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Reissue Theory, In Memoriam: Various Artists, “The Essential Marvin Hamlisch”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they may someday see. Today’s installment looks back at the mighty career of the late Marvin Hamlisch and how his best songs might be compiled into a truly “Essential” release.

On Tuesday morning, August 7, news broke that composer Marvin Hamlisch had unexpectedly died the day before, at the age of 68.  The worlds of music, theatre and film were all shocked, as Hamlisch’s latest musical, The Nutty Professor, had started performances in Nashville, Tennessee, and the busy conductor had continued to fulfill his concert appearances.  Barbra Streisand reflected, “I’m devastated…he was a musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being.”  Her sentiment was echoed by many with whom he had worked.  Rupert Holmes, his lyricist on The Nutty Professor, commented, “The music of Marvin Hamlisch is invariably compassionate, charming, tender, uplifting, classy, delightful and profoundly moving.  The world has not lost a note of his genius.  His music will live on.  What I have lost as his devoted collaborator is a friend who was invariably…compassionate, tender, uplifting, classy, delightful and often profoundly moving.”  Robert Klein, star of Hamlisch’s musical They’re Playing Our Song, admitted, “He was inscrutable in some ways, but was a loving collaborator who composed the most beautiful melodies, and thankfully we are left with them.  It is sad to think of all the beautiful music he would have composed in days to come.”  Liza Minnelli, a childhood friend, summed it up: “I have lost my lifelong best friend, and sadly we have lost a splendid, splendid talent.”

The best way, of course, to celebrate Hamlisch’s life is with his music.  Surely the man who wrote “The Way We Were” and “One [Singular Sensation]” is deserving of a retrospective collection.  And so we’ve created one, Reissue Theory-style!  A box set would seem most natural, with one disc devoted to his orchestral soundtrack work, another to his Broadway musicals, and a third to his pop music and hit film songs.  But would it be possible to distill the essence of Marvin Hamlisch onto one disc?  His was an enormously versatile talent; there’s not a signature Marvin Hamlisch sound the way there is a “Burt Bacharach sound” or a “Henry Mancini sound.”  What Hamlisch’s compositions have in common is an unerring sense of melody, an open heart and a true positivity.  And you’ll certainly hear some musical trademarks on these tracks.

For our not-yet-a-reality The Essential Marvin Hamlisch, we have attempted to bring together the best of all three of Hamlisch’s musical worlds, with both hit songs and some pieces which might be unfamiliar.  Some amazing tracks had to fall by the wayside, all of which are every bit as worthy as those we have chosen: “At the Ballet,” from A Chorus Line, perhaps that score’s most thrillingly visceral moment.  “At the Fountain,” the heart-stopping soliloquy from Sweet Smell of Success.  The yearning “Disneyland” from Smile.  “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” the Lesley Gore pop hit.  “Life is What You Make It,” from the film Kotch.  “Cause I Believe In Loving,” an affecting song that closes Woody Allen’s Bananas in a version performed by singer Jake Holmes.  The dramatic cues for films like Sophie’s Choice and Ordinary People.  The list goes on and on.  Hamlisch even wrote a number of songs for performers who might not usually be associated with him.  The young Paul Simon recorded a demo of the song “Flame.”  The Chambers Brothers, Stephanie Mills, Tevin Campbell and Peter Allen all recorded music by Marvin Hamlisch.

You can read our full tribute to Marvin Hamlisch here.  Or hit the jump for our hypothetical track listing to The Essential Marvin Hamlisch, with track-by-track “liner notes” and complete discographical information as to where you can find each of these remarkable songs!

Various Artists, The Essential Marvin Hamlisch (2012)

  1. The Entertainer – Marvin Hamlisch
  2. California Nights – Lesley Gore
  3. Smile – Harry Groener with Julie Anne Aho, Lisa Mayer, Christa Fuller, Lisa Beth Carroll and Niki Harris
  4. The Last Time I Felt Like This – Johnny Mathis and Jane Olivor
  5. Meet Mark – Marvin Hamlisch
  6. They’re Playing Our Song (His and Hers) – Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz
  7. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon
  8. Break It to Me Gently – Aretha Franklin
  9. Maybe – Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack
  10. Nightlife in Santa Rosa – Sara Zahn
  11. The Way We Were – Barbra Streisand
  12. Romantic Comedy (Main Title) – Marvin Hamlisch
  13. Easy Four/Bubbles – Marvin Hamlisch
  14. Elliot Garfield Grant – Martin Short and Bernadette Peters
  15. Welcome to the Night – John Lithgow and Company
  16. Dreamers – Sarah Brightman
  17. I Still Believe in Love – Lucie Arnaz
  18. Theme from Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love) – Melissa Manchester
  19. The Only Way to Go – Bing Crosby
  20. One Hello (Film Version) – Randy Crawford
  21. If You Remember Me (Live) – Barry Manilow
  22. What I Did For Love – Natalie Cortez and Company
  23. One – A Chorus Line Company

