Earlier this week I had the privilege to participate in a D23 Expo conference call with Disney Legends and Oscar-winning musicians Alan Menken and Richard Sherman, as moderated by D23’s Jeffrey Epstein. Both Menken and Sherman will be performing “The Disney Songbook,” a monumental concert event at D23 Expo this weekend. The two men have never played to Disney audiences together, making this as a must-see occasion.
Here are my conversations with the extraordinary musical talents.
Which of your more obscure (Disney) songs are you proudest of and why?
Menken: “Good question. I’m very proud of “˜Will The Sun Ever Shine Again?’ That was a song that was written very close to the 9/11 event”¦ and we were all, especially in New York, in a real state of trauma. That was a song that very much captured our emotion, and the emotions of everyone at the studio, where we wrote it. We all kind of associated that (the song) unfortunately in a film (Home on the Range) that didn’t do all that well.”
Menken also named two other favorite obscure pieces.
“I love “˜The Gospel Truth,’ the song that opened up Hercules. I thought that song was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed producing that and writing that.”
“”˜If I Never Knew You’ from Pocahontas. We lost it the first time around. We got it back when it was re-released, and I think it’s a very emotional song, one that I’m very proud of.”
“I guess those would be three examples of somewhat obscure songs.”
Later in the call I asked Sherman the identical question.
Sherman: “Oh, that’s a good question. Obscure, let’s see. Well, we’re both (Menken and he) going to be doing that in the course of this third section of this (concert). We’re both going to be talking about our personal song that we’re very deeply involved in, very proud of, or sentimentally attached to. Basically, I know that I’m not going to get anything out of the bag, but I’m going to sing something that is obscure. It’s not thought of as one of my big hits, but I personally have a great deal of attachment to it, and Alan’s going to do one that he also feels very strongly attached to that’s not well known.”
Additionally I asked Sherman about the difficult development process behind writing music.
Which of your songs do you feel was the most challenging to develop and why?
Sherman: “Every time there’s a blank page, it’s a challenge. It’s always a mess and a challenge. You’re going crazy. “˜How am I going to say it and what’s the best way to say it and everything?’ I think we were trying to top a song that we had done in Poppins“¦ and we were told this song was not going to work in there. “˜We want something with a little more pep in it’ and (were told to) say the same thing, but say it in a very up way, as opposed to this ballad we had written. We were trying to come up with a slogan, sort of a saying”¦ like a “˜stitch in time saves nine’ or “˜an apple a day keeps the doctor away,’ that kind of a little slogan that Mary Poppins could sing that would give the children the idea that (through) having a happy attitude a hard job becomes easy, or easier at least.”
Sherman continued to share this thoroughly-heartwarming story.
“My brother’s son Jeff came home from school one day and said he had had the Salk vaccine. And Bob (Sherman) said, “˜Did it hurt?’ And the little guy says, “˜No, they put the medicine on a cube of sugar, and then we took it like candy. It was easy.’ And Bob came in the next day and he had a great title. He said, “˜I got a title for us: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.’ I said, “˜Oh my god. That’s terrible.’ “˜No, wait, no, it’s wonderful,’ (Robert Sherman replied). We were trying for weeks to come up with (something) to top this ballad we had written, with a bright song that said the same thing. Finally it would all gel and became a really big smash hit for us, and that was “˜Spoonful of Sugar.’ Yeah, that was a tough one.”
Thanks to Menken and Sherman in talking with the press, including me, during this incredible opportunity.
I’m ready to share with you all the amazing news and events that come out of this exciting weekend at D23 Expo.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for breaking news, live from D23 Expo, as well as Disney insight. Check out even more Disney In Depth on Geeks of Doom during the “8 Days of Disney In Depth,” with eight consecutive days of fresh Disney content. It all begins today with this column, continuing through Thursday, August 15. D23 Expo breaking news, event recaps and reviews of Disney films on Blu-ray will mark the “8 Days of Disney In Depth.”