Get Electrified By Starlight Express’s “AC/DC”

Get Electrified By Starlight Express’s “AC/DC”

I spent the entire Saturday listening to musical soundtracks composed by the great Andrew Lloyd Webber. Perhaps due to the recent news of a live-action film of the infamous musical Cats. But also, at the same time, songs from another Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, came up on my Spotify playlist. This prompted me to listen to the entire live recording of the NBC live production that happened this past spring.

After listening to the soundtracks, Spotify then introduced me to the 80s’ musical Starlight Express. I didn’t know that this musical existed until the recommendation popped up. I was baffled. I kept asking myself while listening:

What is “Starlight Express”?

Starlight Express is a musical that is centered on a huge race between trains around the world. It features one underdog, a low-speed steam shunter engine named Rusty, who dreams of winning. He doesn’t just to win the tournament, but also the heart of a brand-new coach named Pearl. However, there is the reigning champion, an Elvis-like diesel engine named Greaseball (who reminds me of the Pharaoh from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat). He is challenged by Rusty, a newcomer named Electra, and other trains from around the world.

therace.png

Although the characters are mostly trains, the story is what is important. It’s a classic story about believing in yourself mixed with a little romance, the underdog factor, and the race element.

Starlight Express: A Train Musical, Seriously?

However, it is hard to imagine such a musical exist, especially when you think about the “trains” are actual humans on rollerskates.

How can humans portray inanimate objects so well?

How can they make that believable so that this musical could be a good musical to see?

Isn’t that idea too obscure?

There is some backstory on how Starlight Express was created. The musical is a mash-up of three failed project by Lloyd Webber himself — all dealing with trains too. First was a failed Thomas the Tank Engine animation project. Then, an ill-received train-themed pop song (which did make its way into the musical). Finally, a failed idea of a retelling of the classic Cinderella tale but with locomotives racing to be with the prince. So, conceiving a big production by melding the ideas together would be very weird and hard to imagine, right?

What WAS Sir Lloyd Webber thinking?

“AC/DC” is Okay With Me

But, here we are: talking about Starlight Express. Yet, it has some great songs including my new favorite “AC/DC”. This piece is sung by a futuristic electric engine named Electra. He serves as one of the two antagonists during the story. During the song, Electra explains the meaning of “electronic”. He further talks about what abilities he has since he is “the future of railroad technology”. These abilities are: Electra can shock anyone, cause a fire, pull down the lighting from the sky, and cause anyone to be erased from his “memory”. These abilities, according to the electric engine, signal that he is very dangerous and shouldn’t be messed with. Electra also boasts that the electric train contains enough “electricity”  — charm and personality — to attract many to himself. This makes Electra believe that he will have the upper advantage in the final race as everyone will abandon those sore losers of steam engines for him.

Speaking of futuristic, the character and lyrics were ahead of its time as Electra may have been one of the first bisexual characters in a musical.[2] The clue is in the chorus when the electric engine sings “AC/DC, it’s okay by me. I can switch and change my frequency”. When this musical first premiered in 1984, “AC/DC” was slang for being bisexual. According to the character profile found on the Starlights Express Wiki, Electra had his sights on both sexes. Now, I don’t know if it is true or not because I haven’t heard the creator himself talk about the musical in-depth (and if you know of a source, please feel free to direct me to it),. But, the lyrics do allude to that characteristic for Electra.

The Musicality of “AC/DC”

How “AC/DC” was crafted is very different than a musical number in the 80s. Before Starlight Express, most early 80s musicals — like Les Miserables, Cats, and Little Shop of Horrors — had an orchestra serving as the main instrumentation. Furthermore, Dreamgirl and Chess used popular music that was already common by the mid-1980s (i.e., Dreamgirls was Motown themed). But with “AC/DC”, Andrew Lloyd Webber (who was one the firsts to use modern instrumentation in musicals) had the future in mind when he composed the tune: an electronic piece that uses a drumkit and synthesizers to give that futuristic feel.

The piece also feels odd and something unfamiliar as it’s placed in the G minor key. Furthermore, it is set in the 7/8 time signature, which is the only song in the musical to be set in that time signature. The rest are arranged in the standard 4/4 time signature. This unusual time signature and minor key help solidified that, as the Starlight Express Wiki puts it, Electra is something “wild and startlingly different from everyone else”. [1]

That weirdness of the piece is what attracts me. I love the mystic feeling that the introduction brings. It features soft tones, the use of the starry effect on the synthesizer, and the female vocals hailing the superstar by singing his name over and over. When Electra begins, he introduces himself by singing “I am electric, feel my attraction”. This seduces the listeners while pulling them into his electric realm. The lyrics and the seduction of the singer’s silky voice urge the listener to continue listening while enchanting whom who continue.  Then, the chorus jumps around the relative circle of fifths to create a sense of something strange and electronically weird. While Electra is singing, his vocals often change frequencies having the pitch either go up or down with the aid of an autotuner.

