I have an entire iTunes playlist called “Disney Theme Park Music” because I don’t know what is going on with these modern songs. It’s all loud rock-n-roll with kids shaking their hips and whatnot. What happened to those bygone days when a “Taylor Swift” was something seen during a riveting bird-watching expedition? I wish we could all return to a time of solemn church hymns, but the world goes on.
When it comes to theme park music, Disney wrote the book (or at least Buddy Baker and the Sherman Brothers did). No self-proclaimed expert is going to be caught dead listening to the Poseidon’s Fury Overture. Can you imagine? How embarrassing!
With almost sixty years of parks on four continents (Japan is a continent, right?), there’s a lot to choose from. I hereby submit my top 20 Disney Theme Park Songs of all time.
I dare you to disagree.
20. Mickey Mania
Back in the 90s, there was a Magic Kingdom parade called Mickey Mania. Roger Rabbit himself called it a “def jam.” And verily I say unto you, hath no jam ever soundeth so def.
Packed with hip 90s lingo and driven by a rockin’ 90s dance beat, the theme music was infectious and happy. None of the Magic Kingdom parades since have come close (but the Splash Mountain Rap might).
19. Tokyo DisneySea Theme Song
I first heard this song when Ted brought back a soundtrack CD during one of his hundred trips across the Pacific (I swear he owns stock in Oriental Land Company — or has his own personal submarine). It’s now used mainly as a background track for Opening Ceremonies, celebrations, and shows. But it is stirring and uplifting in the way all those goofy Disney park celebrations are.
18. Another Part of Me
This song appeared as a single on Michael Jackson’s 1988 Bad album, but it was first introduced as Captain EO’s grand exit song in 1986. It’s got a great 80s vibe, and it is impossible to say the song title without adding Jackson’s signature hee-hee at the end, because that’s how it is sung. It’s so groovy, Captain EO kept using it even after he was promoted to Admiral EO.
17. Tapestry of Nations
Part of the Millennium Celebration at Epcot, this theme song to the parade of the same title is mostly instrumental, with some choral chanting providing the lyrics. It somehow manages to be stately and playful at the same time. It is best listened to while envisioning bizarre oversized puppets.
16. Two Brothers
This brief, gut-wrenching musical interstitial to the Civil War portion of the American Adventure features haunting female harmony. Contrary to popular belief, it is not about the Sherman Brothers, though their favorite colors were blue and gray and neither of them could ever get cannonballs to mind.
15. If You Had Wings
…Had wings … had wings. You heard it in your head even as you read the title. The ride is no longer with us, but this extended omnimover commercial for Eastern Airlines had one of those ethereal 70s theme songs that seems to come from the land of dreams. Its successor, the Dreamflight theme song, wasn’t bad either, but this Magic Kingdom classic still rules the skies. It can still be heard in instrumental form as part of Tomorrowland’s background music loop.
14. New Horizons
The original incarnation of EPCOT Center was loaded with stirring, forward-looking theme songs for its pavilions, and the Horizons theme song was one of the absolute best. It mixed bellowing female vocals with a child’s choir singing that famous Walt quote “If you can dream it, then you can do it (yes you can, yes you can).” If space travel ever becomes affordable in my lifetime, this is the song I’ll be listening to as I break away from Earth’s gravity, right before the alien bursts out of my chest.
13. There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow
Carousel of Progress’s theme song was heralded as a masterpiece, exiled for a short time, and then re-instated. In that sense, it has a lot in common with Napoleon. It is unrepentantly optimistic, which seems to be a theme running through a lot of these park songs. You can practically feel your seat rotating underneath you as you listen to this song, no matter where you are.
12. We Go On
Another Millennium song on the list! This one caps the end of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. When that central torch of fire rises from the glittery LED panels of our Earth opening like a flower, you’d swear you’re at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. And whether you’re already smiling in pride at the finale, or still scowling about that convention crowd which somehow managed to fence off all the prime viewing locations around the lagoon, this song will make your heart soar.
11. Monorail Song
This is old school Disneyland, and purely instrumental. Nevertheless, this is a jaunty accompaniment to a world on the move. If the orchestration sounds like it was written in the 60s, that’s because it was. I first heard this “track” (see what I did there?) as a segment background from one of those Disneyland TV shows. They were showing the newly added monorail. Little did I know it really was called the Monorail Song. Happy and awesome, it is (No idea why I’m suddenly talking like Yoda).
