Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1988, A&M Records released the compilation Stay Awake. Adorned with the description “Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films,” the album was perfectly calibrated to endear to the brash sentimentalists around the age of twenty that drove the cultural choices at college radio stations. Much as left-of-the-dial DJs embraced the daring and offbeat (and blithely discarded acts at the first sign of softening), there was also a keen, irresistible desire for the familiar. Limited time on air and a wall of mysterious new releases accentuating the appeal of dropping the needle on a song that was, to at least some degree, a known quantity.
Entering into college as a traditionally aged student in the late nineteen-eighties meant youthful years in the last extended era of Disney animated classics in a perpetual cycle of rerelease. Now that the studio continues to draw entertainment industry chips into their personal pile like a Texas hold’em player two or three hands away from taking the whole tournament, it seems peculiar to think of the precarious state it was in three decades ago. The business model almost wholly reliant on family entertainment was hurt by a series of lackluster animated features (most notably The Black Cauldron, which almost killed off Disney animation endeavors for good), and the attempt to diversify into more adult entertainment with offshoot shingles Touchstone Picture and Hollywood Pictures was viewed as more of a cute curiosity than a shrewd move. Although home entertainment was booming, Disney was reluctant to empty their vaults, preferring to bring the famed features of the past into theaters for revival runs, counting on parents to share the beloved childhood favorites with their offspring. The old Disney movies were events, and the songs strung through them were practically American standards.
A key reason Stay Awake hit the nostalgia button so cleanly is because it was, to use a more modern term for the assemblage of a compilation album, expertly curated. It featured an admirably wide-ranging batch of performers (I’m not sure there was any other record in the station at the time that could boast new recordings by both Sinéad O’Connor and Yma Sumac) and arranged the songs thoughtfully, mostly placing them within thematic medleys. For the staffers at my Midwestern station, I think it’s fair to say no portion of the record held more appeal than the end of the medley titled “All Innocent Children Had Better Beware.” That was where the Replacements, our scruffy neighbors to the west, belted out a characteristically ramshackle version of the bounding paean to the villain of 101 Dalmatians, Cruella De Vil. The spelling was off, but that was small matter. It’s charms were otherwise unerring.
If Stay Awake seemed an elegy for an era of Disney animated classics, it proved premature. One year later, The Little Mermaid arrived, almost immediately improving the studio’s outlook. If they hurry up and make Stay Awake 2, maybe they can get Kate Bush to cover “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
Listen or download —> The Replacements, “Cruella De Ville”
(Disclaimer: I haven’t dug around too much to check the availability of this track on a physical format that can be purchased at your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said shop and the original artist and associated copyright holders. According to my previous detective efforts, much of the A&M Records catalog is adrift. but I know the Mats have dropped this track onto other comps. And Disney holds their properties with a g-force grip, so this could be anywhere. Do buy it if you see it. I don’t mean to supplant commerce with this post, but indeed to encourage it. If nothing else, go buy some other Replacements records these weekend. Every last one has at least some magical properties. Although I’m convinced I’m operating under the legal principle of fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)