Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Original Main Street Music

Photo Credit: Joe Shelby's Mom
Main Street USA 1976-1991: Morning Music | Evening Music

Last time, as we took the time machine right down the middle of Main Street USA, we stopped by some well-remembered but hard to authenticate music for the morning, and a much more obscure and even more difficult to authenticate evening loop, each one telling half the story of the other.

It's generally "known" that these music loops started playing in 1976, and there are fingerprints all over the tracks, in a way, indicating how they were assembled, that they were probably assembled together. Which is good background to have as we launch off into informed speculation on what played at Magic Kingdom (and Disneyland!) for her first five years.

It gets dicey here way back in the super early days because the existence of affordable home video cameras starting in the mid-80s has provided an invaluable source for authenticating music as it actually played in the park; basically, even if you have the music, there's no telling if it's actually honestly what played in situ without home videos or live recordings. As a result, we're probably never going to know for sure about this particular music loop unless a Wagner tape reel or list appears.

Despite all of that, I'm willing to make an educated guess, a guess that grows out of my experiences identifying the other two loops.

Since I wasn't there for Magic Kingdom's early years, as a Disney history specialist I have a bad habit of mercilessly pressing everybody who is in any condition to remember anything I'm interested in for information, and I spent about a year seriously on the trail of the Main Street music loops. As a result I came across about a half dozen people who have strong memories of visiting Magic Kingdom in the early 70s and hearing the Main Street music.

These memories generally came in two varieties: memories of either Sweet Rosie O' Grady or Strolling Through the Park / Mary Is A Grand Old Name. Some musically oriented people even directed me to the source album, which they sought out without my prompting: The Gaslight Orchestra's Gay Nineties Waltzes.

The trouble, of course, is that Gay Nineties Waltzes and the tracks Rosie O' Grady and Strolling Through the Park / Mary also appeared in the 1976 Morning loop, so there really was no way to be absolutely certain that these people were remembering what they heard in 1972 instead of 1978. I never quite solved the problem, and left it alone during production of A Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World.

As it turned out, that was the project that attracted my biggest hint yet, in the form of a comment. I ordinarily don't put a lot of faith into personal anecdotes when searching out something as specific as music tracks, however this one by user dichuy carries an unusual amount of authority:
"For those of you who are looking for a more expanded selection of music:

My dad use to take the family tape recorder all over the Magic Kingdom in the 70s and tape all the background music, as well as the rides. One of our favorite tapes was from Main Street USA when it first opened. This soundtrack played for quite a long time before it was changed.

One day my dad came home with a gleam in his eye and a package in his hand. He took out an LP and put it on the record player. The entire family burst into smiles. It was the record Disney used for Main Street. Dad said it was the order of the songs that made a light bulb go off and he ran home with his purchase to make sure his hunch was right."
A few things to note. First, this is an anecdote involving not somebody remembering a specific song, but exposure to a specific set of songs both in the theme park and at home, repeatedly, which lends huge credibility to the accuracy of the memory.

Second, notice the way the record was identified: not by track titles, which of course are commonly recorded standards, but through track order. This can only come about through repeated exposure to the recorded music, and then the version played in park must be identical to the order on the record.

Third, notice that this anecdote fits in with our previously established date of 1971-1976. In 1976, the "Gay Nineties" tracks were split between two longer music loops and ammended with additional tracks from Albert White and elsewhere. Since the 1976 loops do not play the Gay Nineties Waltzes songs in album order, dichuy's father could not have identified the correct album using track order alone after the installation of the 1976 loops.

This anecdote, plus the memories of others, leads me to embrace the theory that for the first five years of the Magic Kingdom, Main Street USA played the Gaslight Orchestra record, in album order, either in or nearly in its entirety.

Two problems that immediately arise from this theory are easily addressed:
1) The Gay Nineties Waltzes album is too short to provide area music alone.
It is a short album, but many of the earliest Wagner loops were quite short. The Liberty Square music seems to have been about twenty minutes long, the Tiki Room hosted a mere fifteen minutes of music, and many other loops hardly broke the one hour mark. The average seems to have been about thirty minutes, and that's about how long the Waltzes LP is.
2) Wagner never used a whole album in album order for BGM.
Actually, he did, for Caribbean Plaza in 1973, and that was in album order too, even if he didn't use the last few songs on the LP to make the loop an even 30 minutes.

