Orson Welles on Audio
What follows is a list of Welles recordings of various kinds on CD, tape, and LP. If you know of others not listed here (and right now this is certainly not complete) please let me know.
The above recordings were released by Pearl Records over the last couple or so years. The Macbeth disc is a standalone disc, but the other three feature some extras beyond the Welles material. Most of it, ironically, features Maurice Evans, an actor Welles and most critics detested, but who was quite popular in his day. Various excerpts are presented with Evans in such roles as Richard III and Macbeth. Quality on these recordings is quite good, as they were taken from the Mercury recordings done in conjunction with the Harper release of the Everybody's Shakespeare texts, retitled The Mercury Shakespeare. Detail pages will be forthcoming on these.
Les Miserables: from Radio Spirits and The Smithsonian Institution, this presents Welles' 7-part adaptation of Hugo's epic over 3 compact discs, and includes a booklet detailing the making of the series and giving cast and plot summaries for each part. A nice set, and a very enjoyable listening experience.
If you search on eBay or go to some of the larger old time radio (OTR) sites, you'll find a variety of Welles' radio output available for download or for sale on CDRs in Mp3 format. This is a good way to collect what would make a very large pile of tapes, all on a few CDs. There are also sources where one can download shows, via FTP. I will try to have links to a couple of these on the Links page when it's up; otherwise, just do a search under "old time radio" and you'll come up with more than you ever dreamed possible. Also, one can find any number of radio recordings available in any number of formats, too many to go into here.
Okay, not really, but Welles did appear on a number of some releases of wild variety. First there is the Airborne Symphony by Marc Blitzstein, in which Welles is the narrator of the piece. Presenting a romanticized history of flight, it's diverting enough. Welles provides a suitably vigorous reading of his lines.
We move then to the heavy metal group Manowar, who enlisted Welles to perform on the tracks "Dark Avenger" and "Defender," on separate albums. If you're a Manowar fan, I apologize, but this is supremely cheesy music. Plus, any band whose look incorporates loin cloths, motorcycles and broadswords simply must be crap. In "Dark Avenger," Welles reads the lines "Let ye not pass Abbadon/Return to the world from whence ye came/And seek payment/not only for thine own anguish/ But vindicate the souls of the Unavenged." The tracks are available on the Manowar albums Battle Hymns and Fighting the World, respectively. While researching this band, I found out that they held at one point (maybe they still do, I frankly can't be bothered to check) the Guinness Book of World Records title as World's Loudest Band, playing a show at 129.5 decibels (!). Essentially, this band is the type of thing Spinal Tap was making fun of. Further, they apparently still use Welles' narration to open live shows, or did at least as of 1998, according to a review I read online. I heartily encourage you all to run a general search on Manowar and just read about them, or better yet, go to their official site at www.manowar.com. Hilarious stuff.
Welles also did some narration for Alan Parsons Project album Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe, which was released in 1976. He reads some Poe verse on the opening track, "A Dream Within a Dream."
Finally, and most appallingly, there is the CD single "I Know What it is to Be Young (But You Don't Know What it is to Be Old)." A horrible, Lawrence Welk-ish thing, it features Welles solemnly intoning cornball lyrics that I have largely blocked out of my memory due to the pain they induced. Add the Ray Charles Singers for syrupy backing vocals and you have something that proves conclusively the existence of Satan. Okay, that's perhaps overdoing it, but suffice to say it's just flat-out bad. Most amusingly, GNP Crescendo Records, who released this, actually state on the back that this CD is one sure to be a collector's item and one you'll want to share with your loved ones again and again. Right.