The Jungle Book Soundtrack
By Scott Colburn
I don't have a clear recollection of my first experience with Disney's Jungle Book, but it apparently made quite an impression. My parents took me to see the film and say my excitement was so great they bought the soundtrack for me to keep from being pestered in to seeing it every weekend. My beloved Jungle Book soundtrack came in a collection of all the popular Disney soundtracks at the time. Packaged in a gate fold jacket with minimal storybook illustrations, these mono records were miniature versions of the films they featured, complete with colorful narration to fill in the story lines between songs.
Jungle Book is arguably the most psychedelic film Disney has ever made. Yes, I know, these are songs from a children's movie, but have you heard them lately? The music has a beat/jazz flavor true to the times (the film came out in 1967!). My attraction to this movie and its soundtrack is the same attraction I have for any record... damn good songs. Keys scenes featured on this disc are "Trust in Me" with Kaa the snake, "Colonel Hathi March", "The Bear Necessities", "King Louie's Theme", the vulture's "That's What Friends are For" and "My Own Home".
There have been two CD re-issues of this soundtrack since it's first pressing - alas, neither is available at this time. The CD reissue, however, features just music - no story - which allows for music cut from the original vinyl issue to be included on this new release. I spoke with the producer of the CD reissue about the recording of this wonderful soundtrack, and he told me that the entire soundtrack was recorded to two-track stereo on mag stock on a Disney Studios lot with the Disney Orchestra playing live. Did you catch that? They recorded it LIVE! The voice talent came in later to sing over the top of these LIVE recordings on a third piece of mag stock. Now that's talent! The reissue project has also unearthed some precious demo acetate recordings, which are included on the CD reissue.
Here's an interesting story: most of the music for this film was written to accurately reflect Rudyard Kipling's dark original. Unfortunately, non-hep Disney execs felt Kipling's version was too dark for such a bright and shiny American public, so they switched focus to make the film more "Disney-esque" (not even "Kipling-light"). The up side to this move is that a delightful jungle bum fantasy was created, and this is what we know today. The sole song to survive from the original set of tunes is "Bear Necessities", one of the film's most beloved songs. Phil Harris played the part of Baloo the bear, adding his own two cents on how the bear should behave along the way.
Phil Harris also scats with Louis Prima in "King Louie's Theme" - you can't get more "beat era" than that. Recording separately, their parts called for Louis Prima to scat King Louie's part and for Phil Harris, as Baloo, to mimic him afterward, but this wouldn't do for Harris. During recording he was adamant that the part, as written, was not "right" for Baloo, and flat out refused to continue with his character until he was allowed to do as Baloo would do. Re-creating Baloo's part on the spot, Harris transformed the song from whatever it was originally intended to be into the fun freeform monkey jam we all now know and love.
Upon close inspection you will hear the depth of the recording room. Each instrument is crisp and clear, but the ambience is that of the huge Disney studio lot. My original vinyl recording doesn't reveal this depth at all (mainly because it was issued in mono), and it's not as apparent in the theater, either. This is one special aspect of this CD reissue that makes it crucial to the study of this type of live, stereo recording.
The technique of live stereo recording was utilized primarily in the sixties, especially on classic jazz records. Great attention was made to the details of musician placement as a preliminary means of both mixing and EQ. On these pieces you can hear the layers of music created by listening to the distance of one player to another and how far from the microphone each player is. Obviously, the soloist came up front, and rhythm was placed in the back line. This method gives these recordings their unique signature. Try it sometime: put a band in a room, use the best quality mic you have available in the center of the band, let them play and record a bit of their music. Play it all back, decide what needs to come up and what needs to go down, then move the artists around until you strike the perfect "mix". This technique is most effective when using an omni directional mic, with all the players surrounding the microphone.
Sterling Hollaway, who also lent his talents for the voices of Winnie the Pooh and the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland, sang "Trust in Me". Hollaway, as Kaa the snake, appropriately plays upon the sss sounds a snake might make in a scene in which Kaa attempts to hypnotize our boy-cub hero, Mowgli (who is shown succumbing to Kaa's evil powers with the visual of wide, swirling eyes). One odd bit of trivia is that this song was taken from music originally intended for a scene in Mary Poppins. Knowing a good thing when they heard it, Richard and Robert Sherman, who co-wrote the remainder of Jungle Book's music, took the song and re-wrote the lyrics.
"Trussst in me
Jussst in Me
Ssshut your Eyesss
and trussst in me
"Ssslip in to sssilent ssslumber
Sssail on a sssilver missst
Ssslowly and sssurely your sssensssesss
Will csseassse to resssissst"
The Beatles were a phenomena in 1967. They were just barely introduced to the American music audience in 1964 when the writers of this film's music hinted at their likeness through the cockney accents of the vultures. The vulture's song is created ala barbershop quartet, and reminds me of the mailbox scene from Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind.
And so, all wrapped up into one film and soundtrack are mesmerizing hypnotic snake music, Dixieland Jazz, jungle marches, beat/jazz/ scat tunes, barbershop quartets and pop music all in one film, all on one soundtrack. It's a veritable smorgasbord of musical goodies sure to please even the most discerning of listeners. As mentioned before, what makes this record great is a stunning combination of good songs, played by good musicians, all recorded well. What makes this record a classic is that it has stood the test of time, and still sounds great nearly 40 years later!