In 1972, when Entertainment Vice-President Bob Jani suggested that music from “Fantasia” should accompany the new parade of lights for Disneyland, Producer Jack Wagner was surprised. Jack thought that something electronic, rather than orchestral, should accompany the unique parade. He asked Bob for 48 hours to prove his point.
As the person responsible for overseeing music production for Disneyland Entertainment and a former disc jockey, Jack maintained an extensive collection of record albums covering all types of music. He raced back to his studio to begin searching through the albums of electronic music he had on hand. His instinct proved to be the spark that ultimately brought to life the unique musical sound that has become world renowned as Disney’s Electrical Parade.
After hours of searching and nearing the end of his collection, Jack came across “Spotlight on the Moog: Kaleidoscopic Vibrations” by Jean Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley, released in 1967. As he played tune after tune on side one, his hopes were fading fast. Every selection was made up of electronic bleeps, twangs, far-out sounds and humorous-sounding tape loops. Nothing captured the truly magical spirit of the light parade. Disappointed, Jack almost skipped side two, but flipped the disc and played the first selection. Within seconds, Jack knew he had found the missing musical key to the parade. He found Baroque Hoedown.
Music Director Jim Christensen enthusiastically agreed with Jack’s selection. The bright electronic sound and quick, catchy melody were infectious. The tempo was right for choreography and a one-minute and three-second portion could be looped to play continuously; exactly what parade music needed to do. They played Baroque Hoedown for Bob Jani, and he was thrilled.
A quick search of Los Angeles-based musicians turned up synthesizer programmer Paul Beaver. Paul had a small studio and was considered “the only guy” for synth work in Hollywood. On May 17, 1972, Jack and Jim met with Paul for the first time. Neither Jack nor Jim had ever seen a synthesizer before, and were astounded to discover that Paul’s Moog took up an entire wall of the studio. As they experimented and explored, with Paul programming the electronic sounds and Jim playing the keyboard, two demo tracks were completed. One was a short patriotic medley and the other was the original Baroque Hoedown recording with a synth bass line added.
Through discussions with Bob, it was decided to build the entire parade on top of Baroque Hoedown, a technique similar to “It’s a Small World” where one melody is overlaid with multiple synchronized arrangements. In this plan, instead of moving the audience through the arrangements, the arrangements would move past the audience. Armed with sketches of the parade floats, Jim began the puzzle-like process of fitting Disney melodies into the harmonic structure and format of Baroque Hoedown.
A deal was quickly negotiated to allow Disney to use the Baroque Hoedown recording. Less than two weeks later, Jack and Jim were back in Paul Beaver’s studio recording the masters for the very first Electrical Parade. They created six different musical scenes, each one using Baroque Hoedown as the foundation. (Three of those original tracks, Baroque, Alice, and The Angry Dragon, were retired with the original Electrical Parade after its 1974 season but Cinderella, Dumbo, and the Patriotic Finale are still used in the current parade.)
The parade opened in June of 1972 and was an instant hit. Park guests requested copies of the music so, in 1973 when Jack, Jim and Paul reunited to record a Small World unit, a recording of the soundtrack was produced. The seven-inch souvenir disc featured a colorful graphic of the parade pressed directly into the vinyl, and was among the first of its kind.
After the summer of 1974, the original Electrical Parade was retired to make way for a two-year Bicentennial celebration. A new parade called for mechanical band organ sounds to be combined with electronic sounds. As the project was gearing up, Paul Beaver died suddenly leaving Jack and Jim without a synthesist. Jack contacted a sales rep from the Moog company and asked if they knew of any other local programmers. The rep suggested Don Dorsey, then a student at Cal State Fullerton, and Don was hired as a consultant to help create the “Great American Band Organ” sound for America on Parade.
Following the successful collaboration for America on Parade, Jack hired Don as his full-time audio production assistant. When it was decided the Electrical Parade would return to Disneyland in 1977, Don proposed a bold new idea. The original parade began with a manually triggered tape of an oscillator sweep, followed by the fade in of the continuous parade music as the lights were turned off. Don wanted to create an exciting musical opening that would incorporate a fanfare that segued directly into the parade tempo. He also wanted to synchronize the light cue to the music for dramatic effect. Because the parade would need this sonic beginning as it arrived in each different area of the park, Don invented a way to perform automatic synchronized introductions “on demand.” This process, called the “opening window” has been used to start Disney parades ever since.
Soon, Jack’s Anaheim dining room was transformed into a temporary electronic music studio with the addition of four synthesizers, a 16-track analog tape machine and a 20-channel mixing console. Jack, Jim and Don spent a week producing the new music while dodging the chandelier. Don composed the “Electric Fanfare,” reworked the Underliner/Blue Fairy track with a perkier bass line and new melody enhancements, rearranged the Alice in Wonderland unit and added creature sounds, and arranged new tracks for Pete’s Dragon, Briny Deep/Underwater and Disney Neon Finale. Bob Jani called the new music “electro-synthe-magnetic” and wrote the announcement for the opening sequence.
The summer of 1977 also saw the debut of the Electrical Parade at Walt Disney World, and the following January, Disney took several Electrical Parade floats to the Orange Bowl for a spectacular half-time show. For the half-time, introductions and endings for the Alice in Wonderland and Pete’s Dragon units needed to be created, along with a grand finale for the Blue Fairy track. Don composed the “Fanfare of Lights” for the finale and used the “opening window” concept in reverse to achieve the musical endings. Bob Jani liked the result so much that the closing fanfare was added to the parades in the summer of 1978.
The summer of 1979 brought yet another innovation. Don suggested using a device called a vocoder to create an electronic voice to begin the parade. The vocoder combined the voice enunciations of Jack Wagner with the sounds of the synthesizer to create the parade’s now-signature beginning.
Over the ensuing years, the parks saw many musical units come and go, most arranged and performed by Don. In 1979, the Briny Deep unit was transformed into a Pinocchio/Underwater scene. Disneyland’s 25th Anniversary brought a new unit for the 1980 season, and The Fox and the Hound unit appeared in the summer of 1981. A major musical update occurred in 1985 to coincide with the debut of the Electrical Parade at Tokyo Disneyland. Five new tracks were created; Swans (for Tokyo Disneyland only), Peter Pan/Pirate Ship, Pleasure Island, Snow White/Dwarf Mine, and Return to Oz. 1988 saw Mickey’s 60th Birthday (used at Disneyland only). In 1997, the Electrical Parade visited the streets of New York City with a new unit arranged by Bruce Healey as part of the premiere of Disney's animated film Hercules. Paris Disneyland’s Vasile Sirli created special holiday season overlays to the parade music, and Tokyo Disneyland used a Christmas version of the Baroque Hoedown underliner by Bruce Healey.
The unique musical sound of Disney’s Electrical Parade has remained timeless for three-and-a-half decades and has been heard by over 100 million people worldwide.