Originally published on January 30, 2009
Depending on who you ask, my musical tastes run from “eclectic” to “total dip.” I’m just as comfortable listening to television theme songs and commercial jingles as I am obscure 1980s punk bands or movie soundtracks. So I can get away with humming just about anything around the house with two exceptions: Broadway show tunes and anything smelling of bluegrass are completely banned from the premises in any way, shape, or form.
Fortunately I’ve never been much of a show-tune guy anyway, having missed out on most of the classic productions. My sisters and I all went to small Catholic high schools and there weren’t budgets for a lot of musicals, though I do remember going to see my sister in “Annie Get Your Gun.”
But I can appreciate the great tradition of the American Musical Theater. The images this week are all from a 1959 record series I came across of classic musicals presented by TV-showman Ed Sullivan.
Click on any image to see a larger version.
I’ve always liked graphic design projects that require overall consistency yet differences among individual items. Here, in what I’m sure was an inexpensive-to-produce series, the artists managed to convey the series aspect of the collection with a standard template and put enough work into each show-tune logo to give that specific record some personality.
I suspect this series of records was marketed as some sort of supermarket premium, where each week you could get the next edition at a much-reduced price just by shopping at a particular store. That was pretty common in 1959. And even without a discount, these records were reasonably priced at $1.69 each.
Of course, these were not actual cast recordings, done instead by a generic orchestra. But for those who never saw the actual Broadway production, this was an inexpensive way to experience the hit tunes each of these productions produced.
Ed Sullivan himself wrote liner notes on the back talking about his own experiences with the musicals and told anecdotes about the composers or stars. Did you know, for instance, that Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein originally refused to write “South Pacific” for fear it was too close in story to “Madame Butterfly”? Or that Cole Porter fled the United States and joined the French Foreign Legion after the failure of his first musical, called “See America First?”
In the case of the mega-hit “Oklahoma,” it all seemed to come down to the title. Originally called “Away We Go,” the musical was poorly received in pre-Broadway exhibitions, but just before opening night there was a last-minute name change to “Oklahoma” and the musical became an instant smash.
Of all of the musicals presented here, I’ve probably only seen three (in any form). However, I am familiar with many of the hit tunes that came out of these and even have a very odd cover of Marlene Dietrich singing “Surrey with the Fringe on the Top.”
My best show-tune story is from a trade-show party I hosted, during which a guest passed out nose flutes to the party goers and instructed them to play songs from “The Music Man.”
You really had to be there.
What I like about these logos is how they convey the plays’ themes. I’m almost certain, given the 1959 time frame, that all of these were hand drawn. As is usual for that era, there are no credits given to anyone for art design or illustration.
It’s okay with me if you are a show-tune fanatic and can recite from heart the words to “Anything You Can Do,” or “Some Enchanted Evening.” There’s something contagious about these tunes, and they represent a unique American art form. Just don’t go singing them around my house!