A Musical Be-In
Let us say I have a soft spot for musicals.
I'm not the biggest fan, I've never seen Phantom or Wicked or Les Misérables. I was a high school thespian, so I know all the words to The Music Man. I was raised Jewish, so I know all the words to Fiddler on the Roof. I like the songs from Guys and Dolls, especially Stubby Kaye's.
I have a special relationship with the musical Hair, partly because of my older sister Jessie, partly because of cable television, but mostly because the songs of Gerome Ragni, James Rado, and Galt MacDermot are so goddamn catchy. Ragni and Rado wrote the book and lyrics; Galt MacDermot wrote the music.
I came to the musical courtesy of Milos Forman's film version (1979) which played continuously on cable in the early 1980s.
I don't really care if people think the film is flawed (Ragni & Rado hated it, apparently), because I love it. I thought Treat Williams was great, I thought John Savage was great, and I thought Beverly D'Angelo's boobs were great. It had Charlotte Rae from The Facts of Life, it had choreography from Twyla Tharp, and the guy playing Woof (Don Dacus) always made us laugh.
My sister Jessie and I could recite all the dialogue from the film. We knew a lot of it by heart, particularly the scene where Berger and the gang crash the debutante party and end up dancing on the table, smashing all the plates in sight.
Prudes, cover your ears. There's a song in the musical called Sodomy. In the movie, Woof sings it atop a horse in Central Park. Here are the lyrics:
Father, why do these words sound so nasty?
Masturbation can be fun
Join the holy orgy Kama Sutra
Jessie wrote all the words to the song on a piece of paper and stuck it in her underwear drawer. My father was big on reference books, always urging us to consult a dictionary. Jessie had every intention of looking up the words later, but my mother found the piece of paper when she was putting the laundry away.
Holy shit, did that cause a commotion. We almost had the cable television removed.
None of this dimmed my view of the musical Hair. I still think it's terrific.
Hair was a genuine cultural phenomenon. I'm about six months older than the musical, which debuted in October 1967. I don't remember the draft, but I remember Vietnam and I remember hippies.
I collect records, you know this already. Whenever I find a copy of the soundtrack or some variation I haven't got, I pick it up.
The soundtrack from the off-Broadway production (RCA, LSO-1143) features songs not found elsewhere, like "Going Down," "Exanaplanetooch," and "The Climax."
The songs from Hair are presented in a different order on the Original Broadway Cast recording (RCA, LSO-1150), adding "Donna," "Hashish,""Sodomy," "Colored Spade," "I'm Black," "Abie Baby," and "The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)," among others.
The movie soundtrack (RCA, CBL2-3274)is a two-record set. According to the packaging, it's also available on Stereo 8 and cassette. It features many songs ("Air," "My Conviction," "Abie Baby," "Frank Mills," and "What a Piece of Work is Man") which were recorded but ultimately cut from the final film.
One of my first Hair variations is an album attributed to a band called The Aquarian Age (Itco, 10001). According to the liner notes, the band is "ten talented people from Texas" who "felt the music was the perfect vehicle for their first album. The eye-catching artwork is by Bob Venosa. It's perfectly fine, a bunch of by-the-numbers renditions.
According to the notes: "If you've never heard the music from 'Hair' (as unlikely as that is), you'll thoroughly enjoy this album. If you are already a devoted 'Hair' fan, you'll dig these fresh 'Hair Styles' by The Terminal Barbershop."
The lead off track, a quasi-baroque instrumental of "Let the Sunshine In" is pretty mellow. "Air" (also instrumental) would not be out of place on a commercial or a game show. The album notes promise a mix of instrumentals with vocals provided by The Wondrous Joy Clouds. I didn't hear any human voices until the last song on the second side, a reprise of "Let the Sunshine In." Additional research indicates The Terminal Barbershop featured band members from the psychedelic band Ars Nova, whose first album appeared on Elektra.
This Stan Kenton album (Capitol, ST-305) is a proper mix of instrumentals and vocals. "Sodomy" is certainly instrumental only, as is "Colored Spade," "Walking in Space," and "Easy to Be Hard." According to the sleeve:
"Here's 'Hair' the Kenton way, complete with a score and a half of musicians who play everything from the mandolin to the flugel horn, joined by a dozen boy and girl singers who rocked so hard during the recording sessions that they raised the hair on everybody's head and succeeded in transferring the entire spirit of their thing exactly on to this disc. There isn't a molecule of original inspiration missing."
The Kenton abum is definitely upbeat, if just a little too white bread for genuine hippies. The energy cannot be denied, but I wouldn't exactly call it rocking hard.
The last two albums in my Hair collection are actually the same record in different jackets, courtesy of budget label Pickwick International. Pickwick enjoyed success issuing bargain albums with soundalike groups.
The Music and Songs from Hair (SPS 482) was distributed by Sears, Roebuck, and Co. I have an identical album (SPC-3169) on the Pickwick International label.
They're not great, but they're not exactly terrible.
The songs from Hair have been recorded hundreds of times. I love Nina Simone's take on "Ain't Got No/I Got Life," I love Brian Auger & The Trinity (featuring Julie Driscoll) doing "Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)," and I certainly don't mind The Fifth Dimension.
I'm still digging Hair, still searching for unknown variations.