The Evolution of “Starlight Express” Throughout the Years

As Mykal Rand, a British actor who has played Electra in many productions, simply puts it: Starlight Express is ever-changing as technology advances.[2] “AC/DC” also has changed over the years to adapt to technological advances. I am going to share the different versions of “AC/DC” from various points in time. It is hard to pick a favorite as each version has their own quirks. What is your favorite version?

The Jeffrey Daniel Version (1984)

Below is a promotion video of Jeffrey Daniel, a former member of the 70s’ group Shalamar. He was the first Electra in the original West End production of the musical. He also sang the piece on the Original Cast Album.

I like Daniel’s version with his smooth and attractive vocals. I also like the electronic tonal alterations done to Daniel’s vocals to fit the theme of Electra. 

The concept for the music video is a bit unique; you have geishas doing various tasks while Daniel is dancing and singing. At first, I thought it was pretty weird, why would geishas be involved with this song? But I figured it out; Japan was the leader of future technology up until the end of the 80s. It would make perfect sense to put something Japanese in a song about futuristic (train) technology.

Here are the lyrics:

I am electric, feel my attraction

Feel my magnetism, you will agree

I am electric, I have the contact

I am electric, the future is me!

AC/DC, it’s okay by me

I can switch and change my frequency

I am electric, mind how you touch me

I can shock you, I can set you on fire

I can reach up and pluck down the lightning

Watch the conductor, see the live wire

AC/DC, it’s okay by me I can switch and change my frequency

AC/DC, it’s okay by me I can switch and change my frequency

I am electric, I’m a computer

Don’t attempt to keep no secrets from me

If you make me bored, I hit my keyboard

You’ll be erased from my memory

AC/DC, it’s okay by me

I can switch and change my frequency, can switch and change my frequency, can switch and change my frequency

The John Partridge version (1993)

Starlight Express went through several radical changes in the early 1990s, thus ushering in a new version and a new cast recording. This version of “AC/DC” got rid of the introduction with DOS prompts-like introduction by Electra’s components/ Instead, the producers had the Components just introduce themselves with their regular voices. The reason why the DOS prompt-like introduction got replaced was that while it was cool and futuristic in the 80s, it became outdated by the 90s. Also, there was more of an emphasis on Electra’s vocals than the electronic gimmick.

It seemed like this new version tone down the vocal alternations and focused on Patridge’s powerful yet slick singing style. The instrumentation also changes as it is less high-pitched. Yet, there is more of a bass backbone supporting the song, more instruments, a more proactive, authentic drum set,  and a more fluid synthesizer.

The Mykal Rand Version (2013)

Here is a clip of Mykal Rand singing the song in 2013 with more coherent and updated instrumentation (and maybe a small helping hand from a sequencer). This version uses more of a bass synthesizer and an electric drum kit. Also, Rand also makes a pretty “mean” Electra.

The David Michael Johnson version (1989)

And a bonus for you: this is a German version of the tune, sung by David Michael Johnson in 1989. This from a live recording on the Bochum recording, which celebrated their 30th anniversary this year. This recording follows the original West End recording.

Yet, what I like I about this version is how Johnson adds more to the Electra character by adding in-character electrified laughs near the end. I also love how Johnson sings in a style that reflects Electra’s self-absorbed personality.

This is one of the better, coherent (vocal-wise) versions I found on Youtube.

You can find the lyrics for each version at the Starlight Express Wiki.


References

[1] “Electra.” Starlight Express the Musical Wiki, starlightexpressmusical.wikia.com/wiki/Electra.
[2] “Norfolk – Entertainment – Mykal’s Still on Track.” BBC, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/entertainment/visual_arts/theatre_dance/starlight_express_mykal_rand_feature.shtml


Pin This!

This Post Has 135 Comments

  1. I absolutely love Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals… and Starlight Express is one of my favourites!

    1. Have you seen it and where? I want to take a trip to Bochum to see it.

      1. It goes on tours maybe once every decade. But if you ever go to Germany, they have it about every day in Bochum. This musical has been playing there for 30 years!

  2. I love to watch musical show! How I wish I have to experience that someday! Nice to review about Starlight Express 🙂

    1. Thanks! Does your country have musical productions?

      1. We have some music production but I really love this watch this Starlight Expresses 🙂

  3. I really enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. I have not got to see any in person, but I’d love to get the chance!

    1. Me too! I only saw Cats and Joseph on PBS about twenty years ago. I would love to see one on stage one day. But right now, Hunchback of Notre Dame is coming to Nagoya and I really want to see it, I love it’s soundtrack.

