Today’s selection is a great example of a song that isn’t terribly well known, yet – on the strength of it’s greatness – still managed to get around quite a lot.
Bruce Johnston is a really interesting, sort of second-level/background musician (not a commentary on the quality of his music, but rather his level of reknown).
He got started on the surf music scene in the early 60s, as part of the duo Bruce and Terry (with Terry Melcher), recording one of the really interesting instrumental albums of the early 60s (1963’s ‘Surfin’ Round the World’), joining the Beach Boys and remaining with them to this day, and eventually writing ‘I Write the Songs’ for Barry Manilow.
‘Disney Girls’ (originally ‘Disney Girls (1957)’ ) was first recorded by the Beach Boys on the ‘Surf’s Up’ album in 1971, with a fuller arrangement and lots of classic Beach Boys harmonies.
The song went on to be covered by Cass Elliot (in a version with both Johnston and Carl Wilson on backing vocals), Art Garfunkel, Shy, the Captain and Tennille and even Doris Day (who happens to be the mother of Johnston’s old partner Terry Melcher).
Johnston released his solo version in 1977 on the b-side of an absolutely execrable disco remake of the Chantays ‘Pipeline’ which really encapsulates everything that was bad about lazy disco cash-in records.
That said, Johnston’s version of ‘Disney Girls’ (which appeared on his 1977 ‘Going Public’ LP, produced by Gary Usher) is every bit as a sublime and lovely as ‘Pipeline’ is offensive.
Delivered by Johnston, with only his piano (and occasionally background singers, of which Curt Boettcher was one) for backing, ‘Disney Girls’ reveals itself as a wonder of stunning, sometimes surprising chord changes. The lyrics are a genuinely sweet ode to nostalgia, sounding like an older person wrapping themselves in the warmth of their memories.
I think of all the versions I’ve heard, Johnston’s solo is still my favorite.
I hope you dig it, and I’ll see you next week.