iTunes
Summer Magic, an easygoing romantic comedy feature that gave the Shermans their musical transition in form from The Parent Trap to Mary Poppins, inspired an “original cast” album and this children’s release–in which all the songs (plus a few chestnuts) were presented through a player piano. It is probably the same piano used for the Life of the Party LPs, since Disneyland Records’ Producer Tutti Camarata was the Vocal Arranger for the Summer Magic film. It was definitely the same as heard when the soundtrack piano “played” when Hayley Mills and Eddie Hodges sang with it in the film. The piano tracks also appear on the cast album, only the vocals are also included. It was a clever way to repurpose the musical elements.
The following is the endearing Sherman song, “Flitterin’” as seen in the film, with the same player piano track as heard on this album as well as on the cast album.
DEEP IN THE HEART OF DIXIELAND
Disneyland Records 3009 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1957 / Mono)
CD Reissue: Disney Wonderland Theme Park CD-on-Demand (2005)
Available on iTunes
Four-time Oscar-nominated composer George Bruns was also a trombonist who played in the Firehouse Five Plus Two Dixieland band, which also included artists Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Harper Goff and Ed Penner. Their band was under contract to another label, so Tutti Camarata assembled this album’s band with Hollywood studio musicians along with Bruns. The key thing here is that X Atencio created the cover for his friend George’s LP roughly a decade before the two would co-write one of the most famous Disney songs of all time: “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).” Bruns also wrote the mega hit “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” with Tom Blackburn.
Look for George Bruns on the bottom right of the screen as Fess Parker introduces the song on the very first Disneyland TV show in 1954 (start at 7:40):
ADVENTURE THRU INNER SPACE
Disneyland Records Promo (Monsanto) DL-55 (7” 33 1/3 RPM /1967)
X Atencio did not create the cover for this release, but he did write every word, with no additional adaptation for the recording. It was a marvelously intense—and delightfully quotable–script, a sci-fi bonanza that Paul Frees was destined to brilliantly perform for a very surreal attraction in which the ingenious use of color, light, design and the variety of movements possible with the brand-new “Omnimover” created surreal, disorienting experiences without the kind of whiz-bam stuff we have today.