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Re-evaluating Thomas And The King


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Not so long ago I popped in my Thomas And The King CD and listened to the whole thing since I first got it. For those who don't know Thomas And The King; it's John Williams' only musical. It went on stage somewhere in 1976 (although the album was recorded in 1981). It was a total failure in every regard and nobody (except truly devoted John Williams fans) remembers it.

I know it sounds gayish (NO offense intended!), but I LOVE certain musicals. Les Miserables and Miss Saigon are my absolute favorites (both written by Claude-Michel Schönberg). I LOVE them.

So naturally I have an interest in the musical that came from the hands of my favorite composer: John Williams.

The first time I heard it (and this was years ago) I was offended by the simplicity of it, the almost amateur-like song writing, the lack of any form of profundity... I was disgusted by some of the most awful and irritating songs written in the history of musical writing (Power, Sincerity and We Shall Do It! come to mind). I made a vow NEVER to listen to it again for it made me depressed in a way; it made me doubt the brilliance of John Williams. How could Schönberg or Webber create these grand, epic, beautiful stage-shows and Williams didn't even reach 1% of the quality of works like Evita or Les Miserables?

Anyway; years have passed since then and I realize more than ever that Williams is NOT a songwriter; he is the most brilliant composer for symponic, melodic music, but his songs simply, well, suck. It is no wonder than that Thomas And The King (98% songs) is a disaster. With that acceptance in mind I listened to it again and...

...I was amazed that it didn't suck as bad as I thought!

Actually I start to LIKE (not love) certain songs on the album. The Question is perhaps the best song on the disc. It is not so overly cliché trying to sound like a musical-song. It is quite profound and the "...breaking all the rules"-line is great. The reprise of the same song is more subdued and is very classy. I like 'Tis Love and the closing song So Many Other Worlds (love the arrangment of that song!). Other songs like What Choice Have I? Replay The Game or Improbable As Spring have some potential too.

I am quite relieved that Thomas And The King is not the incredibly sucky thing I originally thought it to be. It's nice actually.

What do you guys think?

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We should produce a new production of it with an all-JWfan cast!

That would be as improbable as spring!   

I can't speak for Richard, but mine was "WTF is this?!". He, he. I've had the album in my collection since the 90s, but I've probably only listened to it some 3-4 times in total. It has some songs tha

I think Williams proved he could be a good song writer with "Seven For Luck". These are art music songs, where he can put his best abilities to use - using the voice as an element in a Symphonic way - using the orchestra to paint each line. But I think when he tries to make a straightforward song, more often than not, it sounds to cheesy and simplistic. Of course, some of the Home Alone songs have grown on me, especially the Home Alone II ones. Leslie Bricusse is a very babyish lyricist. Using very obvious rhymes and sentences. America the Dream Goes On caused a stir of mockery in the orchestra, causing Williams to threaten to resign. I think its safe to say he knows its not his best area. He seems reluctant to write the Opera for Placido Domingo, saying "I'm not really a vocal composer."

But again, I think 7 for luck is a very good piece of art music.

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I'm not sure you can come to any good conclusions about John Williams' songwriting abilities based on Thomas and the King. This is the old John Williams. We're talking pre-Star Wars, even pre-Jaws. Most if not all the songs were written in 1974. John had not yet fully come into his own.

Lerner and Lowe are quite big among classic Broadway fans and I suspect their style of music influenced John's writing of Thomas and the King, in particular, their 'Camelot' musical.

Ricardo

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I donm't think Williams wrote the songs to Thomas and the King,he only wrote the orchestral accompaniement.I have to listen to it again,especially what's going on in the background.

K.M.

From JAY's Records Official Website:

Music by

John Williams

Lyrics by

James Herbert

Book by

Edward Anhalt

Conducted by

Ian Macpherson

Orchestratations by

Herbert Spencer

Just before the score of ?JAWS? went on to win an Oscar for best score and the movie was nominated for best picture, John Williams wrote his one and only stage musical, THOMAS AND THE KING, based on the life of Thomas Beckett.

This cast album (principal members) was recorded a few years after it West End production and various original stars came back to the studios for it?s production.

The orchestrator for this musical score was Herbert Spencer, who has carried on his collaboration with John Williams on most of his great classic movie scores right up to the present day.

Completely re-mixed and re-mastered into Digital Dolby Surround Sound, this first CD release of the recording will perfectly compliment all other CD releases of John Williams film scores.

http://www.jayrecords.com

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Back in 1997, when the CD was re-released -- and probably when you first heard it -- a reveiw came on the british magazine Classic CD that was just full of praise for the Williams musical. As Ricardo also points out, they mentioned the influece of Camelot, while adding that had Williams decided to follow a carrer in that medium, he would offer serious competition to Lloyd Webber.

Personally, I think they were a little over the top with that review. I do enjoy Thomas and the King, but this isn't a CD that keeps getting into much action on my player... For the record, I do love Williams songs, mostly the ones not done with Bricusse. He wrote some marvelous songs with Johnny Mercer and with the Bergmans -- with the exception of America The Dream Goes on. And Williams did resign from the Pops in 1984, but returned shortly after.

And of course, Seven for Luck is marvelous -- at least the three songs I know are!

Still regarding Thomas and the King. Williams did wrote tha whole thing. Mark, your probably confusing with the kind of work Williams did on Fiddler on the Roof, were he provided some little underscore.

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  • 15 years later...

Wow! Am I incredibly late on this thread?????

I very recently discovered the recorded album. I was certainly bemused by how 'unremarkable' the writing is with much of the music, and the better numbers still have a real cheesiness to them. But actually, my favourite track is 'Sincerity'. I actually listen to the song on loop - the performances of the singers are actually funny, and I love their diction and sarcastic delivery. I look forward to researching the musical further because it seems the whole work has been deliberately suppressed. Still, a bit of a hidden gem!  

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John Williams is and probably will always be my favorite composer of orchestral music. But I would never call him a good songwriter, by the way one reason, I think, why he managed to win only 5 academy awards from 50 nominations. The academy loves songwriters more, I think.

But I like Moonlight from Sabrina quite a lot. 

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Actually @Miguel Andrade, I first heard THOMAS AND THE KING, when it was released on vinyl, in 1982. I bought it at around the same time that JANE EYRE was rereleased. I bought it at Dress Circle Records, in Covent Garden, which was owned by Fitzpatrick, and Yap.

 

 

(unless you meant "you" singular, as opposed to "you" plural, in which case, I apologise)

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3 hours ago, Thor said:

I can't speak for Richard, but mine was "WTF is this?!". He, he. I've had the album in my collection since the 90s, but I've probably only listened to it some 3-4 times in total. It has some songs that simply grate on my mind. But perhaps it is indeed time for a re-evaluation.

 

Maybe, but it's also possible that you were right the first time!

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23 hours ago, Smeltington said:

What was your reaction when you listened to it for the first time?

Good question. First; 1982 was the Summer of E.T., and that dominated my listening. Very little else got a look in.

Second, when I did listen, I had to go back in time, and place it inbetween JAWS, and THE MISSOURI BREAKS (the CDs to FAMILY PLOT and MIDWAY* didn't exist, then). In that context, a musical about Thomas Beckett seemed a little..."odd". I liked the instrumental sections (and I still do) but the songs and performances have a distinct "B" quality, and the whole thing sounds "rep". It's not helped by having (what sounds like) a small orchestra (maybe that's all that TER could afford) and it all sounds tinny. Still, it's a curio in JW's cannon that's worth checking out, and even owning, if you fancy, but if you've never heard it...don't worry; I'm pretty sure that JW won't.

 

 

*ok, so the 45rpm single did exist, then, but I didn't buy that until the early 90s.

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56 minutes ago, Naïve Old Fart said:

Second, when I did listen, I had to go back in time, and place it inbetween JAWS, and THE MISSOURI BREAKS (the CDs to FAMILY PLOT and MIDWAY* didn't exist, then).

 

I wasn't around untill '77, so I can't remember this myself, but it must have been frustrating to be a Williams fan in the mid 70s when so few of his scores got a soundtrack release:

 

THE COWBOYS - obscure promo LP

IMAGES - obscure promo LP

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE - Only a song single (and Williams had no involvement in it).

PETE'N'TILLIE - Only a song single.

THE LONG GOODBYE - Only a song single.

THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING - Nothing.

THE PAPER CHASE - Nothing

CONRACK - Nothing.

THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS - Nothing

FAMILY PLOT - Nothing

MIDWAY - Only a single.

BLACK SUNDAY - Nothing

 

Good times! Fortunately, things picked up after this, in the wake of STAR WARS.

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13 hours ago, Thor said:

THE COWBOYS - obscure promo LP

 

That wasn't a promo actually. It was a complete bootleg. Varese provided the first legal release of the score, though JW wasn't consulted for any part of it. The Varese Deluxe Edition is the first and only release of the score approved by him. 

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5 hours ago, Jay said:

 

That wasn't a promo actually. It was a complete bootleg. Varese provided the first legal release of the score, though JW wasn't consulted for any part of it. The Varese Deluxe Edition is the first and only release of the score approved by him. 

 

Was it? I remember reading something about there being a promotional LP at the time, like IMAGES (called "John Wayne & The Cowboys"), but it could have been false information. What does the liner notes to the expanded release say?

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7 minutes ago, Thor said:

 

Was it? I remember reading something about there being a promotional LP at the time, like IMAGES (called "John Wayne & The Cowboys"), but it could have been false information. What does the liner notes to the expanded release say?

 

Quote

The Cowboys did not have a soundtrack album at the time of its release, but in 1973 an LP appeared containing selections from the score. While it was not a licensed product (it had no logo, its label read "Music of the American West", and its track titles were generic - we'll diplomatically call it a "promo"), it could be spotted in retail stores well into the 1980s - it was a very different world.

 

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That's interesting. The one I mentioned earlier even went to the trouble of labelling itself "Promo RC-31 Stereo", probably to throw off the authorities, then. Can be seen by scrolling down a bit here: http://soundtrackcollector.com/title/5960/Cowboys%2C+The

 

I know there were many boots in the 70s, but they must have been a hassle to produce. First you need to get access to the master tapes or some other source, then transfer and press it to a vinyl.

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50 minutes ago, Thor said:

That's interesting. The one I mentioned earlier even went to the trouble of labelling itself "Promo RC-31 Stereo", probably to throw off the authorities, then. Can be seen by scrolling down a bit here: http://soundtrackcollector.com/title/5960/Cowboys%2C+The

That's the one, and bloody expensive it was, too!

I bought it circa 1979, from a place called 58 Dean Street Records.

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1 hour ago, Thor said:

Do you remember what you paid for it?

I remember it being around £15. Now, this was in '79/'80, when the average LP cost around £3.99, and American imports a bit more (I remember paying the princely sum of £5.25 for JAWS 2, in the Summer of '78). Even for a "niche" market, this was steep. I just remember that I had to save up to buy it, for a long time. Even when I got it, the sound quality wasn't that good.

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Just because something presents itself as a promo, doesn't make it one!

 

All the 70's LP was, was some fan getting ahold of the music and investing their own time and money to create an album program of their own design, and get it pressed and sold in stores.  They probably even made a profit off this investment, who knows.

 

All the 1990's Varese CD was, was Robert Townson getting a legal license to release music from the score, then creating an album program of his own design without consulting with the composer about how he might like his music presented - and as we now know, Townson included music written by another composer in the middle of this presentation, that was recorded years after the film...

 

The 2018 Varese Deluxe Edition is the premiere release of the score done with full cooperation of John Williams, and only contains music written for the 1972 film

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17 minutes ago, Naïve Old Fart said:

I remember it being around £15. 

 

Yikes. I found an inflation calculator online, and £15 in 1980 amounts to £64.81 today. Crazy price for a single LP!

 

7 minutes ago, Jay said:

Just because something presents itself as a promo, doesn't make it one!

 

That's definitely true. I'm also often impressed by the creative 'record labels' that bootleggers conjure up for their "releases".

 

A similar 'sale trick' is when people label their sale items as OOP, when they clearly are not out-of-print. That seems to be very common as well; to the extent I'm not even sure they know what OOP means.

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