The Musical Transition

“The ’60s was one of the first times the power of music was used by a generation to bind them together.”
Neil Young

The Musical Transition

I just finished this book called The Secret Life of the American Musical. It was a good read and I enjoyed every word on the page.

There is an idea in there that is pretty smart. There is a suggestion that when rock and roll arrived that the good songwriters decided to write rock songs instead of songs for musicals.

People began picking up guitars instead of learning the piano and writing songs for that genre. This created an alarming lack of talent on Broadway post-rock and roll. Imagine Paul Simon or Van Morrison or Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young, all great song writers, if their choice had been the Broadway musical genre.

It is hard to imagine today that being a writer for musical was once a cool thing to do with one’s life. Musicals were once very cool until rock and roll made them not cool.

To see the transition in real time, here is a list of the best selling albums by year.

  • 1957: My Fair Lady (Original Broadway Cast)
  • 1958: My Fair Lady (Original Broadway Cast)
  • 1959: Henry Mancini – “Music from Peter Gun”
  • 1960: The Sound of Music (Original Broadway Cast)
  • 1961: Camelot (Original Broadway Cast)
  • 1962: West Side Story (Soundtrack)
  • 1963: West Side Story (Soundtrack)
  • 1964: Hello Dolly! (Original Broadway Cast)
  • 1965: Mary Poppins (Original Soundtrack)
  • 1966: Herb Alpert & the Tiquana Brass – “Whipped Cream & Other Delights”
  • 1967: The Monkees – “More of The Monkees”
  • 1968: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Are You Experienced”
  • 1969: Iron Butterfly – “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
  • 1970: Simon and Garfunkel – ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water”
  • 1971: Jesus Christ Superstar
  • 1972: Neil Young – “Harvest”

That was one helluva flip from musicals being cool to not cool.
A lot happened in that time period besides rock and roll; political things including the end of McCarthyism and protests for the war and The Pill.

The elephant in the living room is, of course, television. This invention lined up perfectly by bringing pictures of war right into our living rooms and an explosion of new ideas all across the world: including rock and roll, baby.

Elvis was more cool than Mary Poppins, right?

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