Song of the Day #4,988: ‘America’ – Ariana DeBose & David Alvarez

The 2021 movie year was chock full of musicals, and today’s memorable music moment comes from my favorite of them — Steven Spielberg’s take on the classic stage show West Side Story.

I watched Robert Wise’s 1961 version a couple of years ago, during my quest to see the 25 musicals deemed essential by the American Film Institute. The film placed at #2 on that list, but I wasn’t a fan. I did, however, love Rita Moreno’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Anita, easily the highlight of that film.

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Song of the Day #4,351: ‘America’ – Rita Moreno and West Side Story Cast

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.

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Song of the Day #3,350: ‘Ventura Highway’ – America

America is an interesting case, as they most certainly qualify as yacht rock (or “west coast” music) despite hailing from merry old England.

The London trio was inspired by Los Angeles-based band Crosby, Stills and Nash and chose their band name because, according to Wikipedia, they “did not want anyone to think they were British musicians trying to sound American.” Which is exactly what they were.

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Song of the Day #1,191: ‘America’ – Simon & Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel’s third album, 1968’s Bookends, marked a major stylistic departure for the duo.

The straightforward acoustic folk (and folk rock) of their first few albums gave way to a record very much crafted in the studio. The songs on this album feature distorted instruments, samples, skits and interviews. It’s a cross between Peter, Paul and Mary, National Public Radio and Eminem.

Bookends is a concept album at heart, though I’m not sure the concept holds up across its full length. Side One starts and ends with ‘Bookends Theme,’ a gentle guitar melody that is echoed in the moving track ‘Old Friends,’ about two elderly men who sit on a park bench “like bookends.”

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Song of the Day #505: ‘America’ – Simon & Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel released only one more album (so far), though they have reunited a number of times since 1970. That release was The Concert in Central Park, a 1981 recording of the most memorable of those reunions.

Simon had been scheduled to appear solo, playing a free concert on the Park’s Great Lawn, but word got out that Garfunkel might appear and the show turned into something much bigger, both in size and importance. More than 500,000 people filled Central Park that night, celebrating not just the reunion of a classic group but the era they represented.

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