“The Lost Chords” Rediscovered

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For all of us who love Disney music, “The Lost Chords” series is a treasure trove. These albums showcase songs created for classic Disney movies that were then shelved. That’s why we’re so excited to share a new Insider exclusive video, featuring series producer Randy Thornton. In the new video, Randy —and his friend Richard Sherman— tells us all about “The Lost Chords” and shares clips from many of the songs!”

“The Lost Chords” wouldn’t have happened without Randy. He’s a Grammy®-Award winning music producer, and Disney music fans know his work well. He’s been responsible for the restoration and rerelease of many classic Disney soundtracks and albums, from animation soundtracks to Theme-Park favorites. Along the way, he made some amazing discoveries – discoveries that led to “The Lost Chords.” There are four albums available now, and Randy has plans for even more.

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Randy Thornton, Richard Sherman, and Mike Daly of Walt Disney Records during the recording of “The Lost Chords.”

We’ll let Randy tell the story of the project himself, because it’s a terrific one:

In the late ’80s, I came across the Sherman Brothers’ original pre-demo tape for “Mary Poppins.” I was the gofer in charge of the master tapes at the time. During some downtime I listened to the reel. It was just these two guys singing, but some of the melodies were different and there were songs I had never heard. I told my bosses and they called Richard Sherman. it turned out that he thought the tape had been lost decades earlier!

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I realized that the Studio’s acetate library had lots of these demos, and I began exploring them. Most of them feature the composers themselves, playing piano and singing to give the film-makers an idea of how the song might work. For someone who loves a film to discover these songs, it’s like getting a new perspective on the film. Finally, author Russell Schroeder found sheet music in the archives, researched where the songs were originally intended to be used, and wrote a series of books including the sheet music and sketches that showed how they would have been used in the films.

In 2006, we worked with the Experience Music Project in Seattle to celebrate Walt Disney Records 50th Anniversary and Disney Music in general, and they asked Russell to speak. A pianist played the songs live, and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we re-recorded the songs, sounding the way they were intended for the films, and put them out?’ They were songs from the great Disney composers and they weren’t cut because they were bad, but because the story changed or because they decided to go in another direction.

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When you see a film on the screen, you feel like it’s always been that way, it was imagined this way all along. But that’s not how it works. The film is always evolving as they work on it, and more often than not, the songwriters are part of the story process. Disney films don’t just stop all the action and have a song – the songs woven into the story — so when the story changes sometimes the songs have to go, no matter how good they are. Songwriters put their heart and soul into these movies. They understand why something can’t be used, but to bring these back to life in the way that they would have wanted is a real treat!

The “Lost Chords” albums include the original demo version of every song, plus a fully realized version that sounds like it’s ready to be used in a finished film. Nine times out of ten these original demos were performed by the composers themselves. On “The Aristocats” album, we even have a few songs that were written for Louis Prima, and he performed them on the demo! So those are on the album as well. Our arranger is excellent. I’ll give him the actual film soundtracks and ask him to do it in the style as closely as possible. So the “Cinderella” stuff uses a big orchestra, while “The Aristocats” has more of a jazz combo sound.

A lot of thought went into the vocals — we had to walk a fine line. Because these songs were often cut from earlier versions of the films, they aren’t necessarily true to the characters as they appear in the final film. I’ll give you an example: When we did the songs for “Cinderella,” there’s one called “I’m in the Middle of a Muddle,” about all the work she has to do. It was probably cut because Walt didn’t want Cinderella to complain – he felt it would make her less sympathetic. So it’s not really in character, and I tried to cast vocalists who sounded right for the texture of the music, but who weren’t in character as Cinderella.

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It’s hard to pick a favorite song, but I have to admit that I love anything from the Sherman Brothers! I’m a huge fan and I’ve known Richard Sherman forever. I first met Richard and his brother Bob when I discovered the “Mary Poppins” pre-demo tape they’d done in the early ‘60s. He’s such a great man, and so humble. He’s so passionate about not only his and his brother’s work, but Disney music in general. I recently did a two-disc set of their Disney career, and it’s just amazing how many iconic songs they created.

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It’s important to me to keep the memory and the work of the great Disney composers alive and in the forefront. People know the animators and directors, but the composers are often overlooked – even though their songs are known throughout the world. They’ve contributed so much to American music, and bringing out these gems keeps their memory alive and we can make sure that their music is heard in a way they may have envisioned it.

So, if you find yourself “In the Middle of a Muddle” or need a dose of “Le Jazz Hot,” there are new Disney songs to discover –  classics that you’ve never heard before. We think that’s something to sing about!

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