GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations: Alan Menken
(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, GRAMMY.com has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various GRAMMY winners who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)
Alan Menken has a little confession.
"I only went into [composing for] theater and film to appease my parents," says the 11-time GRAMMY winner.
It turned out to be quite the appeasement. Menken ranks among the top composers in film and theater. The New York native shook up off-Broadway (and then film and Broadway) with "Little Shop Of Horrors" and helped revitalize and renew the Walt Disney legacy with the movies that are the foundation of the company's modern era of animation: The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, Hercules, and Pocahontas, among others. As a result, his music is part of the DNA of several generations of children and parents alike. Menken has also composed music for such groundbreaking delights as the live animation film fantasy Enchanted, the animated Disney feature Tangled and Broadway hits such as "Sister Act," "Leap Of Faith" and "Newsies."
"I ended up with a career," he concludes.
Aside from his impressive 11 GRAMMY Awards, Menken has also earned eight Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, a Tony Award, and a Drama Desk Award. But, Menken insists, "I'm a classic rock boy! Songs like 'Mean Green Mother From Outer Space' [from Little Shop Of Horrors] are where I come from."
This point underscores the core of the selections Menken made from the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame roster. The composer offered seven recordings that have most inspired him, shaped his tastes and informed his own musical personality, assigning them to six stages of his life and development: childhood, adolescence, a "wearing the grooves out" obsession, identity, influence, and a mind-bending "jolt of originality."
Walt Disney's Fantasia — Soundtrack
Leopold Stokowski cond. Philadelphia Orchestra
Buena Vista (1956)
Film & TV Soundtracks (Album)
"One for my childhood that really stood out for me, [that was] so influential, was the Walt Disney Fantasia soundtrack. Now, keep in mind, I love classical music, but I really attach to the piece and not the specific recording. Fantasia was pivotal. I began attaching images to music. I would invent stories to a Tchaikovsky symphony, certainly Beethoven's Pastoral symphony and [Mussorgsky's] 'Night On Bald Mountain,' [and] all the ones on Fantasia. I would stand in my living room and conduct all these pieces. But I thought the conductor would point at every note, so boy my arms got tired."
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"
The Righteous Brothers
"This was the greatest radio single for me. My hormones were out of control. And the sound of the Righteous Brothers, singing this great Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil song, brought out a combination of romantic longings and animal lust in my teenage soul."
Exile On Main Street
The Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones/Atlantic (1972)
"Wearing the grooves out":
"I was a huge fan of both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, all of their albums and all of their songs. What elevated this album for me was the way it drew on rhythm and blues and country and roots music in a nearly addictive way. I could barely understand the words, couldn't figure out what the songs were saying. But I just couldn't stop playing it.
Probably when you listen to Little Shop Of Horrors and Hercules and Leap Of Faith, frankly I'm more of a rock musician than anything else. Those other areas, well, I'm a chameleon. My passions are somewhere between the Rolling Stones and Beethoven."
"The album that really grabbed me was Elton John's first [U.S.-released] album. 'Sixty Years On,' 'Border Song,' 'Your Song' — that sense of his voice, the rock music with the orchestrations by Paul Buckmaster. All of that.
And then there's Blue. [It's] so deeply personal, and in a way I was going through a similar period in my life experience where I identified with what Joni Mitchell was going through. I love all her work, but that one was just so passionate. So those two albums touched my soul to such a degree as a songwriter. So haunting, so beautiful."
Star Wars — Soundtrack
John Williams cond. London Symphony Orchestra
20th Century (1977)
Film & TV Soundtracks (Album)
"The opening chord of this movie soundtrack transported me to another world immediately. And I was hooked on the idea of composing film scores. John Williams' scores have all touched me and captivated my imagination. And his themes are inextricably connected to the film he has contributed to like no other composer."
Are You Experienced?
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
"Jolt of originality":
"Lying down with my head between the speakers, I could not believe 'Purple Haze,' 'Are You Experienced?,' 'Hey Joe,' [and] 'The Wind Cries Mary.' I was literally stunned by this album — a psychedelic black soul singer/guitarist who just broke open the music field with a sound that was startling in its originality and yet totally inevitable in retrospect. No one has equaled that revolution since."
(Eleven-time GRAMMY winner Alan Menken won honors for Song Of The Year for "A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme)" in 1993. His GRAMMY honors also include Best Song Written Specifically For A Motion Picture for "Colors Of The Wind (From Pocahontas)" in 1995 and Best Song Written For Visual Media for "I See The Light (From Tangled)" in 2011.)
(Steve Hochman has been covering the music world since 1985. He can be heard regularly discussing new music releases on KPCC-FM's "Take Two" and the KQED-FM-produced show "The California Report," and he is also a regular contributor to the former station's arts blog "Without A Net." For 25 years he was a mainstay of the pop music team at the Los Angeles Times and his work has appeared in many other publications.)