Top 20 Theme Park Songs Of All Time

Tonight is Grammy Night, and in honor of that dear old woman who pinched your cheeks and gave birth to one of your parents (not in that order), we all get together and celebrate music.

I’m sure most of you don’t know what is going on with this modern music. 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 know we all wish we could return to a time of solemn church hymns, but the world goes on without us.

That is why I have an entire ipod playlist called “Theme Park Music,” by which I mean “Disney Theme Park Music” since I’m not going to be caught dead listening to the Poseidon’s Fury Overture. Can you imagine? How embarassing!

No, I have straight up awesome Disney theme park music, which causes me no embarassment whatsoever. And with a vast array of attractions to choose from, from almost 60 years of parks on 4 continents (Japan is a continent, right?), I hereby submit my top 20 theme park songs of all time, and dare you to disagree.

Disclaimer: While some of these are instrumental, I tried not to include entire ride scores, such as Radiator Springs Racers, which varies based on the show scenes. I also steered clear of songs made popular first in Disney movies upon which attractions were based, so no Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah or anything like that. Obscure songs that finally found fame only in the parks, however, are fair game.

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 what a def jam it was. Packed with 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.

19. Tokyo DisneySea Theme Song

The only reason I’ve heard this song is because Teevtee brought me back a soundtrack CD during one of his hundred trips across the Pacific (I swear he owns stock in Japan — or owns his own personal submarine). I’m actually not sure if this song makes any appearance in the park on a regular basis. It might have been used only during Opening Ceremony 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. So groovy.

17. Tapestry of Nations

Part of the Millenium 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 and is not about the Sherman Brothers, though their favorite colors were blue and grey, 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 life time, 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 Napolean. 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 Millenium 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. Never the less, 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 (monorail – track – get it?!) 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 suddenly sound like Yoda.

10. Energy (You Make the World Go ‘Round)

The original Universe of Energy’s pre-show closed with this 80s 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, Grand Old Flag or Disney music or that hilarious circus pipe organ.

7. Fantasmic!

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. 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 goal, 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.

1. 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?

 

 

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28 thoughts on “Top 20 Theme Park Songs Of All Time

  1. “If You had Wings” has been stuck in my head on and off for thirty years. And we sang “Golden Dream” in my middle school choir three years running, so I know all the ooh and aah harmonies cold. It’s a great, big, earwormy tomorrow.

    • Sorry for not doing that. It would have taken more time than I had. A lot of these can be found quickly just by googling for them. Almost all have been available on some official album or another. Or you could check out some of the Disney internet radio sites that abound. They’re bound to turn up.

  2. I have long been a fan of the cloppity-clop section of Soarin’ Over California.

    I’d have to think about a bit, but it feels like there hasn’t been any truly great new Disney park music in quite a while. Some of the newer nighttime spectaculars have contributed a few new pieces but largely they are new arrangements of existing material. In terms of the attractions I can’t really come up with anything past Soarin’ that isn’t existing music. I hope more original music can find its way into the parks soon, although with the drive to have only character-based attractions I’m not sure if we will see that happen anytime soon.

    “Meet the World” from Tokyo Disneyland would certainly be on my list of great Disney park music, a true classic Sherman Brothers earworm.

    • I had Meet the World on the list originally, but bumped it out for the TDS Theme Song, which feels grander.

      You’re right about the new music. I tried to think of a few examples that are more recent that are up to par. The Mater songs at Junkyard Jamboree are pretty darn great. And the song to the Magic The Memories and You show is stellar as well.

  3. These get lots of play on my iPod, too! Great list–I’m so glad you included the Tokyo Disney Sea theme! But, c’mon…No love for the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room or One Little Spark?

    My own list would also include Junkyard Jamboree, Miracles From Molecules and The Bear Band Serenade.

    • I knew the Tiki room slight would get me some criticism! In the end, I just felt it hit too much of the same note. Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit was kind of the same way.

      I thought about including some Country Bears as well, though I would have gone with Heart We Did All That We Could. The Serenade is fun, but more expository than other true song numbers.

      Miracles from Molecules just missed the cut.

  4. Interesting Shane that your top 10 is 40% EPCOT music (50 if you include Soarn’).

    My list would be close to 100% original EPCOT.

    I think the big one you are missing is the EPCOT entrance loop. All instrumental and incredibly stirring. It’s sort of cheating since it samples from many songs but that’s a way to get a lot more in there with only one entry.

    The Dick Dale soundtrack from DL Space Mountain (sadly and needlessly replaced a few years back) is also great.

    In fact I’d drop all the show music with the exception of Baroque Howdown to make room for more ride tracks. TDS has a bunch and I even like some of the AK music, especially the track they used to play by the Elephants on the safari (from an album called African Dawn).

    But everything always comes full circle back to the EPCOT music for me. Close your eyes, pick a pavilion and the music was awesome. That EPCOT Center album was like Disney’s White Album.

    • Without a doubt, the EPCOT Center Official Album is the best park soundtrack ever released. Look at all the amazing songs I had to leave off: Making Memories, Listen to the Land, One Little Spark, Fun to be Free. And you’re favorite, the Astuter Computer Revue.

      The AK songs are all hypnotic, but they all start to sound too similar after awhile. They sort of split the vote amongst themselves, and in the end, I didn’t include them. Strong case for the African Dawn song though.

