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100 Songs That Deserve to Be All-Time Show Favorites

What should be the 100 favorite show songs of all time? logo

So I see there's a new five-disc set called 100 All-Time Show Favourites--a British set, as you may have already inferred from the spelling of "favourites." The set contains seven songs from My Fair Lady; six songs from Annie Get Your Gun and South Pacific; five from Carousel, Fiddler on the Roof, Kiss Me, Kate, Oliver, and West Side Story; four from Evita, Les Misérables, and Oklahoma!; three from Cabaret, 42nd Street, Guys and Dolls, Hair, The King and I, Me and My Girl, and The Sound of Music; two from Fame, Godspell, Grease, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King, Show Boat, and Sunset Boulevard, and one from Annie, Aspects of Love, Beauty and the Beast, The Boy Friend, Cats, Hello Dolly, Joseph..., and The Phantom of the Opera.

You interested? I'm not, either. I'll bet we already have every selection in our collections, and plenty of them on more than one album. But I'm told these compilation discs sell well and introduce many newcomers to the wonders of musical theater, so I'm not complaining.

But if compilations do well, how about 100 Songs That Deserve to Be All-Time Show Favorites? We can all think of plenty of worthies that have gone unnoticed in our musically challenged society. Isn't it time we share the wealth with the general populace? Off the top of my head, I made my list, but adhered to some rules: (1) Just one song from each show, so that many more composers and lyricists could be represented; (2) Songs had to be from shows that lasted less than a year, as we're celebrating the "have-nots" here; (3) No song that had even a hint of recording activity--e.g., "I've Got Your Number" from Little Me-- was eligible; 4) No song that made its way into a movie, like "I Am on My Way" from Paint Your Wagon, was eligible, for the film--however unsuccessful--exposed the song to a wide audience.

As always, I'm asking you to remember what you think I forgot. But I want you to stick to my rules when selecting. You get to abide by one more rule: Choose only between one and five songs, no more than that, so at least 20 people will get the chance to have their opinions posted, for I only intend to include the first 100 titles received. For better or worse, here's my hundred, in alphabetical order. Before you disagree: Have you heard all the songs on this list? Almost all have been recorded and most can be found on professionally released CDs.


1. "All Fall Down" (America Kicks up Its Heels), William Finn's harrowing account of how the Depression depressed one family.

2. "Announcement of Inheritance" (Something for the Boys), Cole Porter's ditty in which three relatives find they've each been left 4,000 acres in Texas.

3. "Anyone Can Whistle" (Anyone Can Whistle), a song to which many overachievers can relate.

4. "The Apple Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree" (The Rink). Sure, it's a knockoff of "The Grass Is Always Greener," but at least Kander and Ebb were stealing from themselves.

5. "The Ballad of Czolgosz" (Assassins). How wonderfully Sondheim captured Aaron Copland's all-American, wide-open-prairies sound.

6. "Before I Kiss the World Goodbye" (Jennie). You won't hear one of the song's most felicitous lyrics on the recording ("Before I go and meet my maker, I want to use the salt left in the shaker") because Mary Martin thought it was vulgar.

7. "Blame It on the Summer Night" (Rags), Charles Strouse's lovely, klezmer-infused melody set to an equally lovely Stephen Schwartz lyric.

8. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (Breakfast at Tiffany's). In the midst of the show's tumultuous Boston tryout, Mary Tyler Moore delivered this pretty song with wistful charm.

9. "But You Go On" (Annie Warbucks), the lower-middle-class woman's "I'm Still Here."

10. "A Broadway Musical" (A Broadway Musical), all about the troubles and tribulations of putting on same: "But when it works, forget the jerks who said it couldn't go, for there's nothing like a big, brash Broadway show!"

11. "Chain of Love" (The Grass Harp). Ever since 1972, this is the first song I listen to every June 20--my birthday.

12. "The Cocoa Bean Song" (Kwamina). No composer ever stretched himself as much as Richard Adler did when writing the tribal songs for this show set in Africa.

13. "Darkest before the Dawn" (The Good Companions). This haunting ballad is proof positive that André Previn should have written more for the theater.

14. "Do I Love Him" (What About Love), a jaunty Howard Marren song in which a wife tries to convince her husband that he loves her ex-husband.

15. "Dreams of Heaven" (Three Guys Naked from the Waist Down). Who knew that Michael (Sweet Charity) Rupert could write such a potent power-ballad?

16. "El Sombrero" (Wildcat), evidence that this show wasn't just a vehicle for Lucille Ball's vast talents, for she barely appears in this number.

17. "Half the Battle" (Ben Franklin in Paris), a stirring march whose melody you memorize after only one hearing.

18. "The Happy Time" (The Happy Time). "Remember the compliment you once received? The lie you told they all believed?" Fred Ebb included many other fond memories, too.

19. "Has I Let You Down?" (House of Flowers). One reason why the 1968 revival of this flopped was that it dropped this melodious song.

20. "Here's Love" (Here's Love). Meredith Willson wore his heart on both sleeves--and some on his pants legs, too--but we're the richer for it.

21. "Holmes and Watson" (Drat! the Cat!). "For it takes one to do the heavy brainwork; one to do the more mundane work; one to say, 'It's elementary'; one to say 'Amazing!'" It's amazing that horror-meister Ira Levin could write with such charm.

22. "Home, Sweet Heaven" (High Spirits), a great 11 o'clock number that Tammy Grimes really knew how to drive home.

23. "Hushabye, Baby" (Inner City). If Brecht were living in the 1970s and writing with a rock composer, the result might have been this song about a single mother who's trying to be brave.

24. "I Can Carry a Tune" (The Human Comedy). In fact, he can't carry a tune, and that's part of the fun of this Galt MacDermot charmer.

25. "I Can Play This Part" (The Goodbye Girl), a ballad that may be too rooted in showbiz lingo to be sufficiently appreciated by the masses, but David Zippel did his job well.

26. "I Could Be the One" (The Card), one of those melodies that goes in unexpected directions--but you're always grateful for where it's taken you.

27. "I'd Rather Wake Up By Myself" (By the Beautiful Sea). And why does she feel that way? "Joe made big dough; his business--he said--was printin'. What Joe was printin' got him San Qu'ntin."

28. "I Fought Every Step of the Way" (Top Banana), the inimitable Rose Marie singing a love song in terms of a boxing match.

29. "I Get Myself Out" (Grind). Stubby Kaye, playing a burlesque clown, remembers being in a theater during the fire. "The curtain went up. I mean, it went UP."

30. "I Hear Bells" (Starting Here, Starting Now). For my money, the most beautiful song ever written for the theater; originally in Love Match, Maltby and Shire's Queen Victoria musical.

31. "I'll Buy You a Star" (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). "But I won't rest until I buy the moon," he tells his love--and this soaring Arthur Schwartz melody almost makes you believe him.

32. "Imagining You" (Birds of Paradise), quiet, brooding, yet oh-so-powerful work from a young David Evans and Winnie Holzman.

33. "I'm Unlucky at Gambling" (Fifty Million Frenchmen). Cole Porter's driving melody has a lyric that makes quite a statement about a John Gilbert fan.

34. "I Never Know When to Say When" (Goldilocks). Too bad Elaine Stritch didn't include this--one of the great 11 o'clock torch songs--in At Liberty.

35. "It's an Art" (Working), sings waitress Dolores Dante, "Though the chef may be deaf, I stay diplomatic. If I give him static, he might burn the haddock." Stephen Schwartz's accomplishment proves to be even stronger when you read Dante's remarks in Studs Terkel's book.

36. "It's the Going Home Together" (The Golden Apple). The arch RCA Victor recording doesn't do this one justice but, trust me, this is quite a beautiful song.

37. "It's the Strangest Thing" (The Act). Liza Minnelli portrayed Michelle Craig, a singer who did soft, Sinatra-like ballads with Nelson Riddle-like arrangements. This is a prime example.

38. "I Wonder What Became of Me" (St. Louis Woman). How nice that, after years of neglect, this song is now in its rightful place in the score.

39. "Kiss Her Now" (Dear World). Who would have thought that razzmatazz master Jerry Herman could have come up with this pensive, mature melody and lyric?

40. "Let's Go Home" (Nick & Nora). I'll never forget the closing performance; Joanna Gleason and Barry Bostwick looked so wistful when singing this song for the last time.

41. "Let's See What Happens" (Darling of the Day). The 1968 show may have closed in a month, but whenever I saw Jule Styne appear at any function for the next 20 years, this was the song he always chose to play.

42. "Life Story" (Closer Than Ever). "We had a liberated marriage," the 49-year-old singer begins in a look at what she's been through since then, without a drop of self-pity.

43. "Little M-m-m" (The Wild Party on Broadway). M-m-marvelous work from M-M-Michael John La Chiusa.

44. "Look What Happened to Mabel" (Mack & Mabel). They don't get much perkier than this--but how would you feel when you first saw yourself immortalized on the silver screen?

45. "Maman" (Mata Hari). To all those who admire "Momma, Look Sharp" in 1776: This one does the same sentiment much better, and it came first.

46. "Meadowlark" (The Baker's Wife). And to think that producer David Merrick actually went into the orchestra pit to steal the music so this song couldn't be sung!

47. "Melisande" (110 in the Shade). Great God a'mighty! What a marvelous piece of bravado by Schmidt and Jones, who usually use a softer voice but here proved they could write bolt-of-lightning material, too.

48. "Melt Us" (All-American). Long before there was Ragtime, Charles Strouse wrote a toe-tapping ragtime for immigrants.

49. "A Moment with You" (Saturday Night), Sondheim's first excellent charm song. There would be many more to follow.

50. "The Music of Home" (Greenwillow). Anthony Perkins reportedly bought every copy of the Greenwillow album he could find so that no one else could hear him; he had a cold the day of the recording and didn't like the way he sounded. I don't think he's bad at all.

51. "My Favorite Year" (My Favorite Year). I sometimes wonder if the show would have been better off putting this lovely ballad first instead of last.

52. "My Title Song" (Fashion). Composer Donald Pippin actually subtitled this 1974 tune "An Hommage to Jerry Herman," and it is pinpoint accurate in aping him. The irony is that, nine years later, Herman wrote "With Ann on My Arm"--which sounds like this song.

53. "My True Love" (Phantom). We don't get too many good waltzes these days, but Maury Yeston here provided us with a worthy one.

54. "The Next Best Thing to Love" (A Class Act). If there was a Best Song Tony, I suspect this would have been the one award that The Producers wouldn't have won last year.

55. "Nice" (Lucky Stiff). Two people who were once enemies come to like each other, but now they have to part. An early indication that Ahrens and Flaherty were really something.

56. "No Lover" (Out of This World). You don't get many songs where a woman celebrates her spouse, but here's a lilting one.

57. "No Song More Pleasing" (Rex). The last potent melody that Richard Rodgers ever wrote. The problem was that it opened the show and gave us heady expectations of what would follow.

58. "Not a Care in the World" (Banjo Eyes). Later interpolated into the 1964 revival of Cabin in the Sky, where it didn't quite fit: Sharecroppers wouldn't know Catherine the Great, let alone that she would say "Nitchevo!" But it's such a good song, it's nice to have another recording of it.

59. "Oh, Brother" (Oh, Brother). At David Carroll's memorial, Judy Kaye noted that when she and he were in this show, they called it "the stupidest show on Broadway." Yes, but there's something nice about this bouncy Michael Valenti melody.

60. "An Old Fashioned Love Story" (The Wild Party off-Broadway). Fourteen seconds after Alix Korey lit into this song, you relaxed and knew you'd be applauding like crazy in three minutes or so.

61. "Old Sayin's" (Juno). Marc Blitzstein wasn't known for his humor, but he sure provided Shirley Booth and Melvin Douglas with a hilarious look at warring spouses.

62. "One More Walk around the Garden" (Carmelina). Three aging ex-GI's think about their salad days and what's left on their plate. A last hurrah for Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, too.

63. "Orphan in the Storm" (Celebration). Michael Glenn Smith shone when delivering this offbeat Jones and Schmidt entry.

64. "Our Time" (Merrily We Roll Along). Perhaps the loveliest song to ever conclude a Sondheim musical.

65. "A Patriotic Finale" (Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly), a paean to all that gays have brought to America: "You need US to make the USA." Amen, brother!

66. "Penny Plain, Twopence Colored" (Kean). To those who think that Wright and Forrest only adapted classical melodies, here's Exhibit A of their consummate songwriting talent.

67. "Picture of Happiness" (Tenderloin). Actually, one of the few songs that's sung better on a revival recording than on the original. Finally I understood every word!

68. "Play Away the Blues" (Balancing Act). "Every day of the week is Saturday when you're doing what you like to do," wrote Dan Goggin--who has every right to feel that way, considering what cash cows all of his Nunsense shows have been for him.

69. "The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March" (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). Granted, Lerner's lyrics go, "The President Jefferson March. The President Jefferson Luncheon March. The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon March. The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March." But, oh, that Leonard Bernstein melody!

70. "A Quiet Thing" (Flora, the Red Menace), Kander and Ebb's first platinum-plated achievement in the musical theater.

71. "A Rhyme for Angela" (The Firebrand of Florence). Ira Gershwin's witty lyric that circumvents the problem that there IS no rhyme for the word Angela.

72. "Set the Sails" (In Trousers). Of all the scores mentioned on this list, this was the one from which I had the toughest time choosing one song. If I were stuck on a desert island, this is one cast album I'd want with me.

73. "Sez I" (Donnybrook). Maybe the best opening number that nobody knows.

74. "Smile" (Smile). No one can write a buoyant melody like Marvin Hamlisch, once he sets his mind to it.

75. "So Far, So Good" (No Way to Treat a Lady). I admire lyricists who take a cliché and then find a way to make it fresh. The melody for this one helped it to be even fresher. Both are by the most talented Douglas J. Cohen.

76. "Stools" (Upstairs at O'Neal's). "Oh, you can do a revue without taste. I know of one that's been running for years," wrote Martin Charnin in a not-so-veiled swipe at Oh, Calcutta. "But you can't do a revue without stools." And he's right.

77. "Stop Time" (Big). Is there any parent in the world who can't relate to this song about how much your kids change from one moment to the next?

78. "Strange Duet" (Subways Are for Sleeping). Actually, this was originally "Strange Quartet" until Styne, Comden, and Green decided that it should showcase only Orson Bean and Phyllis Newman.

79. "Sweet Beginning" (The Roar of the Greasepaint--The Smell of the Crowd). Another show with so strong a score (four household-name hits) that it's hard to find the quintessential one to represent it.

80. "Take Courage, Daughter" (Joan). "Faith won't do a single thing for you. You still gotta suffer! You still gotta die! And God won't even tell you the reason why!" What's most interesting is that the song is sung by a nun and was written by a priest, the Rev. Al Carmines.

81. "Talking to Yourself" (Hallelujah, Baby!). Too bad that Arthur Laurents book is such an atrocity and keeps this Styne, Comden and Green goodie from getting more attention.

82. "The Theatre is a Lady" (Two's Company). From the ill-fated revue that starred Bette Davis. Not surprising that this, the best song in the score, doesn't have her in it for a second.

83. "Two Heads Are Better Than One" (The Robber Bridegroom). Granted, I like the B-section much better than the A-section, but it's still a piece of hillbilly heaven.

84. "The Two of Us" (Look Ma, I'm Dancin'). By the way, Michael Feinstein and Hugh Martin did a nifty version of this on an album and provided some apt autobiographical lyrics.

85. "Venice Gambling Scene" (Candide). Long before the acclaimed, long-run revival and the rewritten "Life Is Happiness Indeed" came this Bernstein beauty.

86. "Walk Away" (How Now Dow Jones). How many jazz waltzes do you know that deal with pregnancy?

87. "Water under the Bridge" (Windy City), an underrated 11 o'clock number that needs to be heard all hours of the day.

88. "We're Gonna Be All Right" (Do I Hear a Waltz?). Of course, we're talking about Sondheim's original lyric (and, for that matter, Richard Rodgers' full melody) for this. What's on the original cast album is deadly dull.

89. "When I'm Drunk, I'm Beautiful" (Prettybelle). Even those who hated the musical during its month-long stay in Boston were captivated by Angela Lansbury selling this one at show's end.

90. "When the Lady Passes" (Festival). Actually, the whole score, by Stephen Downs, Randal Martin, and--yes--Bruce Vilanch deserves a second listen. Many more would then follow.

91. "Where Do I Go from Here?" (Fiorello!). Yes, Fiorello! ran two years, but this song didn't. It died in Philadelphia, and anyone who hears Liz Callaway's galvanic rendition on one of the Lost in Boston albums will never understand why.

92. "What Could Be Better?" (Baby). Here's Liz Callaway again, in a brisk duet in which she convinces her husband that he's ready for fatherhood.

93. "Who Can? You Can!" (The Gay Life). Not that this Dietz-Schwartz song needed any more charm to score, but Barbara Cook gave it something extra anyway.

94. "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" (Side Show). Well, millions of musical theater enthusiasts, for one thing.

95. "Why Can't We All Be Nice?" (Goodtime Charley). A damn good question, don't you think?

96. "Will He Like Me?" (She Loves Me). Whether he will or not, we know that we will, now and forever.

97. "Yes" (70-Girls-70). Perhaps my favorite show song of all time. It urges all of us to live life and enjoy every minute of it. "Say yes! Yes, of course! Yes, I'll taste! Yes, I'll touch!"

98. "Yes, It's Love" (Romance/Romance). Herrmann and Harman were in complete harmony here!

99. "You Have Made Me Love" (Cyrano). Maybe the second most beautiful song in the musical theater canon, sung among the cannons.

100. "You're a Lovable Lunatic" (Seesaw). After putting together a list like this, I start to think that Dorothy Fields was writing about me.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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