80th anniversary, academy awards, anniversary, bibbidi bobbidi bach, bill frisell, billy joel, By The Cover, Christmas star, classic disney, close encounters of the third kind, desolation theme, Disney, disney animated, disney animated feature, disney animated movie, disney animation, disney golden age, disney muppets, disney song, foulfellow, gene simmons, Gepetto, gideon, gipsy kings, Give A Little Whistle, gypsy kings, herb alpert, hi diddle dee dee, honest john, i got no strings, I've Got No Strings, jazz cover, jazz loves disney, jiminy cricket, john williams, julietta novis, ken nordine, Little Wooden Head, mannheim steamroller, michael crawford, Muppets, music, Neverland Orchestra, oscars, Pinocchio, pleasure island, pokemon, ringo starr, sega genesis, Simply Mad About The Mouse, snes, song, song cover, song covers, songs of the stage and screen, Stay Awake, Stay Awake Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films, stromboli, the king's men, the muppet show, Walt Disney, wayne horvitz, When You Wish Upon a Star
Yes folks, after a lengthy absence on this blog, we’re returning to the semi-popular recurring series By The Cover, wherein I discuss my favorite covers of songs entirely from movies. This is a particularly special entry as we’re marking the 80th anniversary of the timeless Disney animated feature, Pinocchio!
When people hear the words “animated musical”, movies like Beauty and the Beast or Snow White come to mind quicker than Pinocchio does. It’s a movie where the characters and story come first and the music comes a close second. That’s not a knock on the soundtrack, far from it. The music is the icing on what’s already a perfectly baked dark and delectable dessert. Leigh Harline and Ned Washington gave us some iconic songs ranging from the fun to the inspirational, and artists have stepped up to the overwhelming task of interpreting them time and again for the past fourscore. Let’s pay them some homage.
When You Wish Upon a Star
Plenty has been said about this song already, how it’s grown into a corporate anthem for Disney, how parts of Europe associate it with Christmas, the divide between whether it harbors a religious or secular message or conveys an unrealistic moral of merely wishing and waiting for good things to happen. Regardless of whatever meaning is assigned to it, “When You Wish Upon a Star” is, ultimately, a song about hope. No wish or goal can be attained without having some hope in it and yourself first, and this optimistic, kindly philosophy has thankfully never gone out of fashion. It’s been a go-to for countless performers due to its iconic status as an Oscar-winner, an instantly recognizable Disney theme and of course, its uplifting message. It’s also the reason why I couldn’t narrow it down to one supreme take (what a shock).
TIE: Michael Crawford, Songs From The Stage and Screen / Mannheim Steamroller, Mannheim Steamroller Meets The Mouse / John Williams, Close Encounters of the Third Kind / Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams
Michael Crawford. The original OG. The voice that ensnares my heart and soul with every tender note. ‘Nuff said.
Oh, and even though I couldn’t find the original music video he filmed for this cover, look it up if you’re able. It’s so pure and adorable there are no words for it.
Mannheim Steamroller may be known as that one all-synth band that puts out Christmas music every couple of years, but their Disney album is full of surprisingly atmospheric and nostalgia-inducing covers. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is playfully interwoven with the main tune to invoke a return to childhood wonder, where the stars in the night sky seem infinite and magical. I’d love to watch a meteor shower with this playing in the background.
I confess that I have yet to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind (though the ending has already been spoiled for me), but I’m well aware that it has one of John Williams’ most stirring scores, and that’s saying something considering his body of work. From what I’ve gathered this cover was a surprise addition made by Williams himself since Pinocchio is referenced throughout the film and the stars themselves play an obviously big part. I once again must repeat my query from my BTC on Beauty and the Beast, why can’t he do more orchestral work for Disney animation? Whyyyy??