Track 1 from The Sting: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, MCA LP 390, 1974
Track 2 from California Nights, Mercury LP SR-61120, 1967
Track 3 from Unsung Musicals, Varese Sarabande CD  VSD-5462, 1994
Track 4 from The Best Days of My Life, Columbia LP JC-35649, 1979
Track 5 from The Informant!: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Silva Screen CD 1298, 2009
Tracks 6 & 17 from They’re Playing Our Song: Original Broadway Cast Recording, Casablanca LP NBLP-7141, 1979
Track 7 from The Spy Who Loved Me: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, United Artists LP UA-LA774-H, 1977
Track 8 from Sweet Passion, Atlantic LP SD-19102, 1977
Track 9 from Born to Love, Capitol LP ST-12284, 1983
Track 10 from Witchcraft: The Songs of Carolyn Leigh, Harbinger CD HCD-1702, 2001
Track 11 from Columbia single 4-45944, 1973
Track 12 from Romantic Comedy: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack, Kritzerland CD KR20016-2, 2010
Track 13 from The Swimmer: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Expanded Edition),Columbia/Film Score Monthly CD Volume 9, No. 5, 1968/2006
Track 14 from The Goodbye Girl: Original Broadway Cast Recording, Columbia CD CK 53761, 1993
Track 15 from Sweet Smell of Success: Original Broadway Cast Recording, Sony CD SK 89922, 2002
Track 16 from The Songs That Got Away, Polydor/Really Useful Records CD 422-839-116-2, 1989
Track 18 from Ice Castles: Original Soundtrack Album, Arista AL-9501, 1979
Track 19 from Beautiful Memories, United Artists (U.K.) LP UAS-30116, 1976
Track 20 from I Ought to Be in Pictures: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Intrada Special Collection CD Volume 39, 1982/2007
Track 21 from Live on Broadway, Arista CD A2CD-8638, 1990
Track 22 from A Chorus Line: The New Broadway Cast Recording, Masterworks Broadway 82876 89785-2, 2006
Track 23 from A Chorus Line: Original Broadway Cast Recording, Columbia PS/JS 35581, 1975

“The Entertainer” – Marvin Hamlisch (Scott Joplin, arr. Hamlisch) from The Sting

Marvin Hamlisch won Best New Artist at the Grammys in 1974 despite having been in show business for a decade prior!  But his was the name on the label of the 45 for “The Entertainer,” an adaptation of a Scott Joplin rag that also won Hamlisch an Academy Award as part of his score to The Sting.  Hamlisch’s recording pulled off the unlikely feat of bringing a 1902 piano rag to a No. 3 Pop/No. 1 AC chart placement more than seventy years later.

“California Nights”- Lesley Gore (Hamlisch/Liebling)

Around the same time he was arranging frequently-groovy dance music for Broadway shows like Henry, Sweet Henry and Golden Rainbow (and what dance arrangements they are!), Hamlisch was making inroads as a pop composer.  He placed a few songs with Lesley Gore, including this evocative 1967 ballad co-written with Howard Liebling.  It went to No. 16 Pop, only slightly behind the duo’s “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” which hit No. 13 in 1965.

“Smile” – Harry Groener with Julie Anne Aho, Lisa Mayer, Christa Fuller, Lisa Beth Carroll and Niki Harris (Hamlisch/Ashman) from Smile

Marvin Hamlisch so believed in the musical adaptation of Michael Ritchie’s 1975 beauty-pageant spoof Smile that he wrote not one, but two, scores for it: a discarded one with Carolyn Leigh (Little Me, Wildcat) and another with a pre-Little Mermaid, post-Little Shop of Horrors Howard Ashman.  The musical finally made it to Broadway in 1986, but lasted a mere 48 performances.  It left behind, though, another tremendous score from Hamlisch, with highlights including the ravishing ballad “Disneyland” and this delicious production number recorded by producer Bruce Kimmel for Varese Sarabande’s Unsung Musicals.  Ashman and Hamlisch’s original demo recording of the score is available on the PS Classics CD Howard Sings Ashman.

