Boomers Loved Broadway Music

It’s Tony Award season again on Broadway, not something typical boomers paid much attention to in their early days. If Mister Boomer’s experience is any indication of the relationship of boomers to the Broadway stage, then boomers had virtually no connection to what was happening on the Great White Way. Or did they? There is a long tradition of popular music coming from the stage. Vaudeville songs became hits as sheet music was sold at the turn of the century, then music from the stage was heard on the radio and records in the 1920s, helping to propel songs such as such as Ol’ Man River from Show Boat (1927) into the realm of popular hits. By the time the parents of boomers had entered the 1940s, songs from Broadway musicals became regular fixtures on the radio.

Summertime from Porgy and Bess (1933), was not only a hit in the 1930s, it was recorded by numerous boomer-era musicians, most notably by Janis Joplin (1968). The George and Ira Gershwin tune, I Got Rhythm, from Girl Crazy (1930) became a hit for The Happenings in 1967. Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific (1949) was recorded by numerous artists, among them Frank Sinatra, who released the song three times (1949, 1963, 1967)! A version by Jay & the Americans reached No. 13 on the Billboard charts in 1965.

Here are some other Broadway songs that boomers heard on their radios:

Stranger in Paradise from Kismet (1953, became a film in 1955) was a hit for Tony Bennet that same year. Other stars who recorded it that are known to boomers include Johnny Mathis, Englebert Humperdinck, Percy Faith, Isaac Hayes, the Ink Spots, Jack Jones, Sun Ra and the Supremes, among many others.

Boomers recall Robert Preston’s version of Ya Got Trouble from The Music Man (1957) and subsequent film (1962), but how many recall that Spanky and Our Gang released a version in 1967?

Broadway’s West Side Story (1957) and film (1961) spawned multiple hits for multiple artists, including Tonight and Maria. Aretha Franklin gave us her own version of Somewhere in 1973. Little Richard, of all people, recorded I Feel Pretty in 1966 (granted, it was not a hit for him). The Supremes sang the same song on Ed Sullivan and Hollywood Palace, and even though they had recorded it in 1965, it wasn’t released until 2004.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses bolstered the popularity of Ethel Merman in Gypsy (1959). Many others recorded the tune, including Johnny Mathis (1960), Bobby Rydell (1961) and Shirley Bassey (1965).

The Sound of Music (1959) gave us several hits, and of course, a movie (1965) that most boomers saw at an early age. Climb E’vry Mountain was recorded by Andy Williams in 1960; My Favorite Things became a jazz standard after John Coltrane’s version was released (1961). Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass recorded it in 1969. Numerous artists have sung the song on TV Christmas specials throughout the boomer years.

Fiddler on the Roof (1964) brought us If I were a Rich Man, which was subsequently recorded by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (1966), Roger Whitaker (1967) and Sergio Franchi (1968).

Cabaret from Cabaret (1966) brought us several versions on the radio, including the Liza Minnelli soundtrack from the film (1972), and some unlikely song stylists like Brenda Lee (1968), Ella Fitzgerald (1970) and Bing Crosby (1976).

Hair (1968) brought us several hits, including Aquarius for The 5th Dimension (1969). Mister B has mentioned the influence of this musical in an earlier post. See: Boomers Dug Songs from “Hair”

Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music (1973) was not a hit when it became known to audiences on Broadway. Bobby Short became the first to record it (1973) but it took Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins to make it a hit. Sinatra’s version came first in 1973, and Collins released her version two years later.

The Wiz brought us Ease on Down the Road (1975) on the original cast album that featured Stephanie Mills, but most boomers will recall the later version, a duet by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson (1978) that was released as a single release in conjunction with the opening of the movie.

Of course, there were many more. What Broadway songs found their way into your home and record collection, boomers?

Movie Music Was Boomer Music, Too

It’s Academy Awards time once again, and that got Mister Boomer thinking about movie music in the boomer era. Popular recording artists have been mining Oscar-nominated music to make hits of their own for decades before the Boomer Generation. Yet during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, there was a steady stream of songs taken from motion pictures that hit the Top 10 practically every year. Just look at this sampling:

1950: The Academy Award-winning song from Captain Carey, U.S.A., Mona Lisa, became a number one hit for Nat King Cole. Originally recorded as a B side, it didn’t become a hit until Cole did a radio publicity junket for the album, The Greatest Inventor of Them All.

1953: Dean Martin scored a hit with That’s Amore, from The Caddy. The song won an Academy-Award nomination, but Dean Martin parlayed it into his signature song for the rest of his career.

1955: The film, Unchained, gave us the song Unchained Melody. Though recorded by numerous people, it was the recording by The Righteous Brothers in 1964 that made it a bona fide classic boomer hit.

1956: Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Doris Day sang Que Sera, Sera in the movie, and it reached number two on Billboard’s Top 100 that year. The song was used as the sitcom theme for The Doris Day Show, from 1968-73.