  4. I absolutely LOVE musicals! I’ve never heard of this, I definitely have to look into it. Thank you for sharing!!

    1. You are welcome! I didn’t know about it until Spotify recommended it to me in the Discovery Bar section.

  5. This was indepth but I loved every part of it because I am a music lover. I learnt so new things too, thanks for sharing.

    1. You are welcome! What kind of music do you like the most?

  6. This is the first I am hearing about this…You learn something new everyday I suppose.

  7. Your pictorial review of Starlight Express caught my fancy too. I enjoyed your wonderful narrative of the show.

  8. I remember Jeffrey Daniel from Shalimar. I had some of their music in high school. I didn’t know he was in one of the versions of this musical!

    1. Yes, he was! He is an amazing performer! Thanks for commenting!

  9. This sounds very cool and unique. My girls and I love musicals but we are much more Andrew Lloyd Webber kind of people!

    1. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals are definitely awesome. Which ones are your and your girls’ favorites?

  10. Ooh, I should get my girls this soundtrack. They are totally obsessed with Andrew Lloyd Webber and watch their videos of CATS, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and the original film version of Jesus Christ Superstar almost nonstop!

    1. You should! It’s amazing! Thanks for commenting!

  11. I love musicals! We just saw the King and I yesterday and Wicked a few weeks ago. The husband says he’s all musical’d out for the year but I think this would be something he’d love!

    1. Wicked is awesome! I saw it in Japanese about seven years ago. But still sing the songs!

  12. I’ve always enjoyed musical soundtracks and listen to them a lot, too. Either that or movie soundtracks!

  13. Sounds like a very entertaining show. I love the costumes!

    1. Thanks, I hope you can watch it someday. Thanks for commenting!

  14. Really appreciate your excellence over the topic.It shows your hard work and dedication .

  15. Looks like an awesome musical. I would love to watch this also.Bet this would be really great.

    1. It is great! Please, if it comes on tour, please do watch it. Thanks for commenting!

  16. I love Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals! So many gorgeous suggestions! I think I need to check and add them on my Spotify list!

    1. Please do and tell me what you think! <3

  17. Can’t tell you how much I love musicals but ya never heard of this one, seems interesting though!

  18. I had never heard of this before but I am absolutely intrigued!!!! It looks absolutely marvelous!!!

    1. Please check it out, it’s amazing!

  19. Came back for more music inspiration! Its amazing how a single track evolves with versions. Have heard AC/DC a bit and just playing on this one from Starlight Express

    1. I agree, it is amazing how one song evolves over the course of time. Thanks for commenting!

    1. I heard about it when looking up other Lloyd Webber musicals on Wikipedia. And got hooked after listening to the soundtrack on Spotify.

  20. I recognized the name of the musical ‘Starlight Express’ but today was the first time I heard any of the music when I played the video. I don’t think I could have sat through it in live theater though :O

  21. Now this looks super cool! I haven’t ever heard of ‘Starlight Express’, but I wouldn’t mind seeing that myself! Great post!

    1. If it comes back touring, please do. It is amazing. Thanks for posting!

  22. Andrew Lloyd Weber is just a genius. I have not heard of Starlight Express either but now think I need to see it! -Tonya Tardiff

    1. He is! Please check this out and tell me what you think of Starlight Express! Thanks for commenting!

  23. I personally love the costume designs for the trains. It’s one of those situations where, if you can’t make it completely realistic, it’s better to go for a more eccentric concept.

    1. Yes, I agree! And Lloyd Webber and the costume designers do an amazing job at that. Thanks for commenting.

  24. I’ve never heard of this musical, but it sounds like something I’d like. The costumes look amazing!

    1. It is amazing! Thanks for commenting!

  25. This looks amazing and fun. The costumes and the over all productions are all good.

    1. It is! Please check out other songs from this soundtrack if you have a chance. Thanks for commenting!

  26. Glad you have also include some youtube. Enjoy the clip of the musical show. Really cute and interesting performance.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Please check out the rest of the songs from the soundtrack when you have a chance. Thanks for commenting!

  27. It looks like you had such a great time watching this musical. I love all the vibrant colours and great music!

    1. Thanks for commenting! It has some great songs!

  28. This sounds like quite the interesting musical if you ask me!! Not something you see or hear about every day!

  29. How cool this is! Witnessing talents in a musical like this is one of a kind!

  30. Wow this is awesome!!!! I love musicals, my mom and I just saw Love Never Dies the other day, and we are great Andrew Lloyd Webber fans!!!