“The Last Time I Felt Like This”  – Johnny Mathis and Jane Olivor (Hamlisch/Bergman/Bergman) from Same Time, Next Year

Marvin Hamlisch was the 1970s answer to Henry Mancini.  Like the ubiquitous Mancini a decade earlier, Hamlisch had the uncanny ability to place his film songs on the charts, and this No. 15 AC duet from 1978’s Same Time Next Year was no different.  Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda starred in the movie version of the 1975 play by Bernard Slade, creator of television’s Bewitched, and its theme “The Last Time I Felt Like This” with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman received an Academy Award nomination.

“Meet Mark” (Hamlisch) from the motion picture The Informant!

Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film biopic The Informant! about corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre brought Hamlisch back to the silver screen after too long an absence.  He composed a number of memorable themes including this jaunty, comical introduction for Matt Damon’s Mark.

“They’re Playing Our Song” – Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz (Hamlisch/Sager) from They’re Playing Our Song

The 1979 Broadway musical They’re Playing Our Song comically depicted the relationship between successful, uptight, neurotic composer Vernon Gersch (Robert Klein) and successful, disorganized, free-spirited lyricist Sonia Walsk (Lucie Arnaz), playwright Neil Simon’s not-so-thinly-veiled versions of Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager.  This song captures pure, unbridled joy as Vernon and Sonia share the thrill of hearing their own songs played in a restaurant while they’re dining.   The musical ran for 1,082 performances on Broadway, making Hamlisch’s second musical another unqualified success.  (More on his first musical, later.)

“Nobody Does It Better” – Carly Simon (Hamlisch/Sager) from The Spy Who Loved Me

Hamlisch stepped in for John Barry for the score to 1977’s James Bond adventure The Spy Who Loved Me, and crafted with Sager the first-ever Bond theme song with a title other than that of the film’s.  That said, Sager earns points for cleverly having worked the title phrase into the song, seductively sung by Carly Simon, intricately arranged by Richard Hewson and slickly produced by Richard Perry.  It spent three weeks at No. 2 on the Hot 100, and got an Academy Award nomination.

“Break It to Me Gently” – Aretha Franklin (Hamlisch/Sager)

For 1977’s Atlantic LP Sweet Passion, Aretha Franklin was teamed with the white-hot Hamlisch/Sager team. Hamlisch was already the recipient of Oscars, Tonys and even a Pulitzer Prize. They wrote the sensual “Break It to Me Gently” for Franklin, which made a brief appearance on the Hot 100 before dropping off. It fared better on the R&B chart, where it hit pole position. “Break It” successfully combines Hamlisch’s gift for melodic, orchestrated balladry with Franklin’s earthier sound.

“Maybe” – Peabo Bryson & Roberta Flack (Hamlisch/Bacharach/Sager) from Romantic Comedy

By the time of the 1983 film Romantic Comedy (based on the play by Bernard Slade, again), Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager had separated from their romantic relationship, and Sager had married another Academy Award-winning composer, Burt Bacharach.  But Sager and Hamlisch reunited for this song, and Carole brought Bacharach along for the ride, too.  The rare combined forces of all three yielded this tender end credits duet for Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack.

“Nightlife in Santa Rosa” – Sara Zahn (Hamlisch/Leigh) from Smile

This utterly charming song was written for the abortive first version of Smile by Hamlisch and Carolyn Leigh and would have remained unheard if not for the efforts of Harbinger Records, who exhumed it for vocalist Sara Zahn’s 2001 tribute to Leigh.  It’s a crime that the song hasn’t become better-known; it boasts one of Hamlisch’s most felicitous, and instantly catchy, melodies ever.

“The Way We Were” – Barbra Streisand (Hamlisch/Bergman/Bergman) from The Way We Were

Marvin Hamlisch wrote the score to screenwriter Arthur Laurents and director Sydney Pollack’s The Way We Were, and also composed the title song with Alan and Marilyn Bergman.  The hit single version may be Hamlisch’s most beloved, enduring recording of all time, but unbelievably, it wasn’t included on the original Columbia soundtrack recording (KS 32830!  That LP contains three versions of the title song (two sung by Streisand) though not the familiar version. This recording of “The Way We Were” was a chart-topper for Streisand, remaining on the charts for 23 weeks, three of them at No. 1. It appeared on the singer’s pop album of the same name. Hamlisch picked up two Academy Awards for his trouble, and a third the very same evening for The Sting.

“Romantic Comedy (Main Title)” (Hamlisch) from the motion picture Romantic Comedy

Hamlisch had subtly updated his signature sound as the 1980s began, contributing this central theme to Arthur Hiller’s film of Romantic Comedy, starring Dudley Moore and Mary Steenburgen.  In 2010, the Kritzerland label finally released an album containing Hamlisch’s complete, irresistible score.

“Easy Four/Bubbles” from the motion picture The Swimmer (Hamlisch)

The atmospheric 1968 film The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster and based on the short story by John Cheever, gave Marvin Hamlisch his first shot at scoring a film.  The composer proved to be up to the task of supplying dramatic cues for the film’s varied, frequently surreal sequences, including a haunting title theme and this upbeat, melodic passage with a central piano phrase and more than a touch of bossa nova.

“Elliot Garfield Grant” – Martin Short and Bernadette Peters (Hamlisch/Zippel) from The Goodbye Girl

Hamlisch partnered with lyricist David Zippel (City of Angels, Disney’s Hercules) and reunited with Neil Simon for 1993’s Broadway musical version of Simon’s 1977 film The Goodbye Girl.  Despite a winning score and star turns from Martin Short and Bernadette Peters, the large-scale production folded in New York after just 188 performances.  It was subsequently revived the next year in Chicago, where Zippel successfully integrated revisions, and was re-examined further in 1997 with Hamlisch providing an almost all-new score with lyrics by Don Black.  But this song from the troubled original production (and heard in every iteration since) is musical comedy at its best, and makes it easy to wonder why the musical itself wasn’t a crowd-pleasing hit.

“Welcome to the Night” – John Lithgow and Company (Hamlisch/Carnelia) from Sweet Smell of Success

1957’s Sweet Smell of Success is a stark, uncompromising noir look at the seamy underbelly of New York City in what was then the present day; in 2002, Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist Craig Carnelia and playwright John Guare adapted Ernest Lehman’s original screenplay for a Broadway musical.  The result was a stunning, mature and suspenseful musical with a score unlike any Hamlisch had ever written before.  It had strong jazz overtones and a real, palpable menace in the material for John Lithgow’s powerful columnist J.J. Hunsecker such as the sizzling “Welcome to the Night.”  The musical also gave Hamlisch chance to compose love songs that would have been standards half-a-century earlier with “I Cannot Hear the City” and “Don’t Know Where You Leave Off (And I Begin).”  In a post-9/11 New York, though, the musical just might have been too dark, and it expired after 109 performances.

“Dreamers” – Sarah Brightman (Hamlisch/Adler) from Jean Seberg

In 1983, Hamlisch embarked on one of the most unusual projects of his career, a British stage biography of legendary actress Jean Seberg.  Written by Julian Barry (Lenny) and with lyrics by Christopher Adler, Jean Seberg had a troubled rehearsal period at London’s National Theatre, and opened to generally negative reviews, although Robert Cushman of The Guardian opined that “Marvin Hamlisch’s score is the best he has written for the theater.”  The musical was never recorded, and has to date never been revived.  Sarah Brightman salvaged this beautiful song for her 1989 album The Ones That Got Away.

“I Still Believe in Love” – Lucie Arnaz (Hamlisch/Sager) from They’re Playing Our Song

In They’re Playing Our Song, Vernon and Sonia have a dramatic confrontation during the recording session for this song, which is actually performed (on tape) in the musical by Johnny Mathis!  (Mathis’ recording has never been available commercially but is part of the package of materials when a theatre company produces the show.)  A 2010 revival dropped “I Still Believe in Love” in favor of another Hamlisch/Sager song, “If You Remember Me,” but in Lucie Arnaz’ rendition, it’s still an incredibly affecting song.  Lyric Recycling No. 1: A close cousin of “I Still Believe in Love” is “You and Me (We Wanted It All),” co-written by Sager and Peter Allen.  The former’s lyric “I was there as passion turned to pain/Sunshine turned to rainy days” is awfully close to the latter’s “Passion without pain, sunshine without rainy days,” isn’t it?

“Theme from Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love)” – Melissa Manchester (Hamlisch/Sager) from Ice Castles

Melissa Manchester had co-written many songs with Carole Bayer Sager, so she was a natural choice to sing this ballad from Hamlisch’s score to the 1978 figure-skating drama Ice Castles.  The single version by Manchester went Top 10 AC (No. 76 Pop) and gained a Best Original Song nomination at the Academy Awards.

“The Only Way to Go” – Bing Crosby (Hamlisch/Rice) from The Entertainer

The 1976 television film The Entertainer was based on John Osborne’s play and starred Jack Lemmon, Ray Bolger, Sada Thompson and Annette O’Toole.   It received Emmy nominations for Lemmon, Bolger and Thompson, and introduced this lighthearted but wistful song for a ne’er-do-well at the end of his life.  Near the end of his own life, Bing Crosby recorded it in a rendition that couldn’t possibly be bettered.  In a rare collaboration with Hamlisch, Tim Rice supplied the lyrics.  Hamlisch even performed it at the piano on The Tonight Show with Bolger and Crosby!

“One Hello” – Randy Crawford (Hamlisch/Sager) from I Ought to Be in Pictures

Herbert Ross directed Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret and Dinah Manoff in I Ought to Be in Pictures, Neil Simon’s 1982 screen adaptation of his own stage comedy.  Hamlisch composed the film’s score, and co-wrote this theme song with Carole Bayer Sager.  R&B singer Randy Crawford performed it in the film and also released a single version.  This song was interpolated into the 2010 Los Angeles production of They’re Playing Our Song.

“If You Remember Me” – Barry Manilow (Hamlisch/Sager) from The Champ

Although jazz and film legend Dave Grusin wrote the score to 1979’s Franco Zeffirelli film The Champ, champs Hamlisch and Sager were chosen to write this touching and all-too-unknown song.  Chris Thompson, of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, originally performed “If You Remember Me” with his band Night, in a single version produced by Richard Perry.  Our version comes from Barry Manilow’s 1990 Live on Broadway.  It was appropriate that this Hamlisch song finally made it to Broadway.  Lyric Recycling No. 2: Sager’s lyric includes the phrase “Keep on smiling, keep on shining,” which she later adapted into “Keep shining, keep smiling” for “That’s What Friends Are For” with Burt Bacharach for the film Night Shift.  That song went all the way to No. 1 when Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight cut it in support of AIDS research in 1985.

“What I Did For Love” – Natalie Cortez and Company (Hamlisch/Kleban) from A Chorus Line

Marvin Hamlisch’s most lasting musical statement just might be the score to A Chorus Line.  Working with director/choreographer Michael Bennett, co-choreographer Bob Avian, writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante and lyricist Ed Kleban, Hamlisch struck a universal chord with this revolutionary musical.  He won a Tony Award as well as a Pulitzer Prize, and remains one of only two artists to possess the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony and Pulitzer.  (The other is Richard Rodgers.)  We’ve chosen the 2006 Broadway revival recording of “What I Did For Love,” as Hamlisch specifically rearranged the classic song for the new production.  Though it’s more “pop” and less dramatically specific than the rest of the score, Hamlisch fought for its inclusion, and there’s hardly a dry eye in the house when it’s sung.

“One” (Finale Version) – A Chorus Line Company (Hamlisch/Kleban) from A Chorus Line

“One singular sensation” could well describe Marvin Hamlisch.  “One” remains the quintessential Broadway showstopper from the musical which once held the record as the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, with 6,137 performances between 1975 and 1990.  The rocky relationship between Hamlisch and Kleban was documented in Lonny Price and Linda Kline’s 2000 musical A Class Act, which opened on the Great White Way the following year, making Marvin Hamlisch a character in a Broadway musical under his own name, not as Vernon Gersch.  You’ll notice this track fades out, rather than coming to a buttoned conclusion, as Michael Bennett believed the chorus line should perpetually keep high-kicking…the musical doesn’t even feature a traditional curtain call.  After we’ve learned the life stories of the dancers “on the line” in the musical’s preceding two hours, the now-faceless chorus line kicks on into eternity…much as the music of Marvin Hamlisch undoubtedly will.

Written by Joe Marchese

August 10, 2012 at 10:06

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