Camarata And The Mike Sammes Singers: Songs From Doctor Dolittle

I saw “Doctor Dolittle” starring Rex Harrison and Anthony Newley during its maiden 1967 release. I was seven then, far too young to know I was witnessing a train wreck. On the contrary: my three year old brother and I thrilled to the film and the temporary relief its magical world provided from our own mundane existence. Afterwards, my brother and I pouted while our babysitter stopped at a drugstore on the way home. It was there I spied this album, and — seizing upon the balm it promised to my aching, fading memory — I threw a tantrum until the sitter bought it for me. But when I got home, I discovered to my disappointment that I had been taken in by a time-honored bait and switch tactic. What we had purchased was not the original soundtrack recording that I had imagined, but an album of faceless easy listening versions. This was a common fraud perpetrated on unsophisticated consumers back in those days, and I had fallen for it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the record in my possession was actually times better than the original soundtrack, which featured the rather challenged vocal performances of Harrison and Newley (acquired tastes at best). It wasn’t until my early twenties that I came to realize how great this album is. Unfortunately, by that time it was in absolute tatters. Which I suppose is just as well, since all I used to do was get stoned and listen to it at 45 RPM speed anyway.

Even at regular speed, this puppy packs quite a wallop. The Tutti Camarata Disney style, honed during his pioneering work with Annette Funicello and put to service on so many great albums on the Disneyland and Buena Vista labels, shines at its uptempo best on such numbers as “If I Could Talk To The Animals” and “My Friend The Doctor.” The Sammes singers sell songs like “Crossroads Of Life” and “Never Seen Anything Like It” with the same bright cheerfulness employed on their jingle work. My only complaint about this album is its length: a measly eight songs. I don’t know if this speaks more to the haste with which the project was conducted or the paucity of quality material on the original film score. But if done right, a Camarata/Sammes version of “The Vegetarian” could have become my own personal anthem. Oh, but for what might have been!

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