Check the history books and you’ll see that “Go the Distance” from Disney’s animated Hercules earned composer Alan Menken his 15th Oscar nomination and 14th Golden Globe nomination—one he shared with lyricist David Zippel. While the song is now an anthem for the film and a “tentpole for the score,” according to Menken, it was almost never written.
Menken and Zippel had written a song called “Shooting Star.” (You can hear Menken play it in the video above.) “It’s a very sweet song and it’s very much a heartfelt ‘I wish I knew where I belong’ [song],” Menken tells Playbill. The team went as far as recording the full track with Hercules’ singing voice Roger Bart and the full orchestra before replacing it.
The song felt too wistful, with not enough drive. It felt inspired by Candide—Menken’s original concept for the sonic palette of the movie before switching to gospel. And so the duo wrote “Go the Distance.” In the video above Menken plays through both songs, explaining the choice and what the 1997 movie needed, how he found the melody, why the horns are so important, and the “confetti of brilliance” that is Zippel’s lyric.
Want to know how Menken and Zippel wrote more of Hercules? Watch the video below:
Check out more videos from our Genesis of a Song series here.