Amen to Zombie: January 22nd, 2010

The Haunted Mansion
In a world where experimental electronic music exponentially splinters into a multitude of rogue genres that slowly shuffle the globe from demilitarized dance floors to sleeper cell bedroom studios and back, a team of disparate scientists tracks this solanum-like pandemic while desperately trying to interpret cryptic field recordings of Samhain’s past, not one day at a time, but from Amen to Zombie
This time around we’re going to dip into the vast back catalog of Disneyland Records.  Normally I would have nothing to do with the Disney Corp. as I find what they’ve done since the beginning to be repulsive.  But this is not a blog about bashing Disney or the way the company has managed to exploit copyright law and co-opt public domain.  No sir!  This is going to be about how I wish I was a young lad working at the fringes of music in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s at Disney.  Sure there were a lot of theme songs and bear necessities flying around, but beyond that Fox and the Hound picture disc you still have, what records would you really like to have out of the Disney back catalog?
I’ll tell you: you’d want mint copies of all of their Halloween sound effect and ghost story long-playing records.  As far as the new media is concerned (CD, tapes, et al) it’s a wasteland or the wild west full of boutique production houses, but if you’re looking for Halloween related records?  Disney is what you’ll find.  And they are the benchmark for quality.  Just imagine if that crappy CD you have with cheezy synths and canned screams could have had the financial backing of Disney and been produced in a then state-of-the-art recording studio.  It sure as hell wouldn’t be $2.99 in the bargain bin at the gas station either.
You can find these records just about anywhere a record can be found, as long as it’s used.  Mind you there might only be one copy hiding in the sleeve of No Jacket Required, but I’ve found these records at just about every used/vintage/Goodwill record shop I’ve been too.  I could go on about how I love these records, but it’s time for some pudding.  This time around we have:
The Haunted Mansion
This one was picked up a local Cleveland area record fair.  Not in the best condition but still playable.  The sleeve looks like it’s been steamed and then left in a basement for a good 10 years, but get this, you can still open it and read the super sweet book of spooky illustrations.  Illustrations by the talented Collin Campbell.  I’m a big fan of Halloween art as well.  Not anything as terrifyingly beautiful as Bosch, but that cheap kitsch you buy every year to hang up in the windows.  There’s a perfect synergy of the supernatural subject matter and the need to crank out 5,000 copies of the print, so that the corners of the artworks are especially interesting to me.  There remains some sense of the familiar, even familiar Halloween motifs.  Graveyards, haunted grand halls that are within the pantheon of what you’d expect to see from an eleven page story book. (By the way, the pages are numbered, just in case you need to produce a reference for a scientific paper or dog ear a page so that you can pick up this tome later.)  But the edges of the page, that haunted house that is now in the background of the graveyard as we’ve advanced to in our story, that the artist needs to put in for reasons of continuity and also just to put something in the background of the page aside from ghostly fog, there is where I find strange beauty.  Stairways mysteriously end in these pictures, for reasons completely unrelated to a spooky story involving stairways to nowhere or trap doors.  A skeleton bricks himself up in a vertical tomb that doubles as a column in the wall of a grave yard where hobo ghosts play in a bluegrass band.  Due to the time, budget, and exposure that these projects have there is little incentive to come correct on all the logic with in the artwork.  It looks crappy from one perspective, but I’m from Pittsburgh where there’s a dissolved line of high and low art.  Moving forward, let’s talk about the cast of voice actors involved.  Normally you’d get one asshole doing several if not all of the characters in a Halloween ghost story recording, with maybe a few dumb kids chiming in.  See the “Uncle Guts” A to Z post for an example.  But on this record we’ve got a proper cast, check it out:
The Narrator – Thurl Ravenscroft – AKA Tony tha-mutha-fukin-Tiger!  Also sings the songs on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. If you don’t know the name, you mos def know the voice.  Legendary voice actor.
The Ghost Host – Pete Renoudet – Another well know voice actor.  Did some stuff you might know.  He was Master Blaster on Kidd Video, a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon in the 80’s.  Did some stuff for video games. Ex: Viewtiful Joe II, Dead Rising, Ninja Gaiden II.  Oh, yea he was also Splinter from the original TMNT series!  BOOM!  He’s also voiced President Abe Lincoln more than once.
Mike – Ron Howard – Yep, that Ron Howard.  Happy Days star, director, and all around ginger balls.  Here he plays the teenager, Mike, who’s taking a girl home from a dance to a haunted house.  Guess what, he doesn’t try to get laid in the crypt like every other warm blooded teenager would.
Karen – Robie Lester – Some more big talent her.  Miss Jessica, the red-headed stop-motion character from Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the classic Rankin/Bass production.  The one you had naughty thoughts about when you were 8.  That was Mrs. Lester.  “When Tinkerbell rings her little bells, turn the page” from just about every Disney story book, ever.  That was Mrs. Lester.
Madame Leota – Eleanor Audley – A very small part is credited to a voice/actress that has credits on the legendary Escape! and Suspense radio programs from the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Composer – Buddy Baker – Special shout out to BB here.  He’s credited as the composer of the album, but what’s more likely is that he masterminded all the BGM and is largely credited here due the fact that the theme from The Haunted Mansion is reprised very shortly on the recording. He is the composer of that tune.  Of course the man had help, but I certainly want to do a bit more research on this guy.  He could be the one responsible for a lot of the other Disneyland Halloween records that I love.  My reasoning?  He’s also the guy who scored Donald in Mathmagic Land and The Fox and the Hound.  Which is awesome.
As for the actually content of the record.  I’m sad to say that the whole is not served by it’s stellar parts.  It’s a fairly typical safe story.  Two teenagers go home from a school dance, get lost, find their way to a haunted mansion, get lost again, see some benign ghosts, talk to a disembodied fortune teller, get lost in the graveyard, see some more ghosts, then go home.  Mike and Karen blab on in that annoying way that most 50’s sci-fi movies are scripted.  Describing everything in the most idiotic way.  “Oh no Mike!  Here comes a floating vase.”  “Wow Karen, I wonder how it’s floating in the air like that.”  If you could auditorily punch two people at the same time, it would have been done to these two turkeys.
The good stuff is The Narrator and The Ghost Host.  It’s a true treat to listen to Thurl describe some of the scenes and spooky effects going on in the mansion and in the graveyard.  The Ghost Host is money.  Basically the narrator for Mike and Karen as they navigate through the mansion.  Keep in mind that this record very closely mimics the experience of going on the dumb ride at The Magic Kingdom, and I think is meant to be a companion piece to the ride, so The Ghost Host is sort of what you’d get if you were on the ride.  Thurl is just there to provide setting and time line for the most part, the Bill Hillgrove if you will.  With The Ghost Host going way off the page Myron Cope style.  The Ghost Host has this crazy stereo panning effect on his voice and says things like “He took the cowards way out!” referring to a corpse swinging from a tree and goes of on a three minute diatribe about how your mind is being torn apart by the baffling logic on The Haunted Mansion.
So while I do enjoy most of the Disneyland Records Halloween stuff, this one’s a bit lukewarm.  Aside from something snarky to give to Ginger Balls if you ever meet him, I’d seek a copy out for the cool illustration book and the record if you’re building a collection.  The recording is a bit on the short side also, maybe 20 minutes. But then if you would want to sample it for some recording you’re working on that’s a good thing.  The recording is hi-fi and the relatively short time gives you more grooves on the record per second of recording, which means a better sound.
Goodnight out there, whatever you are.