Elton John / Hans Zimmer “The Lion King Soundtrack” (1994)

     A couple of surprises with today’s album.  First, I wouldn’t have expected the soundtrack to “The Lion King” to be the best-selling album of 1994, although I shouldn’t be that shocked by that outcome.  Secondly, I was also surprised how much I enjoyed listening to this entire record, although again, it really shouldn’t be that surprising, considering my affection for this film and my appreciation for Elton John.

     Starting with the movie itself, I consider this to be my favorite Disney film of all time.  There are a lot of great ones in the mix, many with a similar tale of good vs. bad intertwined with a classic love story, but in my opinion, the majestic setting of the African terrain and the pure, unimpacted society of the animal kingdom unblemished by humans, raises this classic to the top of the list.  The music is a powerful asset in the overall delivery of the film, and the mix of Elton John songs and classical compositions by Hans Zimmer add the perfect backing to the story.

     The album opens with the five vocal songs as performed by the cast leading things off.  The album opens with the cast production of “Circle of Life”, sung by Carmen Twillie.  I have always considered this the best song from the film, and one of the best songs ever written by Elton John.  The dramatic build and melody of this song truly gives me chills, particularly this version.  The African tones of the music on this album only add to the beauty of each track.  Next we have young Simba singing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, with vocals by Jason Weaver as a Michael Jackson soundalike.  Jeremy Irons leads “Be Prepared”, the prototypical bad guy song for the antagonist in the film, the evil lion Scar. 

     The fun continues with another iconic Disney track, “Hakuna Matata”, based on a Swahili term for “no worries”.  Led by Timon and the brilliant Nathan Lane, anyone who has ever spent some amount of time in Orlando has heard this song more they can count.  The last vocal track performed by the cast is a campy version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” as Simba and Nala develop their love for one another.  Simba’s buddies Timon and Pumbaa lament the pending loss of their friend Simba to this relationship, while in the end we learn you can fall in love and have great friends too.

     Next comes several soundtrack score songs, composed by Hans Zimmer.  None is more memorable than the rest, but they all have a big, expansive, powerfully constructed sound that add to the intensity of the film. 

     The album concludes with Elton’s versions of “Circle of Life”, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”.  Elton John’s career was already at a level few could match, but the success of this film, soundtrack and resulting Broadway adaptation further elevated his legendary status.  This remains the highest selling soundtrack to an animated film ever, and “Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” rank high on his list of greatest achievements as a songwriter and performer.  He used much of his own band for the recording, including Davey Johnstone, and credit must of course be given to lyricist Tim Rice, who wrote the lyrics for these songs instead of Elton’s primary lyricist Bernie Taupin.  While reading up on this album, I learned that backing vocals were contributed by none other than Rick Astley and Kiki Dee, as Elton brought out all the big guns to deliver this masterpiece.

     Even as a middle-aged man who lives life in a world filled with pragmatism and cynicism, I still marvel at the magic of this movie and the impact on Disney on all of our lives.  I remember the ecstasy I felt every time we visited a Disney theme park as a child, and passing that feeling along while sharing the experience with my young son.  We also watched many of these classics on film and loved most of them, starting with the original, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.  I know all of my friends who are parents and former children themselves feel the same way, Disney is a remarkable entity and phenomenon in all of our lives.

     Even as we all love that Disney magic to some degree, I have to end this blog with a shout-out to my favorite Disney fanatic, my dear friend Morgan.  Whether it is riding in his car or bouncing around the golf course with his children, the Disney enthusiasm is off the charts with Morgan and his family.  They visit several times a year, and although I consider myself a fairly accomplished music fan, nobody knows and loves Disney music more than Morgan and his family.  “Hakuna Matata!”

Published by tacopepper

A music fan...

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