In the days when The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Peter and Gordon, The Zombies, The Animals and The Kinks were vying for chart supremacy, there was another British Invasion going on. And it was virtually a single-handed one. The invader in question was a winsome soprano named Julie Andrews, who was a perfect nanny not once but twice on the silver screen. Andrews’ performance as Mary Poppins saw her headlining the No. 1 album in the United States in March 1965 (emerging triumphant over Beatles ’65); by late May, the Poppins score was still at No. 1, having only briefly acquiesced the position to the soundtrack to Goldfinger, and the No. 2 position belonged also to Andrews as another governess – Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. By November, The Sound of Music had reached the top spot. It didn’t budge from the Top 5 until the following May, and didn’t depart the Top 10 until July. It remained on the charts for an astounding 233 weeks as the movie itself became the highest-grossing picture of its time.
The compact disc era has been kind to the RCA Victor soundtrack; some might say exceedingly kind. Following standard CD reissues, the classic album has been expanded on CD at five-year intervals marking the film’s 30th, 35th, 40th and 45th anniversaries – with every release offering a unique program. Now, the newest presentation of The Sound of Music is here from RCA and Legacy Recordings to mark 50 years of the Rodgers and Hammerstein film classic.
Such is the staying power of five-time Academy Award winner The Sound of Music – adapted by screenwriter Ernest Lehman and director Robert Wise – from the original 1959 musical by librettists Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II – that the day after this year’s Oscars ceremony, the subject lighting up social media was Lady Gaga’s reverent tribute to the film and her subsequent embrace by the luminous Julie Andrews. Since the film’s premiere in 1965, it’s hardly lost the power to captivate; just witness the similar explosion of commentary and remarkable ratings victory when Carrie Underwood stepped into Andrews’ shoes (and those of the role of Maria’s stage originator, Mary Martin) for NBC’s television adaptation of the musical.
What keeps The Sound of Music such a touchstone in American culture? Doubtless the uplifting story – inspired by Maria Von Trapp’s real life and embellished by Lindsay, Crouse and Lehman – plays a significant part. So does the perfect casting of Andrews and in his most indelible screen appearance, Christopher Plummer. But for most, the heart of The Sound of Music lies in its score by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the duo’s last together. (Hammerstein died in August 1960.) Many of the day’s pop singers were reluctant to tackle its songs. In fact, the liner notes to this new reissue point out that Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald all avoided the score. Happily, Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Sammy Davis Jr., Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Jack Jones and Doris Day all had no such reservations. If much of America fell in love with the score through the 1959 Broadway cast recording (which remained on the charts for 276 weeks!), the movie sealed the deal. The soundtrack with “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” Oscar Hammerstein’s final lyric “Edelweiss” and Richard Rodgers’ two originals written for the movie, “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good,” has never been out-of-print since 1965, a testament to the songs and to musical director Irwin Kostal’s deft treatment of them.
The first expanded edition of the soundtrack arrived to mark three decades of The Sound of Music. Produced by Nick Redman and restored by Redman and Mike Matessino, this expansion added previously-unavailable and extended music from the film to turn the original 16-track LP into a 29-track gold-plated CD. Though this release was only available as part of a laserdisc box set in 1994, it was inevitable that the expanded tracks would find their way to general release.
Many of them did, in 2000, from RCA. The 35th anniversary release took the form of a 2-CD set, with the first disc presenting the remastered original album and the second offering 14 highlights from the expanded edition plus an archival interview with the late Richard Rodgers. The next reissues arrived in 2005 (produced by Didier C. Deutsch and Darcy Proper) and 2010 (produced by Deutsch), respectively. These marked the first time since the 1994 gold disc that the extended/previously unreleased tracks had been incorporated into film order with the original soundtrack cuts, but the programs were not identical to the gold disc. Some tracks had been dropped (“Goodbye Maria/How Can Love Survive Waltz,” “Edelweiss Waltz”), some had been edited (“Edelweiss (Reprise),” “Processional and Maria (The Wedding)”) and some had been newly added (“My Favorite Things (Reprise).”) Both of these editions boasted unique bonus tracks, as well. The 2005 version has a shorter Richard Rodgers interview plus interviews with Robert Wise and actress Charmian Carr (Liesl). The 2010 disc has a modern recording of “My Favorite Things” by Glee star Lea Michele, and in its Barnes and Noble exclusive, adds instrumental tracks of four songs as well.
