One familiar name crops up in conjunction with this album, Steve Schwartz.
None of the biographies of Stephen Schwartz allude to this record / group but it is undoubtedly him.
His website states, “Stephen Schwartz was born in New York City on March 6, 1948. He studied piano and composition at the Juilliard School of Music while in high school and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1968 with a B.F.A. in Drama. Upon coming back to live in New York City, he went to work as a producer for RCA Records, but shortly thereafter began to work in the Broadway theatre”. http://www.stephenschwartz.com/about/full-bio/ (my underlining … this album is released on RCA at that time)
Schwartz went on to do "Pippin" (1972) and "Wicked" (2003) for Broadway as well as songs for the films Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), The Prince of Egypt (1998) and Enchanted (2007) and others.
Take from that what you will.
But for me nothing he did comes close to the perfection of "Godspell".
His Broadway success (1971) and then film (1972).
The show / film was a part of my Catholic education (Scared Heart Convent, Rosalie and Marist Brothers Rosalie) in Brisbane. The songs were well known, often sung, and it seems, everywhere.
Of course they weren’t. The regular hymns would have taken precedence but the music of Godspell had an impact on us kids. I recall the film being shown to us through a whirling old projector and enjoying the colours, the movement and the variation on a story we knew well. (at least that is my recollection).
The music was so comforting (as so many things from your youth are) that I bought the soundtrack from an op shop when I first started op shopping … and there were many copies available, such was the success of the soundtrack.
To this day it is still a favourite musical film and I still watch it on a semi regular basis.
To me it was always infinitely preferable to the other religious musical, of the time, on Jesus' life, "Jesus Christ Superstar". That rock opera I found just loud and sour.
But that perhaps is the difference.
Godspell is Broadway whereas Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera.
Or, perhaps, it's because Godspell seems to be catholic and "Jesus Christ Superstar” seems to be Protestant. Okay I know with a name like Schwartz it is unlikely he is Catholic and I know that the book writer (the guy who wrote the spoken bits of Godspell and the brainchild behind the musical), John-Michael Tebelak, was Episcopalian but the musical seemed to sum up the love and religious and humanist message post Vatican II. As Catholics we are not adverse to pain, suffering and guilt but 1970s Catholic teaching (as epitomised by the laughing happy Jesus) really did fit in with Godspell. "Jesus Christ Superstar" just seemed loud, slightly secular, humourless and old school.
Or, perhaps, it is because Godspell was American and Jesus Christ Superstar was English … and the English can't really do musicals.
I have travelled off topic perhaps but that is a good thing because there is very little information on this album and I need to fill in the space.
We know that the "group" is three guys and two girls (David, Steve, Pete, Chris and Pat) and it was recorded at RCA's Studio B, New York City and was arranged by, produced by, and largely written by Steve Schwartz.
At the age of 21 to get an album deal, as well as write, arrange and produce shows some balls but he had it … after all he had two major Broadway successes under his belt by the time he was 24.
Group member and songwriter, David Spangler, is also from Broadway having done “Nefertiti the Musical” (1977) and worked with Schwartz on "The Magic Box" (1974). Interestingly he worked with John-Michael Tebelak on the musical "Elizabeth 1" (1972)
This album breathes 1969.
The cover suggests, that there are two women and three men in the band but the female vocalists are more prominent across the whole album.
It’s sunshine pop with all its glorious harmonies with some, not surprising, asides and references to theatre and Broadway as well as some bubblegum and psych touches. It is well arranged with a lot of musicality. Lyrically, it is of its time also, questioning, gently cynical (look at the name of the band), with touches of humour. They were aiming at the Fifth Dimension audience but it is also apt to think The Mamas and the Papas or the late 60s Beach Boys if they were a Broadway revue, or perhaps, theatre kids discover free love, drugs and class consciousness.
Tracks (best in italics)
Side One – Lovers
- January Girl – (Schwartz) – This is lovely sunshine pop with one foot in Broadway (not surprisingly given the above). You can hear this in a movie of the time playing over the credits. It is hard to dislike and there is something memorable about it.
- The Middle Of The Night – (Thomas, Levitt) – Don Thomas and Estelle Levitt were American 60s songwriters that wrote Herman's Hermits' "This Door Swings Both Ways", Lulu's "Love Loves To Love, Love", The Seekers' "Music Of The World A-Turnin' and other songs. A big sound.
The Winds Of Yesterday – (Spangler) – Full on
MORwith a touch of melancholy as you would expect about a love song called "Winds of Yesterday".
- Uphill Woman – (Schwartz) – Sunshine pop with baroque touches as a result of a harpsichord (?).
- The Softness Of July – (Schwartz) – soft psych touches on this female tour de force.
Side Two – Wanderers
- Night In The City – (Mitchell) – Joni Mitchell released this as a single in 1968 which didn't chart (it appeared on her debut album of the same year "Song to a Seagull"
- Mrs. Brown's Limousine – (Spangler) – I don't think I have a dirty mind, well, not exclusively, but there are some sexual double entendres going on here. Mrs Brown's is posh as she drives around in her limousine which may also be a part of her anatomy.
Getting To Me – (Williams) – Jill Williams put out a self-titled solo album on RCA in 1970 that was produced by Stephen Schwartz. She also did the music and lyrics to the unsuccessful Broadway musical “Rainbow Jones” (1974). Quite a catchy
MORsunshine pop number in the Fifth Dimension mould.
- The 5:23 – (Schwartz) – a Broadway piece which is quite good in a show tune sort of way, well, show tune crossed with sunshine pop.
- Councilman Brewster – (Schwartz) – a weird song about the life of a, errrr councilman or, would be councilman. I have no idea if it is a real person but it is daft but quite catchy and epic in scope … a persons life and ambitions from youth to old age in three minutes.
Not fantastic but pleasant enough and it appeals to my sense of the obscure … I'm keeping it.
The whole album:
- “Talking about Godspell, I’m not going to discuss religious topics, as I never do that. I feel that if people know about your personal beliefs, they bring that to the work. I’d rather have them respond the way they respond, and not have that coloured by whether they share my particular belief system. That being said, Godspell is about the philosophy that Jesus preached in the New Testament. It deals little with the question of divinity, unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), which is entirely the passion story. That aspect of the story only comes into Godspell in the last 20 minutes. We are basically dealing with the teachings of Jesus, and I think these transcend any particular religious belief, or lack of thereof. If you look at the principles of secular humanism, and you look at the teachings of Jesus and take out the word “God” where it appears, they are practically the same” http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/arts-music/article/2048913/wickeds-stephen-schwartz-jesus-swinging-sixties
- The Episcopal Church is the United States-based member church of the worldwide Anglican Communion … The Episcopal Church describes itself as "Protestant, yet Catholic". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Episcopal_Church_(United_States)
RIP: David Cassidy (1950-2017)