So I’m totally not biased at all, but the Main Street Electrical Parade is the best parade in all of Disneyland history. It has synth music! It has giant snails! It has Elliot from the 1977 film Pete’s Dragon! It was the nighttime parade at Disney California Adventure during my formative childhood years! Okay, I’m biased, sue me. You’re going to have the song stuck in your head for the rest of the day anyway.
Welcome back to 1313 Disneyland Drive! It’s been a while. In the past we’ve talked about rides in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, but today we’re going to change things up and turn our focus to a different kind of attraction and talk about a parade. And not just any parade—the only parade with a soundtrack with a name as cool as “Baroque Hoedown.”
Main Street Electrical Parade Bass Drum Float © Tabitha Anctil
This Disney Channel special from the late 80s/early 90s gives great insight into how the Electrical Parade came to be, so check it out for even more info!
The history of the Electrical Parade technically begins in 1967, when Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley released the synth-pop song “Baroque Hoedown,” utilizing the then-new Moog synthesizer. Four years later, in 1971, the Electrical Water Pageant debuted on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake in Walt Disney World. The show (which is still showing today!) originally consisted of fourteen floating screens covered in lights depicting various sea creatures, while “Baroque Hoedown” played in the background.
Now Bob Jani, who had conceptualized the Electrical Water Pageant, turned his attention to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. He felt at the time there was no nightlife at Disneyland, and wanted to do something about this. Plus, Walt Disney World had just opened in 1971, and with its massive opening and scale, Jani wanted to keep Disneyland on the map. He had the idea to bring something like the Electrical Water Pageant to the west coast, on Main Street rather than the water.
To bring the parade idea to life, Ron Miziker, the original parade producer, drew inspiration from and worked with a Chicago-based company that was responsible for a dazzling Christmas light display on Michigan Street every year. The floats began their construction in Chicago while Disney focused on the other two most important aspects of the parade: the lights and music.
What was going to provide power to all the lights required to dazzle nighttime audiences? Some ideas Disney project workers considered were extension cords or generators. Eventually they settled on batteries, since extension cords were impractical and generators too noisy for a parade steeped in music.
Speaking of music, there was the parade’s soundtrack to consider. Producer Jack Wagner and music director Jim Christensen met with synthesizer programmer Paul Beaver, and Beaver used “Baroque Hoedown” as the base for the Electrical Parade’s theme, incorporating tunes from classic Disney films. Fun fact: Perrey and Kingsley, the song’s original creators, didn’t find out Disney had been using their song until 1980, eight years after the parade’s debut, which is... kinda sketchy if you ask me? Anyway, the song was used as the underlying theme of the parade, and would be heard throughout the duration.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, construction was difficult and deadlines were rapidly approaching. At two weeks from opening, barely anything was ready. Miziker had the pieces (yes, still pieces, not yet floats) shipped to California to be finished there. The parade’s completion was incredibly down to the wire, with many working around the clock to get this thing finished in time. During the dress rehearsal, floats were literally breaking and one even crashed into a building on Main Street. Not ideal. Since the Electrical Parade was originally his baby, creator Bob Jani really felt the pressure to make sure it was a hit. The dress rehearsal, unfortunately, didn’t look promising for the parade’s fate.
2. Opening Day & the 1977 Return
After its debut on June 17, 1972, the Main Street Electrical Parade was a smash hit with guests! The combination of lights, synthesized music, and live performers proved to be an innovative new parade. However, if you were a Disneyland guest in 1972, the Electrical Parade you saw would look pretty different to what you were probably expecting.
This first version of the parade had many two dimensional light displays that wheeled down Main Street as opposed to 3D floats. There were some 3D floats, but many of the now-iconic components like Elliot the dragon and the spinning snails, fireflies, and turtles were not yet present. Here’s an idea of what the original Electrical Parade looked like:
America on Parade replaced the Electrical Parade in 1974 to celebrate America’s bicentennial. The Electrical Parade did return in 1977, and this is the version that first comes to many Disney fans’ minds:
For starters, all of the floats were now three-dimensional. Over the parade’s lengthy run (we’ll get into that shortly), many different floats have come and gone, but Elliot the dragon is perhaps the most memorable.
Main Street Electrical Parade Elliot © Tabitha Anctil
Secondly, the music received an upgrade. Paul Beaver had unfortunately passed away, so Jack Wagner and Jim Christensen turned to Don Dorsey, a synthesist programmer who had worked with the pair on the America on Parade soundtrack. Dorsey rearranged the existing melodies and wrote new ones to go with the new floats, as well the fanfare before the main parade theme begun. The first iteration of the Electrical Parade had just faded the music in, but Dorsey had the idea to create a special opening. This was a far more dramatic and exciting way to kick off the parade, and the opening window is another common feature of Disney parades still today!
