With one epic musical directed by Robert Wise under my belt, I turned my attention to another.
West Side Story, with songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, adapted for the screen from a classic stage musical, inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, winner of ten Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, #2 of AFI’s list of the greatest musicals of all time… and, sadly, a major disappointment.
This is a case of a movie that simply hasn’t aged very well.
One of my quarantine resolutions has been to catch up with some of my classic movie blindspots. Movies I’ve never quite found the time to watch despite their reputations.
After watching a few very worthy classics (including Paths of Glory and The Night of the Hunter), I shifted my focus to musicals. Using AFI’s ‘100 Years of Musicals‘ list as a starting point, I’ve vowed to watch the 25 films that body deems as essential.
Using the very strictest definition, I had seen only five of those titles before embarking on this project. I’m discounting anything I might have seen when I was a child, because I have long since forgotten those experiences. I’m not even counting The Wizard of Oz, which I’m sure I’ve seen in full at some point in my life, but certainly not since I was a kid.
2002’s Blacklisted was singer-songwriter Neko Case’s third solo album and the one that really struck a nerve with critics. This album introduced the dominant sound of her next several releases, including my favorite, 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.
Case is the whole package. She pens memorable melodies and evocative lyrics, creates soundscapes in a ghostly alternative bluegrass style that sounds like nobody else, and has one of the best voices in the game.
Here’s a track from Sufjan Stevens’ 2005 album Come On Feel the Illinoise!, the second installment in his stated goal to record an album about each of the 50 states. The first was about Michigan.
He later admitted that he was joking about the project, but I continue to think it’s a wonderful idea.
Now we arrive at the song that started me down this theme week on The Call.
The 1990 album Red Moon was the band’s final release before a 7-year hiatus, and marked a shift into Americana. I don’t remember how I stumbled across this album — maybe I heard it playing in a record store — but I responded to the sound, Been’s vocals, and the evocative lyrics. It’s funny how it faded from my memory so completely all these years later, but once my sister sent me the song title and I tracked it down, the whole thing came flooding back.
The Call’s lead singer and songwriter Michael Been considered 1987’s Into the Woods the band’s best album, but it was the follow-up, 1989’s Let the Day Begin, that became their biggest hit.
Both albums are available on streaming services and worth checking out.
The title track of Let the Day Begin made it all the way to #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart and #51 on the Hot 100.
The Call released a third album, Scene Beyond Dreams, in 1984 and then split from their label over a legal disagreement. They signed with Elektra Records and released 1986’s Reconciled, an album considered their best by many fans.
Both albums have themes consistent with lead singer Michael Been’s Christian faith, though The Call is not typically claimed as a Christian band. They fall more in the category of U2, a band that weaves explorations of faith into their secular music.