Important: The Definitive History of the 'Duck Tales' Theme Song

Guy Benson
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Posted: Aug 11, 2017 4:15 PM
Important: The Definitive History of the 'Duck Tales' Theme Song

I'm not sure I've ever been more excited to read a Vanity Fair story -- or any magazine feature piece, for that matter.  As a child of the 1990's, I was a big Duck Tales fan back in the day, and like any kid who watched the show, I could never resist singing along to its ultra-catchy opening theme song.  Especially the "woo-oo!" part of the chorus (which I've learned should have been sung, "a-woo-hoo," thanks to the story quoted below).  Now that Disney is rebooting Duck Tales, they've recorded a new spin on the original song, spawning a delightful piece of journalism that traces its history.  In case you have no idea what all the fuss is about, I've embedded both versions of the song below; I'll admit, its appeal is enhanced by nostalgia.  But first, a few fun excerpts from the article:

In the spring of 1986, in the bedroom of a walk-up apartment on South Beverly Drive in L.A., a semi-struggling songwriter named Mark Mueller pressed “record” on his rudimentary reel-to-reel tape recorder, sat down at his Roland Juno 1 synthesizer, and started thinking about ducks. Disney was looking for a theme song for a new animated series called DuckTales. They wanted a sense of adventure and excitement, a tune that would complement the technicolor energy of the show itself. Most importantly, Disney’s music executives explained, they were after a poppy, radio song—not a “cartoon song.” Mueller’s agent recommended that he shouldn’t get his hopes up...The 30-year-old’s songwriting career had mainly consisted of a series of near-misses. He had stacks of cassettes of demos for songs no one wanted. Luckily, he had just scored his first hit: Heart’s “Nothin’ at All.” It was on the strength, and airplay, of that track, that he was able to obtain a meeting with Disney. And, before long, duck inspiration did strike. That day on South Beverly Drive, the chords, the melody, the lyrics—verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge—came pouring out of him. ..The whole thing took around 45 minutes to write. Mueller presented the resulting demo to the Disney music execs in person—“Mark’s really stood out,” remembers one of them, Chris Montan. Mueller was paid “a whopping $1,250” for the song, he says. “And that was only if Disney used the song on the show and it actually aired. Which, fortunately, it did.”

This quasi-preposterous, granular analysis of the theme's elements is as entertaining as it is accurate:

The DuckTales theme also happens to be a superb piece of music. It’s not only a high point of an underrated musical form, but an exquisite miniature pop classic in its own right. It begins with a bopping bass line—octave-jumping quarter notes and an eighth-note syncopation, a close relative of the attention-seizing intros of Hall & Oates’s “You Make My Dreams Come True” (1980) and Kenny Loggins’s “Footloose” (1984)...The arrival of the chorus is an ecstatic event. Writing it, Mueller realized he’d left a couple of gaps just after the rousing cry of “DuckTales!”—six beats each of valuable potential melodic real estate. Perhaps tapping into his own feelings that day, he instinctively threw in an exhilarated “A-woo-hoo!” The bridge contains one of the more cunning key changes of the 80s, subliminally upping the ante for the final chorus. (Compare it to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” recorded around the same time, whose key change catapults its vocalist into the stratosphere.)

As if rallying for the euphoric victory lap, the horns thrash out a furious flurry of notes—technically demanding, especially for Reichenbach on trombone, and most audible in the instrumental end-credits theme. The lick recalls the brassy turbulence that announce the choruses of “Rosanna,” also arranged by Hey and performed by the trio. Finally, there are three more impassioned declarations of “DuckTales,” plus one instance of “. . . Bad and good luck tales!” and a delightfully daft clarification, which Pescetto manages to sell, as ever: “Not pony tails or cottontails.” There’s a battering of the toms, and it’s all capped off with one more mighty splash of brass—the perfect exclamation point.

As promised, I'll leave you with the classic and modernized versions, the latter of which is sung by Felicia Barton, of American Idol prominence. As usual, the original is the best, particularly because of the brass component and perfect ending that the new (solid but slightly underwhelming) rendition lacks. Content warning: This tune may be stuck in your head for hours, or even days: