Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The hit songs from Hair

With the hype of the 40th anniversary of the "Summer of Love" behind us -- Woodstock nostalgia getting the lion's share of it -- and the revival of Hair a success, it's time to take a look at this groundbreaking musical.

Not that it was a very successful "hippie" musical that featured a bit of nudity and went on to win all kinds of awards. It was the last Broadway musical that spawned Top 40 single cover versions, in this case, four of them, all in one year. Talk about endless free built-in saturated AM radio marketing for your show.

Think back.. how many musicals produced big hit songs in the rock era? The Jackson Five had a minor ride with its cover of Pippin's "Corner of the Sky." Bar mitzvah DJ's love spinning "Seasons of Love" from Rent, but it's never made it onto the Billboard charts. After Hair, you'd have to go back to 1972 for the cast of Godspell and "Day by Day" (also written by Pippin's Stephen Schwartz). Since then... nothing.

It's a tribute to composers James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt McDermott that they not only created a musical that would still resonate after all these decades, but one that would be the blueprint for classic songs that truly represent the pop-making machinery of the era. The show went so well when it first appeared off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 1967, that by the time it reached Broadway two years later, these cover versions were primed to go right to the radio.


The quintessential big LA pop production, the 5th Dimension already had two big cover version hits behind them, Jimmy Webb's immortal "Up Up And Away" and Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic" ("Can you picnic?"). Their producer Bones Howe came up with the ingenious idea of seamlessly splicing two Hair songs together, literally and figuratively, each in different keys and rhythms and turning it into one cohesive single. You can read more about how it call came together from this article in Mix magazine.


The Rhode Island-based bubblegum group which was the inspiration for the TV show "The Partridge Family" seemed awfully square to be swimming in the hippie pool. But they did it once in 1967 with "The Rain, The Park And Other Things" (which I wrote about here) and then again with this pretty faithful cover version.


The threesome who made an entire career of brilliantly picking the right songs written by soon-to-be famous composers and rearranging them took on this ballad as their followup to their debut hit, "One."


William Oliver Swafford took one of Hair's goofy touchy-feely tunes to the top with lots of jangling tambourines, sparkles and bangles. Who can forget lyrics like "glibby glub glooby/nibby nub nooby/la la la lo lo/sabba sibbi sabba/nooby ana nabba/lee lee loo loo/tooby ooby wala/nooby ooby wala/early morning singing song!"

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