by Peter Filichia
42 Years Ago this week, New York’s newspapers began sporting ads that said, “What’s a four-letter word for a great Broadway musical?”
The answer, of course, was Hair. “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical” opened at the Biltmore Theatre (now the Friedman) on April 29, 1968, and didn’t leave until July 1, 1972. While a 1977 revival closed in 32 days – it was too soon to see the show again — the 2009 remounting is still with us, after winning last year’s Best Musical Revival Tony.
The original cast album, released by RCA Victor in spring of 1968, went platinum quite quickly. It was on the Top 100 for 151 weeks – almost three years. For 13 weeks, it was the number one album in the land.
Some of its songs became standards. “Easy to Be Hard,” by Three Dog Night, was on the charts for 12 weeks, peaking at number four. “Good Morning, Starshine,” by Oliver, rested comfortably for 11 weeks, reaching number three. That, though, was bested by the Cowsills’ recording of the title song, on the list for 13 weeks, and making it to number two. But the champ was a mini-medley by The Fifth Dimension who paired “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In.” It stayed on the charts for 16 weeks — six at number one.
The two-disc Broadway’s Deluxe Collector’s Edition offers not only the 1968 Broadway cast album, but the 1967 off-Broadway cast album that led to the eventual Broadway smash. Even if you know those recordings, you may still not be aware of some songs originally written for Hair. Co-lyricists Gerome Ragni and James Rado and composer Galt MacDermot wrote quite a bit of material that didn’t make it into the finished product at the Biltmore. They recorded many of these songs in November, 1969 on an album called DisinHAIRited. (Cute pun, no?)
After decades of being unavailable, DisinHAIRited has resurfaced thanks to an Arkiv version. True, of the 19 cuts, six have since shown up on other Hair discs: “Exanaplanatooch,” “Electric Blues,” “Going Down,” “The Bed,” “Dead End” and “Climax.” But that still leaves 13 tuneful if obscure Hair cuts that can be found on DisinHAIRited and on no other Hair albums:
1. “One Thousand Year-Old Man” (“There’s a New World A-Comin’”) – Good song, but lucky for us, the predictions that Ragni and Rado made about the future have not happened. Pretty much, anyway.
2. “So Sing the Children on the Avenue” — Natalie Mosco, one of Hair’s original cast members, appears on this cut. She was part of that nude scene for which the show became famous. Recalls Mosco, “They told us that if we would go naked, they’d give us an extra dollar-fifty a performance. A dollar-fifty! I told them that if I took that little money for getting naked, I’d feel like a whore – but I would do it for free. That way, I’d feel okay about it.”
3. “Manhattan Beggar” – If this one seems to have an unexpectedly Native American sound, remember that word “Tribal” is part of the show’s subtitle.
4. “Sheila Franklin” / “Reading the Writing” – In case you’ve ever wanted to know more about the character who sings “Easy to Be Hard” and “Good Morning, Starshine,” here a good deal of her backstory is provided to us.
5. “Washing the World” – A happy-go-lucky let’s-clean-up-the-environment song. The ditty does take a moment to wonder why hippies were intent on cleaning the environment and not as devoted to cleaning their own bodies.
6. “Hello There” – MacDermot loves to spoof old-fashioned 1920s melodies, and here’s another example of one. For those who never heard Rudy (How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) Vallee sing through a megaphone, his style is replicated here.
7. “Mr. Berger” – is Ragni’s character, here sent to the principal’s office. That’s always a panic-inducing situation, but it’s a substantially worse one for Berger, for he took a tab of LSD just before he was booted from class.
8. “I’m Hung” – Ragni tells quite a different story here than the one he sang about in his 1972 musical Dude; there he admitted, “I’m Small.” Only his lover(s) and fellow gym members know for sure which song told the truth.
9. “I Dig” – From the violin-heavy introduction, you might assume you’re about to hear a 1950’s Perry Como cut. But Leata Galloway will soon be offering such non-Como-like sentiments as “I love your body … and belly-button” and a wish that she had become pregnant by the man she’s singing to and not the one who actually did the deed.
10. “You Are Standing on My Bed” – MacDermot shows his versatility as a composer by starting off with a baroque melody as filtered through ‘60s pop rock, before allowing an East Indian influence for a section on Transcendental Meditation.
11. “Mess O’ Dirt” – The rationale here is that if we’re destined to become “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” then we’re inherently dirty. So why not do some dirty things?
12. “Oh, Great God of Power” – Leave it to Ragni and Rado to use this familiar term in a most atypical way. The great god of power to which they refer is Con Edison.
13. “Eyes Look Your Last / Sentimental Ending” – While “The Flesh Failures” included “The rest is silence” – Hamlet’s last line — Shakespeare deserves more credit here, because his line is repeated quite a bit. How nice to hear it sit well on a different melody line that MacDermot chose for it. And by the way, the ending of DisinHAIRited is hardly sentimental.
Finally, a word about “Climax.” Sakinah, a one-named artist, sings “I reached it. He reached it,” and given the title, we know of what she’s speaking. But the next lyric is “You reached it” — so suddenly the song is about a ménage a trois. What sex the other person is, we’ll never know.
But what will be fascinating to modern listeners is what happens after “Climax” ends. Sakinah says, “Turn me over, baby.” That’s not necessarily an erotic request; in the old days of records, this was where Side One of DisinHAIRited ended. Sakinah was just reminding 1969 listeners to take the disc off the spindle and get to Side Two. This Arkiv version eliminates the need for us to do that annoying and time-consuming task whenever we now want to hear DisinHAIRited.
You may e-mail Peter at [email protected]. He writes a column each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at www.theatermania.com/peterfilichia