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The #1 Albums: “Doctor Zhivago”

Cover shot from the 30th anniversary edition of "Doctor Zhivago" (Turner Entertainment)

Billboard magazine began publishing an album chart in 1945, and it wasn’t long before a soundtrack album hit #1: Song of Norway, from a musical adaptation of the works of Edvard Grieg. Over the next 20 years, soundtracks from some of the most famous works in the history of the American theater would top the chart including Carousel, South Pacific (its Original Cast album spent an astonishing 68 weeks at #1 in 1949, 1950, and 1951; the film soundtrack spent another 31 weeks at the top in 1958), Show Boat, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Flower Drum Song.

Even after the pop explosion of the 1960s changed the face of popular music, soundtracks could still do big business, although they would be movie soundtracks almost exclusively: from Elvis movies such as Blue Hawaii and Roustabout, the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, or big Hollywood productions of The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. And at the end of 1966, a year dominated by the Beatles, Motown, and California pop-rock, one more old-school movie soundtrack would manage to top the chart.

At the end of 1965,  Doctor Zhivago hit theaters. It’s a wartime romance set in Russia during World War I and the Russian Revolution. The film was an enormous hit—to this day, it remains among the top grossers of all time after adjustment for inflation. In April 1966, it won five Oscars, although it lost out for Best Picture. One of the Oscars was for Best Original Score, written by Maurice Jarre. Jarre set out to deepen the both the character of Zhivago (played by Omar Sharif) and the impact of the events in the film, and critics considered his work a major success.

If you know a single bit of music from Doctor Zhivago, it’s almost certainly “Lara’s Theme,” written for the character played by Julie Christie. But the version you know may not be the one from the film. In the summer of 1966, “Lara’s Theme” by the Ray Conniff Singers, retitled “Somewhere My Love,” made it into the top 10, tucked in at #9 right between “Mother’s Little Helper” by the Stones and “Sweet Pea” by Tommy Roe.

Doctor Zhivago‘s mojo remained powerful throughout 1966. The film soundtrack spent a week at #1 beginning on November 5. Somebody who knows more about movies than I do would have to confirm this, but it seems to me that of the top-grossing films of all time, Zhivago is the one that’s gone furthest down the memory hole. Here’s the trailer.




  • http://robertcashill.blogspot.com BobCashill

    While David Lean would protest, ZHIVAGO has probably “gone furthest down the memory hole,” as movies that are exactly my age are wont to do. More than even GONE WITH THE WIND (which has more of a pulse), it’s the quintessential “big book into big movie,” overstuffed and overcooked, a film that flatters an egalitarian Cold War audience (“Look, the Russians are people, too!”). To be sure It has some good things in it–the music is lovely, and the song made from it graced (or “graced”) many a TV commercial for schmaltzy romantic compilations–but in general the leanest Lean is the best.