The Broadway Cast Album Easter Egg Hunt of Old
In this day of downloads, streaming, CDs, not to mention the advent of Amazon and EBay, collecting Broadway cast recordings is a relatively easy thing to do. It is nice to have the convenience of tracking down any showtune you like with a simple search on the internet. It has made Broadway and its wonderful music accessible to all, and for that these advances will always be a wonderful part of the evolution of our technology. It has, however, taken the fun out of the once-thrilling Easter egg hunt that was a big part of cast album collecting.
Those of you who remember the good old days will recall the “electric thrill” (to quote The Music Man) of happening upon a rare cast album at The Salvation Army, a yard sale, or in a bargain bin at the record store (remember those?). Do you remember that tingle in your spine when you'd found a recording you'd never heard of, or that album you'd been wanting for years, but never thought you would find? Oh, the sacrifices you'd make to pay for it if money was tight, reconciling "I don't need to eat this week." Usually, however, you'd get them for a great deal you'd feel like you were getting away with highway robbery by absconding with a copy of Anyone Can Whistle for a quarter. You'd ride home, caressing it with your fingers, anxious to put it on your record player, ready to be captivated by songs you'd only heard about from friends who might have heard the album once at a party.
There is a smoky warmth to the sound of listening to a cast album on a record player. That scratchy crackle like a fire burning, accompanied by the words and music of Broadway composers and lyricists as they come to life in all their glory, is a thing of joy and comfort. Oftentimes, the album jackets would feature beautiful pictures of the Broadway production, offering a glimpse into what the show looked like. This was especially welcome when you scored a flop show in your search. Maybe I am in the minority here, but in my opinion, there is no better way to experience an original cast album than by listening to it this way. How those overtures would fill the room (and I mean, lush, sublimely orchestrated overtures that announced the event of a Broadway musical), tempting us with the melodies that we would experience later-on with the added pleasure of the lyrics to hypnotize us. This was the chief reason that finding an old cast album for your collection was such an event.
I remember sitting on my hands and knees in the basement of The Salvation Army in Norwich, New York, the place where they kept their record albums unceremoniously filed in milk crates. There was no alphabetical order and no division by genres. You simply dug. On Saturday mornings, I would ride with my mother into town and while she grocery shopped, I’d explore in The Salvation Army basement. Sure, I could find several copies of The Sound of Music, Camelot, and West Side Story, though they were usually the soundtracks and not the cast albums, but every once and I while I would stumble upon a gem of a hard find. Flahooley? Check. Maggie Flynn? Got it for ten cents. Greenwillow? What the heck is that? I must own it! There was an infinite joy in these hours spent huddled on the floor in a musty basement with the hopes I would find one more album to add to my collection.
Naively, I would occasionally pick up an LP thinking that it was a cast album, only to find out that Madge Goldstein sings The Pajama Game was not the same thing as The Pajama Game’s original Broadway cast album. I was only thirteen and I soon learned the difference. It was amusing, however, to see the plethora of albums of this fashion that masked themselves as (or were perhaps capitalizing on) the classic Broadway titles. The Salvation Army basement seemed to be overflowing with them and I am not ashamed to say I owned recordings like The Kenny Drew Trio plays Pal Joey and My Fair Lady with the Jack Hansen Orchestra.
Today’s collectors will never know the joy of building those music libraries the way that we did in the past. It made the music (and the shows they came from) all the sweeter for the obscurity and the challenge of securing their cast albums. Sure, it is nice to have the music when we need and want it, but the way we used to need and want it was a far more exciting adventure that I kind of miss. How about you? I’d love to hear the stories of the rare finds that secured along the way in those Easter egg hunts of old.