Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grim Grinning Ghosts 2007: A Re-Haunting of the Vocals

Welcome, Foolish Mortals,

   Today, we are going to take a look at something that I have constantly touched upon here on the blog and my other postings on the web, but have never actually dedicated an entire post too. I think by finally doing this, I might bring more attention to the issue at hand; the re-recorded vocals of "Grim Grinning Ghosts" that have been in use exclusively at Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion since the 2007 Re-Haunting took place.

   From June 6th to September 13th, 2007, the Haunted Mansion went under a much needed refurbishment; you can read a very in-depth report of the full make-over at Jim Hill media. Audio enhancements played a big role in the refurbishment, and are part of what make the ride what it is now. Nothing was left untouched; everything got crisper, cleaner, sounding better than ever before. The stretching room received it's now infamous three dimensional sound system allowing the Ghost Host's disembodied narration to float around the room, the walls to creak and moan, and the gargoyle candelabra to whisper playful warnings upon completion of a revisited Thunder clap and body drop sequence with the whoosh of Bats fluttering down from the rafters. The corridor of doors received a new three dimensional sound system as well, allowing the moans and screams of unseen spooks to literally fly down the length of the corridor. While the music was left predominantly untouched, almost all of the sound effects were revisited, some being altered from their original state while others got entirely rerecorded to bring the sound out of the scratchy 1970's and into the new digital millennium. And in the graveyard, some of the ghosts found new voices too. Bellow, you can listen to a full loop of Grim Grinning Ghosts as it sounds as of the 2007 refurbishment at the Magic Kingdom:

   Only recently did I obtain a revised and updated copy of The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, where, for the first time, I located an official acknowledgement of the new vocals:

"The graveyard scene has been taken to new heights with all new audio tracks."

   And while the statement doesn't provide much detail, it almost undoubtedly confirms that it was a stylistic change made by the Imagineers. While I can't confirm it, I would not be surprised to find out that only two or three, if not four vocalist were used in the new performances. In particular, the new Duke's voice is just similar enough to the new Tenor and Executioner and I would be willing to bet they were all preformed by one guy. The new vocals when heard together as you exit the attic unify the entire sound of the scene. They all combine together and line up perfectly, word-for-word, something the originals never did; creating a chorus style effect that the originals never did have. Every ghost was doing their own thing in 1969. The ghosts of 2007 are out to shriek and harmonize together as a group, pardon the pun. Let's look at each ghost group that got new voices and spot out what's different from the 1969 vocals.

The British Couple
    The first group of true "ghosts" who sing are commonly referred to as Duke and Duchess by many fans of the attraction. They're the ones seen hovering at the picnic table, toasting with martini glasses while bobbing up and down in the air to the left of the ride path. I have it on good authority that official documents refer to them as simply "Man and Woman at Card Table" which is far to basic for me to use so I'll just be referring to them as the British Couple from now on. As it turns out, netheir of these ghosts are royalty. (There is a Duchess in the attraction however, but it's the lady in the swing according to official documents. No Duke to be heard of though)

   The original vocals, preformed by Betty Wand and Bill Lee should be pretty familiar to even some not-so-Mansion-savvy Disney Park fans; their "loop" of the song was isolated in many of the "official" park soundtrack completions, following the singing busts, and preceding the final of three loops which included every ghost but them. Take a listen to a sample of the new 2007 British Couple:

   The new male vocalist is a shoe-in for Bill Lee's performance, but with more harmony in his voice. The new female vocal however sounds vastly different from Wand's; now sounding young and enthusiastic, singing the song in a Broadway Pop style. Instead of Wand's "Oh Yes, they do!" at the end, the new vocalist ends her version of the screaming song with a literal "Scream! Or Sugar..." in a reference to the tea they are drinking... hold on a second... They're drinking wine! Someone must have missed that detail. Perhaps it's a shout out to the other ghosts sharing the vignette with the couple...

