There are a lot of things to enjoy when visiting Disney theme parks. The rides, of course, are first and foremost, and you can rarely go wrong when trying a brand new culinary creation. But as with so many things, the sights of Disneyland or Walt Disney World would not be nearly as special were it not for the sounds that go with them.
While much has been said about the great music that comes from Disney movies, and a lot of that music is key to rides at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, to be sure, we don’t talk enough about the great music that was written specifically for the parks themselves. Some of the greatest songwriters and composers ever have written pieces of music you'll only hear if you visit a Disney park. From the Sherman Brothers to Michael Giacchino to Jerry Goldsmith, there are Oscar nominees who have written for the parks and even Grammy-winning music found there.
There's one important caveat to this list of great music: in addition to only including songs written specifically for the attractions, I'm only including songs that can be heard at Walt Disney World or Disneyland currently. No songs that have been taken out of the parks are being considered. Of course, there's a lot of great music in that category as well (makes note for future list).
Sometimes music can make a key difference in an attraction, and that’s certainly the case with Space Mountain. Despite the name being the same, the two rides at Disneyland and Walt Disney World are quite different, and one of the key ways that Disneyland sets itself above the Disney World version is the music. Disneyland’s Space Mountain has an on-board soundtrack that is synced to the ride, and the music was written by the great Michael Giacchino. Disney World has a great roller coaster, but Disneyland makes you feel like you’re flying through space thanks to this great music.
Whether you’re at Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, Soarin' is a ride that can’t be missed. While it all seems quite simple in its structure, a simulation of flying above various environments by putting you in front of a massive screen, it’s the little details that ultimately elevate Soarin' Around the World, previously Soarin' Over California. And one of those details is a fantastic piece of music by the great Jerry Goldsmith. If you’ve ever been on Soarin', then simply hearing the opening bars of the music will send you right back. Images of the Great Wall of China and the pyramids will fill your mind. You’ll be able to smell the orange groves just like you could while you’re on the ride.
Grim Grinning Ghosts
A haunted house attraction of some sort was planned for Disneyland from the very beginning, but it took years for it to finally be constructed. Part of the reason that it took so long was that Imagineers weren’t sure whether to make the Haunted Mansion attraction legitimately scary, or more light-hearted, with even Walt himself going back and forth. In one way, it’s a good thing that the lighter option was chosen, as we likely wouldn’t have the song "Grim Grinning Ghosts" otherwise. In what might be the most well-known theme park ride music of all time, Grim Grinning Ghosts is equal parts fun and spooky.
There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow
If there’s a single song that encapsulates the feeling of what the name Disney means, it’s the Carousel of Progress’ "It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." It’s endlessly optimistic and forward-thinking. While occasionally the future seems dark and scary, you can’t help but believe that the future will bring more solutions than problems when you hear this one. The song was missing from the attraction for a long time due to the fact that the attraction’s sponsor, GE, didn’t want people to wait until tomorrow to buy new appliances. The Sherman Brothers wrote up a replacement, and while "The Best Time of Your Life," is not a bad song in its own right, is nowhere near as good as this one.
Yo-Ho (A Pirates Life For Me)
It's entirely possible that if you didn't know the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, your first exposure to "Yo-Ho (A Pirate's Life For Me)" actually was in the first Pirates movie, but the song was written for the Disneyland ride first. While many aspects of the movie franchise have since invaded and taken over the ride, this song will always be part of a theme park ride first. "Like Grim Grinning Ghosts," it's a song with incredibly creative and fun lyrics (both songs were written by the same man Imagineer X. Atencio) that often reveals something new and fun every time you hear it.
It’s a Small World
Bring it on, haters. "It’s a Small World" is the song that everybody loves to hate on, but have you ever actually stopped to actually listen to the words? "It’s a Small World" is a mantra, an anthem. It’s a song about global togetherness, that while we can celebrate that which makes us different, we must also embrace that which makes us all the same. It’s a beautiful message and one that we should never forget. The simple fact is, if the song was actually that bad, it wouldn't get stuck in your head the way it does.
With Disneyland and Walt Disney World being so inaccessible for so many of us, we're missing the rides and the food that we love. If there's a saving grace, it's that much of the music from the theme parks has been released over the years. So if you own an album or if you just have access to streaming services, you can hear these great pieces of music right now and at least vicariously feel like you're back in the happiest place on Earth.
What's your favorite piece of music from the Disney Parks? One of these, or something else entirely. Let us know in the comments.
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CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.