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Sound And Vision: Top 40 Show Tunes — Seven Music Icons Whose Songs Should Rock Broadway

Though I’ll probably never be a huge fan of the Broadway musical, occasionally, they rock. Such has been the case for Great White Way song-and-dance productions based on the music of the Who, Bee Gees, ABBA, Queen, Billy Joel, Dolly Parton, Green Day and Elton John (twice). But poor Paul Simon. He flopped hard—and embarrassingly—with The Capeman in 1998. The moral of this particular west side story? When launching expensive stage musicals, it pays creative and/or commercial dividends for rock and pop stars to fall back on their classics—or in the case of John’s Aida, a classic opera—for inspiration.

And then there’s U2. The normal rules of art and commerce have never applied to Ireland’s greatest musical export. Although Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, with original music and lyrics by U2 frontman Bono and guitarist The Edge, has been dogged by bad buzz, negative reviews (for the staging, if not the music) and behind-the-scenes snafus, it’s been a box-office success since debuting in previews last November, more than six months in advance of its official June 14 opening.

Whether their Spidey show tunes will spin their web for months or years remains to be seen, but it’s hard not to wish that Bono and The Edge had adapted their band’s enduring catalog for a musical instead. If they had to take Manhattan, why not do it using songs we know and love from The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, two of its best and most successful albums, as inspiration rather than a superhero human-arachnid mutation (who’ll be returning to the big screen shortly in the form of The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield)?

Maybe someday. In the meantime, here are some other iconic artists who ought to be waiting in the wings with their own spotlight musical. (Sorry, no Beatles—I’ve heard enough bad covers of the Fab Four’s catalog, including those from the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to last several lifetimes!)

David Bowie: Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been waiting so long for new music from Bowie. Or that my favorite Bowie song inspired the name of this very column. But more likely, it’s all about Space Oddity, a  rock & roll classic which tells a story that conceivably could be stretched out into a two-hour musical format and rounded out with many other Bowie hits. His ’70s output was more or less created to be performed onstage, and his theatrical music and visual lyrics could so easily translate to the rock-opera format. Meanwhile, Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke—parts Bowie played to perfection on record and in concert—are star-making roles if ever there were four of them.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David: “Walk on By.” “Message to Michael.” “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” “I Say a Little Prayer.” “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” Put these Bacharach/David compositions together—adding “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and many more—and what have you got? A Broadway miracle that’ll have more fans singing along than any musical since Mamma Mia!.

Loretta Lynn: It’s a mystery why no one has thought to revive Coal Miner’s Daughter on Broadway. The 1980 film has got the music, the story and the Oscar pedigree. But why stop with Loretta Lynn when you can add the music of Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline and stage Honky Tonk Angels, all about lives and loves in a ten-cent town?

Johnny Cash: No need to revisit Walk the Line just yet. The hero of Ring of Fire (which I always thought would have been a better title for the film since it was co-written by June Carter Cash about her and Johnny, while Cash’s first wife inspired him to write “I Walk the Line”) could be a man in black by another name. Lyrically, the best of Johnny Cash already hits on all the stages of an extraordinary life, from outcast (“A Boy Named Sue,” which was actually written by Shel Silverstein and not Cash) to outlaw (“Folsom Prison Blues”) to would-be saint (“Walk the Line”) to corpse (“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”).

The Eagles: Picture this: Hotel California, featuring the Eagles signature title song plus “Desperado,” “Lying Eyes,” “Take It to the Limit,” “New Kid in Town” and all of those other ’70s country-rock classics. If there’s gonna be a heartache tonight (or any other night), I can’t think of a better musical cure.

Fleetwood Mac: Because the band deserves so much better than Glee‘s very special “Rumours” episode, which, criminally, left out “You Make Lovin’ Fun” and “Gold Dust Woman.”

Eminem: Speaking of outlaws, it’s probably just a matter of time before the ’80s musical outlaw movement known as rap invades Broadway just as it did Middle America in the ’90s. I can’t think of a rapping storyteller whose songs are more deserving of the full-on stage treatment than the guy who brought us “Stan,” “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” and “Love the Way You Lie.” If 8 Mile could win an Oscar, its Tony Award possibilities as a Broadway musical are probably close to endless.

Whose music would you like to experience on Broadway?

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion Going Country in the New Year

Thanksgiving came a bit late this year to the home of Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion.

That’s because the husband-wife duo, who are ready to release their first alt country-rock album in February, spent the holiday in New York. The occasion was the famous Macy’s Day Parade where the duo and their 8-year-old daughter Olivia joined Sarah Lee’s dad, Arlo Guthrie, on a float. Crowds screamed and cheered as some of the folk legend’s well-known songs—including “Alice’s Restaurant,”—played.

“It was a little crazy and very exciting,” said Sarah Lee Guthrie who noted Olivia was the toast of her school because of the event. “We saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, people who have been coming to our concerts for years. It was a fun way…to celebrate family and share it with other people.”

