By Peter Filichia
“Rumson Creek” from Paint Your Wagon is a nifty little ditty, but it lasts a mere fifty seconds. Thus, at ninety-nine cents a download, you’re paying two cents a second.
That doesn’t mean your money wouldn’t be well-spent. But there are songs that technically offer you more for your money.
Yes, there’s a profound difference between quality and quantity. Just as all songs are not created equal in length, they’re also not created equal in worth.
Still, what are the best lengthy worthies that everyone interested in musical theater should hear? I’ll use the five-minute mark as the cut-off for generously timed songs. Some of you will know every title I cite, while others will find some obscurities among the famous; Broadway newbies will find much to cherish. I’ve chosen one from each show.
In alphabetical order by show:
“Finale” (Ain’t Misbehavin’; 7:14) — A medley of songs popularized by Fats Waller, including the one sung by someone mentally unbalanced. (Well, what do you call someone who says “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter and make believe it came from you”?)
“Simple” (Anyone Can Whistle; 12:57) — The great-granddaddy of the ambitious and complicated musical scene.
“November 22, 1963” (Assassins; 10:49) — Not a song, no, but one of the most powerful and best-written scenes in all of musical theater.
“A Lot of Livin’ to Do” (Bye Bye Birdie; 6:05). — It’s shorter on the cast album, but on the soundtrack, the number gets its due: good extra lyrics and wonderful additional dance music (and Ann-Margret).
“Life Is Happiness Indeed” (Candide 1974; 7:13) — Sondheim changed the headache-inducing lyrics of “Venice Song” and created a delicious trio.
“Soliloquy” (Carousel; 7:12) — When I was in high school, I made a list of the greatest songs in Broadway history. I put this first. Believe me, high school was a long time ago – and now, after literally hearing hundreds more scores and thousands more songs, I’d still put it first.
“Let There Be” (Children of Eden; 5:58) — Stephen Schwartz covers seven days of the world’s creation in fewer than six minutes.
“The Music and the Mirror” (A Chorus Line; 6:36) — For everyone who’s tried too hard during a job interview.
“Light on My Feet” (A Class Act; 5:08) — A memorial service for the late Ed (A Chorus Line) Kleban lightens up when he suddenly arrives and does some soft shoe.
“The Tea Party” (Dear World; 7:27) — No, it’s not THAT Tea Party but it IS a meeting of three crazy minds — and almost one dog.
“It’s Legitimate” (Do Re Mi; 5:02) — Phil Silvers, everyone’s favorite con-man, discovers that he can do just as well by going straight — straight to a good ol’ fashioned showstopper.
“Tevye’s Dream” (Fiddler on the Roof; 6:05) — It’s also known as — what’s his name? — “The Tailor Motel Kamzoil.”
“Who’s That Woman?” (Follies in Concert; 5:24) — That’s 112 more heavenly seconds than you get on the butchered original cast album.
“The Contract” (Gigi; 8:59) — Alan Jay Lerner’s final stunning lyric. Hear what must happen before “Gigi has fallen in love.”
“The Coconut Girl” (The Girl Who Came to Supper; 7:56) — A pre-Brady Bunch Florence Henderson is showgirl Mary Morgan, who does for a Prince Regent a one-person tab version of the terribly modern operetta in which she’s appearing.
“Don’t Follow in My Footsteps” (The Goodbye Girl; 5:11) — A mother’s stern advice has never been given in such bouncy fashion. But a happy melody was a Marvin Hamlisch trademark.
“History” (Goodtime Charley; 7:36) — Hal Hackady was able to condense 92% of The Hundred Years War in 1/6,570,000th of that time span.
“The Grand Parade” (Grand Hotel; 8:19) — Some Maury Yeston, some Robert Wright, some George Forrest — and some musical scene!
“Take Back Your Mink” (Guys and Dolls; 5:21) — One of the best trunk songs that just happened to fit the show. And what’s “Hollanderize,” you ask? Joseph Hollander had a company the dyed furs.
