Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1973: Arista ARCD-8337
Its only half correct to say that I grew up with this album: it came out around when I was 7 years old, and I certainly didnt see the film or hear the soundtrack right away, but somehow it did enter my life rather more quickly than would seem to have been likely. Whenever that happened, it certainly became a fixture of my cultural orientationI loved it and still do.
In 1986 I was the band leader and pianist for a small local production of the musical and in doing so got to partly assuage a sense of guilt at not having been able to play the music for an even-smaller-scale mini-production at a summer camp, but in that 1986 production I was often aware of just how unmatchable this soundtrack album was (and still is). However much we might love it we cant even approach it in live performance just on the band level, never mind the singers, this albums recordings feature too-great musicians and engineering and editing for us to attempt to match. Paul Schafers organ work in the outro of Light of the World was an arc of beauty I could never even hope to imitate in our shows (which ran for a month and then were held over for another week, by popular demand).
Pretty much every track on this album is superb, so its absurd to try to celebrate one more than all the others. I just want to celebrate them all, really. By My Side is well, not a misfit, exactly, but rather one of two tracks that dont carry the same theme in its lyrics; its gorgeous and heartbreaking when one really dives in and swims in it, but the lines about naming a pebble are pretty obtuse amid all the other songs more straight-up lyrics (admittedly drawn from hymns).
The other inconsistent track is Beautiful City, which really is beautiful but stands out because its completely different in many aspects from all the original songs. How and why it was added (its not in the original stage productions score) I do not know, but its somewhat bizarre here because its chorus parts are rather lush and dont even sound like the cast who sing the rest of the songs. What I can say about it is that apparently the song has been added to official productions of the show but that whats been stapled on is the revised version of it that Schwartz reworked in reaction to the 2001 terrorist annihilation of the World Trade Center. I dont doubt that Schwartzs intent in that was genuine, but the relevance of the new lyrics and the sonss overall sound are seriously questionable as inconsistent additions to an already established piece of musical theatre; and frankly it strikes me as being New York-centric self-pity indulgence. Whether or not Godspell as a musical has meat/depth (and Im in the Doesnt side of the spectrum, generally), its inappropriate to saddle it with such unrelated baggage.
Anywayif I were to call out one track here as my favorite it would probably be Bless the Lordwith worthy contenders noted. Lynne Thigpen delivered a tremendous vocal on it, and it has a fun energy level that shifts in stages. All Good Gifts is sublimely lovely but doesnt grab me quite as much as this. Day by Day is heavenly except in how long it runs (appropriate for stage and screen time but tiresome as an audio-only experience). And On the Willows is just gorgeous (as well as practically very hard to sing unless you can really detach yourself from the emotion of the moment, in live performance).
Having said all that, I must note the frank reality that all these tracks feature marvelous musicianship and singing but convey very little of their texts actual meaning. This is an album of entertainment, not of preaching or even message delivery. Thats a quirk of the musicala flaw, arguablythat the message of the musical is conveyed more through the script than through the songs. (Which is handy, as it allows individual productions to apply their own spin on the story and material.)
Comments © 2017 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.