REWIND: “A Whole New World” Turns Twenty

Even they can't believe how old it is.

Even they can’t believe how old it is.

It was back on this day in 1901 that Walt Disney was born, so I couldn’t think of a better day to post a look back at one of the most timeless movie themes of all. It’s hard to imagine that twenty years have gone by since this classic film was in theaters with a soundtrack that became so popular, it launched Disney’s first and only (to this date) number-one song on the Hot 100 from an animated movie. Though it wasn’t the first song from Disney’s animated film collection to hit the charts (that distinction belongs to “Beauty And The Beast” by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson from earlier 1992), it has certainly endured more than any other one. (View the scene from Aladdin where it appears.)

The song itself is a tender ballad, with the male protagonist inviting the female to follow his lead into “a new fantastic point of view,” free of negative outside influences.  The girl accepts, and the two enjoy and magnificence of it all, which was a perfect fit for the characters of Aladdin and Jasmine. The single version was written by Tim Rice, responsible for classic works with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and produced and arranged by Walter Afanasieff, responsible for hit albums by Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, and much of the first decade of releases for both Celine Dion and Mariah Carey. Bryson was asked to return for this theme song, and with him came a familiar duet partner, Regina Belle. In 1988, the two charted with love theme from Leonard Part 6, starring Bill Cosby, entitled “Without You”. It was a minor Hot 100 single. Belle had never previously hit the top 40 as a solo artist before “World”, though she had had some R&B success in the late 1980’s with songs like “Baby Come To Me” and “Make It Like It Was”. Bryson, who made his debut with the Michael Zager Band back in 1975, crossed over to the Hot 100 several times, including a top ten solo single in 1984, “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again”. Then came his duet with Dion, which hit #9. Soon, things were about explode for both of them.

“A Whole New World” was sent to radio during the second week of November 1992. The following week, it debuted on Billboard’s Hot R&B & Hip-Hop Songs chart at #82, then an entry the next week on the Adult Contemporary Chart at #37. The song finally debuted on the CHR airplay chart (according to Radio & Records) dated December 18, 1992 at #38, the highest of three entries in the top 40 that week, and appeared in the lower regions of the Hot 100 as a new debut that week. Beginning in February 1993, the song spent four frames at #1 on that same CHR airplay chart (only one frame on Billboard’s comparable Mainstream Top 40 chart), and on March 6, 1993, became the #1 song the Hot 100 for one week. The movie, of course, was a blockbuster in itself, and propelled the song to Gold status, for physical CD single and vinyl single sales of 500,000 copies. At the 65th Academy Awards in late March 1993, the song won the Best Original Song Award, beating out two songs from The Bodyguard. It was a grand conclusion to an outstanding release.

Both of them never really recovered after the enormity of that theme song. Bryson was featured later that year on Kenny G‘s moderate chart hit, “By The Time This Night Is Over”, but he never hit the Hot 100 again. (He did get name-checked in Nicki Minaj‘s verse of David Guetta‘s “Where Them Girls At” last year, though I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud of.) Belle, who scored one additional solo R&B hit in 1993, “If I Could”, could also never make the Hot 100 after that, and her R&B success slowly dried up. However, I’m sure both of them are very grateful for what the duet achieved and what a classic it has become, even twenty years after it was first recorded and released.

Have a suggestion for the next Rewind post? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter: @AdamFSoybel.

1 Comment

Filed under Retro

One response to “REWIND: “A Whole New World” Turns Twenty

  1. Oh Disney back when it was full of feeling and talent, before the Disney channel took it and ran with it… in the wrong direction. I love these movies, Aladdin being my favourite actually, I know each and every song, I fancied myself to be a Jasmine ha ha

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