“Little Lamb” (Gypsy; 5:13) — “Wait,” you’re saying, “I know this song, and it isn’t remotely five minutes long.” No, not when Sandra Church sings it. But have you heard the bonus track that Merman recorded? Yes, Merman — although it’s not her song in the show. Maybe it was The Merm’s revenge for not getting to record Call Me Madam with the entire original cast.
“Let Me Entertain You” (Gypsy 1973 revival; 5:33) — It’s simply a song on the original cast album, but it becomes a genuine musical scene on the Angela Lansbury recording. We go from Wichita, where Louise starts out slow to strip, to city to city and culminate in New York, where Gypsy Rose Lee is now the star of the show.
“Brotherhood of Man” (How to Succeed 1995 revival; 5:51) — Frank Loesser, who’d written Broadway’s best 11 o’clock number with “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” eclipsed it with this joyous romp.
“Nobody’s Perfect” (I Do! I Do!; 5:50) — After a few years, marriage gets a little difficult, doesn’t it? And yet Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones apparently come down in favor of the institution (interesting word, no?), for they allotted seven more seconds for Michael and Agnes’ optimistic opening sequence.
“Children Will Listen” (Into the Woods; 5:11) — Has such a cautionary tale ever had such a beautiful melody?
“Comedy Tonight” (Jerome Robbins’ Broadway; 6:29) — Also truncated on the cast album. Hearing it here is more fitting, because Robbins himself suggested the song be written — and because it includes every note and word Sondheim brought to it.
“On a Day Like This” (Juno; 6:39) — Can money buy happiness? Yes — but only to a point.
“Elena” (Kean; 6:00) — One of the most beautiful songs to feature a woman’s name. If this show had become well-known and this song better heard, thousands of 53-year-old women today would have the name Elena.
“The Small House of Uncle Thomas” (The King and I 1964 revival; 8:25) — Or if you really want the whole megillah, 13:43 on Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.
“Where You Are” (Kiss of the Spider Woman; 5:10) — A sizzler from one of the great interpreters of Kander and Ebb (and, for that matter, everybody else): Chita Rivera.
“The Best of Times” (La Cage aux Folles; 5:33) — It was, too, for Jerry Herman was still writing for Broadway.
“The Saga of Jenny” (Lady in the Dark; 5:34) — Risë Stevens delivers the song that allowed Gertrude Lawrence to trump Danny Kaye’s Tchaikovskian ace.
“The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands” (L’il Abner; 5:16 ) — Rarely do we find satiric political commentary in the middle of a hillbilly hoe-down.
“Deep Down Inside” (Little Me; 5:04) — Dickens needed an entire book to convert Scrooge; Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh did it much faster with Mr. Pinchley.
“A Weekend in the Country” (A Little Night Music; 6:41) — You know Sondheim needed more than a weekend in Turtle Bay to write this gem.
“Mame” (Mame; 6:17) — Here’s even better motivation than “Hello, Dolly!” for celebrating a great woman. Dolly gets it from nostalgia; Mame earns it from staying on a bruising bronco during an entire fox hunt.
“All Things Bright and Beautiful” (Marry Me a Little; 7:54) — Hear the way Follies was originally slated to begin.
“Bobby and Jackie and Jack” (Merrily We Roll Along; 5:11) — Sondheim was already fifty-one at the time, but he perfectly captured the wit, style and youth of the satiric songwriters who burst upon the scene in the early ’60s.
“Hymn to Hymie” (Milk and Honey; 5:04) — In Jerry Herman’s next show, Dolly simply implored in dialogue for her late husband to allow her a second marriage. Here Herman gave us the same situation but in song.
“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (Movin’ Out; 6:53) — All right, Billy Joel has never paid homage to perfect rhymes, but, my, can he write music!
