Pros:The best version of Godspell of many
Cons:Alas For You, Turn Back, O Man
The Bottom Line: "Inspirational? Probably not - but your toe will be a-tapping and you'll sing these songs all day." - Mike Scapp of Epinions.com
There must have been some Jesus movement back in the late 60s / early 70s among the youth. The top 40 contained such hits like Spirit In The Sky, Jesus Is Just Alright, Put Your Hand In The Hand, Oh Happy Day, Are You Ready and then of course the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar and coming in right on the heels is this play called Godspell.
Godspell's genesis dates back to 1970, and only as soon as May 17th, 1971 - the show opened in NYC off-Broadway. The original album came out in July of 1971 and enjoyed a bit of success with a single and a placement in the Billboard Charts at #34 in the Pop Albums list. Finally the movie came out in March 1973, which portrayed Jesus as a talking mime in a Superman shirt and his followers in a modern day NYC. I own a few versions of this album, from the original to a couple of newer versions released in the 1990s. This one from the original film soundtrack is my favorite. I like the voices of the singers much better, especially that of Victor Garber who had done a wonderful job in his role of Jesus. Like some of these types of albums, there are songs that are available here that you won't find on the original or other versions, and vice versa. This song list is more to my liking.
The lyrics were written mostly with the Gospel of Matthew as a constant reference; sometimes a Psalm would be used as well. The music genre I would classify as Showtunes, and the different styles get somewhat varied from song to song.
The album starts off with Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord). The first thing you hear is the shofar (one of those Rosh Hashanah horns). This is sung by David Haskell, and with it's rock edge, it gives you the impression that this musical will be akin to Jesus Christ Superstar. Aside from the people portrayed there really is no similarity.
The first song segues into the folkish God Save the People. Victor Garber showcases his great vocal control. He has that amazing ability to sing in that gentle whisper, yet still retain the key that he sometimes does - like in this song. The song repeats a lot, hoping and waiting for everyone to sing along. Speaking of repeating, Day By Day only has one verse. This song reminds me of Vacation Bible School, and it's hard to disassociate myself with those memories, but with a third ear, we decided that this song is basically Pop, but with that 70s-style flavor. This repetitive song actually was a hit single and it reached #13 in the Billboard Charts.
Joanne Jonas sings the 1920's style of jazzy-blues with Turn Back Old Man. The song is one of the few boring disposable tracks from the album. Yet having said that, the Gospel-like Bless The Lord performed by the late Lynne Thigpen, is of the good crop. You may know Thigpen from some of her other roles, like the DJ from The Warriors, or Chief from Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?, or more recently from Anger Management where she plays the Judge.
Victor Garber and David Haskell both sing on the ragtime tune All For The Best. It's a song that crazy glue's itself to your brain. It has a fun bouncy piano and comes complete with a soft-shoe performance.
Light of the World is a soft rock song, it takes some of the teachings of Christ from Matthew 5's beatitudes, or Sermon on the Mount. Light of the world, and salt of the earth have become everyday sayings, but they began at the lips of Jesus. This is one of the better songs, even with the very corny humor peppered throughout the song - (for example: ?We all need help to feel fine - let's have some wine).
By My Side is the only song that was not written by Stephen Schwartz. Jay Hamburger and a member of the original cast, Peggy Gordon, wrote it. Peggy sang the song on the original cast recording, but in my opinion Katie Hanley, who sings it here, does a superior job. The song sounds different from the others as well, it has two acoustic guitars for most of the song, yet the song builds and swells just from the growing beautiful vocal harmonies. Perhaps because of the fact that the song does not have any direct Biblical references like the other songs do, they decided to tack on a bit of spoken word near the end, which is taken from Matthew - about when Judas had decided to betray Jesus.
Beautiful City is perhaps a newer song created for the film since it is not on the original album. Victor Garber again is singing lead. Despite the opinion that this song sounds like a McDonald's jingle from the 70s, it still has great charm. There is a piano descending and ascending the scales, and Garber's voice glides as it does over the melodious mountains with ease. On the Willows is an amazing ballad based on Psalm 137. It has a wonderful soothing acoustic guitar solo that accents the mood of the song perfectly.
The last song Finale perhaps named from lack of inspiration is the only other rock song from the musical. The lyrics loosely tell the story of the death of Jesus on the cross or fence...whatever. The lyrics are sort of insipid, yet Victor Garber's emotive delivery makes up for and even provides poignancy for the lyrics. I suppose having an actor that can sing well is the smart move to make for the film adaptation. Victor Garber is one of the few people that are new to the cast, most of the people who had appeared on the original Off-Broadway album made their way to the film as well.
Just for the sake of trivia - on this soundtrack, Paul Shaffer from the David Letterman Show plays keyboards and organ. Also the word "godspell" is old English for the word "gospel" that we have today.
1. Prepare Ye (The Way Of The Lord)
2. Save The People
3. Day By Day
4. Turn Back, O Man
5. Bless The Lord
6. All For The Best
7. All Good Gifts
8. Light Of The World
9. Alas For You
10. By My Side
11. Beautiful City
12. On The Willows
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