Album of the Year
Judy at Carnegie Hall, Judy Garland
West Side Story Soundtrack, various artists (music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)
Hard to find but pretty good
- Genius+Soul=Jazz, Ray Charles
If you only listen to one song: "Maria", West Side Story (Original Broadway Soundtrack)
West Side Story
The song "Maria" contains one of my favorite Easter eggs in the entire world, but there's some context you (may) need, first, for it to make sense.
Some context, part one: Augmented Fourths
When listening to "Maria", you'll hear a note pairing called an augmented fourth... it occurs a number of times, and specifically when Tony is singing Maria's name for the first time:
Mahh- REEEEE- ahhhhh
⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆ 👈 These two notes make an augmented fourth
If you were to go to a piano and...
- Pick a piano key,
- Count that key as note as #1,
- Count up seven keys (including both black and white keys),
- Play note #1 and then note #7...
The distance between note #1 and note #7 is called an augmented fourth.
If you play the very next key (black or white), you'll play the third note in the Ma-ri-a melody.
Try it out! (I'll wait...)
Augmented fourths have caught a lot of shade throughout the years. The example that immediately comes to my mind is this quote from a quite popular (if you're into this sort of thing) 1725 music theory publication:
"mi against fa is the devil of musica."
"Mi against fa", for the record, is an augmented fourth.
Augmented fourths have been infamously associated with the devil for centuries. They've been considered to produce one of the most ugly, unpleasant, dissonant sounds a composer could compose.
Some context, part two: The name Maria
The name Maria carries a lot of religious connotations. It even carries musical religious connotations -- there's probably a 50/50 chance you can recall the main melody chunk of Ave Maria, regardless of your religious affiliations. "Ave Maria" translates from Latin to English as "Hail Mary"; both the English and the Latin can refer to the Catholic prayer. e.g...
Hail Mary, full of grace...
Áve María, grátia pléna...
Pulling it together
Let's return to Tony, pining away for Maria, singing her name over and over again, and eventually proclaiming "And suddenly I've found / How wonderful a sound / Can be!"
And in the middle of this sound that's so wonderful, we find a pair of notes that have lived in infamy, for centuries, because they produce a sound that's so terrible.
Falling right in line with the history of religious connotation associated with the name Maria, Tony notes that saying the name softly is "almost like praying."
And in the middle of this name that's like a soft prayer, and loaded with religious history, we find the Devil and his interval.
Mahh- REEEEE- ahhhhh
⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆ 👈 The Devil's Interval
So that's one of my favorite Easter eggs in the entire world: an ugly, devilish sound in the middle of a beautiful, saintly name, in a musical about a perfect-yet-illicit love that would have lasted forever if it weren't so tragically temporary.
Judy x Carnegie = !!!!
Before listening to the 1962 nominees, I knew two things about Judy Garland:
- She was in The Wizard of Oz. (...right?)
- People absolutely adore her.
I'm not certain I knew she was a singer.
Judy at Carnegie Hall is a wonderful album. The musicianship and orchestration are top notch, the song selection and pacing are on point. However, Judy Garland's electric charm is absolutely the most impressive thing about the album.
I could listen to Judy Garland's in-between-song banter all day long.
I can't explain the appeal, but I get it. Judy sparkles on this album... it's very easy to adore her. I feel it and it's apparent the audience feels it, too. Their energy is infectious and it makes the album shine. Hearing their applause for the 2 or 3 or 10 encores brought bumps to my skin. Like them, I felt at once sad and satiated when it finally ended.
The 1962 nominees for Album of the Year
- Breakfast at Tiffany's Soundtrack, Henry Mancini
- Genius+Soul=Jazz, Ray Charles
Great Band with Great Voices, Si Zentner & the Johnny Mann Singers
- Judy at Carnegie Hall, Judy Garland
- The Nat King Cole Story, Nat King Cole
- West Side Story Soundtrack, various artists (music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)
Featured songs from this post: Spotify
The current One Man Academy (OMA) project is listening to the Grammy's Album of the Year nominees and re-choosing winners, absent of historical context.
All previous OMA Album of the Year Winners
For the record, I've always preferred the Broadway soundtrack to the movie soundtrack. That said, the movie soundtrack is quite good. ↩︎
Some quick music talk, if you care:
The distance between notes is called an interval and all the intervals have names. The interval that spans the number of keys detailed above (note #1 to note #7) is called an augmented fourth.
- If you were to play note #1 to note #6, you'd have a fourth.
- Note #1 to #7 is an augmented forth.
- If you were to play note #1 to note #8, you'd have a fifth.
Fourths and fifths, for what it's worth, are called "perfect" intervals, for reasons we won't go into. However, on top of everything else, it's interesting to consider how both Tony & Maria's relationship and the interval are almost perfect. ↩︎
Unable to locate album ↩︎