"Grim Grinning Ghosts" (complete title: "Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song)") is the theme song for the Haunted Mansion attractions at Disney theme parks. It was composed by Buddy Baker, with lyrics written by X Atencio. Its melody has been adapted for numerous uses since its composition in the late 1960s.
When hinges creak in doorless chambers
And strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls
Whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still
That is the time when ghosts are present
Practicing their terror with ghoulish delight
When the crypt doors creak, and the tombstones quake
Spooks come out for a swinging wake
Happy haunts materialize
And begin to vocalize
Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialize
Now don't close your eyes and don't try to hide
Or a silly spook may sit by your side
Shrouded in a daft disguise
They pretend to terrorize
Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialize
As the moon climbs high o'er the dead oak tree
Spooks arrive for the midnight spree
Creepy creeps with eerie eyes
Start to shriek and harmonize
Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialize
When you hear the knell of a requiem bell
Weird glows gleam where spirits dwell
Restless bones etherialize
Rise as spooks of every size
If you would like to join our jamboree
There's a simple rule that's compulsory
Mortals pay a token fee
Rest in peace, the haunting's free
So hurry back we would like your company
Hurry back...hurry back...
Be sure to bring your death certificate
If you decide to join us
Make final arrangements now
We've been...dying...to have you
Many different music loops are used throughout the Haunted Mansion attractions at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Tokyo Disneyland. Speakers disguised within the sets allow the music to fade in and out as guests pass through the different areas. The following variations of "Grim Grinning Ghosts" can be heard in these attractions.
Entrance Foyer: As guests enter the dimly-lit foyer, a distant organ can be heard. "Grim Grinning Ghosts," played in the slow cadence of a funeral dirge, rumbles through the mansion. This simple arrangement is intended to set the spooky tone for the attraction. It features melody and bass line on a theater organ and an almost inaudible countermelody on tubular bells.
Loading Area: Guests leave the "stretching room" and proceed down a hall of morphing portraits. One of the ride's most unconventional musical selections plays in the background. An alto flute plays a low rendition of Baker's composition, with tubular bells doubling the melody. There is also a wind-like sound effect that follows the pitches of the song.
Piano Parlor: In the Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland versions, guests pass by a decrepit music parlor. A shadowy phantom sits at the piano, playing "Grim Grinning Ghosts" as block chords with heavy rubato. This rendition isn't heard in the original Disneyland mansion, but it was recorded during the production of the original attraction. Many sources claim that Buddy Baker himself performed this piece.
Seance Room: Guests pass through the ominous Corridor of Doors (while the foyer organ plays again) and enter Madame Leota's seance room. A variety of instruments float through the room, including a harp, a tambourine, and a trumpet. The song's melody hums softly on organ in the background, while the other instruments fade in and out.
Ballroom: A long mezzanine overlooks the mansion's ballroom, which is swarming with translucent ghosts. On the far left, spirits pour from the pipes of an organ prop as "Grim Grinning Ghosts" howls through the ballroom, this time as a waltz. This piece makes use of unusual chords, including minor/major sevenths and cluster chords. Baker originally approached organist Gaylord B. Carter, who had recorded the other organ tracks for the mansion, for this ballroom waltz. But Carter was taking too sensible an approach for Baker's tastes, so he took a transcription of Carter's improvisations to William Sabransky. Sabransky then improvised from Carter's attempts.
Attic: A phantom pianist, similar to the one in the Walt Disney World piano parlor, is seen. He is laboring over a grim refrain of Richard Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" instead of "Grim Grinning Ghosts." This music loop, which was added to the Disneyland attraction several decades after it opened, is actually synchronized with the music in the next area. The piece has been transposed into the keys of A minor, A♭ minor, and B minor, with the chords and key changes mimicking those used in "Grim Grinning Ghosts." The piece's structure has also been modified to integrate seamlessly with the graveyard jamboree, which becomes more and more audible as the guests leave the attic.
