The Bane of Broadway Aficionados: Soundtrack or Cast Recording?
The great faux pas of young musical theatre enthusiasts is that they will use the words "soundtrack" and "cast recording" interchangeably, or omit the latter and defer to the former as a catch-all. Let's clear things up, once and for all: if it's a recording of a movie musical, it's a motion picture soundtrack. If the recording is of a Broadway show, it's an original cast album or cast recording. Never the twain shall meet.
In my youth, I made this mistake. In all fairness to my younger self (and all young people who have made this mistake), these two genres of collectible recordings have always been unceremoniously lumped together, perhaps as a way of consolidating a music style that didn't warrant definition because it wasn't part of the mainstream. I remember going into Record Town in the mall and soundtracks, cast albums, easy listening and jazz were all lumped together on the cassette wall, far from the places where Rock & Roll, Pop and County would be contaminated by more sophisticated tastes (or so I told myself). The truth is, there never seemed to be enough of any one style to warrant individual placement.
Moving left to right, top to bottom, you would find a musical stew of “Grandma's” music, soundtracks from Amadeus, Chariots of Fire, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, sandwiched between Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Miles Davis and Nat King Cole. Interspersed throughout, one would stumble across Carousel, Guys & Dolls, or Sweeney Todd. The mishmash came under a heading "Soundtracks & Easy Listening." I remember it well, because I spent a good portion of my teenage years there, trying to figure out how I'd spend my allowance and on which cassette. The day Follies and Chess both showed up on the wall was a pretty daunting one for me, as I had to make a heart-wrenching Sophie’s Choice between the two and where my $10 would be allotted. (I bought Chess). The puzzle of what genre this was had eluded me and this tender age because I assumed the powers that be had sorted this out and settled on "Soundtracks and Easy Listening." Is this where this mistake began for many of us? For my generation, I think it arguably is.
For years, I referred to my Broadway cast recordings as “soundtracks.” As a teenager in rural New York State’s dairy country, I had no basis for comparison or any erudite mentor to set me straight. It wasn’t until I found a theatre internship with a summer stock company right after high school that I was awakened to the egregious mistake I was making. Thank goodness, I went off to college with a new understanding that kept me from looking like a moron in the eyes of my co-theatre majors. Turns out, they didn’t know the difference either. I spent five years setting everyone and anyone I could straight on the matter.
In the mid-90s, the transition to CD came to be, and it seems as though the differences started to sort themselves out. By then, Record Towns were disappearing and chain stores began separating cast recordings and soundtracks like the sheep from the goats. No longer did I frustratingly have to look in the cracks between Love Story and Driving Miss Daisy to find Carnival and A Little Night Music. The soundtrack to Dumb and Dumber had no place next to my beloved Follies, which took me almost another ten-years from my discovery at Record Town to purchase. It would be an insult to lump them together.
Nowadays, since the advent of Amazon, iTunes, Pandora and Sirius Satellite Radio, these two separate genres have been parted like the Red Sea. It is easy to know the difference between a soundtrack and a cast recording. So why are so many people still making this mistake? Are we handing down the murky confusion to another generation of stage and screen musical fans? How do we overcome this societal gaffe in etiquette? How come this is something that is never taught? As recently as three-weeks ago I had to explain this to a musical theatre major who was on his was to college. He said he “just didn’t know.”
In truth, it never bothered me to the point that it does many who writhe and foam at the mouth when they hear a Broadway cast recording called a soundtrack. A mistake is a mistake, so we all can let it slide until we have the opportunity to teach the difference. But I am still trying to solve the mystery as to why this continues to happen. I would welcome and thoughts and insights as I continue my quest to answer this question that has been haunting the first gay caveman since the dawn of time.