(Above: My parents had the LP. I have the 8-track.)
Composer Galt McDermot passed away today, one day short of his 90th birthday. McDermot was responsible for setting the words of James Radio and Gerome Ragni to music for inclusion in a stage show the two had written – Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical. The show opened at New York’s Biltmore Theater in April of 1968 and went on to have a profound impact on 1960s popular culture. McDermot wasn’t necessarily who you’d expect to see associated with rock and roll: he was a serious composer who, in his own words, “had never met a hippie” until taking the meeting with Rado and Ragni.
The soundtrack to Hair was one of the LPs that made its way from my parents’ collection to mine, but not until my first year of high school. Hair was one of the albums, like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, that were in my parents’ collection but deemed “not for kids.” It wasn’t until I heard a classmate talking about the show that I got curious and snuck the album into my room to give it a listen. Immediately, I realized “Hey, wait a minute! I know a lot of these songs.” Songs like “Aquarius” (which I just wrote about this morning in talking about the passing of Wrecking Crew bass player Joe Osborn) were familiar. Songs like “Sodomy” were not, but damned funny, even if I had to look up a few of the words. (After all, if we’re going to sing it in the lunchroom – which I believe we did – you want to have the correct lyrics.)
The soundtrack of Hair was, in many ways, the soundtrack of a generation. In total four songs from the musical became huge Billboard hits: “Aquarius,” “Easy To Be Hard,” “Hair,” and “Good Morning Starshine.” The title track may tell us the whole story of the music’s passing from counterculture to pop culture: the hit version was by the Cowsills, the squeaky-clean family act who gave us “Indian Lake,” “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things” and made milk sound cool. And I swear to all that is holy that one day in 1990, in a grocery store in Macomb, Illinois, the overhead Muzak was playing a stylized version of “I Got Life.” You try keeping a straight face walking past the cold cuts when your inner dialog is singing “I got my ass!” at the top of its lungs.
I guess my theme of the day is “great oldies that were fun to talk over on the radio.” William Oliver Swofford is responsible for the hit version of “Good Morning Starshine,” which served as a sort of anthem for the hippie generation. It went all the way to #3 in the summer of 1969, held out of the top spot by Zager and Evans’ creepy fortune telling in “In the Year 2525.” For my money, I’d much rather hear this one than Z&E, although its inclusion in various commercials weakens that a bit. It’s been a popular choice for others to cover as well: you might expect to find a trippy version by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, but what about Andy Williams, with help from the Osmonds? Or were you, like me, introduced to it by Bob McGrath on Sesame Street and didn’t realize how cool and hip he really was?
Now, this is a trickier talkover, as you have to make a decision: Do you have only enough patter to talk until Oliver’s first note (about fifteen seconds), his first syllable (about twenty seconds), or can you go all the way until the note breaks and the lyrics start (33 seconds)? I generally preferred not to talk over the “la-da-da-dahh” part (I am no John Landecker), but I’ll leave the decision to you. You can hone your skills by clicking here.