In its initial incarnation, The Band Wagon was a plotless musical revue with songs by composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz, and skits by Dietz and George S. Kaufman, starring (for the last time anywhere) the dance team of Fred and Adele Astaire, that opened on Broadway on June 3, 1931, for a run of 260 performances (good for the Depression era) and spawned the standard "Dancing in the Dark." Twenty-two years later, in July 1953, a much-altered film adaptation starring Fred Astaire arrived. The movie had a script written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green that told the backstage story of a fading movie star who revives his career by returning to Broadway in a new musical. The score included some of the songs from the original stage production ("Dancing in the Dark," "New Sun in the Sky," "I Love Louisa") along with interpolations from other Schwartz-Dietz shows ("A Shine on Your Shoes," "By Myself," "Triplets," "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," "Louisiana Hayride") and the newly written anthem "That's Entertainment." A soundtrack album was released on MGM Records. In 1990, CBS Records, on the cusp of becoming Sony Music Entertainment and in temporary possession of the MGM film archives, released an expanded version of the soundtrack album, and six years later, Rhino Records, in association with Turner Classic Movies, which had since acquired the MGM film archives, released a different expanded version of the soundtrack. On January 1, 2004, the soundtrack album, in its original form, went out of copyright in Europe, where rights last only 50 years, and British reissue label Prism Leisure, as is its wont, has reacted quickly by releasing this, its own unlicensed version of the soundtrack. It contains the nine tracks from the 1953 MGM release without any of the bonus material on the later reissues. But it adds material that is actually more valuable. Back in 1931, the Astaires went into the recording studio with Leo Reisman & His Orchestra and recorded 21 minutes' worth of music from the stage production for release on RCA Victor at a time when the "original Broadway cast" recording was an unknown concept. These tracks are long out of copyright in Europe, of course, and unencumbered by contract restrictions, Prism Leisure has added them to the soundtrack, thus giving the listener two different Astaire treatments of the work. It is interesting to note that the '50s were more prudish than the '30s. In 1931, Astaire could sing, "When I choose 'em, I like a great big bosom" in the German oompah satire "I Love Louisa," but in 1953 he was forced to change it to "When I choose 'em, I never want to lose 'em." Because of the interpolations, there are only three songs repeated, and the second, "New Sun in the Sky," gets a vocal treatment in the movie and an instrumental one on the "cast" recording. Unfortunately, nobody sings "Dancing in the Dark," which was performed by the unrecorded John Barker in the show and appears only instrumentally in the movie and on the 1931 discs. This is not, therefore, the ideal album of The Band Wagon, but it's about as close as it's possible to get.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann