By Peter Filichia –
Congratulations to all who did so well on last week’s Ancient History Exam.
WRix was the first to get the commonality of the 35 songs I listed from 35 different musicals: that in the old days of long-playing records, each of these songs began the second side of the record.
That’s why I used the word “ancient history.” I’m aware that many readers, even those who are now approaching middle-age, have never touched a record. Even in their tender years, they were already dealing with compact discs.
So I apologize to those who were too young to have gleaned the concept of the quiz. Let your youth be your consolation!
That’s one reason why the most recent song cited – “Now You Know” from Merrily We Roll Along – was in 1981, right around the time compact discs came into being. But at that point, Merrily wasn’t released on compact disc. Six or seven years would pass before it was transferred.
I’ll admit that many more original cast albums were put on vinyl for some years after 1981. But by the time Into the Woods and City of Angels still offered vinyl I had already joined the CD revolution. And that’s the real reason why songs from those two shows didn’t make the quiz: I have no idea what opened the second side of those records. (If anyone can tell me, I’d be grateful. Putting together this quiz did make me curious.)
My life might have been easier if I had had those records. I had to pull out dozens upon dozens of those old 12-by-12-inchers – which I now use as file folders for pictures and articles I cut out of newspapers and magazines. But getting the titles I needed was not only time-consuming, but also frustrating. (Plus I got a lot of dust on my hands.)
The reason: I wanted the first letter of each song to spell out vertically EACH SONG STARTED SIDE TWO OF ITS LP RECORD. Notice the first letters of “Easy Street,” “Allons,” “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” and “Here We Are Again” spell out “EACH.” And so on. That’s also why the quiz was arranged in nine parts – so that there would be a space between each of the words. Congratulations to jazzophile for noticing that.
Good Lord, my wanting to have the first letter of each song spell out a sentence turned out to be more arduous than I would have assumed. Getting songs with all those “o’s” and “d’s” wasn’t easy, which is why one was listed as “Desert Song, The.”
There was another setback. Statistics will tell you that your chances of pulling out a record and seeing side two would be 50%-50% — but I swear that about 80% of the time, when I pulled out each record, I was facing side one. True, there are bigger frustrations in life, but I was still astonished at how often I’d have to turn the record over to see if it could help me in spelling out that sentence.
I said, “As a clue, I’ll say that there’s a definite reason why only one song from each musical has been given. Considering the concept behind this quiz, there is NO WAY POSSIBLE that each show could have been represented more than once.” Now you undoubtedly see why.
When wishing you all “Happy Hunting,” I added that it was “a song that could NEVER fit on this list.” True: the title song of Happy Hunting shows up as the fifth song on side two.
I also stated that “in a way, ‘third-of-a-century is a bit of a clue” too. EdinVT assumed that I meant that a third of a century was essentially the life-span of the vinyl record album. That’s true: from 1948 to 1981, it was pretty much what people bought for recorded music. Oh, sure, 78s and 45s still sold, and later cassettes would occasionally eclipse LPs in sales (and 8-tracks wouldn’t). But most people, from about the time that Dewey didn’t defeat Truman to Reagan’s inauguration, thought of the long-playing record when they recorded music came to mind.
“Long-playing!” Today we laugh at that. I remember one time in the late ‘90s I decided to paint my apartment. It would take hours, so this would be the ideal time to play the entire Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that Columbia recorded on four records shortly after the play opened in 1962. Well, I felt like I was getting off the stepladder every 10 minutes to change sides. Once you get used to a 70-plus minute CD that doesn’t require any babysitting for more than an hour, you get spoiled.
Anyway, my third-of-a-century hint referred to 33 1/3 years – and LP records went at a 33 1/3 revolutions-per-minute speed. The ever-resourceful Scooterberwyn got that one.
Goddard Lieberson, the great guru of cast albums, occasionally played fast and loose with the running order of shows to get a good opening for side two. That’s why “If Ever I Would Leave You” opens the second side of Camelot. In the musical, it didn’t follow “How to Handle a Woman” – the last song on side one – but Lieberson knew a hit when he heard it, and figured that people would want to hear “If Ever I Would Leave You” over and over again. And putting the needle at the beginning of a record was substantially easier than putting it on the little space given between the other songs on a record. It was only slightly less difficult than threading a needle.
Old-timers will admit that when they liked a song in the middle of a record – such as “Look Who’s Dancing” from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or the title song from Do I Hear a Waltz? – they’d often inadvertently start it a few measures into the song or they wound up hearing the last notes of “I’m Like a New Broom” or “We’re Gonna Be All Right” (when the latter wasn’t nearly the song we’d learn it was when we got that Sondheim: A Musical Tribute album).
Back to Camelot: this may be VERY difficult for young people to believe, but the gentleman who sang “If Ever I Would Leave You” -– one Robert Goulet — was then one of the hottest new talents in show business. That he had a Columbia recording contract was another reason that Lieberson wanted to give everyone the maximum opportunity to hear him. Charity, sweet or otherwise, begins at home.
To this day, when I listen to Camelot on CD, I fully expect to hear “If Ever I Would Leave You” follow “How to Handle a Woman,” but there’s “Before I Gaze at You Again” before it – as it should be.
Sometimes the best song from a show just happened to start side two. Of course, that’s a matter of opinion. Julie Wilson fans who love her two songs in Jimmy (and I know plenty who do) will take issue with me, but my favorite song of the score is “Riverside Drive,” which is right at the beginning of side two. It meant a lot of needle-picking-up for me.
I always liked when an original cast album just happened to be neatly divided into Act One on the first side and Act Two on the second – such as “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman” and Company, which, as I noted in the quiz, respectively started with the Entr’acte and “Side by Side by Side.” You may say that’s a symmetry we lost when CDs came in, but that’s not entirely true. So many recordings of musicals now are two-disc sets, and most of them use disc one for Act One and disc two for Act Two.
But most of the time, original cast albums didn’t have Act One on side one and Act Two on side two for good reason: first acts of musicals tend to be longer than second acts.
There were two records that we knew long before they were released that wouldn’t be configured this way: Anyone Can Whistle and The Apple Tree, for both were structured in three acts. And if things had stayed the way they had been in Boston, Cabaret’s LP would have started side two with Act Two; originally, Cabaret was a three-act musical whose first act ended with “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” and whose second began with “Why Should I Wake Up?” – just as the LP reflected.
Some come close: “Now You Know” from Merrily We Roll Along, the title song of Bajour and “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly! were the last songs of their first acts. But these first-act endings, all stirring, got their second sides off to robust starts.
By the way, whenever I listen to 1776 on CD, I’m always surprised that in the middle of “He Plays the Violin,” Betty Buckley’s voice doesn’t fade away. Nothing against the lady’s stamina, mind you; it’s just that I first bought 1776 on then-new-fangled 8-track. These contraptions had to fit songs on one finite piece of loop tape, so some songs needed to be interrupted at the end of one track with a fade-out and, after a click, would resume with a fade-in that brought you to the next track and finished the song.
“There’s your next quiz,” said my buddy Ron Spivak. “What songs opened the second track of each 8-track?”
No, thank you, Ron. Life’s hard enough.