The 2015 program, produced by Didier C. Deutsch and Sean Brennan and newly mixed and mastered by Brennan, is an altogether new presentation. The basis of this edition seems to be the gold disc, but it has some versions from past and subsequent editions. Nothing here appears to have been wholly unavailable on CD, though some tracks were only included on the rare gold disc. What can you expect from this iteration?
- Not every track is heard in its extended film version; “I Have Confidence” here is the 3:28 album version, not the 3:41 film version; “The Lonely Goatherd” lacks the brief “Do Re Mi” orchestral performance that precedes it on the 1994 gold disc version;
- “My Favorite Things/Salzburg Montage” is approximately ten seconds’ shorter on this release than on previous expanded editions;
- “Processional Waltz,” dropped from the 40th and 45th editions, has been reinstated;
- “Goodbye Maria/How Can Love Survive Waltz” and “Edelweiss Waltz” only appeared previously on the gold disc;
- “My Favorite Things (Reprise)” and “So Long Farewell (Reprise)” both premiered on disc on the 40th anniversary edition, were included on the 45th and are here, as well;
- “Something Good” at 3:34 (labeled 3:31) is longer than the 3:17 original album version but shorter than the 3:50 version that premiered on the gold disc with an instrumental coda;
- “Processional and Maria (The Wedding)” is approximately 20 seconds shorter here than on the gold disc;
- “Do Re Mi (Reprise)” gained approximately 20 seconds of applause on the 40th and 45th anniversary edition, while here, the gold disc edit is utilized;
- “Edelweiss (Reprise)” is heard in the 1:49 version from the 40th and 45th anniversary editions rather than the gold disc version of 2:01;
- “Overture/Preludium (Dixit Dominus)/Morning Hymn/Alleluia,” traditionally sequenced as two tracks, are heard as one track here;
- “Nuns and Nazis/Escape/Climb Ev’ry Mountain/Finale” is restored in full. It combines two tracks from the gold disc as one track; the previous two editions only included a portion of this track; and
- All non-soundtrack bonus interviews and performances from past CDs have been dropped.
In short, this release owes a debt to the pioneering restoration work by Redman and Matessino, but has been expertly crafted and sonically upgraded by producers Deutsch and Brennan for a splendid presentation worthy of the beloved film’s golden anniversary. One does wish that all of the extant tracks could be finally included in one package, as collectors will have to hold onto all past versions. But this comprehensive single-disc set is top-notch, with vibrant sound and sequencing that makes for an optimal listening experience. The packaging is truly definitive, too, compared to all past reissues. This slipcased edition – which restores the original LP cover artwork, in recolored and redesigned form – is accompanied by a beautiful 24-page booklet featuring essays by Julie Andrews, Ted Chapin of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, and musical theatre historian Laurence Maslon, plus full-color photos and credits. (If only the original eight-page “storybook” insert from the LP had also been replicated within the slipcase!)
There’s even more music from The Sound of Music on the way, with the Blu-ray edition being released today adding a disc containing rare international versions of the soundtrack recordings. Later this month, as a special treat for purists who would like to revisit the Grammy-nominated 1965 RCA Victor album the way they remember it, Razor and Tie’s audiophile label Analog Spark will join with Legacy to issue that original album as produced by Neely Plumb in high resolution on SACD. (Analog Spark also will release this 50th anniversary version on heavyweight vinyl.) After fifty years, The Sound of Music is still one of our favorite things.