“The Duck Joke” (My Favorite Year; 5:02) — Hear Tony-winner Andrea Martin try to teach a woman with no sense of humor how to be humorous. The only listeners among you who won’t like this song may well have no sense of humor, either.
“Three for the Road” (New Faces of ’52; 5:23) — Three songs that really stink — purposely — mock the type of losers only heard in such places as Philly, Boston or Baltimore.
“Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone Blues” (No, No, Nanette; 5:41) — Tony-winner Helen Gallagher delivers a torch song with a torch so bright and scalding that it makes The Statue of Liberty look like a Matchgirl.
“Sextet” (On the Twentieth Century; 6:17) — Tony-winner John Cullum is a down-on-his-luck director- producer who’s trying to get a signed contract from the woman he discovered and put on the road to stardom. In the middle of it, Madeline Kahn gets a good solo.
“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (On Your Toes; 11:04) — You may have noticed by now that I haven’t been including overtures, for I’ve wanted to center on songs with lyrics. But in the case of this masterpiece, I’ll make a masterful exception.
“One Small Girl” (Once on This Island; 6:20) — TiMoune belongs to everyone!
“Falling Slowly” (Once; 5:02) — The Oscar-winner makes a fine finale.
“Chrysanthemum Tea” (Pacific Overtures; 7:18) — A mother can only be patient with her slug of a son for so long before she feels compelled to kill him.
“Bess, You Is My Woman Now” (Porgy and Bess 1976 revival; 6:01) — No song with a grammatical error in its title has ever been (or probably ever will be) as beautiful.
“Springtime for Hitler” (The Producers; 8:27) — It only lasted 3:23 on the soundtrack album — because there we only got the opening number. Letting us hear a few more songs was a great idea.
“A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing” (Promises, Promises; 5:00) — Not quite a Christmas song, although it does mention the holiday. Still, a nice present from Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
“Walk Him up the Stairs” (Purlie; 6:05) — How can a funeral service be so joyous? Easy, when you justifiably hated the horrible man who died.
“Ragtime” (Ragtime; 9:23) — Blacks, WASPS and Jews all warily regard each other. How nice that at least one family will merge out of the three by show’s end.
“Not Anymore” (Raisin; 5:22) — The show was developed in The BMI Musical Theater Workshop where professor Lehman Engel would tell his students “Look for humor in dark places.” Robert Brittan and Judd Woldin found some here.
“He Tossed a Coin” (The Rothschilds; 5:20) — Balzac claimed that “Behind every great fortune there is a great crime.” Here we see — in one of the best songs to be written on the road — that a truly great fortune can start with some very small crimes.
“Meditation” (Shenandoah; 5:40) — Lyricist Peter Udell famously said that he felt God wrote this piece and he merely edited. Whether or not you think that The Supreme Deity took time out to work on a musical, this graveside soliloquy by a widower (Tony-winner John Cullum) who wants to keep his wife in the loop has many a stirring moment.
“I Never Do Anything Twice” (Side by Side by Sondheim; 5:01) — The song whose lyrics are so naughty that they eclipse anything Cole Porter ever attempted.
“Tunnel of Love” (Side Show; 6:03) — Life is hard enough, but imagine being a conjoined twin — or even the man that loves one of you but not the other. Talk about sibling rivalry!
“Mata Hari Mine.” “Remember Radio.” “Popsicles in Paris.” (To Broadway with Love; 7:53) — The Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick alliance lasted a mere dozen years, and just about at their mid-point (and just five months before Fiddler on the Roof) they did this trio of goodies.
“You Can Trust Me. A Room without Windows” (What Makes Sammy Run?; 5:06) — Sammy Glick tries to win over Kit Sargent first by being funny and then by being sexy.
“I Am Free.” “Life Is” (Zorba; 5:29) — Actually, it’s NOT free; it costs ninety-nine cents. But “life is” almost always far more expensive, isn’t it?