Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Story Behind Disneyland's Original Main Entrance Music Loop

By Chris Lyndon

Background music in the Disney Parks is an important subliminal way to help transport guests into a different time and place. Join us in today's new article as Disney Avenue contributing writer Chris Lyndon, through his extensive digging and research, explains the story behind Disneyland's Original Main Entrance Music Loop...

(Editor's Note: If you are on the desktop version of this website, we suggest clicking on the playlist button located at the top, right-hand corner of the page and selecting track number 203 titled, "Disneyland Main Gate Original Area Music" from the Disney Avenue Music Player while you learn the story behind Disneyland's Original Main Entrance Music Loop.)

Today we are going to learn a little about a subject in which there is very little information out there. While adding content to my personal website, DisneyChris.com, I have learned quite a bit about Disney Park music through extensive research and fact finding. This music is often referred to as a "loop" because originally this music was played from dual reels of magnetic audio tape that both contained about an hour of the same music, and once one reel of tape ended, the corresponding reel would begin to play immediately, as the other reel would rewind and queue up to play again as soon as the other tape reel ended; rinse and repeat. Today, some of this music is still played from tape in some of the older sections of the Parks, but over time the old mechanical systems have been replaced with digital audio.

As early as opening day in 1955, Disneyland actually did have music loops. But these early loops were very short and were only heard in very specific locations, and usually from only one loud speaker. These loops were usually 1-3 minutes long and consisted mainly of announcements and not music. In the early days of ticket books, several recorded barker announcements were used near the entrances to selected attractions in order to entice guests to redeem a ticket, offering a description of the attraction and the specific ticket needed in order to ride. Also, a few attractions, such as Autopia, had repeating boarding and safety instructions that guests would hear as they waited in line. The main gate also had a loop located at each ticket booth, describing the admission details.

There were a few short music loops as well. One of these, that remains in Disneyland to this day, is the original soundtrack version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" heard as you pass through Sleeping Beauty Castle. This one song repeated over and over all day long, and still does. This loop was meant to set the mood as guests entered Fantasyland, and in the early days, both the Frontierland and Adventureland entry portals had a very similar loop used to set the mood for entering those lands. Frontierland had a old time banjo song that repeated over and over, and Adventureland had sounds of jungle animals and native warrior drums. Oddly, Tomorrowland had no such loop.

All of the music heard in the park in the 50's and 60's was provided by live musicians. There were bandstands located literally around every corner of Disneyland. No hour long prerecorded loops could be heard within an entire large area like you hear today. Several attraction queue areas did have music loops, but again these were on average about three minutes long, located within such E Ticket attractions as It's a Small World, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Little by little, in the late 60's Disney finally began to add some area music to specific areas of the park. One of the first areas to do this was Main Street USA. However, the music was oddly not themed to the specific time period of Main Street. It was mostly contemporary, easily listening music.

For more than two decades, Jack Wagner’s cheerful, friendly tone vocally captured the Disney spirit, making announcements at the Disney Parks, in touring ice and arena shows, and doing voice-over for television programs, commercials, and audio-visual presentations.

This all changed in the early 1970's when Disneyland hired an official announcer named Jack Wagner. Jack had been a prolific radio announcer, but he was also well versed in the inner workings of production music libraries through his work in recording advertising announcements for TV and radio. At that time, many music studios produced albums of instrumental music that could be rented out for commercial use. Jack had an exceptional knack for finding the right music for the right purpose. This was in the days before ITunes, when finding just the right song was a daunting task.

Jack Wagner's Anaheim studio

Jack was visiting Disneyland in the early days of his career with Disney and noticed that the music he heard on Main Street clashed with its turn of the century theme. He offered his services to create a special new loop of period appropriate music that would provide the proper atmosphere, and his offer was accepted. This new loop of old-time songs was a big hit with guests, and Disney execs took note. Little by little, Jack became not only the official announcer of the Disney Parks, but also became the official background music designer. The timing could not have been better for Jack with Walt Disney World currently being under construction.

WDW's 1" 14 track bin-loop audio machines, mid 1970s

When the Florida resort opened in 1971, the new Magic Kingdom was designed specifically with area music in mind, and Jack Wagner essentially designed the new loops for the entire park, single handed. Disney essentially gave him carte blanche to create these area loops in any way he saw fit, and his loops were soon being transported back to Disneyland as well.