The opening announcement was originally recorded by Wagner using vocoder and added to the parade in 1979:
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Disneyland proudly presents our spectacular festival pageant of nighttime magic and imagination. In thousands of sparkling lights, and electro-synthe-magnetic musical sounds: the Main Street Electrical Parade!”
3. Timelines & Clones & Spin-Offs, oh my!
I usually focus on the Anaheim Disney parks in this column, but it’s worth mentioning that the Electrical Parade has been all across the (Disney) globe. Well, it and its clones. Let’s unravel the family history:
As already mentioned, the original Electrical Parade (we’ll call her OG) first ran in Disneyland from 1972 to 1996, with a couple breaks. In 1996, when it “permanently” (it would eventually return) left Disneyland, many fans were very emotional. OG has done a lot of back-and-forth travelling because after spending 1999-2001 in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Orlando, she came back to the west coast in 2001 to help out the newly-opened Disney California Adventure and stayed there until 2010. OG once again flew across the country to spend 2010-2016 in Magic Kingdom, but in 2017 triumphantly returned to Disneyland for the first time since the mid-90s. She only ran from January to August in 2017, but the return was heavily hyped. This commercial still makes me emotional:
Come on, it’s SO GOOD. Anyway, August 20 was the last time the OG Electrical Parade graced us with her bright lights, and she now presumably resides in storage somewhere.
Now, if that wasn’t complicated enough for you, in 1977 a second Electrical Parade was built and debuted in the Magic Kingdom that same year. This version was identical, but the floats were a little wider to reflect Magic Kingdom’s wider parade routes. This Electrical Parade clone (can I call this one Boba? Like Boba Fett? Because it’s a clone, get it? Okay I’ll stop) ran in Orlando from 1977 to 1991, then it took a trip to Disneyland Paris and ran from 1992 to 2003. After 2003, it was sent to Hong Kong Disneyland, but never debuted, and now we’re not really sure where it is? Poor Boba. She had a good run.
Because all good things come in threes, Disney built yet another Electrical Parade in 1985. This version debuted in Tokyo Disneyland and ran there from 1985 to 1995. While this third version, which I’ve named Très, only ran for ten years before retiring, in 2001 a new parade called Tokyo Disneyland Electrical Parade: DreamLights was born. As the name indicates, this parade is based on the classic Electrical Parade, but with its own modern, unique spin. DreamLights is still running today, and has undergone several changes and updates over the years. Also, DreamLights’ updated (but still recognizable!) “Baroque Hoedown” soundtrack, by Gregory Smith, was used with some alterations in both of the American Disney parks’ Electrical Parades from 2009 onwards.
Here’s a visual timeline of the Electrical Parade’s many lifespans! Green represent the first version (OG), pink is the second (Boba), and blue is the third (Très).
Electrical Parade Timeline © Tabitha Anctil
Speaking of Electrical Parade derivatives like DreamLights, Hong Kong Disneyland debuted the Paint the Night parade in 2014. The fully LED parade’s theme is a remix of both the Owl City song “When Can I See You Again?” and our old favorite “Baroque Hoedown.” The opening of Paint the Night also pays tribute to the Electrical parade:
Paint the Night ran in Disneyland in Anaheim from 2015 to 2017, and Disney California Adventure from April to November of 2018. It is currently running in Hong Kong Disneyland.
4. Fast Facts
Bob Jani was the first to coin the term “electro-synthe-magnetic,” which became part of the opening announcement.
The Electrical Parade was the first Disney parade to use radio technology so that the music would automatically change when new floats entered each zone.
There were half a million individual lights in the Electrical Parade.
Jack Wagner, the voice of the original opening announcement, provided the narration for many other Disney Parks attractions and announcements, like the Walt Disney World Monorail.
The Electrical Parade performed in New York twice, once to promote the movie “Pete’s Dragon” and once as the Hercules Electrical Parade to promote the movie “Hercules” as well as the opening of the New Amsterdam Theater.
It was also the 1978 Orange Bowl Halftime Show.
There you have it! There’s a lot to talk about for a parade whose life spans over forty years. If you want more specifics regarding each and every float and music change, check out the Disney fan wiki page. This parade holds a lot of nostalgia for me, as it does to many generations of Disney Parks fans. Here’s one of my own favorite pieces of MSEP swag (it lights up!):
Light-up MSEP Lanyard © Tabitha Anctil
Thanks for reading and see you on your next visit to 1313 Disneyland Drive!