|By Chris Lyndon|
In 1957, Disneyland Records produced a fantastic album featuring the Mellomen Quartet singing a dozen barbershop ballads inspired by Disneyland's Main Street USA. This group also provided many vocal performances for both Walt Disney's animated and live-action films, television shows and theme park attractions throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The bass singer with the group was none other than Disney Legend and voice-over icon, Thurl Ravenscroft. Learn the rich history of Walt Disney and the Mellomen Quartet and hear the nostalgic and soothing album "Meet Me Down on Main Street" in today's new article...
The Mellomen were a four-part harmony singing quartet that was originally formed in 1947. The founding members of the group were Thurl Ravenscroft as bass, Bill Lee as baritone, Bob Hamilton as the lead tenor, and Max Smith as the second tenor. In addition to recording many barbershop singles on their own, they also performed back up vocals on many popular albums throughout the 1950's and 1960's for such artists as Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Dorris Day, Frankie Lane, Jo Stafford, and even the King himself, Elvis Presley. They became known all over Hollywood as the "Go-To" quartet any time a strong performance was needed, and this reputation did not evade Walt Disney in the slightest.
Their first Disney project came in 1951, when they performed in "Alice in Wonderland" as playing cards who were... "Painting the Roses Red." The following year they were a quartet of singing spirits in the Donald Duck classic Halloween short "Trick or Treat." Next came "Peter Pan" in 1953, where they performed as singing Pirates, and in 1954 they performed the narrative vocals in the special Disney short-subject, "Pigs Is Pigs." But perhaps their best known performance for Disney during this period came in 1955, when they became the singing dog pound quartet in "Lady in the Tramp." Their hilarious recording session for this film was even shown on Walt Disney's weekly prime-time TV series in a 1955 episode called "Cavalcade of Songs" that you can see below beginning at the 11:30 mark...
Two years later, Disneyland Records enlisted the Mellomen to record a special album dedicated to Main Street USA in Walt Disney's new Disneyland park. "Meet Me Down on Main Street" became one of their best selling albums of all time. The album consisted of an original Disney song, followed by several other traditional barbershop ballads from the late 1800's and early 1900's.
The one original song, which was also the title song of the album, was originally written in 1950 for a Donald Duck cartoon called "Crazy Over Daisy." The song was later recycled, without lyrics, for a 1956 theatrical short produced by Walt Disney called, "Disneyland USA," and was used again for a Disneyland Record called "Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland." Then in 1957 new lyrics were added and the Mellomen performed their definitive rendition of this now classic Disney standard.
The liner notes for this album read as follows:
"Turn the calendar back 50 years and imagine you are on a typical "main street" of an American town.
While horse-drawn trolleys, "horseless carriages" and surreys travel up and down the "heartline of America" stores and shops conduct their daily business in the leisurely manner of old, and the daily life of a complete turn-of-the-century town goes on all around you.
Nowhere else in the world but at Disneyland can you spin the calendar rapidly backwards and actually experience the feeling and life of 1900 America.
To greet visitors at Disneyland, Walt Disney chose the nostalgic memories of small-town life of that day - and in typical Disney fashion he created a complete authentic town,
You enter Main Street through Town Square, where band concerts take place several times daily around the flag pole, and a city hall, police and fire station, bank and opera house, a newspaper office and reality company, and even an operating train station greet your eyes.
In Town Square also, horse-drawn trolleys, surreys, fire wagons, a double-deck Omnibus and "horseless carriages" are boarded by passengers for a trip down Main Street to the center of Disneyland, the Plaza.
Main Street proper is composed of shops and stores. Each is open for business, displaying everything imaginable, including souvenirs of the visitor's trip to Disneyland and Disney character merchandise.
There's also a market house, where discussions are still carried on around a pot bellied stove of grandfather's day. And there's an apothecary, forerunner of the modern-day drug store.
Main Street is also the location of old-time ice cream parlors, coffee houses, bakeries and candy shops. The visitor will also find a music store with its player piano and artists forming beautiful objects from glass, or silhouette likenesses of youthful and adult subjects.
You'll want to look closely at all of Main Street, for there are many antique items which long ago passed from the American scene but have found a new home at Disneyland.
This album presents the music and songs made popular, during that colorful era, on Main Street, U.S.A."
The connection between the Mellomen and Disney continued on throughout the late 1950's. They sang the title song to the TV series "Zorro" in 1957, and that same year could be heard in the title song to the theatrical feature "Old Yeller." In 1958 they provided vocals for the short-subject "Paul Bunyan," with Thurl Ravenscroft performing as Paul himself. Then in 1959 they lent their talents to the stop-motion animated short "Noah's Ark."
In the 1960's the Mellomen performed music for many of Walt Disney's prime-time NBC episodes on "The Wonderful World of Color" including performing the theme song for the serials "Gallagher" and "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh." In 1967 they became a herd of elephants, performing "Colonel Hathi's March" in The Jungle Book.
Today, perhaps they are best known by Disney park fans as the voices behind the singing busts in the graveyard segment of the classic Haunted Mansion attraction in Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. This performance of the song "Grim Grinning Ghosts" is always playing at a Disney park, somewhere on earth, 24 hours a day, and is viewed by millions upon millions of visitors every year.
And now, Disney Avenue is pleased to bring you the classic, 1957 Disneyland record, "Meet Meet Down on Main Street" in collaboration with yours truly, Chris Lyndon of DisneyChris.com. I have restored this album to crystal clarity and I hope you will enjoy hearing it like you have never experienced it before. Enjoy...
Listen to this soothing and nostalgic album whenever the mood strikes. Simply click on the Disney Avenue Music Player's playlist button at the top, right-hand side of the page and scroll down to track number 194. Please keep in mind that the music player and playlist button are only accessible from a desktop computer.
Chris Lyndon grew up in Southern California, near Disneyland. He formed a lifelong fascination with all things Disney from a very early age, especially Disney music, and has studied the history of the Walt Disney organization for decades. His very first summer job was at Disneyland at age 16, and he also worked at the Florida parks during his college years, as part of the Walt Disney World College Internship Program. His lifelong passion for Disney music has evolved into his website, DisneyChris.com. All manner of Disney music can be enjoyed there including the Disney Song of the Day, but the main focus is audio from the original Disneyland theme park in a collection he calls the "Disneyland Magical Audio Tour," with over 1200 audio tracks, full color imagery and historical information for every track posted. Chris also provided archival Disneyland audio for the September 2015 PBS Walt Disney American Experience documentary. In 2014 he joined the Sideshow Sound Theatre podcast group as a co-host on the MouseMusic podcast, and in December 2015 he began his own weekly podcast covering all things Disney, called Jiminy Crickets! He is now also co-host of Magical Day Radio program, where he interviews notable people within the Disney community.
You can find all of Chris's articles here.
You can find all of Chris's articles here.