Which Disney Song Is the Most Often Played Song of All Time?

Disney is known for giving the world beautiful power ballads but anthems for peace aren’t their wheelhouse. However, they once gave the world a song designed to teach tolerance that became the most oft-played song of all time. The Cuban Missile Crisis and an assignment from Walt Disney himself inspired one of Disney’s most recognizable tunes.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse near a castle
Mickey and Minnie Mouse | Mark Ashman/Disney via Getty Images

The origin of Disney’s most-played song

The most widely played Disney song wasn’t written for one of the studio’s animated films — or any film for that matter. It wasn’t written for a Disney Channel show. It was written for a ride: It’s a Small World.

It’s a Small World is one of the most famous Disney rides that isn’t based on a movie. Instead, it’s a cute diorama of the different nations of the world. The global theme of the ride makes sense in light of its purpose. According to Time, it was supposed to entertain guests at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

What Walt Disney wanted from the song

“It’s a Small World”

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To write the song, Walt enlisted the Sherman Brothers. According to AllMusic, the Sherman Brothers wrote the songs for several musical films like Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and Chitty Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. BMI reports Walt needed a song which explained the idea behind the ride. He wanted it to sound like a folk song. In addition, he told the Sherman Brothers he wanted the song to convey a specific message.

“I want it to be a simple song that is a salute to the children of the world because they are the hope of the future,” Richard Sherman recalled Walt saying. “They have to learn as youngsters how to live together and to share the world because that’s all we’ve got. The small children have to learn to share the world and live with respect.”

The Sherman Brothers drew on their feelings about the Cuban Missile Crisis to write a song promoting peace. Many simply see the song “It’s a Small Word” as cute and catchy. It might surprise Disney fans to know it was designed to bring people together during the instability of the Cold War.

How ‘It’s a Small World’ compares to other widely-played songs

Footage of It’s a Small World

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Because it’s been played often at attractions in five Disney parks, “It’s a Small World” became the most oft-played song. It’s not just that “It’s a Small World” was played more than any other song, it’s that it’s been played so much more than the competition. For instance, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling “ by the Righteous Brothers has been played over eight million times. In a similar vein, the Beatles’ “Yesterday” has been played more than seven million times. These numbers are impressive, but they don’t come close to “It’s a Small World” — which has been played nearly 50 million times as of 2014.

How the Sherman Brothers almost lost out on their royalties

Surely a song played that often would result in huge royalty checks for the Sherman Brothers? It almost didn’t. The Sherman Brothers wanted to give their royalties to charity but Walt convinced them not to do so. Richard was glad they didn’t.

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