The Hearse Quartet
   On to the next group of singers; the four ghosts positioned around the hearse to the right of the British Couple. The group includes the Coachman, another British Woman sitting on the hearse, the midget in the coffin, and the Mariner seated on a tombstone to the far right. Originally at the three Mansions, this group, minus the Mariner, would sing the "monotone" chorus vocals in hushed, zombie-like voices, while the Mariner would preform a harmonic "La-La" accompany. The original vocals were preformed by Betty Wand, Ernie Newton, Bill Days, and Allan Davies*. The Disneyland version discontinued the La-La singing* quite a while back. Walt Disney World's La-La singer was used all the way up through June 2007.  Tokyo is still using the La-La singer (loudly I might add) and the Walt Disney World ghosts are singing a completely different performance as of the 2007 refurbishment. No longer monotone, this lively quartet really adds to the sound of the song with a counterpoint melody. Take a listen to a sample of the new hearse ghosts:

   The new chorus carries out the British sound of the full tea party vignette, and acts as both a back-up and counterpoint to the lead of the British Couple at the picnic table. Additionally, the new track includes a moan and giggle in the middle section between verses that was previously silent, adding a little more life to the party.

The Opera Duet, Prisoner & Executioner
   The next of the new voices belong the ghosts up the hill-side on the right; the "Opera & Headsman" scene is another complete re-recording. We look at this scene from right to left, as we pass it; so that means we start off with the opera duet. Originally voiced by Loulie Jean Norman and Bill Reeve, the duo had been using a single, mono-tracked mix of the two singers belting out an insane vocal performance since the attraction opened. The original 1969 Opera Vocals were preformed in a hokey nature as though the duo were nut-cases under the instruction of Buddy Baker. It took a number of takes before Baker got just what he wanted, according to Persistence of Vision Issue 9. However the mixing of the two harmonizing in 1969 makes hearing Bill Reeve's solo hard to do as it's almost buried entirely under Norman's belting soprano on the finished track.

   The final group of ghosts in the graveyard is a trio consisting of the headless Knight, the Executioner, and the Prisoner also known as Gus the hitchhiking ghost. Originally, Ernie Newton provided a solo rendition of the entire song for the Knight in a thick German accent, while Bill Days and Candy Candido provided a duet for the Executioner and Prisoner. Candy's infamous growl came from the short Prisoner while Bill Day's Mickey Mouse-like falsetto came from the huge and hulking Executioner, providing a visual gag of sorts for anyone who caught their mouths moving in sync with the tracks opposite of which one would expect to hear from said character.

Listen to a sample of the new Opera duet, Prisoner and Executioner:

   The new Opera performances are not as hokey as the originals, providing more harmony with the rest of the graveyard singers instead of doing their own thing like Norman and Reeve's solos. It's also much easier to make out both performances now, with the soprano and tenor tracks complimenting one another.

   For some reason, (I've been told it was merely an oversight) the Knight was not given a new track, or a speaker for that matter and now he's realistically mute, separated from his vocal cords. However the Prisoner and Executioner received new voices while retaining the visual gag of "short man, deep voice; big man, high voice." The Prisoner's new off-key, guttural growl is even deeper then Candido's performance; much warmer and less rough. The "Mickey Mouse" sound that Bill Day's original performance is even stronger in the new Executioner track. In a slight vocal variation, the Executioner sings "They begin to terrorize" instead of "They pretend to terrorize." Both the Prisoner and Executioner let out a ghostly moan in their respective register in the mid-song instrumental break, where as only the Executioner used to in the original track.

   It's unfortunate that only these clips exist online. Personally, I find the new performances far superior to the old ones. Perhaps in the future an official release of the new performances will materialize on the newest park album. We'll just have to wait and see...

I'll see you all a little later...



  1. I noticed the Executioner also sings "or a scary spook may sit by your side" rather than "silly spook."

    Did you get any good recordings of the new HHG sound effects? I know Kurt von Schmittou did the vocals for them.

  2. The British lady is saying "scream or sugar?" like when someone asks you if you want "cream or sugar?" for your tea.

    Maybe when they were recording the new vocal, they were under the impression that the British lady is the one sitting on the hearse.

  3. I can't stand the new Duchess's voice, personally- way too modern for my tastes (since the overall aesthetic of the Mansion is rooted in the 60s, the graveyard especially, having the voices from that time period just makes the ride work better).

  4. The claim that there's "a special type of speaker that when adjusted properly would reduce the natural reverb heard on the track due to the size of the room the graveyard scene is in." doesn't seem plausible, speaking from an audio production standpoint. Why waste money ordering speakers when you can just leave the track completely dry and achieve the same effect of reduced reverb? Also, the claim that they've since been discontinued doesn't seem likely. Why would Imagineering opt to install something that would be discontinued? What if the voice coil fried or the foam surround rotted? Either is likely considering how much usage they get, and that they're located in the extremely humid Florida environment.