I was Lost ’til I Heard the Drums

For more than a year, some of my friends and former coworkers have been sharing music. The idea is that we’re supposed to review/rate what’s shared with us, then share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

I decided to share a musical movie soundtrack this week because of a few factors. My wife and I were talking about Glee and its influence in TV as a musical show. And Permanent Revolution almost felt like a soundtrack to a musical theatre documentary. And we watched (and were disappointed in) the new Annie movie. That actually got us talking about what a good musical was. Obviously it has to have good music (not just one or two songs, but 10 or so), but for me (having acted in a few musicals) it’s not just about the singing. It also has to have good choreography. We were trying to figure out what the best musical movie was. But before I talk about what I shared, let me get into what my friends shared.

The Who – Tommy (1969)

The Who is a band that I’ve only ever heard radio hits from, but I’ve liked everything I’ve heard (there are some bands that I don’t even like their hits). I don’t know why I’ve never bothered to look into them more. It’s a shame.

I was really surprised how generally prog rock this whole album was, without being weird. It was like the wrote a whole musical score, but decided to just play it themselves. Most concept albums (like Permanent Revolution) only have a lyrical theme to them. A few have one or two musical themes, but instead of sounding “cohesive,” it just sounds like they wrote one really long song, and broke it into more tracks later. Tommy, however, keeps bringing back musical themes; often not for very long, but just long enough to be familiar and help the whole soundtrack feel like a whole work, instead of a collection of many individual works.

I really found myself liking Amazing Journey. Pinball Wizard is still the best track, but I’m surprised I hadn’t heard Amazing Journey before. And Sally Simpson and We’re Not Gonna Take It (especially the last couple of minutes) were alright, too. If there was one track I wanted to hear more of, it was Miracle Cure. Those 12 seconds had some great potential for more musical content.

Cousin Kevin was musically great, although lyrically it was pretty dark. Fiddle About was also a little disturbing, and the music wasn’t even anything notable. Tommy’s Holiday Camp was pretty weird, and I’m sure that was the intention, but I still didn’t really like it.

And … that’s kinda it. The rest of the album was fine. I just don’t have much to say about it other than I’d like to see it on stage. Or perhaps as a film, but reading about the 1975 movie, I’m not sure I want to see that version. 3/5

Hairspray (2007)

Ok, now here’s a real musical. This is my wife’s favorite musical. And I think it ties with You’ve Got Mail as her favorite movie ever. I think I watch this movie three or four times a year, just because I know she watches it more than that and catch little pieces of it as I come in and out of the room. I’d recommend seeing this, if you haven’t already. Most of the songs are just fine, but there’s a lot of great, “natural” feeling dancing.

My favorite number is You Can’t Stop the BeatNew Girl in Town is pretty good, too. I especially like the more Motown half and the outro. And some of the words (like Good Morning Baltimore and The Nicest Kids in Town) are pretty funny. Some of the songs (like Zac Efron’s feature songs, as well as New Girl in Town) sound like they could have just been radio singles from the ’60s they fit into the movie.

But I don’t love them all. In fact, as good as an actor as John Travolta was in this, he’s not that good of a singer. Grease was 30 years ago (although they’re only set 3 years apart). Welcome to the ’60s wasn’t bad, but I think a lot of that rides on the really spectacular talent of Nikki Blonsky. Christopher Walken’s not great either, so it’s bad when he’s the best part of a musical number. And Miss Baltimore Crabs? No thank you. With the Latin groove, it seems like it could have been something I liked, but in practice? Not so much. And I’ve never been a fan of Queen Latifah, although her singing is really rather good.

This review seems short, but Hairspray really is a great movie and a good soundtrack. 3/5

Newsies (1992)

Maybe with the help of a not-as-good-as-the-movie YouTube video from some people from BYU, I couldn’t think of any movie musical I like more than Newsies. It would have been a decent movie without the song and dance numbers, but with them it’s great.

I’ll be amazed if you’ve never seen this movie. If you didn’t know, it’s almost historically accurate, although the real strike ended with the newspapers just buying unsold papers back from the newsies. And most of the characters are amalgamations of real people. One of the two guys Christian Bale’s character is based on is the kid with the eyepatch in the movie.

I do have to say I don’t love Ann-Margret’s numbers. I feel like they are weaker songs and break the flow of the movie and the soundtrack, although I do recognize the importance of her character in the film. But this isn’t a film review.

On a side note, Ann-Margret played Tommy’s mom in the 1975 film adaptation.

One “just alright” song is King of New York. And the one aspect that brings it down is Bill Pullman’s singing. Granted he’s not as bad as Jeremy Irons, Russell Crowe, or (heaven help us) Pierce Brosnan, but his singing is still some of the worst in the movie. But I do think he’s better than John Travolta.

Anyway, the rest of the songs (the ones sung by Batman and the rest of the paperboys) are great. I hope you enjoy them.

Here’s what my friends thought about Newsies:

“This one is good. Its almost embarrassing to admit it, but I like this classic, stick-it-to-the-man film. Though any time you bring it up it tends to initiate a discussion between girls whether Spot or Jack are more attractive…

I used to own this soundtrack, it was a Christmas gift when my parents were trying to help guide my musical interests (they also gave me STYX greatest hits, so no malice). Somewhere in the sands of time I lost it, so I haven’t listened for a while, but I know the songs by heart. So here goes the walk down memory lane.

Also wouldn’t “Batman and the Paper Boys” be an awesome name for a band?

I’m 1/3 of the way in and I’m finding its pretty hard to comment individually on these songs, as each one is just so classic. Each one was produced with a disney size budget, so the orchestration is always excellent, the singing is flawless, and its just perfectly produced. The style and lyrics are all thats left. I guess.

I agree the Ann-Margret songs really are lowlights in the set.

Sieze the Day is a good anthem, especially the boys chorale in the reprise is really nice. Its probably my favorite tune.

King of New York is a fun song. Kind of a stereotypical showtune I think though.

Santa Fe is a good moving song. I really like the faster section in the middle, not so much because its my favorite part, but more beacuse the song really benefits from the variation. It kind of follows the way thoughts and feelings really happen. A little sad and reflective, then a fast moving thoughts on the unfairness of your situation, wrought with angst, then returning to the reflection.” – Spencer

“Yes, I gave Newsies a 5-star rating. The music is fantastic, the story telling is fantastic, and overall it is well put together. It does what every sound track should; it tells the story without you ever having to watch the film. Alan Menken is a musical genius. And what’s amazing is his ability to continue smashing out hit scores and songs for movies and TV for roughly 30 straight years. But yet, he still stays relevant. Check out Galavant if you don’t believe me.

But back to Newsies. I felt that the music really fit the period they were shooting for. The songs lyrics are powerful and surprisingly relevant to today…meaning that he did a good job of making it timeless. But in addition to the songs, it is clear that a good storyteller was at the helm. The right song, with the right mood, flowed along the proven structure of how you tell a story. You set it up, you address the problem, you rally the troops, at one point all is lost, and finally you bring it home for a grand finale where all is right again. This is a great album, and I’m glad it was shared.” 5/5 – Tim

Let me know in the comments section what you thought about any of these three soundtracks or your own favorite soundtrack, “musical” or not.


3 thoughts on “I was Lost ’til I Heard the Drums

  1. Pingback: I’ve Been Here Times Before | An American Audio-logue

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  3. Pingback: I Don’t Need to Fight to Prove I’m Right | An American Audio-logue

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