All Innocent Children Had Better Beware

I don’t have a favorite band. What I do have is a favorite album, and it happens to be London Calling. No, that doesn’t make The Clash my favorite band (but they would certainly be strong contenders for that title). Matters are made even stranger when I realized today that I also have a second favorite album.

It snowed a lot today in Philadelphia. In fact, it’s still snowing. As I walked to class this morning, flurries splashed across the lenses of my glasses, and I had a hard time reading the screen on my iPod. I settled on listening to a compilation of Leonard Cohen‘s essential material. For one reason or another, Cohen’s tale of “some Joseph looking for a manger” provided a fitting soundtrack for my snowy trek from the train station to the new Tyler School of Art building. One of the Sleepy Hollow DJ’s (I’m not sure if it was Keith or Samantha) mentioned that Cohen is the patron saint of quiet music, and I can appreciate why. His music, especially his voice, is the perfect compliment to an early, dew-soaked morning or a hazy winter day. But before I get you too confused, I’ll tell you that The Essential Leonard Cohen isn’t my second favorite album. Not now, at least.

After I finished listening to Leonard, it began to snow even harder. I was in the Student Center, partly reading my 33 1/3 book about The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (also not my second favorite album), and partly watching as people walking outside quickened their individual paces to avoid being overtaken by the rapidly falling snow. I scrolled through my iPod library in search of something new to listen to that also fit in with the weather conditions. My new iPod has a menu that displays all of the multi-artist compilations in one list, and there I found my second favorite album.

Released in 1988, Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films features many of my favorite things: Songs and score excerpts from obscure and generally darker-themed Disney movies, moody, atmospheric production, and little-known or under-appreciated musical interpreters. Like the movies from which they draw inspiration, Stay Awake swings a hard emotional pendulum. There are countless moments of unbridled beauty (Yma Sumac‘s sublime version of “I Wonder from Sleeping Beauty, an instrumental version of “Feed The Birds” performed by Garth Hudson), as well as flares of the sinister, eerie and otherwise unsettling elements that are found in most Disney films (Ken Nordine‘s opening and closing narrations, Tom Waits‘ infamous industrial take on “Heigh-Ho (The Dwarf’s Marching Song)”, which is nearly unbearable…nearly). The lesser-known or out-of-fashion performers offer some of the best renditions, like Syd Straw‘s prairie-evoking “Blue Shadows On The Trail” and Buster Poindexter‘s menacing reading of “Castle In Spain” from 1961’s Babes In Toyland.

Producer (and Philadelphian) Hal Wilner has helmed countless classic tribute projects aside from Stay Awake, honoring legends like Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill and, yes, Leonard Cohen. His most recent project to gain massive success was Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys in 2006. Riding the wave of popularity generated by the Pirates Of The Caribbean film series (another Wilner-Disney connection), and apparently inspired by a song Wilner heard on Gene Shay’s folk show years ago, Rogue’s Gallery features some of modern folk’s most prominent figures performing some of history’s most bawdy songs. Thematically, Stay Awake isn’t as far removed from Rogue’s Gallery as you might expect. The songs selected for both feature characters who are lost, longing for peace of mind, and, often jarringly, losing their innocence. It’s rather telling that Aaron Neville‘s soulful take on the Mickey Mouse Club’s march closes out the first side of Stay Awake; a chilling indication that the listener is now entering the dark, likely haunted woods of the album’s second half.

In six medleys and five stand-alone songs, Stay Awake encapsulates everything that’s wonderful about classic Disney films as well as cold winter days: love and tragedy, nostalgia and desperation. If only London Calling weren’t so damn perfect, it would have to take a backseat.

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~ by E. on February 3, 2009.

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