Graveyard Jamboree: X Atencio's lyrics are first heard in the graveyard scene. A large number of different music loops play throughout area. Most of them are ghosts singing the lyrics over a background loop that provides the 1960s style bass line and rhythm section. One of the tracks features a harp, trumpet, oboe, flute, and set of stones. All four verses are present, with first two in A minor, the third in B♭ minor, and the fourth in B minor. This presentation of "Grim Grinning Ghosts" is by far the loudest and most noticeable in the ride.
Exit Crypt: Guests exit their Doom Buggies and proceed through the exit crypt, which leads back up to New Orleans Square. A final, somber a capella refrain can be faintly heard with different lyrics.
Grim Grinning Ghosts has been covered by the Canadian rock group Barenaked Ladies. A variation of this song is also used at Disney World's Magic Kingdom HalloWishes fireworks show and Disneyland's Halloween Screams fireworks show. It's also used in parades at Disneyland Paris Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland during the Halloween season.
The seasonal "Haunted Mansion Holiday" overlay at the original Anaheim attraction mixes the tune with Danny Elfman's melody lines from The Nightmare Before Christmas together with Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and Jingle Bells. One of the most prominent instances of this is a straight orchestral statement of the "Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize" melody line that plays at the end of the cue for the stretching room.
Phantom Manor takes a different approach to the same concept as the previous Haunted Mansion attractions. The intended mood is one of corrupted elegance, rather than morbid kookiness. As a result, the soundtrack is different as well. The traditional Haunted Mansion attractions feature music that is usually played or sung by characters in the scenery: an organist's waltz, a graveyard band jamboree and so on. Phantom Manor, however, has a full orchestral soundtrack that takes a more cinematic approach, although all of the music is based on "Grim Grinning Ghosts". A variety of instrumentations are used. At various moments, guests hear piano, organ, alto flute, a boy's choir, a jazz band and a female voice soloist who symbolizes the character of Melanie Ravenswood, all in addition to the ordinary orchestral complement.
When Walt Disney Pictures released a Haunted Mansion movie, composer Mark Mancina was asked to write the film's music. Like Phantom Manor's soundtrack, the movie score is orchestral and uses "Grim Grinning Ghosts" frequently. However, Mancina used "Grim Grinning Ghosts" in somewhat different ways from Debney, focusing more on relatively light-hearted background music and ominous crescendos of orchestra and organ than on waltz-like passion. Cues such as the film's overture allowed Mancina to work with both "Grim Grinning Ghosts" and a theme of his own invention. A scene in the mansion's graveyard also features the attraction's singing busts, whose musical selections include a few lines from the song. The vast majority of the film's music, though, was never officially released as a soundtrack, though copies of a complete album given to staff and orchestra members can occasionally be found for sale. Four minutes of the score did make it onto the "Haunted Hits" CD release, which groups "Sara Passes Out," the overture, and "Going to Heaven" into one track entitled "Overture from The Haunted Mansion." However, none of the orchestral and/or organ statements of "Grim Grinning Ghosts" are heard on this album.
Played by Jay Meyer, Thurl Ravenscroft, Verne Rowe, Bob Ebright, and Chuck Schroeder. Originally, the busts were to be portrayed by five actors but the decision was made to use the singers after they showed a good deal of emotion during the recording session. They sing the majority of the song and, like many of the ghosts, each bust has an official character name. They are: Ned Nub (Meyer), Uncle Theodore (Ravenscroft), Rollo Rumkin (Rowe), Phineas Pock (Ebright), and Cousin Al (Schroeder). Ravenscroft's bust is often misidentified as being Walt Disney himself.
The Opera Singers
Voiced by Loulie Jean Norman (soprano) and Bill Reeve (tenor). The pair alternate between verses for a full repetition of the main song. Buddy Baker directed this recording session himself and spoke of having to record several takes. According to him the classically trained Norman had a difficult time straying from the actual melody line, which she had perfected prior to recording.
The Ghost Hostess
Played by WED Imagineer Leota "Toombs" Thomas, who is also the face of Madame Leota. Because of this many fans refer to this ghost "Little Leota" but the name is not official. She stands just before the exit and pleads for guests to hurry back and join the party.