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This was written for the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. Walt Disney was in charge of the "Children Of The World" pavilion, which after the fair became the "It's A Small World" attraction at Disneyland. He asked Richard and Robert Sherman to write a song for the attraction. The brothers tell the story of when Walt Disney gave them the assignment: "Walt showed us a mock up of the exhibit. All these audio-animatronic children sang their own national anthems. It was a cacophony. Walt said, "I want you to write me ONE song. Write me a 'roundelay.'" We said, "You mean a 'round'. And he said, 'Yeah. A roundelay' - and so that's how 'It's A Small World' was born."
The "It's A Small World" attraction quickly became very popular at Disneyland. The ride is now featured at every Magic Kingdom: Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Euro Disney. The song plays continuously during the ride.
This might be the greatest Earworm of all-time; the song you just can't get out of your head. Robert Sherman Jr. told us why:
"Like many songs, It's A Small World has a verse and a chorus. One thing which makes this song particularly 'catchy' is that the verse and chorus work in counterpoint to each other. This means that you can play the same chords over and over again, but with different melodies. The repetitive, yet varied pattern tricks your mind into absorbing the work without it becoming tiresome to your ear. (There are many who would disagree with this, however! :)) To visualize the idea of "counterpoint," imagine laying the chords of the chorus on top of the chords of the verse. Measure for measure, the chords would be the same. If the chords are the same, then the melodies of the respective sections (i.e. chorus and verse) will have the capacity to harmonize and countersync with each other. In the case of It's A Small World, the rhythms are sufficiently different between the verse (mostly eighth and quarter notes) and the chorus (lots of half notes), which makes their eventual, counterpuntal juxtaposition that much more interesting to the ear. The Sherman Brothers have written numerous 'counterpuntal' songs including Doll On A Music Box/Truly Scrumptious from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the three part counterpoint title song from 1973's Tom Sawyer heard at the beginning of that film. In each case, the musical lines act as a metaphor for what that person's particular perspective is. The Sherman Brothers like to use counterpoint to present opposing perspectives, their contrasts and their eventual synthesis."
This is the most performed and translated song of all time. While this is a difficult claim to justify ("Yesterday
" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
" come to mind), here is the case Sherman makes:
"I'm certain that there are a number of ring tones which, now logged much like any other form of song, would probably surpass You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' and Yesterday too. In dealing strictly with radio play, Yesterday may in fact be able to make a claim here, but we're not talking about radio play only. The thing to remember is that It's A Small World is not a radio song and the 'Most performed or translated' assertion does not necessarily apply to radio performances or internet downloads for that matter. I believe that the 'Most performed and translated' statement is more of a global statement. It is not limited to one venue or another (i.e. ringtones or radio plays). For example, neither Yesterday nor Lovin' Feeling are featured on an amusement park ride which plays non-stop, 16 hours a day on an endless loop in four (soon to be five) locations worldwide. I can tell you that the 'Most Performed' assertion is well known in licensing and merchandising circles, but it's probably more of an obvious assumption based on the number of plays which It's A Small World gets on the four theme park rides, all day long, every day. I think the first time I heard this claim made was by Disney CEO Michael Eisner at the Hollywood bowl back in 1985. I guess I defend the statement by saying that not all music statistics can be established using conventional means. Since 1983, there has not been a moment when "It's A Small World" wasn't playing in at least two locations on the globe. Who else can claim that? As far as its having been translated into more languages than "Yesterday" or "Lovin' Feeling," I think that becomes self-evident to anyone who's ridden the ride as well. Most performed, yes, obviously. Most translated, yes to that as well."
This song was used in the 1994 Disney movie The Lion King when Zazu the bird is singing to Scar. (thanks, Matt - Canton, NC)
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