Robin Williams – “Friend Like Me”
Does this count? In this day and age of home video, and especially for a twentysomething who was raised during the Disney Renaissance, it seems like the answer for most people would be “A Disney Song,” and that this entry should be asking for a “real” song, one by an actual band or artist that was recorded to sell records, merch, etc. Eff it. If you really want to know what the first “real” song I liked was, it was Garth Brooks’ “The River” from his 1991 album Ropin’ The Wind, which I discovered some time in 1996. But since I already wrote about Brooks, we’re gonna talk about Aladdin.
Like I said earlier, I’m a boy who was raised in the early 90’s, and that generally means my favorite Disney movie would have either been Aladdin or The Lion King. Aladdin it was, though, and I loved this sucker; in addition to having the First Song I Remember Liking, I’m pretty sure this was the first movie I could quote extensively. I was all about comedies when I was a kid, and Aladdin is replete with funny crap, which helped elevate it to its current Favorite status (SPOILER ALERT: because it’s my favorite Disney flick, I’m doing it last for Our Feature Presentation, which means I’ll probably be able to view it on Blu-ray sometime in 2013 or ’14).
Aladdin also plays host to some quality music, including some of the last lyrical work by the late, great Howard Ashman. “Friend Like Me” was one of those works, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of his absolute best (which would make it some of the best work in the entire Disney canon). I have a penchant for clever lyrics (as opposed to “clever” lyrics), and Ashman was the tops when it came to songwriting wit, skilled at list-making, stream-of-consciousness, and stuff that just feels good. “Friend Like Me” falls into the last category, with some of my favorite Disney lines (“Life is your restaurant / and I’m your maître d’ / C’mon whisper what it is you want / you ain’t never had a friend like me!”).
On top of the lyrical excellence is a fabulously fun composition by the consistently awesome Alan Menkin, who gives “Friend Like Me” a glossy, big band sheen. Trumpets wail, floor toms pound, and the whole track just swings. It would be impossible to prove, but I don’t think it would be outrageous to suggest that my current love of Glenn Miller, Cab Calloway, and Benny Goodman started way back in 1992 with “Friend Like Me.”
“Friend Like Me” has great lyrics and catchy music, but it’s Robin Williams’ exuberant, playful delivery that really helps sell the song (and the whole movie, come to think of it). Williams is famous for his rapid fire characterizations and Mel Blanc-esque vocal molding, but never is it more impressive than when he quickly shifts from a French accent to an old man to a sing-song Southern jingle in the span of about four seconds, all without losing the main melodic thrust. The more I think about it, the more Ashman, Menkin, and Williams start to seem like the Triforce of Disney music.
More than “Prince Ali,” more than “A Whole New World,” more than “Arabian Knights,” I loved “Friend Like Me,” and its clever wordplay, raucous energy, and Robin Williams’ over-the-top performance make it one of my favorite Disney songs to date.