Spoken word album

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A spoken word album is a record album that does not consist mainly of music or songs, but of spoken material. It could be said to be the ancestor of today's audiobook format. Spoken word albums range from such items as recordings of actual political speeches and/or dramatic readings of historical documents, to dialogue from the soundtrack of a film, to condensed dramatized versions of literary classics, to complete performances of plays by Shakespeare or other great authors, to stories for children, or to standup comedy routines recorded live in nightclubs.

Early beginnings[edit]

Spoken word albums have been made since the early days of recording; examples include the popular Ronald Colman 1941 version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol on American Decca Records. However, a true milestone was reached when Columbia Masterworks, which had previously released an album of excerpts from Shakespeare's Richard II with Maurice Evans, made a complete recording of Margaret Webster's famed (and never filmed) 1943 Broadway production of Othello, starring Paul Robeson, José Ferrer, and Uta Hagen, on an 18-record 78-RPM set running a total of two hours and eight minutes. It was later transferred to LP.[1] It was the longest spoken word album made up to that time.[citation needed] The album gave millions of listeners who otherwise were unable to attend a theatrical performance a chance to hear Robeson as Othello and Ferrer as Iago. Sales of the album, however, were affected[how?] after Robeson was blacklisted by the U.S. government in 1950 for his alleged Communist sympathies.[citation needed]

LP influence and educational value[edit]

After the advent of LPs, spoken word albums became much more common.

  • José Ferrer was heard in an album of excerpts from Cyrano de Bergerac, with members of the cast of the 1946 Broadway revival in which Ferrer first played Cyrano, on Capitol Records.[3]

Decline[edit]

With the advent of videocassettes and compact discs, however, original cast albums of non-musical plays, as well as spoken word albums of film soundtracks, went into a serious decline from which they have never completely recovered. CDs usually place more emphasis on music than on the spoken word, and there was little interest in only listening to a play or dialogue excerpts from a film when one could now buy plays and films on video and watch them at home whenever one wished. While the Cosby albums have resurfaced on CD, most of the other albums mentioned above have not. (Some of the Caedmon albums have been released on CD by Harper Audio, a division of Harper Collins, which now owns Caedmon.) [5] The 1968 album of Romeo and Juliet excerpts has also appeared on CD, and Pearl has issued the Robeson Othello in that medium, but the CD edition of the Othello has, unfortunately, attracted little attention in comparison to the history-making vinyl record release of the 1940s,[11] and now that Cyrano de Bergerac, A Man for All Seasons, the Olivier Othello, the Zeffirelli versions of Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew, the television version of Mark Twain Tonight, and Richard Burton's Hamlet are all available on DVD, this has become for most a more preferred way to experience these productions.

Although Naxos Records is a major producer of audiobooks, many famous spoken word recordings of the past, such as Columbia Masterworks' John Brown's Body and Don Juan in Hell have yet to be released on CD, although Don Juan in Hell has become available as an mp3 download. Whether or not it will appear in CD form is still unknown. Also online (but not yet on CD) is Capitol Records' The Story Teller: A Session with Charles Laughton, a Grammy-winning one-man stage performance by the actor, featuring dramatic readings from the Bible, Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw and Jack Kerouac, as well as autobiographical reminiscences.

Today's spoken word albums[edit]

There have been some spoken word albums over the past 15 years or so[citation needed][when?] recorded specifically for compact disk; these have often been combined with classical music. Among them are the Naxos audiobooks, as well as a Chandos Records series of albums which combine the music William Walton wrote for several Shakespeare production (including the Olivier film adaptations), with readings from the author performed by such actors as John Gielgud and Christopher Plummer.[citation needed] There is also an Hyperion Records stereophonic re-creation of Ralph Vaughan Williams' 1942 radio play adaptation of The Pilgrim's Progress, again with Gielgud. Excerpts from Gielgud's one-man Shakespeare production Ages of Man (1959), once available on LP, are now available as a manufactured-on-demand CD.

Today, such websites as BBC, L.A. Theatre Works, The Hollywood Theater of the Ear, and ZBS offer full-length recordings on CD of their dramatic productions.[12] These recordings are possibly the closest that modern day discs have come to the spoken word albums of the 1960s.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "SONY Masterworks". masterworksheritage.com. 
  2. ^ "Disney Records History". Disney.go.com. 
  3. ^ "Cyrano De Bergerac". Books and Collectibles. 
  4. ^ "The Glass Menagerie CD by Tennessee Williams". HarperCollins.com. 
  5. ^ a b "HarperCollins Search results". HarperCollins.com. 
  6. ^ SOUNDTRACK LP THE TAMING OF THE SHREW TAYLOR / BURTON (1968)
  7. ^ "Romeo & Juliet: Nino Rota: Music". Amazon.com. 
  8. ^ LAURENCE OLIVIER IN OTHELLO RCA RED SEAL RECORD
  9. ^ TIME
  10. ^ Greene, Nick (October 7, 2014). "Listening to Elvis Presley's Bizarre Album of Stage Banter". Mental Floss. Retrieved January 10, 2015. 
  11. ^ Amazon.com: Shakespeare: Othello: William Shakespeare, Mischa Spoliansky, Uta Hagen, Victor Young, Jose (i) Ferrer, Paul Robeson, Jane Manning, Lawrence Brown: Music
  12. ^ "Audio Sales". amazonwebstore. 

External links[edit]