10. Energy (You Make the World Go ‘Round)
The original Universe of Energy’s pre-show closed with this 80s love ballad about gas and stuff. The song’s message: We are nowhere without energy. It’s also a misnomer because it is Gravity, not Energy, which makes the world go round. But why let science get in the way of a good theme park song? But on the other hand, you could substitute the word “Gravity” for “Energy” if you want, and the song still sounds the same. But Ellen’s Gravity Adventure sounds weird since comedians are known for their levity. But then you could also swap the word “Levity” for “Gravity” and… anyway.
9. Yo-Ho Yo-Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)
Pirate ghosts from centuries ago are kicking themselves for not thinking up this song themselves. This infectious sea chanty is what all pirates simply must sing from here on out, until the end of time. It is the perfect accompaniment to Pirates of the Caribbean. The ride looks a lot more cruel and dark without this rousing chorus to lighten the proceedings.
8. Baroque Hoedown
The best use of electrosynthomagnetic musical sound ever recorded. This is the song Deep Blue listens to when it goes to bed. Hard to believe that something so synthesized could be so delightful, but one cannot imagine the Main Street Electrical Parade without the blips and bleeps and squawks of Baroque Hoedown trickling through its various permutations. It’s at its best when fusing in other songs, like Grand Old Flag. Or Disney music. Or that hilarious circus pipe organ.
The show Fantasmic has several musical numbers, but it’s the theme song (which is untitled on the official albums) which knocks it out of the park. From that first glittering word “Imagination,” the song slips into your subconscious and takes flight, with pounding trumpet fanfares and sweeping orchestrations. Still gives out goosebumps even years later.
6. Soarin’ Over California
Another all-instrumental selection, which serves as the backdrop for the entire ride. It’s the same melody over and over again, with slight variations based on the scenes we’re flying over. It perfectly captures the feeling of drifting through open air. My favorite part is the cloppity-clop rhythm that kicks in during the desert scene with the riders on horseback.
5. Canada (You’re a Lifetime Journey)
This is the most beautiful song on my list. When they changed up Canada’s Circle-Vision movie a few years back, I was worried the natural splendor of the country would be lost in frantic Martin Short shenanigans. But the filmmakers wisely kept the same ending, with a new recording of the closing song. The current incarnation is a little too “American Idol” at times, but it’s hard to beat the melody.
4. Grim Grinning Ghosts
Haunted Mansion’s jubilant celebration of the macabre is noteworthy for its many permutations throughout the attractions. Sinister and foreboding in the lobby, discordant in the ballroom, and full-on party mode in the graveyard. The lyrics are delightfully twisted, and the beats of the verses are nicely punctuated by those pop-up dead heads in the ride.
It was inspired by William Shakespeare himself and sung by Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger, the Grinch) himself, for a nice deep sound.
3. It’s a Small World
You knew this was coming, right? The theme park song everyone loves to hate. But don’t be a hater. This song simply is Disney.
A simple round with simple lyrics and simple ideas — do you know how hard it is to create something so perfect and enduring? It is repetitive, but that’s part of the cohesiveness that makes this ride an enduring classic. Like Grim Grinning Ghosts and Yo-Ho, this song as has an extraordinary ability to rework itself a dozen times during the course of your boat ride. My favorite is the far-off island serenity of the South Seas version, with those hula dancers shaking to the beat.
2. Tomorrow’s Child
This song has a twinkle in its eyes, a melodious sonnet to the ideals behind the original EPCOT Center. It was jettisoned from the Spaceship Earth descent sometime in the 90s, when Jeremy Irons’s narration replaced Walter Cronkite’s. It’s a darn sight better than listening to that interactive Siemens cartoon that plays over the finale today.
And the Top Disney Theme Park Song is… Golden Dream
Patriotic songs seemed to have disappeared as a genre for U.S. songwriters to explore. Golden Dream may be the last true American anthem. The song is about greatness, and it achieves greatness itself. Full of optimism, but not the goofy Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow kind. This song knows where American has come from and knows where it is going. When it wraps up the American Adventure, with the sun rising behind the Statue of Liberty, you find yourself almost busting with national pride.
So there you have it. The definitive list. How does this compare to your list?