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  Listen Up! 10/15/03 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Oct. 15

Original Broadway Cast, “The Music Man,” Capitol Records. Who was this Meredith Wilson? How could he have made one perfect Broadway musical, while nothing else he ever did has ever been heard by anybody outside his immediate family? I remember seeing him on a rerun of “What’s My Line,” once, which indicated that he did actually have something else in his mind besides “The Music Man.” The songs from this play – and full warning, I’ve loved them since I was four years old, so I can’t really maintain critical distance – are melodically delightful, and rhythmically playful. There’s the proto-rap of “Rock Island,” when the traveling salesmen go on about “Ya gotta know the territory.” There’s the spectacular invention of “Ya Got Trouble,” in which Robert Preston intones the perils of pool halls and slang. There’s the delicious pecking of “Pick-A-Little, Take-A-Little,” set against the sweet barbershop quartet of the Buffalo Bills on “Goodnight Ladies.” Not to mention ballads good enough to set snuggly amidst the work of the Beatles, who covered the gorgeous “Till There Was You” on their first album. I could name every song here as a highlight, and the magical thing is that 41 years into loving this stuff, it sounds better and richer than it ever did. I will quibble that the real way to experience this music is to get the movie soundtrack, because while Robert Preston is brilliant on both, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, and Ronnie Howard (yes, little Ronnie Howard!) are only in the movie. (How did I get this far without mentioning “Shipoopi,” one of the greatest songs in the history of western civilization? Most likely because Iggie Wolfington is no Buddy Hackett.)

--Steve Pick


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