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CD: Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
Review Rating:   Excellent  
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Sony Masterworks

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January 8, 2013

Tracks / Album Length:

19 tracks / (52:00)



Charles Strouse (music), Lee Adams (lyrics)


Special Notes:

Newly expanded 50th Anniversary Edition.

Comments :    

Sony’s newly expanded CD marks the 50th anniversary of the film version of Bye Bye Birdie. Perhaps due to the stage musical’s inspiration from the teen furor that followed Elvis’ drafting into the U.S. Army, the lyrics and score sometimes sway very close to a shrillness that evokes banks of hyperactive teens – but it works extremely well in the film.

The title song – written to support reshoots of an opening & closing montage where de facto star Ann-Margret belts the song with gusto to the camera (and us) – is the most aggressive work in the film, whereas the rest of the music is either a pop-jazz fusion, rock-orchestra, or silky ballads. The more satirical tunes – the anthem “We Love You Conrad,” the parental lament “Kids,” and especially the choral Ed Sullivan ode “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” – are a witty blend of absurdity and melodic & harmonic elegance. “The Telephone Hour” is more close to the boy-girl warring tone of “We Love You Conrad,” albeit in a ditsy teeny-bop structure.

The tunes crooned by Conrad Birdie are bawdy, lyrically elliptical, and they insinuate the character’s cradle-robbing leanings. The bopping rhythms and twanging electric guitar still hold their own as musical satire, and there’s sometimes a surreal celebratory quality to Jesse Pearson’s singing (which makes sense, given Birdie has an enormous ego that disallows for any self-criticism or misgivings).

Separated from the film, Charles Strouse’s music and Lee Adams’ lyrics sound more compact, and their tight structure give the album a brisk pace in spite of the expanded running time. RCA’s 1988 CD replicated the original LP contents at 38 mins, whereas their 2003 40th anniversary edition separated the opening and closing tracks with their own indexes, and interpolated three bonus tracks between the existing racks: “One Last Kiss (Gym Rehearsal Outtake)” with its more laidback arrangement, the film track from Janet Leigh’s “The Sultan’s Ballet (Film Version)”, and a reprise of the title theme.

That 45 minute running time’s been boosted by another 7 mins. in Sony's new CD, with three new cues placed at the very end: the refined film version of “One Last Kiss” heard during the Ed Sullivan performance; a mono mix-down of the title song which blends in some of the chorus from “We Love You Conrad” plus a pop-rock beat; and more successfully, a slight Bossa Nova version of “How Lovely to be a Woman” with breezy strings that may have been concocted for airplay on jazz stations, given the score is comprised of a heavy jazz orchestra contingent.

The mastering of the cues is fairly balanced, but there are marked differences in fidelity between the obvious studio recorded songs with their meticulous stereo imaging, and material either taken from the stereo film mix, or material later re-mixed with elements from the film soundtrack (such as Janet Leigh’s verbal calls during the mostly instrumental burlesque piece “The Sultan’s Ballet.”).



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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