I’m looking forward to attending tonight’s performance by Don McLean and Judy Collins, partly for reasons that may be unique to myself. They are both iconic performers, of course. I always felt the overwhelming (and deserved) popularity of McLean’s “American Pie” led it to overshadow the rest of the songs on that album, which is terrific from start to finish. My fascination with Ms. Collins is based on my love for her landmark 1967 Wildflowers album, especially the orchestral arrangements, which were done by musicologist Joshua Rifkin. Rifkin had been a graduate student at Princeton University several years before I was, and among his varied credits is the album of Scott Joplin Rags that more or less put that composer on the music-industry map in the 1970s. But his love for the Baroque—my own favorite musical era—blossomed forth not only on legitimate Baroque albums (Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Handel’s Organ Concertos) but also on the superb send-up called The Baroque Beatles Book—songs by the Fab Four that sound less like Liverpool and more like an 18th-century court. For the Wildflowers album, which featured a 14th-century Ballata by Francesco Landini as well as Judy’s smash-hit cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” he provided her with gorgeous arrangements that included such Baroque touches as harpsichord, which is my instrument. The harpsichord was achieving a new popularity in mass culture during the 1960s, from the hit songs “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk (of all people!), “Different Drum” by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies, and Paul Mauriate’s instrumental recording of “Love is Blue” to its use in such movie soundtracks as Tom Jones, Margaret Rutherford’s “Miss Marple” mystery movies, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I doubt that Ms. Collins will be employing the services of a harpsichordist tonight, but I’ll still be there for old times’ sake.
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