Released: 5th August 1996
Writers: Alan Menken / Stephen Schwartz
Peak position: #4
Chart run: 4-7-20-31-46-65-64-69-73
Disney took a lot of risks with The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, but recruiting Eternal to perform the soundtrack single wasn’t one of them because Someday proved to be reliably brilliant.
By 1996, there were early signs that the Disney Renaissance was starting to slow down. After a series of critical and commercial hits, the reception to Pocahontas – which many of the studio’s animators opted to work on over The Lion King, believing it would be the more esteemed of the two – was decidedly mixed. The movie was a box office success, but reviews were mediocre and trying to romanticise the real-life colonisation of Native Americans remains problematic.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame thus returned to an approach that had served Disney well. It was adapted from Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel. And while the source material was dark, that hadn’t stopped them before (The Little Mermaid originally had the titular character feel excruciating pain when she walks and ended with her dissolving into sea foam, so Ariel had it comparatively easy). Some revisions were made: three anthropomorphic gargoyle companions were created for Quasimodo to provide comic relief, and the movie’s ending no longer involved most of the main characters dying. However, many themes, such as religion, lust and genocide, remained that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in a Disney movie. So it’s fair to say that tonally, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame was a bit all over the place.
The soundtrack was composed by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, whose previous collaboration for Pocahontas had been one of the inarguably positive aspects of the project, winning two Academy Awards and selling three million copies in America. It followed the now-firmly established strategy of being accompanied by a pop version of a signature song from the movie, designed to generate airplay and – hopefully – impact the chart. Except, Someday wasn’t featured in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame other than as an instrumental. Having been created to replace God Help The Outcasts, the decision was eventually made to stick with the original, and so it ended up in the same place as most other stuff that doesn’t quite fit: the closing credits. The track was also localised for different regions. All-4-One were chosen for America, with Luis Miguel taking the Latin American market; meanwhile in the UK, Eternal’s version was heard.
Taking all that into account, Someday was – perhaps – less of a coup than it initially seemed. However, this was still a big deal. Not least because if there’s an act who were more than capable of performing a big, dramatic, mid-90s Disney power ballad, then it was Eternal, and they deserved this opportunity. Although the group had to pause the Power Of A Woman campaign – which they were in the middle of at the time – it was worth it. The song is a perfect fit for them in terms of both the gospel R&B sound and the quasi-religious lyrics, which deal with the notion of equality and social justice featured in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Of course, given the context (this was a film primarily aimed at kids, after all), there were limits on how deep Someday could explore its subject matter. Even so, the tenderness of the first minute-and-a-half is beautifully poignant: “Someday, life will be fairer, need will be rarer, and greed will not pay; God speed, this bright millennium, on its way, let it come, someday”, and it does manage to evoke a profound sense of purpose.
But you don’t give Easther Bennet – one of the UK’s greatest vocalists – the lead on a song like this and expect her to hold back. Instead, she starts to stretch and work the melody (“Someday, our fight will be won then, we’ll stand in the sun then, that bright afternoon, ‘till then, on days when the sun is gone, we’ll hang on, if we wish upon the moon…”) with impressive power, ably backed by Vernie Bennett and Kéllé Bryan. Around them, the instrumentation swells with crashing drums, soaring strings and a plucky guitar accompaniment – credited to Eric Clapton – leading flawlessly to the middle-eight.
The track shifts into a more urgent rhythm with a stirring succession of big notes. As much as Someday is about an ongoing struggle for fairness, it’s also a beacon of hope. And Easther Bennett does that by wringing every drop of emotion from the lyrics in a magnificent, goosebump-inducing moment: “There are some days dark and BITTER (dark and bitter), seems we…HAVEN’T got a PRAYER (haven’t we got a prayer), but a prayer for something BETTER (something better), is THE ONE THING we all SHA-A-A-A-A-A-ARE”, which is arguably the highlight of the song. Particularly when – barely more than halfway through – it culminates with a key change that is as predictable as it is utterly elating.
Someday willingly leans into the stereotype of a mid-’90s movie ballad, allowing Eternal as much time as possible to do what they do best: uplifting harmonies and rousing ad-libs. After one final, climactic vocal run: “IF WE WISH UH-PON THE MOO-OOH-OOH-OON, one DAY, some-DA-A-A-AY…so-o-o-o-on”, the production comes full circle and ends with a soft (though no less impressive), contemplative: “…one day, someday…so-o-o-o-on”. This is a beautifully composed track with a worthy message, and Eternal get under the skin of the song and make it their own. Of course, some people might say exactly the same about All-4-One’s version (which is still great), and it’s entirely possible that the only significant difference is which one the audience is more familiar with.
The music video and overall aesthetic for Someday take their lead from how Disney marketed The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Given the movie’s tone, they had to be creative – almost to the point of misleading – and used the eye-catching Feast of Fools sequence as inspiration, along with the tagline ‘join the party’. Thus, Someday uses a mixture of real-life props (including a not-quite-to-scale cathedral) and extras dressed in costumes resembling those from the film (the obvious standout being a jester who opens his hand in time with the twinkling piano riff right at the end). They’re set against animated backgrounds that are faithful to the Disney style of the time and very effectively realised, as are shots of Eternal in the cathedral with a pink-purple sky in the background, which complement the atmosphere of Someday. Inevitably, the video’s primary purpose is to promote The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, and it’s full of clips from the movie. However, they are, at least, tailored more to the group’s demographic – with a focus very much on the love story and dramatic set pieces rather than the sidekicks – even if they do spoil most of the significant plot points.
Someday was earmarked as having the potential to earn Eternal their first chart-topper, and while it didn’t quite go that far – reaching #4 in the UK – it was still the group’s joint highest-peaking single at the time, matching Stay and Oh Baby I… Indeed, this was one of the more visible Disney hits of the ‘90s, faring better than Beauty and The Beast (#9), Circle Of Life (#11), A Whole New World (#12), and Can You Feel The Love Tonight (#14), despite being inarguably less well-known. Based solely on the quality of the song, Someday wouldn’t have been a wholly objectionable #1 for Eternal; however, while The Hunchback Of Notre Dame was successful, it’s generally regarded as being less so in relation to many other movies during the Disney Renaissance. So, the chart position is probably about right in that respect. And either way, Eternal benefitted from the exposure Someday brought them because Power Of A Woman returned to the top 75 despite not including the track (it was saved for their third album, Before The Rain, instead).
There’s much to appreciate about this single. But underpinning it is a sense that The Hunchback Of Notre Dame could be taken out of the equation and Someday still sounds like a song Eternal would have recorded. They did so much more with it than simply churn out a localised cover version, to the extent that there’s a solid case to be made for this being the definitive version of the song.