Chances are good that there will be plenty more celebrations ahead especially after February 22nd when Sarah Lee and Johnny release their second full-length album Bright Examples.

Written primarily by Johnny with two songs by Sarah and another the result of a collaboration, the February 22nd release is a musical step away from the more folk-tinged sound fans have come to know. Although Sarah Lee is obviously the product of folk and honors her heritage, she grew up on rock, as did Johnny whose past musical groups include Queen Sarah Saturday.

“Neither of us came from folk background influences,” said Sarah Lee, whose grandfather was the legendary Woody Guthrie. “As a kid I loved rock ‘n’ roll and I love pop music. Johnny has always had a pop sense. We embraced a lot of folk….but that was to spring off like a diving board. We are entering a new realm of exciting music.”

And then some.

The album, produced by Vetiver’s Andy Cabic and Thom Monahan, known for his work with Vetiver, Devendra Banhart and Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes (who introduced Guthrie and Irion), are filled with an electric country rock sound that’s part psych-rock thanks to plenty of guitars, part alt country as evidenced by pedal steel guitar, part folk and pop—especially in the lyrics— and indie rock.

“I’m very rooted in the indie rock world,” said Irion. “This was definitely a move to create a sound scape for Sarah Lee’s and my vocals.”

Although U2′s The Edge was originally interested in producing the album, Irion thinks that Cabic and Monahan brought out points in the song that wouldn’t have come out with other producers.

“It’s a culmination of folk, indie rock, classic pop, alt country, all the worlds coming together,” he said. Some producers aren’t players and have a hard time and just stay on the knobs. With Sarah Lee and I, we need to sit down with guitars and play. It’s all very organic. I’m glad [it didn't work out with] The Edge. Tom Monahan has the best ears in business right now and made all kinds of great stuff.”

What really impressed Irion was that Tom didn’t back down on the sound he wanted from each song.

“I called him Captain Monahan because trying to change his mind, well, it wasn’t going to happen,” said Irion. “If I said, ‘I thought this one would rock,’ he’d say ‘No, you have to lay back. Then it will be better.’ [The music came about because of] a solid team that just all pulled together.”

That’s also obvious on Sarah Lee’s song “Butterflies” that the duo originally worked up as a bluegrass-flavored song. The producers changed elements of the song so it’s not what Irion describes as “ethereal and floating.”

“When we started doing it [his way] we really liked it,” said Irion. “It works and it makes the record come together. It makes the record a piece of art.”

For more about Sarah Lee and Johnny, check their site.

By Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham writes about music for Country Weekly, AOL Music’s site The Boot, The Washington Post, Relix and other publications.

Discourse & Dischord

OSBlog02_Discourse_Jan10_Week3The Good

Madonna, others join “Hope for Haiti Now” concert

Madonna

Madonna

Jesus Luz’s favorite cougar lady will join an endless roster of stars for the “Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief,” which airs this Friday at 7 p.m. CT/ 8 p.m. ET. The event will be telecast from New York, Los Angeles and London, and features musical performances by Haitian artists Emeline Michel and Wyclef Jean as well as Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Sting, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Dave Matthews, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Bono, The Edge, Jay-Z and Rihanna. Or, to put it another way, every musician in the world.

For more information on how to get involved, call 877-99-HAITI, text “GIVE” to 50555 or mail Hope For Haiti Now Fund, Entertainment Industry Foundation, 1201 W. 5th St., Suite T-700, Los Angeles, CA 90017.

OurStage will be streaming the Hope For Haiti Now telethon live Friday, January 22 at 8 p.m. ET.

PS22 chorus does it again

PS22 Chorus

PS22 Chorus

Sometimes it seems like the only news is bad news. If life starts getting you down, know that you can always turn to the kids at PS22 Elementary School on Staten Island to put a smile back on your face. Here they are singing Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” Enjoy.

The Bad

Courtney gets maternal
You know you’re in trouble when your actions leave Courtney Love feeling like a mother. Forget worrying about her own spawn, Love is more bugged out about pop’s sloppy party girl, Ke$ha, who’s just a few years older than her own daughter. In a long series of tweets on her Twitter page, Love voiced her concern that Ke$ha was being “molded into something not her that will fail,” and that she wants “to save her.” Frances Bean, say it with us: Physician, heal thyself.

Killers announce hiatus

Killers

Killers

The Killers have announced they will go on indefinite hiatus after wrapping up their tour in Australia in February. Citing exhaustion after 6 years of steady rocking, the group will take some time to focus on other areas of life that we “normal” people take for granted: watching “Jersey Shore” marathons in our living room with no pants on.

The Ugly

John Mayer’s Rolling Stone interview

John Mayer

John Mayer

Listen to John Mayer as he spins a long and self-gratifying yarn about his near misses with Vegas strippers, how it broke his heart to dump dear old Jen (again) and his love for Rosie Palmer. Put it this way, when he’s not stroking his own ego, he’s stroking something else.

Miscellany

 


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