It might be cheating putting the soundtrack to an entire Walt Disney World fireworks show on here, but screw it, it’s my list. No trip to Disney World was ever complete without Wishes, in my opinion, the best firework show they’ve ever done. Hosted by both Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy, it takes us on a journey of, well, wishes, and how they bring us and our dreams together. “When You Wish Upon a Star” is a major motif throughout, and I can never hear the climax of it intertwined with the Wishes theme without tearing up. Sometimes all you need are some pretty fireworks timed to a moving soundtrack to close out your day at the happiest place on earth.
Honorable Mention #1: Billy Joel, Simply Mad About The Mouse – The first song off of a crazy cool visual album produced in the early 90’s that brings together the best of Disney’s classics with the best of the era; rotoscoped outdated fashion and all.
Honorable Mention #2: Ringo Starr & Herb Alpert, Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films – The beloved Beatle and the renowned trumpet player perform a soothing closer to this magical compilation. Makes me wonder how the rest of the Fab Four would have done covering Disney (oh why did John Lennon have to turn his nose up at The Jungle Book?)
Um…A Mention, I Guess: Gene Simmons – Yes, THAT Gene Simmons. Yes, this is real. Such an unusual choice for a hardcore rocker from one of the most iconic metal bands. The story goes that When You Wish Upon A Star was the first song Gene heard after he and his mother emigrated to America to escape a life of poverty in Hungary. This shockingly straight rendition from his solo album is a tribute to Gene’s mother, who was a concentration camp survivor, as well as an ode to his love of classic cartoons. With that sentiment, I can’t rightly say if this is a good or bad cover. It’s a…medium place cover.
I’ll give Gene this, he does a surprisingly decent job with that last high note.
Little Wooden Head
Bill Frisell & Wayne Horvitz, Stay Awake…
“Little Wooden Head” is normally such a chipper, sweet tune that I can appreciate any cover that flips it on its head while retaining some of its playfulness. This instrumental take by Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz of the avant-garde music group Naked City serves as the bridge between two somber lullabies: Mary Poppin’s “Stay Awake” performed by Suzanne Vega, and Syd Straw pulling Melody Time’s “Blue Shadows on the Trail” out of obscurity. If the former symbolizes falling asleep and the other is waking, then this “Little Wooden Head” is a strange but not unpleasant dream that bridges the two.
Honorable Mention #1: Julietta Novis & The King’s Men – This comes from an LP of Pinocchio’s soundtrack made to coincide with the film’s release. It sort of falls into the saccharine trap that the original song manages to avoid, but I saved it as an honorable mention because of the lead female singer, Julietta Novis. Though obscure nowadays, she provided a key voice in the climax of one of Disney’s greatest features – the wondrous Ave Maria aria at the end of Fantasia.
Honorable Mention #2: This version made from sound fonts from Pokémon RSE – I’m all for Pokémon battle themed reimaginings of Disney standards.
Give A Little Whistle
Stacey Kent, Jazz Loves Disney
Stacey Kent has a lovely voice which lends itself well to this jazzy version. I appreciate the flute playing a big part as a “whistle” of sorts.
Honorable Mention #1: Chris Commisso – A bit of techno swing is always welcome here. Go check this guy out, he’s incredibly versatile.
Honorable Mention #2: Bibbidi Bobbidi Bach – This album, a sequel to the popular Heigh-Ho Mozart, gives Disney tunes a classical spin in the style of various composers. In this case, Give A Little Whistle gets the Haydn treatment.
Honorable Mention #4: Gil Goldstein & Friends, Disney Meets Jazz / The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Dave Digs Disney – The jazz flute flawlessly blends the tune into Snow White’s Whistle While You Work in the former, while the latter is the same breezy listening you’d expect from Dave.
Um…A Mention, I Guess: Julie London, Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast – It’s so odd hearing a rather sultry cover of this song, especially from the same woman who gave us the forever emotional “Cry Me a River” (which I forever associate with V For Vendetta thanks to that being my introduction to it). Again, I can’t say it’s a bad cover or a good one, it just…is.
