Sometime in 1990, I was a pathetic high school student getting my heart slowly and painfully broken during an ill-advised Smith College visit to my first girlfriend. The relationship was clearly dying on the vine, and I was wretched. Things went from bad to worse, and then we went to see a visiting a cappella group, the Tufts Beelzebubs, perform in a campus lounge. A dapper bunch of fellows took the stage and proceeded to rock the house with a polished, harmonious set including Peter Gabriel’s “In your Eyes”. They finished with a stunning medley of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)”, the final chords of which have haunted me ever since. I was spellbound from start to finish, and for five glorious minutes Major Tom’s dramatic return to earth eclipsed my romantic misery. I searched for a recording for years; it proved damnably elusive.
I found it at last, and although the sound quality is far from perfect, the song still carries the old magic. Even better, I’ve been granted permission to share it with you. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the 1990 Tufts Beelzebubs!
Read on to learn more about the performance and for some sentimental rambling from yours truly.
“Space Oddity / Major Tom”, an a cappella medley.
Arranged for male voices by Fernandi from the original songs by David Bowie (1968) and Peter Schilling (1983).
Solos by Dancing Knightly and Marty Mahoney, with a duet by Danny Lichtenfeld and John Taber Gifford.
Recorded by Bill Allen at Goddard Chapel, Tufts University, on Dec. 8 & 9, 1989.
Mixed and engineered by Bill Allen at RCA Studios, NYC.
CD Design and layout by Lewis and Clark.
Cover art by Danny Lichtenfeld.
The 1990 Beezebubs performance of “Space Oddity / Major Tom” launched me on my own love affair with college a cappella, which I would eventually pursue as part of a singing group. But although we had some great arrangements and fine performances, and I’ve since heard many other great groups, nothing has ever impressed me quite so much as that Beelzebubs rendition of Bowie and Schilling’s ballads of the lost astronaut.
As is often the way with such things, what you want most is hardest to get. I spent years trying to track down the only published recording of the arrangement, the Beelzebub’s live performance from their first Winter Invitational in 1989-90. (A second studio recording has since been released by the 2000-2001 Beelzebubs and can be found on their album, “Next”.) With a short print run that sold out years before I started looking, in that pre-Internet age it just wasn’t to be had.
But I’m happy to report that persistence finally paid off. I found my copy of that elusive song, and after contacting the current business manager of the ‘Bubs, Eli Seidman, I was graciously permitted to post it here for everyone. I am delighted to present what I consider to be a long-lost a cappella classic. It’s a second generation concert recording so sound quality could be better, and there is very noticeable tape hiss. (Incidentally, if anyone out there has a cleaner copy, send or email it to me and I’ll be happy to put it up.) Despite the recording’s flaws, I think the group’s contagious energy and sophisticated harmony still makes the tune soar into space.
How is this in any way related to audio drama? I confess: it isn’t. This is a genuine indulgence on my part. But the inventive ways in which the ‘Bubs used their voices to recreate the soundscape of a space voyage, from blips and beeps to thrusters whooshing stereophonically from right to left, should be of interest to anyone invested in using the human voice to create sound effects.
What can’t be recaptured here is the visual dynamism of the performance. The entire a cappella group turned itself into an intricate space machine, with each member performing a specific function as a whirling gear, rotating axle, or shifting lever. The movements were executed in time with the music, sometimes for comedic effect, as when a robotic arm mechanically handed Tom a drink after the lyrics requested it. I’ve since seen more sweeping choreography from the gigantic Amherst college Zumbyes, but none so intricate or clever.
So here’s to you, Beelzebubs of 1990: John Taber Gifford (President), Eric Valliere (Music Director), Danny Lichtenfeld (Business Manager), Damon Goldstein, Todd Herzog, Dave Kalis, Justin Kline, Dancing Knightly, Marty Mahoney, Geoff Mogilner, Leonard Squibb, Nolan Mondrow, Bert Okpokwasili, Kevin Page, Deke Sharon, and Greg Williamson. You did the impossible and lifted my spirits when I was at my lowest ebb. And here’s to the current Beelzebubs and their business manager, Eli Seidman, who kindly allowed me to bring this lost work back and share it. Why not give them a visit at their homepage? And here’s to you, too, first girlfriend of mine. I hope you’ve found true love and happiness as I have. And while I’m passing around tributes like a happy drunk, here’s to Fred for allowing me to post something with only the most tenuous of links to radio drama. (I’ll be back on track soon, I promise!)
And finally, here’s to any of you who find some enjoyment and inspiration in this music.