Today’s list features some of my favourite songs from musicals of the 1960s. A tough decade to whittle down to just 10 songs, but here goes. For the sake of a more even spread, I’ve only allowed myself to select one song from any given musical for the list proper. And of course along with these there have to be many honourable mentions, including “They Were You” from The Fantasticks, “Married” from Cabaret, “The Brotherhood of Man” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, “The Rhythm of Life” from Sweet Charity, “Elegance” from Hello, Dolly! and “Put on a Happy Face” from Bye Bye Birdie. And even then we’ve only struck the tip of the iceberg. Well, here we go!
10. “What Kind of Fool Am I?” from Stop the World – I Want to Get Off
Stop the World – I Want to Get Off is one of those musicals that seems to have been, in its time, a little musical that could. While it sports a couple of other songs that could make it onto this list (“Gonna Build a Mountain” and “Once in a Lifetime”), my choice is “What Kind of Fool Am I?” This song gets to the heart of what this musical is all about, a concern that was becoming an increasingly overt theme in musicals of the 1960s and would characterise many musicals of the 1970s and 1980s – the need to connect truly with other people. Yes, in this case the context is romantic, but that need to connect with someone and the idea that the only person in the way of that connection is oneself struck a chord with audiences who got caught up in the adventures of Littlechap, one that still resonates truly and profoundly today.
9. “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha
Most people love Man of La Mancha. I’m not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong: I admire it and don’t think it awful by any means. It simply hasn’t yet moved me in the profound way that it seems to have moved others. That said, I love this song. It may be cheesy, especially out of context, but it works.
8. “It’s a Fine Life” from Oliver!
What I love about this song is that while it starts off as what appears to be a jolly salute to life, by the time it ends, there’s a lump in my throat. Particularly in the hands of the original Nancy, Georgia Brown, who has a rawness that is lacking in many contemporary, more polished actresses who take on the role. (Shani Wallis also does a great job in the film, benefitting immensely from the altered setup for the number.) “It’s a Fine Life” probably isn’t the most technically proficient song – Lionel Bart is no meticulous perfectionist when it comes to crafting rhymes, for example – but this list isn’t about technical proficiency. This song captures the bittersweet nature of life so tenderly by the time it gets to its final verse, with an ironic glossing over black eyes that is typically Dickensian in its social commentary and, for just a moment, Brechtian in its approach, that its tender rawness wins one over completely.