Yep, this is another time I couldn’t find any real noteworthy covers. But come on, who doesn’t love The Muppets? It’s a good song for Fozzie considering his love of showbusiness.
Honorable Mention #1: Ken Nordine, Stay Awake – Rather than a straight rendition, this opens the album with a moody poem read over a tinkling old piano and the sounds of the circus from behind the scenes, setting the stage for an unusual musical venture.
Honorable Mention #2: Neverland Orchestra. Because they make any Disney song sound even grander than it already is.
I’ve Got No Strings
Gipsy Kings, Simply Mad About the Mouse
My intro to the Gipsy Kings came on the VHS tape for Simply Mad About the Mouse and this unapologetically catchy purely Hispanic take that makes you want to get up and dance. The vibrant rotoscoped animation sets it apart from the other music videos on this compilation, and even with the majority of the lyrics translated into Spanish, the joy and freedom from Pinocchio’s emancipation declaration shine fully through.
Honorable Mention #1: Circle City Sound – This barbershop quartet times ten provides a solid fun tribute to the film this number originates from.
Honorable Mention #2: Barbra Streisand, My Name is Barbra – Sing it, Babs.
Bonus Tracks: Wordy Spoops and Beebly Boops
The final track on the compilation album Stay Awake is a fascinating juxtaposition of the dark and light themes of Pinocchio. Just as the album begins with a well-known piece from the film with spoken-word jazz by the late Ken Nordine, so too does it end.
The music in the background is a haunting rendition of the track known as “Desolation Theme”, which is heard in the scene where Gepetto laments his captivity inside Monstro. The electric guitars and synth along with the sped-up music box motif make it sound even more tragic and unearthly. The strange poem accompanying it is an enigma; I’ve listened to this track countless times and have yet to decipher its full meaning. Does it question the promise of a happy ending offered by so many of the Disney classics that populate the album? Is it telling a story of its own exclusively through metaphor? I suppose it’s up for interpretation, and all a part of Nordine’s countercultural appeal. His deep, gravelly voice, entrancing and unnerving as he weaves these words, puts you in a totally different state of mind. It came as no surprise to learn he was Linda Blair’s vocal coach for The Exorcist. The track paints a bleak portrait of forever chasing dreams just out of reach, but when paired with the aforementioned cover of When You Wish Upon a Star by Ringo Starr, it ends the album on an optimistic note and provides the perfect bookend to a unique Disney experience.
But if spoopy poetry isn’t for you, let’s go a little more mainstream nostalgic. The Disney video games made for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or SNES as we like to call it) hold a special place in many gamers’ and Disney fans’ hearts. The game adaptation of Pinocchio, while not as fondly remembered as Aladdin or The Lion King on the SNES, still boasts some fun gameplay (you get to finally serve the Coachman some long-awaited karma!) and a great soundtrack to accompany your adventure.
Many of the songs and even specific pieces of the film score are adapted faithfully in 32-bit. I never played the game myself but listening to this makes me want to jump around as video game Pinocchio and follow his journey in his pixelated footsteps. The video game score itself has been subject to some pretty awesome fan covers too!
There was a version of this soundtrack remade for the Sega Genesis version of the game, but the SNES one is by far the superior of the two (well, except the music for exploring Monstro’s insides, that comes pretty close).
And with that, this entry of By The Cover comes to a close. Are there any covers from Pinocchio that I didn’t mention which you enjoy? Let me know in the comments, and as always, thank you for reading!
If you liked this post, consider supporting me on Patreon. Patreon sponsors receive extra perks such as early previews of posts like this one, extra movie review votes, special requests, and more! As of writing this, I’m only $20 away from reaching my goal of making $100 a month; once it’s met, I plan on returning to weekly tv series reviews, meaning there’s more bang for your buck if decide to donate even just the one time! Special thanks to Gordhan Rajani, Amelia Jones, and Sam Minden for their generous donations!