Fifty years ago this month, the musical Hair (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot) opened on Broadway after a short run at the off-Broadway Public Theater in New York City. Shortly after its debut in New York, simultaneous productions appeared in various cities in the U.S. as well as in London, England. To boomers, Broadway musicals tended to represent the old guard — either staid, sappy or both. Any boomer can recall the Simon and Garfunkel lyric, Is the theater really dead? (The Dangling Conversation, 1966). Then Hair came along as the first rock musical to make it to the Great White Way.
Rock music notwithstanding, it had its own level of controversy surrounding a scene in which members of the cast appeared nude if they wanted to on any given night. This one scene caused protests outside theaters around the country, and even got the play shut down more than once. For boomers growing accustomed to various forms of protest — including nudity — this wasn’t as much of an issue as it was to most boomer parents; rather, it was the music that boomers latched on to. Like popular musicals decades before, selected songs from the original cast album of Hair made their way to the radio and into boomer households. The original cast album, recorded with the off-Broadway cast in 1967 and released in 1969, hit No. 1 in the U.S. for 13 weeks, sold nearly three million copies and earned a Grammy Award for Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album. Bands and vocalists couldn’t resist covering the music, and several songs made the Top 10 in the U.S. and Great Britain.
In particular, four songs became part of boomer music history between 1968 and 1969, including the title song, Hair, Good Morning Starshine, Easy to Be Hard and Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In).
Aside from the original cast album, it was the version that The Cowsills released in 1969 that made it to a lot of boomers’ 45 RPM collections. The Cowsills were the (at various times) six brothers-a sister-and-their-mother group that was the real-life inspiration for the TV family band, The Partridge Family. That trivia aside, their version of Hair hit No. 1 for two weeks, settling in at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the year, 1969.
Good Morning Starshine
Oliver (William Oliver Swofford) was an American pop singer and boomer himself. In 1969 he released Good Morning Starshine, and it propelled him to No. 3 on the U.S charts (No. 6 in Britain).
Easy to Be Hard
Though several people recorded the song besides the original cast album, including Shirley Bassey, Jennifer Warnes and Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, it was Three Dog Night’s 1969 version that topped the charts at No. 4. The song became their highest-charting single to that date, and is the one that boomers recall when they remember the Hair song.
Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)
The 5th Dimension released a 45 RPM of the song (and an album with it) in 1969. Their version was a medley of two songs from Hair: The Age of Aquarius and Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures), often referred to as Aquarius or Let the Sunshine In. The band’s smooth harmonies seemed incongruous to a song medley about hippie rebellion, but it achieved No. 1 status on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the group Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group and Record of the Year.
Mister Boomer acquired three of these singles when he received the 45 RPM collections of his brother and sister. Brother Boomer had purchased Easy to Be Hard and Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, and his sister added the Cowsills’ Hair. Mister Boomer’s opinion after fifty years? It’s worth checking them all out for vintage nostalgia, and actually, a pretty good listen from the cast album to the most popular versions as well. Tell a hairy, bearded millennial to have a listen with you, too!
Did you buy the original cast album or any 45 RPM covers of songs from Hair, boomers?