    1. Thanks, what are your favorite musicals? And what do you think of “Love Never Dies”?

  31. I love Andrew Lloyd Webber! This makes me want to see this off center musical!

    1. Thanks for commenting! Please see it if it goes on tour!

  32. Great post! I always love listening to musical soundtracks as well! Will check some of it on Spotify now.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Let me know what you think of Starlight Express’ soundtrack! Whare you favorite musicals?

  33. Great article. I do hope the production visits the Philippines.

    1. I hope it does! Thanks for commenting!

  34. I absolutely love musicals! Especially the really old and forgotten ones! I’ve never heard of this one before but it sounds so interesting! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for commenting. Please check it out! Starlight Express is amazing. What are your favorite musicals?

  35. I also love musicals. A music lover since a young age. This is a very timely review, I may say.

    1. Thanks for commenting! What are your favorite musicals?

  36. So many golden numbers here!

  37. this musical looks wicked cool! I love all musical, great review.

    1. Thanks, what are your favorite musicals?

    1. I hope you do. They are amazing! Thanks for commenting!

  38. I love you keeping track of all the different versions here. I think it’s interesting to see what each individual cast member brings to a theatrical production.

    1. It is, especially when each cast members brings their own flavor to the song. Thanks for commenting!

  39. I too love music. That’s an interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, I hope you enjoyed it! Thanks for the comment.

  40. I have never been to a musical. It looks fun and entertaining. The costumes are so awesome.

    1. I hope you get to go someday. They are fun!

  41. I loved this review. It made me realize how music evolved without losing its charm. How strange, we evolve because we want something better, and when we turn back we realize we are only moving from one best phase to another.

  42. I’m really not a fan of musical products, I have to be honest. But I really like the way you’ve written this article – you’ve included a lot of useful information and the photos are very exciting! x

  43. I love how you describe everything. Very detailed and thorough. It makes reading entertaining. I love musicals albeit few productions. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, what are your favorite musicals?

  44. Oh wow…I haven’t seen starlight express in years. What a fun experience. Love it!

    1. Thanks for commenting! Where have you seen it?

  45. I never been or watched any of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals but it looks interesting. I would love to see their performance. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. I hope you get to see one someday. Cats will be a musical film in the near future. Check it out.

  46. Looks like a fun musical! I’ve never been to a musical but will look into some around me

  47. This sounds like it would be so great! I am a huge fan of any kind of music and so I love musicals of any sort.

  48. Have huge love for anything music haven’t heard of this before but from what i see it looks like a great music.

    1. I hope you get a chance to listen to it, it some amazing stuff. Thanks for your comments!

  49. I really love music. This kind of musical is so cool!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for commenting!

  50. This musical is so underrated and wish it was one of Webber’s known works… The production looks spectacular!

    1. It is amazing! It is underrated and at the time, kind of outcasted (as it was a musical beyond the years). Thanks for commenting!

  51. Musical shows are so amazing, I wish i could enjoy one some day. Loved reading this 🙂

    1. I hope you do! Thanks for commenting!

  52. I’m not really fund of how they make music videos of 90s and late 80s and same goes to the effects but after going through this blog, it somehow changed a bit of my point of view

    1. I’m glad this blog helped! Thanks for commenting!

  53. There are so many great Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, but this one I was not familiar with. Thanks for adding this today Amy.

  54. This one is a little out there, but I bet young people adore it.

    1. The little ones will like it as it all about trains! But this a musical for ages, especially since it is 35 years old!

  55. Amazing musical, hopefully, it will be staged again soon. I hear there were plans to do so in London. Have you heard anything?

  56. How did I not hear about this musical before? It sounds so fantastic and interesting, especially that it has a different subject that intrigues: trains in the future. I’d love to watch it!

  57. whaaaat this looks so cool!

  58. Interesting musical. I have never heard about it, and I live within a stone’s throw of Manhattan. Anyway, something to research further. Thank you for sharing.

  59. I really should see this in person….. Thanks for sharing

  60. I saw Starlight Express on Broadway when I was a kid! I remember enjoying it but don’t really remember any of the music. This was a fun way to remember.

  61. I love musicals, but I have not heard or seen this one yet. Looks very interesting and sounds like a good one. I need to look into this some more.

  62. Andrew Lloyd Weber is amazing. I need to check out Starlight express

  63. I heard about this musical show from one of my friends, now after reading this post I will definitely have to look into it.

  64. I just learned about this upon reading this today and I think they have a good music.

  65. I love musicals. Never heard of this one. Seems super unique. Thank you for sharing.

  66. thanks for sharing this, I am sure all at the space will love the awesome music vibes cheers, siennylovesdrawing

  67. nice blog about this topic. I am not familiar with Starlight express or AC/DC but seems pretty interesting.

  68. This sounds like so much fun. Hope you enjoyed the musical.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar