Today's Pop Symphony is one of those odd records that should be more annoying than it is. On its face, the album seems contrived and bombastic, not to mention hopelessly dated. But assuming that one cares at all to hear orchestral versions of songs that were done perfectly by their rock and soul originators, it's entertaining, at least to hear the choices that were made. Lennon and McCartney's "There's a Place" seems a strange way to open the album, and arranging it as a Baroque-style overture seems downright twisted; someone working with Oldham undoubtedly was impressed with the results that Joshua Rifkin had gotten with his Baroque Beatles Book on Elektra Records and tried for something similar. The brass sounds damned impressive on the bridge, but only about 20 seconds of this track are really recognizable as "There's a Place." The Four Seasons' "Rag Doll" seems grotesque as a choice, but it's quite nice arranged for string orchestra à la "Eleanor Rigby" (except for the kettle drums), and it does sound like the song it's supposed to be, with some intriguing modulations in the first violins' part in the second half of the song. "I Got You Babe" was a choice possibly dictated in part because the Rolling Stones had done a savage parody of it on Ready Steady Go, miming to the Sonny & Cher original. "We Can Work It Out" is a more successful Beatles cover, with the winds and reeds taking most of the melody. "Play With Fire" is the best of the Rolling Stones covers here, the high strings replacing the original's guitar part while the lower strings carry the tune. "Mother's Little Helper" is done in a rather dirge-like fashion and "In the Midnight Hour" is delivered by the brass in so sprightly and up-beat a manner that the soul classic threatens to turn into the old cigarette jingle "You can take Salem out of the country, but you can't take the country out of Salem." "Take It or Leave It" was never that distinguished a Rolling Stones song to begin with, and it mostly serves here to give the horns and brass a workout, while "Sittin' on a Fence" is a string-laden miniature. The Bert Berns/Jerry Wexler-authored "I Don't Want to Go on Without You" is the best part of the record, a delicate soul instrumental that doesn't try to be anything other than of its source and period, just played on orchestral instruments with the violins beautifully subbing for the singer, helped by a piano. The bonus track added to the CD reissues, Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long," is bizarre in its lovely way, the original piece given an arrangement closer in spirit to Wagner's Lohengrin, with an uncredited guest appearance over one verse by Mick Jagger. The album has been reissued several times, including in the early 1990s by CBS/Sony and in 1999 by England's Sequel Records.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder