Perhaps the soundtrack album I coveted most as a child was Easter Parade. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that the soundtrack was finally reissued by Polydor Records in England with a sumptuous album cover featuring a sepia photo of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. Until then I had to make due with a cassette recording I taped from one of the annual Late, Late Show 2:00 AM Easter airings of the film on CBS in New York City. While in college I bought a “professionally taped” cassette from a record shop on Lexington Avenue which also featured the Meltones singing “Happy Easter.”
Unfortunately, the Polydor release, as stunning as it was, only included eight selections
from the film. “A Fella With an Umbrella,” sung by Peter Lawford and Judy Garland, is a poorly edited version which repeats the same section of the recording of Judy Garland’s chorus twice rather than the second chorus as seen and heard in the film in which the ending was slowed down to a lovely finish. The Garland and Astaire Medley also has cuts in the very exciting dance music of “When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For Alabam.” In fact, “Shaking the Blues Away,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “A Couple of Swells,” and “Better Luck Next Time” were all truncated versions of the film’s soundtracks. This was because of the time limitation of the original 78 rpm records; each ten-inch platter could only hold about 3 minutes of music.
Just before and after the release of That’s Entertainment 1974 MGM Records in the United States reissued most of their prized soundtracks in a series called Those Glorious MGM Musicals using original posters on the album covers. They were fun but not as attractive as the original album covers from the late forties to the late fifties. Finally, I was able to purchase the original 1948 release of Easter Parade on 78 rpm records in 1978 by a stroke of luck: I was leaving a supermarket on Staten Island when an elderly woman approached me to ask if I was interested in buying some old records her husband was selling. I thought the odds were slim that I would find anything that interested me but Donna, my wife at the time, prompted me to see what they had to sell. Also, Donna thought that we could help this woman if she was in financial straits. Surprisingly, the offerings were all 78 rpm record sets-MGM and Decca-and all in pristine condition. The seller was only charging five dollars a set which was a bargain. Still, as I was in graduate school and quite poor at the time, I could only afford six albums. Although I can no longer recall all that I bought, I do remember that the soundtracks Easter Parade and Words and Music were included.
In 1986, MCA acquired the rights to the MGM soundtracks and reissued them on vinyl, cassette, and a few of them on the new format of compact discs. I remember a sales person at Colony Records in NYC named Dennis Preato who first told me about the CD releases. Dennis was about five foot seven with straight black hair that resembled the early Beatles’ haircuts. He wore very thick glasses and when he was pricing an album he would remove his glasses and practically place his nose to the album cover in order to see it. He had worked at various record shops in the city and was quite funny in how he described the other shops. In particular I remember him referring to Footlight Records on 12th Street as Clubfoot Records. Dennis also designed album covers for various pirate record companies including Motion Picture Tracks. He was very likeable and very informative about original Broadway cast albums and movie soundtracks. But I digress: I walked in Colony Records one day to see the latest reissues. I hardly ever bought records from them as their prices were extremely high; instead I bought sheet music for auditions as they had the best selection in the city. Dennis saw me browsing through the bins and approached me asking if I had heard Easter Parade on CD yet? He said it sounded like stereo and as new and crisp sounding. I did not have a CD player yet but I listened intently knowing that I would keep this knowledge on the back burner.
In 1990 Donna bought me a Pioneer Laser Disc/CD player. One of the first CDs I bought was the MCA Easter Parade. By then CBS records had obtained the rights of MGM’s musical soundtracks and they too reissued Easter Parade, only their tracks appeared to be recorded directly from laser discs. Finally, Garland’s lovely version of “I Want To Go Back To Michigan” was included with the rest of the score. I had hoped that they would have included “Mr. Monotony,” a Garland song cut from the film, on the album. However, at least it was part of the album, Cut! Cut! Cut!, a collection of rare motion picture outtakes produced by Hugh Fordin.
The best news for fans of MGM’s musicals was when Rhino Records produced most of the film soundtracks from the best possible sources in the studio vaults. Handsomely packaged, these CDs still provide the best sounding and most complete versions of those glorious MGM musicals. Produced by Marilee Bradford and Bradley Flanagan, Easter Parade, the 1948 Academy Award winner for best scoring of a film, is heard in its most complete incarnation.