Monday, September 28, 2015

Disney Song #48: Gummi Bears / The Silvershers: A Conversation

To Listen: Click Here

The Facts:
  • Writers: Patty and Michael Silversher
  • Year: 1985
  • Key:  B Major / C Major

Heard In: 
Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears

Background / Personal Connection:
I vaguely remember seeing this show as a kid but I didn't watch it regularly.  But it was impossible not to be aware of the phenomenal theme song.  If you haven't already, go ahead and click on the link above.

Wow, what a song!  Who would have thought that a cartoon about gummy bears could have such a grand, kick-@#$ theme song?!  Transcendent stuff.

I reached out to Patty and Michael Silversher, the songwriting team who wrote the Gummi Bears theme, and they were incredibly friendly and gracious with their time in talking to me.

NS: What was your previous experience like with Disney before Gummi Bears?

PS: We had founded a songwriters association in northern California, and one of the volunteers introduced us to someone at Disney.  

MS: We started out with an album called "Mousercise," and then we co-produced another album with Jymn Maigon.

PS: He's the creator of all the Disney Afternoon shows. 

NS: I actually had that Mousercise record as a kid!  I don't remember much about it, unfortunately, other than the cover.

PS: That was our break into Disney -- we wrote the song "Pig Out" for the album.

MS: We had also written the song for the Happy Birthday Donald Duck Parade, so we had a good rapport and track record with the people at Disney and at the record company.  In fact, the head of the record company, Gary Krisel, moved over to head the television division and they started developing all these animated shows.  He and Jymn invited us to do some more work for them and gave us the chance to write the song for Gummi Bears.

NS: Is that Happy Birthday song by any chance the one that goes, "Happy Birthday, it's Donald's Birthday, Happy Happy Birthday to Him?"

MS: Yes, that's it.

NS: Wow, I love that song!  I first heard it in Mickey's Birthday Land in the Magic Kingdom during Mickey's 60th birthday celebration in 1988.  In our family we usually sing that song at some point during someone's birthday!

PS: We love hearing stories like that!  Someone used the song in an animated video on YouTube, and it has over 20 million views!

NS: How did the Happy Birthday song come about?

MS: Gary Krisel said he wanted to find a Happy Birthday song to replace the Happy Birthday song.  We wrote it to incorporate all kinds of characters, and Gary asked us to adapt it to Donald Duck for Donald's 50th birthday celebration which included a parade in Disneyland. 

We were thrilled to do that.  It was 1984, and the whole world was in L.A. for the Olympics. We went to the parade, and all these people from the Olympics were there watching it.  I'll tell you, seeing all these people singing and clapping and smiling to our song -- it was fantastic.  One of the best moments of my life. 

NS: How does your songwriting partnership work, does one of you write the music and the other write the lyrics?

MS: I usually come up with the musical idea and then Patty and I work on lyrics together. The music normally comes first, at least that's the way it used to be, but lately it's been the other way around where Patty will come up with a great lyric and then we'll figure out the music from that.

NS: All right, let's talk about Gummi Bears!  

MS: We wrote 3 or 4 different songs but Gary kept saying, "The Silvershers can do better than this."  We weren't sure what exactly he wanted, and finally we got a meeting with him after about four months of spinning our wheels.  We sat down and he said, "I kind of want to hear something heroic like Robin Hood."  I said, "You mean like 'Ba-Dah Ba-Dahhh' sort of thing?" He goes, "Yeah."  We go, "OK," and we turned in the song the next day and that was it.  All we needed was a little bit of direction about what exactly he wanted.  

It's all about making sure you write for the right person.  And in this case, Gary was the one to write for, not anyone else, and he really ended up loving the song.  The theme ended up being more heroic than we would have thought -- that's how it became "dashing and daring, courageous and caring."

NS: I read on Wikipedia that the original show came about when Michael Eisner saw his son eating gummy bears and was inspired by that, which is really amusing to me.  Did you know much about the show when you were writing the theme?

MS: We had the show's bible that tells you who the characters are and the world that they inhabit.  In fact, the bible had a character that never made it off the page: Dummi Gummi. He was a jester, and I don't know what ever happened to him, but he's on the poster I have.

NS: The singer, I've seen online that people think it's Gene Miller, does that sound right?

PS: No, it was Joe Williams, John Williams' son.

NS: You mean John Williams the composer?

MS: Yes.  Joe ended up being the lead singer in the group Toto.  We couldn't get him for the Disney Afternoon album version and had to get someone else, so that's probably the other name you have.  The original theme sung by Joe is shorter and was the one on television, and we made it longer for the album.  The original version was orchestrated by Jeremy Lubbock, and it was done with a 70 piece orchestra.

NS: On the Joe Williams version, I love how he goes all in and puts everything he has into it, especially at the very end: "They are the Gummi Bears....They are the Gummi Bearrrrsssss!!!!"  

MS: He nailed it.

NS: Yeah, he really did.  Do you still hear from people about it?

MS: Everywhere all over the world that we go, everybody knows the song.  I was in Israel a few years ago, and a friend of mine walked up to a bartender in a Tel Aviv hotel and said, "Do you know the Gummi Bears?"  The bartender started singing it in Hebrew and gave me a bottle of wine.  To find out the song has had this impact -- it's very wonderful and gratifying. 

NS: It's a legitimately great song.  

MS: And it's gone on to a very strange and interesting life of its own, thanks to Jimmy Fallon.

PS: Did you know about that?

NS: I've seen the clip of Alicia Keys singing the theme slowed-down on his show.

PS: It's one of Jimmy's favorite theme songs. 

NS: I didn't know that.  That's awesome!  And what are you both up to now?

PS: We don't have a salaried position.  We freelance, and one company we've worked with since '92 is Jim Henson.  Right now we're working on scores for two tv series: the first is Dinosaur Train on PBS -- we do the background score for each episode.  The other show is Word Party on Netflix which comes out in May.  We also work on a show called Pajanimals on the Sprout website where puppets help kids with sleep issues.

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