Tim Rice, Please Explain

When Howard Ashman died, he and composer Alan Menken were part way through Aladdin, their third score for Disney. Tim Rice took over the lyric-writing duties and, according to Menken, did a fine job of adapting his style to sound more like Ashman’s, so the score wouldn’t contain abrupt changes in tone.

One of Rice’s lyrics was for the magical carpet-riding song A Whole New World:

Aladdin: I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me, princess, now when did
You last let your heart decide?

One could quibble at this point, because not many street urchins use the word ‘splendid’, but let’s be charitable, and say that because Aladdin has been turned into a Prince by the Genie, his vocabulary has expanded. What’s matters more is the hidden trap in the two syllable rhyme of ‘splendid’ with ‘when did’. If other verses follow, a lyricist has two choices:

  1. Drop the two-syllable rhyme, like a total wuss, or:
  2. Keep it up, with the risk of making all the characters sound like Cole Porter.

How does Rice do?

Take you wonder by wonder
Over, sideways and under
On a magic carpet ride

That’s OK. What about when it’s Jasmine’s turn?

JasmineUnbelievable sights
Indescribable feeling
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond sky

Nice. Nicely done. Challenge met, and no-one sounds like they’re in a Harvard revue. What about the backing lines in the chorus?

Jasmine: A whole new world
(Aladdin: Don’t you dare close your eyes)
Jasmine: A hundred thousand things to see
(Aladdin: Hold your breath – it gets better)

So now the words to rhyme are ‘eyes’ and ‘better’

Aladdin: A whole new world
(Jasmine: Every turn a surprise)
AladdinWith new horizons to pursue
(JasmineEvery moment red-letter)

Wait. What? Come again? Every moment red-letter? What the hell is a red-letter moment? A red-letter day is fine, that would look like this:

M     T     W     Th    F    Sa    Su

Ooh, look, a special visitor on Wednesday! But what does a red-letter moment look like?  What would the letter be? The letter M?

A moment ago                   This Moment                          Next Sunday

I’m baffled. I can’t work it out. Maybe Jasmine has a rush of nitrogen to the brain and doesn’t know what she’s singing, but I think the song was written, storyboarded, outlined, filled-in, inked, animated, recorded, re-recorded, covered, covered again, and no-one, no-one said, “Oi. Tim. What letter?”

Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle sang the lyric as written, but when those titans of the larynx, Peter Andre and Katie Price – then married – covered the song, they resolved the problem by having Price sing ‘every moment gets better’. Who says she’s dumb?

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7 thoughts on “Tim Rice, Please Explain

  1. Aagh, you reawoke an earworm which had been buried since Grace was a toddler.

    I was going to be snide about your cavilling at the advanced English vocab. of a guy who’s taking his date for a spin on an enchanted article of soft furnishing that really ties the room together, and then say something witty about how odd suspension of disbelief is.

    But now all I can think about is how to get that damn tune out of my head.

  2. And another thing – (aaaagh, it’s still there) –

    The lines “no-one to tell us no / Or where to go” have always struck me as unintentionally funny, since “telling someone where to go”, while not exactly obscene, is at least suggestive or euphemistic.

    After having the song stuck in my head, I’d like to tell Aladdin and Jasmine, not to mention Rice and Menken, where to go…

    • I think Rice and Menken, at least, have been there: Rice wrote “Aida” with Elton John, and Menken did the score for “Tim Allen as The Shaggy Dog“!

    • I suppose you’d need a bicycle on that sailboat, Noel, which doesn’t sound at all safe to me.

      As for magic carpets, I’m not sure about the rules, since they’re such fanciful things. In any case, Jasmine has just admitted the feeling is indescribable. Then she promptly sets about describing it.

      We were all teens once.

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