  5. Interesting choices!
    As a DLP local, I miss the amazing and dark Phantom Manor music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPRu1WX5PtY
    Space Mountain (original version “De la Terre à la Lune” is also fantastic : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Y6tIk4zuas

    For all theme park music lovers out there, you should dig for Efteling music. Efteling is a wonderful theme park in the Netherlands. They pay a lot of attention to music, often especially composed for the park. These are my favorites Efteling tunes:
    Droomvlucht: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ji6Mr8RYr3M
    Spookslot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YE6HGTDXRY
    Raveleijn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxN2HeAcySg
    De Magische Klok: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9VuSueSCTA
    Joris & de Draak: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XenTHW5lbV0
    Langnek: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRLjseKKpdE
    Ruigrijk : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75rmpVy0ToU
    Parking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE0CUNKknRY
    Fata Morgana: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh8QhjQcgrA

    Enjoy!

    More info on Efteling here: http://parcorama.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/my-love-letter-to-efteling/#UniqueName

    • Agreed, Phantom Manor is awesome, and the Space Mountain original soundtrack is fantastic as well. Space Mountain was another one that just missed the cut for me.

      I think what this is showing is that it’s really hard to whittle it down to a Top 20. At some point, you have to start leaving classics behind.

  6. To say “Soarin'” features “the same melody over and over again” is a bit of an over simplification, I think. Most parkgoers will be unaware that this wonderful piece of music was composed by master film scorer (and musical genius, in my opinion) Jerry Goldsmith. I guarantee you have heard Jerry’s film scores before because his other film work is played in heavy rotation in the “Soarin'” queue.

    There are no fewer than four distinct themes in “Soarin'” and most are repeated at least twice (not the same melody over and over). The most-repeated, central theme is skillfully orchestrated to evoke an outstanding emotional response related to the picture. To squeeze so much into a 4:45 minute piece is a remarkable accomplishment. I have never been on “Soarin'” when the audience did not applaud at the end of the ride. (I can’t think of another ride that has ever solicited applause.)

    I believe the score to this ride accounts for more than half of the experience. When Disney decides to revamp “Soarin'”, coming up with a new equally impressive piece of music is going to be extremely difficult.

    • While sadly Jerry Goldsmith is no longer with us, I think a good choice to score a Soarin’ follow-up would be Bruce Broughton. He has written a lot of solid music for the parks and he just seems to “get” the vibe of what WDI does. I fully agree that Goldsmith’s score is a significant part of Soarin’s success. I would imagine any future versions would include quotations of the original themes along with new material, almost like the Raiders March throughout the Indiana Jones films.

    • Yeah, it was an oversimplification, but I didn’t want to spend too much time going into the nuances of each piece. There are variations, but it’s very similar and consistent throughout, without becoming repetitive. And you’re right, the Jerry film scores in the queue are an awesome highlight.

      Good question about the applause! I’m trying to rack my brains. There are some rides that out-and-out fish for it, and pretty much guilt you into it (I’m looking at you, Great Movie Ride). But Soarin’ does have a very high spontaneous applause ratio. Tower of Terror is the same way. Pretty much every elevator will end in applause, and lately Star Tours has been that way for me as well (though certainly not every time).

  7. Love all of these! I’m not sure if parade music counts, but I would definitely add SpectroMagic, The Electrical Light Parade and ESPECIALLY Remember the Magic from Magic Kingdom’s 25th to my list!

    This definitely just inspired me to listen to some park music all day.

    • Baroque Hoedown IS the Electrical Light Parade. Spectro just missed my Top 20, and I find that Remember the Magic song too schlocky, I guess.

  8. I think the bizarre puppets must be the key to Tapestry of Nations. I don’t have any memories of them (even though I was at EPCOT Center in 1984), and don’t care too much for the song.
    Reflections of Earth, OTOH, is one of my favorite single pieces of music in WDW.

  9. Just make believe, you’re a tiny little seed…

    THE LAND MAN! What happened to THE LAND! That original tune is THE BEST.

    Anyone have a good recording of Tomorrow’s Child they can share? I’ll trade some of my recordings including the Enchanted Tiki Room!

  10. Putting Golden Dream in your top spot is exactly right. There is no better theme park song and never will be. I ALWAYS get misty-eyed when I hear that song and Walt’s image comes up on the screen. Oh crap, what’s that in my eye now? Excuse me for a moment.

  11. I also love listinging to Disney Theme Park music and enjoyed your list. Spectromagic would have to be somewhere near the top of the list for me, along with Golden Dream, Soarin’ and Grim Grinning Ghosts.

    As far as attractions that get spontaneous applause, I would have to say that about 50% of the time, Mickey’s Philharmagic gets applause at the end. It’s always fun to visit that attraction when it happens that the majority of the audience hasn’t seen it before and you can hear their reactions.

  12. No “We’ve Just Begun to Dream”? For shame. The theme from the Timekeeper is very underrated, too. Great choices, though. Tough to get to 20!

    • I love the Timekeeper music also. I probably would have put that ahead of We’ve Just Begun To Dream. But like you point out, it’s so hard to get down to 20. Sacrifices must be made!

  13. Shane, great list! I have recently fallen in love with listening to Disney theme park music during my annoying “not-on-vacation” periods.

    Your list has some great ones that I have come to really love — as mentioned above, I also love the “Listen to the Land” song — another one I discovered recently is “Making Memories” — great song to describe a vacation, but also a really fun, catchy tune.

    As for Soarin’ — it’s a family favorite theme song — and I am definitely amongst those who feel the need to clap at the end of the ride.

    • So many great original Epcot songs that it’s hard to leave some of them out. And congrats on discovering Making Memories! So cheesy, yet such a part of Epcot’s early years. Epcot always had this weird blend of 80s electronica futurism in its music, offset by cornball jazzy tunes and 1900s Music Man-style music. Making Memories falls into this category, as does Fun to be Free, Astuter Computer Revue, and country folksy things like Listen to the Land.

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