Some of Jack Wagner's loops can still be heard in the Parks to this day, but in 1992 many of them were replaced with new music, which coincided with the opening of the new Euro Disneyland park in Paris. For the new European park, many all-new loops were created, and much of this music made its way back to the American parks. One of the most fondly remembered loops from the Wagner era was used at the main gate to Disneyland from 1971-1992 to set the tone for guests first arriving at the park. This specific loop consisted of music mixed together from several existing Disney albums, as well as a few other random albums hand selected by Wagner himself. Let's take a look...

This 1955 children's album contained unusual orchestrations including some Disney songs. For the loop, Wagner used two Disney selections and two non-Disney children's favorites:

1 - Mickey Mouse Club March
2 - Whistle While You Work
3 - Parade of Wooden Soldiers
4 - Pop Goes the Weasel

The UCLA Marching Band recorded this 1965 Disneyland Record for other selected collegiate marching bands who would be auditioning to perform in Disneyland. The album served as a demonstration for these university musicians to learn specialized Disney orchestrations primarily from the film Mary Poppins as well as a few selections from Cinderella. Wagner used the following songs from this album:

1 - Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
2 - Step in Time
3 - Cinderella Work Song
4 - A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

This 1971 Disney album released on the Buena Vista label and included music performed by the newly formed Walt Disney World marching band, based on the original Disneyland Band. The album contained upbeat musical arrangements including traditional marches, Broadway show tunes and memorable Disney standards. Wagner selected several Disney songs featured on this album:

1 - Winnie the Pooh
2 - Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
3 - We're the Mouseketeers
4 - Hip Hip Pooh-Ray!

Predating the aforementioned Disney World Band album, in 1968, the original Disneyland Band also recorded a studio album, composed by its newest musical director James Christensen. His unique style further defined the Disneyland Band's instantly recognizable sound, and many of his brilliant arrangements have remained in the band's repertoire to this day. Wagner used several Disney selections and one non-Disney song from this album:

1 - Disney Medley #1
2 - March of the Cards
3 - It's a Small World
4 - Colonel Hathi's March
5 - The Bare Necessities
6 - Disney Medley #2
7 - A Wonderful Day Like Today (not a Disney song)

This 1957 album contained instrumental orchestrations of many Academy Award winning songs, including two Disney songs. Wagner used both Disney selections found on this album:

1 - When You Wish Upon a Star
2 - Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah

Wagner selected the title song from this album, "It's a Small World."  Interestingly, this is the one and only selection in the 1971 loop that contained vocals.

This was a very odd choice for Wagner to include in a Disneyland main gate loop. Many people mistakenly associate the 1968 fantasy musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" with Disney. However, this film was not produced by Disney. Their are several reasons why people mistake this for a Disney film...

A) The music was written by famed Disney composers Richard and Robert Sherman. (This was their first film project outside the Disney Studio)
B)  The film stars Dick Van Dyke, who was also the male lead in Disney's Mary Poppins.

C) The musical fantasy and whimsical  themeing of the film is very much in line with what people associate with classic Disney films.

So it is interesting that Wagner chose to include songs from this film, only adding further to the confusion. This 1968 album contained instrumental versions of songs from the film, and was composed by Irwin Kostal. Another Disney connection, Kostal was the musical arranger for such classic Disney films as Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Wagner used three songs from this album:

1 - Me Ol' Bamboo
2 - Roses of Success
3 - Trotter's Mile

In addition to songs from albums, one song used in the loop came from the 1940 Pinocchio original soundtrack, a music box instrumental called "Little Wooden Head." Interestingly, this song did contain lyrics in the actual film, but when it was released on album the vocals were extracted. This non-vocal album version was what Wagner used.

There are also two unidentified songs from the loop. One song is an unknown circus-like instrumental, and the other is a version of Chim-Chim-Cheree. Hopefully, more information will be discovered on these mystery tracks. Stay tuned for more details as they are discovered.

And now that you know all about the history of Disney's original music loop, I'm sure that you would probably like to hear it. Below, in it's entirety and fully restored with optimal audio quality, is the 1971 Main Entrance Loop...

Of course, you can also hear this loop, and many other historical loops on my personal website, DisneyChris.com, as part of my Disneyland Magical Audio Tour. There you will find over 1200 audio tracks from the Happiest Place on Earth. Be sure to check out this magical audio adventure by clicking here.


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.


  1. Awesome post, WOW!!!! Here's a fun article from a June 1958 Magazine (Radio and TV News) that talks about the Altec sound system at Disneyland...

  2. GREAT article! I enjoyed learning so many new things. Thank you!

  3. Great article! I remember being a child hearing Me 'Ol Bamboo and, perplexed, thinking "that's not a Disney song" but enjoying it anyway. Thank you for the track and the history!