And, actually, who says that Wagner made this early Main Street loop at all? There is literally no date on the original Somerset LP, although it's commonly considered to be from the early 60s. Knowing this, it could very well have been playing on Main Street at Disneyland in Walt's era.

Jack Wagner, for his part, always said that when he got the contract with Disney in 1970, he had to change a lot of music. For an example, this is excerpted from his interview in Disney Magazine in 1998, shortly before his death:
Besides providing vocal talent, Wagner does the master tape recording of music and effects for the Parks' shows and parades. His first job as Production Consultant was supplying background music for 40 different themed areas at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. 
"In Disneyland, you'd go down Main Street and they'd be playing '70s musical hits like 'Mrs. Robinson,'" he recalls. "So I changed that to turn-of-the-century ragtime music."
He told this story several times, and for all I know, it's true. But does late 60's pop music on Main Street sound like a Walt Disney Production to you? So much of Disneyland was so carefully put together that I can't see Walt Disney signing off on pop music in his personal time machine. And while we could say that maybe Disney management put it in after his death, these men were hand-picked by Walt and guarded his Kingdom jealously. So I just can't see Roy Disney, Jack Lindquist, Don Tatum and Dick Nunis signing off on it, either.

And so I've always felt that story had a whiff of apocalyphical to it. But it's worth keeping in mind.

Let's Crunch Some Numbers

Let's take a quick look at the overall structure of the 1976 loops. As noted in the relevant articles, each loop seems to be constructed out of five basic records, with individually-chosen tracks interspersed in. These five records laid the foundation for the 1976 Morning and Evening tracks for Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, and eventually World Bazaar in Tokyo Disneyland.

What's interesting is that when you start to look at breakdowns of how much of each album was used across the two loops, and also how much of each album was used in either the morning of the evening loops, you start to see something like design intent. Of the five core albums represented below, the album which got the least amount of use across the two loops was "Your Father's Moustache Volume 1", using 4 out of 18 songs, or about 22%. They break down, in order, like so:

 - Your Father's Moustache, Vol 1 / 4 of 18 songs or 22%

 - Your Father's Moustache in Hi-Fi / 4 of 14 songs or 28%

 - Your Father's Moustache, Vol 2 / 6 of 16 songs or 37%

 - 30 Barbary Coast Favorites / 11 of 27 songs or 41%

 - Gay Nineties Waltzes / 9 of 12 songs or 75%

This shouldn't be too surprising, as Gay Nineties dominates the daytime loop and Barbary Coast dominates the night time loop, but it is surprising that Gay Nineties leads by so much. In fact, of the three songs left out of the loop - In The Good Old Summertime, After the Ball and Man On The Flying Trapeze - we can even theorize that Flying Trapeze and Good Old Summertime could have been replaced with the versions from Barbary Coast Favorites in 1976.

Let's not forget how Wagner assembled these loops: by working with record companies and compiling themed reels for reference. Once he had worked out a "sound", he rarely deviated from it. And he always reused. Always always reused as much as possible. Does the fact that he used nearly the entirety of Gay Nineties Waltzes in the 1976 Main Street loops seem to corroborate the working theory that the original Main Street music was that entire record,as the music had already been paid for?

I'll let you come to your own conclusions there. The original LP isn't too hard to come by, and if you have a turntable, is definitely the best sounding of the three options. Gay Nineties Waltzes seems to have been one of those records that slipped into the grey market, jumping from label to label over the years. Two companies have remastered the record for digital download: Studio 102 and Lost Gold. Both versions sound equally good:

Gaslight Orchestra: Studio 102 Essentials on
Gay "1890s" Waltzes on iTunes

And if you were around Magic Kingdom in the early 70s or have any sort of memories or even documentation proving or disproving this theory - by all means, speak up! We need you!