1959: The Theme from A Summer Place, title song from the movie of the same name, became a number one hit by Percy Faith and his Orchestra when the cover version was released in 1960.

1961: The song, Town Without Pity, from the movie of the same name, became the first big hit for Gene Pitney.

1964: James Bond films gave us memorable title songs throughout the boomer era. Arguably one of the best was Goldfinger. Shirley Bassey was given the job to sing the movie version, and it reached number 8 on Billboard’s Top 10 as a single. She later went on to sing the theme song for the 1971 Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever.

1965: The Theme from Doctor Zhivago, an instrumental that was also known as Lara’s Theme, was recorded by Ray Coniff and His Orchestra in 1966.

1965: The title song from What’s New Pussycat? became a hit for Tom Jones.

1966: Taken from the movie of the same name, The Seekers’ recording of Georgy Girl made it to number two on the charts.

1966: The first British song to ever win an Oscar, Born Free, the title song form the movie of the same name, became a Top 10 hit as an instrumental for Roger Williams. Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams, among others, covered the song with the lyrics, as it was sung for the movie opening.

1966: The title song, Alfie, lost out to fellow nominee Born Free that year. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it was sung by Cher over the ending credits in the American release of the film (Celia Black sang it in the UK release), but became a hit for Dionne Warwick in 1967.

1966: The Theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly demonstrates how more than one band could hit the charts with the same song. Italian composer Ennio Morricone composed the iconic song for the movie. His version reached number four on the Billboard Top 10, but many boomers recall the hit cover version by Hugo Montenegro in 1968 that peaked at the number two spot.

1967: One of the interesting facts about the movie song, Mrs. Robinson, from the film, The Graduate, is that the song hit number one for Simon & Garfunkel, edging out Hugo Montenegro’s version of The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.

1967: Originally intended for Judy Garland, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Theme from Valley of the Dolls was sung for the movie by Dionne Warwick, whose single version peaked at number two in 1968.

1967: Yet another Burt Bacharach and Hal David song nominated that year, The Look of Love, for the James Bond movie, Casino Royale, was sung by Dusty Springfield for the film. Her version reached the Top 40, but the song was later recorded, both as an instrumental and with lyrics, by a host of others, including Nancy Wilson, Dionne Warwick, Sergio Mendes & Basil 66, and even the Four Tops!

1968: An Oscar-winning song, The Windmills of Your Mind, was composed and recorded by Michel Legrand for film, The Thomas Crown Affair. After Andy Williams passed on singing it, Noel Harrison sang it for the movie. Dusty Springfield recorded it for her debut album and it reached the Top 40 as a single. Jose Feliciano, who performed the song for the Academy Awards broadcast that year, recorded it in 1969 as well.

1969: Another Oscar for Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the song Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head for the movie, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid was sung by B.J. Thomas. His single recording of the song reached number one on the charts that same year.

1971: When Isaac Hayes composed the Academy Award-winning song, Theme from Shaft, for the movie of the same name, it was not intended to be released as a single. It was the movie’s popularity that caused Enterprise Records to release it that year. The song quickly soared to the number one spot.

1972: That year’s Best Original Song, The Morning After, was from the movie, The Poseidon Adventure. Maureen McGovern’s cover version in 1973 hit number one and helped her receive a Grammy Award nomination in 1974 for Best New Artist.

1973: Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die for the James Bond film of the same name was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost out that year to The Way We Were. Nonetheless, the Paul McCartney and Wings single hit number two on the Billboard charts.

1976: With all the buzz around A Star Is Born this year, boomers recall the earlier remake of the movie in the 1970s. Barbra Streisand starred with Kris Kristofferson in the movie, in which she sang the theme song, Evergreen. Streisand is given co-composer credits along with Paul Williams, another name well known to boomers. It picked up the Oscar for Best Original Song and Streisand’s version reached the top of the charts at number one that same year.

1977: Though the winner of Best Original Song, You Light Up My Life came from a relatively obscure movie of the same name. It was Debbie Boone’s cover version that year that not only hit number one, but became the longest running hit of the decade, lasting ten weeks at the top of the charts.

1978: Saturday Night Fever brought several songs by the Bee Gees to boomers’ attention. Though not nominated for an Academy Award, the soundtrack produced several hit singles for the Bee Gees, including Night Fever, I Can’t Have You, Stayin’ Alive and How Deep Is Your Love. The movie is said to have catapulted the popularity of disco, much to the chagrin of many boomers (like Mister B).

Mister Boomer didn’t necessarily like a good portion of the movie songs during his boomer years, though there were a few. Several still have a place in his collection of 45s, albums and digital music, including Town Without Pity, Unchained Melody, Georgy Girl, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Mrs. Robinson, The Look of Love and the Theme from Shaft, to name a few.

Of course, there were many other movie songs that became radio hits for boomers. What were your favorites of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, boomers?