Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

This is the CD release of a soundtrack LP to an unfinished TV series that has never existed.

As you know, in the film Toy Story 2 Sheriff Woody discovered that he was a piece of merchandising from a 1950s puppet TV show. There's a magical scene in which he, Jessie the Yodelin' Cowgirl and Bullseye the horse all go crazy together amidst a huge collection of their old tie-in merchandise. They watch old episodes, put coins into a special themed money-box, set-off a snake-in-the-boot (jack-in-the-box) toy, and generally frolic.

They also spend a moment running on the spot as the series' own 12" soundtrack album spins beneath them on a record player. You remember, they play at speeding it up, slowing it down, and generally knocking the stylus back and forth between different tracks on side one. (it ignores this and continues to play the show's theme tune regardless)

Heck, this event is even pictured on the cover above.

This, then, is that soundtrack album!

Quite where the idea came from is anyone's guess, but something possessed Riders In The Sky to lay down eleven country / bluegrass tracks bearing only the slimmest of connections to the popular Toy Story franchise, and for this we can be supremely grateful.

These are delightful ballads both about and sung by all three speaking characters, although not voiced by Tom Hanks, Joan Cusack or Kelsey Grammer. This change in casting is fair enough for a couple of reasons:

1. These old tie-in records often featured different vocal actors to the original series that they were based upon.

2. In Toy Story 2, Woody, Jessie and Stinky Pete had different voices in the clip of the TV series due to being played by human actors. This means that since the TV series came first, the voice that plays when Woody's pull-string is drawn - and therefore Tom Hanks' voice throughout all three films - is incorrect anyway.

Consequently Devon Dawson takes on the role of Jessie for a couple of these tracks, including teaching us all how to yodel...

Cowboys: "Help Us Jessie!
How do we yodel?"

Jessie: "Yo-del-ay-ee-too!"

Cowboys: "When do we yodel?"

Jessie: "Any time we-ill doo!"

Cowboys: "Why do we yodel?"

Jessie: "I wish I knew-oo!"

Cowboys: "Boy-ee! We-ee do-oo too-oo!"

Jessie: "Why, it's not so hard boys, y' just got t' start simple 'n work y' way up thru trickier 'n trickier yodels 'til ya yodel like ME - Jessie, the yodelin' cowgirl!"

[She then yodels for over thirty seconds. Then Ranger Doug takes over.]

Some of these songs hint at what individual episodes of this monochrome series might well have been about. For example, after the opening theme tune, Act Naturally features Woody singing about a possible future as a cowboy in the movies.

Generally though there is only the odd hint that this album is actually a post-modern product from 40 years later. One such instance occurs in "One, Two, Three," Said The Prospector when Stinky Pete exclaims "Oh my God!", something he'd never have gotten away with in the 1950s.

"... And blew himself clean to... Oregon!"

Additionally, there are two further tracks which blow the album's authenticity as high as Pete's biscuits. My Favourite Toys mentions by name almost every character from Toy Story 2, from Andy to Zurg, while the final secret bonus track breaks the spell again in its own way.

These two breaches in the TV series' fourth wall might mean that I've read the album's concept all wrong, but I can't come up with another reason for how this CD came to be. As well as the cover artwork, even the CD itself appears designed to pretend that it's a record:

Finally, despite this CD winning a Grammy for Best Musical Album For Children in 2001, and Toy Story's ongoing popularity, its existence seems to have fallen into obscurity. I first discovered a lone copy hiding in Real Groovy on Queen Street in 2005, but left it too long before going back to buy it, figuring that I might find it cheaper on the net. Well, at time of writing there are gazillions of copies available on Amazon, 25 of which are going for less than NZ 15c.

Maybe Stinky Pete should give up his prospecting, and instead invest in these gold nuggets.

Track Listing:

1. Woody's Roundup
2. Act Naturally
3. Jessie, the Yodelin' Cowgirl
4. The Ballad of Bullseye
5. You've Got a Friend in Me
6. Hey Howdy Hey
7. My Favourite Toys
8. How Does She Yodel?
9. The Prospector Polka
10. You've Got a Friend in Me (Instrumental)
11. "One, Two, Three," Said the Prospector
12. Home on the Range
13. Shh! A Secret Bonus Track!

Available to sample and buy here.

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