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Archive for July 4th, 2011

July 4 Special Reissue Theory: “1776: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

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Happy 4th of July!  Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we take a look back at notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. In 1969, a Broadway musical about a most unlikely subject became the toast of New York.  Three years later, a movie mogul in the twilight of his years shepherded it to the big screen, and while the film has lived on, its soundtrack album has all but disappeared.  Today’s Reissue Theory, pulled from The Second Disc archives, imagines a long-overdue expansion of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of 1776.

In April 1969, the counterculture was in full swing.  The Woodstock Music and Art Fair was just a few short months away, and the sounds of rock and pop had invaded Broadway with two very different yet equally contemporary musicals, Hair and Promises, Promises.  But in this au courant year, the most truly countercultural musical may have been the most seemingly traditional.  It picked up three trophies, including Best Musical, at the Tony Awards on April 20, 1969.  The musical involved a group of young, spirited radicals seeking to overtake an oppressive government, and even featured a powerful ballad – a protest song, even – about the ramifications of war.  I’m, of course, talking about 1776.

1776 hardly seemed the stuff of a theatrical success story.  Its librettist, Peter Stone, had the books to two flop Broadway musicals (Kean and Skyscraper) to his credit.  Its composer and lyricist, Sherman Edwards, was a former history teacher who had scaled the pop charts years earlier with “Wonderful! Wonderful!” and “See You in September,” but had never written for the stage.  Ask Bono and The Edge how easy that is!  Edwards had conceived of the idea of bringing America’s founding fathers to Broadway, but after initial attempts at writing the musical’s book himself, he turned to Stone.  The writer had penned the screenplay to Stanley Donen’s Charade, was an Emmy winner for The Defenders and an Oscar winner for Father Goose, but was not yet an accomplished writer of musicals.  Edwards convinced his new collaborator that the members of the Second Continental Congress could be presented in a flesh-and-blood manner, and that the familiar story of American independence could be rendered in a thrilling, even suspenseful way.  Nobody wanted 1776 to be a mere history lesson.  While he of course took artistic license, Stone drew on countless original texts, letters and documents to give the characters’ dialogue as much verisimilitude as was possible.  Stone must have exceeded Edwards’ fervent hopes with his ingenious, unconventional libretto, undoubtedly one of the finest ever written for a musical.  Put simply, 1776 broke many of the rules.  For one thing, there is no chorus or ensemble.  For another, choreography is minimal.  And then there’s a 30+ minute long stretch of dialogue with absolutely no music whatsoever, which would appear to break a cardinal rule of writing for the musical theatre.  In addition, the show was originally written and performed without an intermission.

Edwards’ score is quite odd, too.  Not one song is written in standard A-A-B-A style, and its music doesn’t sound anything like the hits Edwards had churned out for Johnny Mathis (“Wonderful! Wonderful!”) or Joanie Sommers (“Johnny Get Angry”).  Its unique style occasionally borrowed from operetta but also from traditional musical theatre.  Orchestrator Eddie Sauter, a prominent name in jazz circles, even brought a baroque sensibility to the score with his use of instruments such as the harpsichord.  (There were naturally very few contemporary covers, but Cher did take a crack at “Momma, Look Sharp.”)

Hit the jump to follow 1776 from stage to screen to record! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 4, 2011 at 13:13

Back Tracks: Sly and The Family Stone

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Today being the Fourth of July, there are few better reasons to give a spin to Sly and The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits, arguably one of the best single-artist compilations in pop history. Those danceable grooves will get you moving at any barbecue, family reunion, pool party or whatever you might be celebrating this holiday weekend.

But revisiting Sly has another purpose as of late: to get set up for one of the most unexpected comebacks in contemporary American music. Next month, Stone is slated to release I’m Back! Friends and Family on the Cleopatra Records label. The star-studded album will be his first in nearly three decades. But the track list of the record – mostly covers of Stone’s most famous early works, with a handful of new tracks and alternate mixes tacked on at the end – seems a tacit admission that he may never get higher than those great, early, party-starters for Epic Records in the 1960s and 1970s.

So, as our way of saying thank you to Sly Stone for more than 40 years of music to dance to, here’s a look back at the many releases and reissues of Sly and The Family Stone, Back Tracks-style. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

July 4, 2011 at 10:50