Given you’re reading this, you probably have a decent knowledge of musicals and know these songs in their original showtune form, but you’re the exception. The average non-musical fan will not hesitate to complain about jukebox musicals creating terrible covers of their much loved pop/rock/ABBA songs and even Glee can anger tweens by not living up to the high standards of the Justin Bieber/Rebecca Black/Nicki Minaj song they’re covering. But we can complain too! And I’m not just talking about those crappy pop remixes (yes Gwen Stefani turning ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ into that). Songs specifically created for use in a musical have become popular after being covered by another popular artist. People recognise and even like the song without knowing they are in fact listening to a show tune.
One Night in Bangkok
From the musical: Chess
The act 2 opener for a musical about Chess world champions became a dance anthem when covered by Murray Head in 1984 which you might hear play at your local discothèque. More widely known today is the version covered by Mike Tyson in The Hangover 2 which was set in Bangkok.
Hey Big Spender
From the musical: Sweet Charity
Well known as a classic Shirley Bassey song but also covered by Peggy Lee and parodied by Homer Simpson encouraging people at a yard sale to “Spend some dough on table three.”
I Say a Little Prayer
From the musical: Promises, Promises
Dionne Warwick and Arethra Fraklin have both popularised this song but it’s probably known more by the young folk for its use in the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding. None of these versions touch on the latter scenes from the musical where the character is dumped and attempts suicide. Can’t imagine why.
Send In the Clowns
From the musical: A Little Night Music
Recorded by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins, it is rarely recognised as the creation of musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim. In fact Judy Collins won a Grammy for her cover of the song a year after the show had closed on Broadway. It has again been parodied by The Simpsons as Krusty sings alternate lyrics during his comeback special. The joke being that the song isn’t actually about clowns.
I’ll Never Fall in Love Again
From the musical: Promises, Promises
Very recognisable and covered many times but most notably by Bobbie Gentry, Dionne Warwick and Ella Fitzgerald. This song and all others from the musical were written by Burt Bacharach so fans of his (if they exist) will also know them.
The Impossible Dream (The Quest)
From the musical: Man of la Mancha
A moving song that is repeatedly used to inspire. Note its recent use at the end of Behind the Candelabra to add that uplifting ending, though it really was one of Liberace’s performance pieces. Also to sell Honda Cars.
In fact musical numbers have appeared in many advertisements…
Originally written for the musical Sweet Charity.
Originally written for the hippie musical Hair.
Originally written for the musical Annie Get Your Gun.
I Will Always Love You
From the Musical: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
People know this song as sung by Whitney Huston in The Bodyguard. The more knowledgeable may know it was originally Dolly Parton’s song. What they may not know is that Dolly Parton wrote it for her character to sing in the film musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The song isn’t in the original stage musical but it’s still sung by a brothel owner and former prostitute with Dolly Parton sized breasts.
No Matter What
From the Musical: Whistle Down the Wind
The world knows this song as a Boyzone classic but it is in fact the act 1 finale of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The song acts as a promise to love someone “no matter what” and the lyrics seem to be describing some sort of Romeo and Juliet love affair. You’d be way off if you thought that. The musical is about an escaped killer who hides in a barn in a small town. When small children find him and ask who he is, he replies with the expletive Jesus Christ. So the children think he is Jesus and sing this song promising to love the escaped killer “no matter what.”