Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday 80s Flashback for February 22, 2013

[Stay Awake] -- I have visited Walt Disney World five times in my life. But I had never been to Disneyland ... until this week. On Monday, February 18, we capped off our recent trip to L.A. with a tour of Disneyland. Well, maybe not a tour exactly, but we did have a Disney Cast Member as our guide and she could get us into special places and bypass lines. It was pretty much a V.I.P. day all the way, and it was arranged by a California couple (who are Club 33 members) we befriended over Twitter and a previous San Diego Comic-Con (Thank you, Andrew and Lisa!). During our visit to the park, we took a break in the 1901 Lounge. While in the Lounge, our guide told us about the music that was playing -- all jazz versions of Disney movie tunes arranged and performed by Bill Cantos. (Yes, I bought the CD, and it is wonderful). In response, I told her about Hall Willner's Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films (1988). Willner is an American music producer with several tribute albums and live events listed among his many credits, Stay Awake being his fourth tribute album. I was in college when it was first released, and I loved it because it made a somewhat adult soundtrack out of songs originally created for kids. More than 20 years later, I still love it for the milestone in my life that it represents. Turns out, our guide didn't know about Stay Awake, and I reckon the same can be said of many of my fellow 80s-philes. So, I figure this CD makes for a great Flashback. I've chosen three tunes from the 20+ songs represented on the album. You know the drill: Read and hear more after the break.

Flashback #1"What I desire is man's red fire  |  To make my dream come true."

"I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" was written by Robert and Richard Sherman for the animated Disney film, The Jungle Book (1967). Jazz and swing legend Louis Prima voiced the character of King Louie, who sang this song in the film. For the 1988 recording, Willner tapped Los Lobos, who were riding a new wave of popularity due to their recordings of some Ritchie Valens covers for the soundtrack to the film La Bamba (1987). I think their style was well-suited to the song in 1988, and it still sounds fresh today. The TV performance embedded below is not exactly like the recording on the CD, but it's close enough to give you the flavor.

Flashback #2"While the moon drifts in the skies  |  Stay awake, don't close your eyes."

In the Disney movie, Mary Poppins (1964), Julie Andrews (as the title character) sings a lullaby to the children Jane and Michael. That lullaby was "Stay Awake" penned by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Willner tapped singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega to perform it as the title track on his 1988 compilation album. Vega's breathy yet resonate voice perfectly captures the contradictory message of staying awake amidst all the sleepy time references. And her performance is just low key enough to lull you to sleep instead of boring you to sleep. It may very well be the musical equivalent of Xanax -- just without any adverse side effects.

Flashback #3"If she doesn't scare you  |  No evil thing will."

On a good day, a live show by The Replacements was an electrifying, heart-on-your-sleeve experience of the loud persuasion. On a bad day ... well ... they were just a drunken barroom band about half a minute from a fight. On record, they were the brilliant forerunners of alternative rock, often critically acclaimed and hailed as the saviors of rock & roll. All of which makes them the unlikeliest of candidates to record a Disney song. First, who would think to ask them; second, who would believe The 'Mats would say "Yes"? Well, somehow, Willner was the person on both counts. And he could not have picked a more perfect song for them: "Cruella de Vil." Written by Mel Leven, this song is an ode to the villain in the Disney-produced animated film, 101 Dalmatians (1961). Originally performed by Bill Lee as the singing voice of Roger Radcliffe, the male lead in the movie, it is the perfect foil for The Replacements' brand of full-throated, shambling aesthetic. This represents the first -- and quite possibly the only -- time a Disney song has rocked with the best possible raw energy.

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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