On this day in music history: May 31, 1994 – “The Lion King – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” is released. Produced by Hans Zimmer, Chris Thomas, Mark Mancina and Jay Rifkin, it is recorded at Media Ventures Studios, Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles, CA, The Snake Ranch, Angel Recording Studios in London and BOP Studios in Mmabatho, South Africa from Late 1993 – May 1994. With Walt Disney Pictures having experienced a major revival of their legendary animation studio, with “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty And The Beast” and “Aladdin”, it has high hopes for its next full length theatrical release. In development since 1988, “The Lion King” goes through numerous incarnations before the final concept and story lines are written. Drawing upon elements from multiple sources including The Bible and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, like many Disney animated classics, music plays a vital role in supporting and driving the plot. Famed lyricist Sir Tim Rice is also hired. Initially, Rice is to work with composer Alan Menken, but is unable as he is busy elsewhere. Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA are also approached. They also decline when Andersson has a scheduling conflict. Finally in 1993, Rice suggests pop superstar Elton John, who Disney are initially unsure of, being that he has never worked on a production like this. During their phone conversation, Tim tells Elton, “Disney said you’d never do this. And you’re a friend of mine and I told them you will”. John responds with “Tim, I’ve worked with you before. I love you. Of course I’ll do it”. With that Elton John signs on to the project, and the pair work very quickly. Rice and John end up writing six songs, five of which make the final cut. “Circle Of Life”, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King”, “Be Prepared” and “Hakuna Matata” are performed by the film’s voice cast including Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Jeremy Irons, Whoopi Goldberg, and vocalists Lebo M., Camille Twille and Jason Weaver. Elton himself records versions of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” (#4 Pop, #1 AC) and “Circle Of Life” (#18 Pop, #2 AC) with his long time producer Chris Thomas. The soundtrack also includes an instrumental score composed by Hans Zimmer. The soundtrack of “The Lion King” becomes the biggest selling album in Disney’s history. “King” is their first to top the pop chart since “Mary Poppins” in 1965. The music wins two Golden Globes, three Grammy Awards and two Academy Awards, including Best Original Song for “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” (John and Rice) and for Best Original Score (Zimmer). “The Lion King – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” spends ten weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 10x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, earning a Diamond Certification.
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