Sunday, October 11, 2009

#47: The Man That Got Away

The night is bitter,
The stars have lost their glitter,
The winds grow colder,
And suddenly you're older
And all because of
The man that got away.

No more his eager call,
The writing's on the wall,
The dreams you dreamed have all
Gone astray.
The man that won you
Has run off and undone you.
That great beginning
Has seen its final inning,
Don't know what happened
It's all a crazy game.

Two great musicians who generally collaborated with others -- Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin -- teamed up for this 1953 torchsong that Judy Garland wailed during the mid-decade movie, A Star Is Born. Arlen had written the music for Garland's hit movie, The Wizard of Oz, 15 years earlier, and was seen as the perfect steward for her comeback after years of substance abuse problems. Wizard lyricist Yip Harburg had been blacklisted for supposed Communist ties at this height of the McCarthy era and was therefore skipped over in favor of Gershwin, whose still-preserved hand-written notes reveal the extent to which he labored over the themes and rhymes of this bluesy ballad. The adjacent rhymes and the repeated melodic phrases create a churning sound and contribute a near-ominous tone to this lament.

"The Man That Got Away" was a critical number in the film; it's the moment that both leads Garland's character to get discovered as a rising star and foreshadows the alcohol-drenched downfall of her husband and mentor. Unsatisfied with the staging, lighting and costuming, director George Cukor had to scene reshot multiple times, to great expense, to perfect it.

While the movie did not do well, the song endured, and many have since recorded it, including Sinatra, who sang "The Gal That Got Away." Here's Garland in the film, and then a decade later on her television show. Audra Ann McDonald takes it on here in a quiet version.

Friday, October 9, 2009

#48: Don't Cha Go 'Way Mad

I must confess what you say is true
I had a rendezvous with somebody new

That's the only one I ever had

Baby, baby, don'cha go away mad

Cheatin' shows and it never goes

You got a reason to be mad I suppose

But she only was a passin' fad

Ba-by, don't you be mad

Her kind's a dime a dozen
And that's not the kind I want

Who'd ever dream your cousin
Would wander into that restaurant?

Composed by jazz saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Jimmy Mundy, with lyrics written by Al Stillman, "Don'cha Go Away Mad" is just scandalous. "I had a rendezvous with somebody new?" "Your cousin?" Excuse me? Because all of the blase confessions, I love how the song swings non-chalantly. If you have bad news, best to pretend that it's no big deal. While Ella and Frank both recorded this song, check out Lucy Ann Polk's version.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

#49: Darn That Dream

Darn that dream
I dream each night
You say you love me and hold me tight
But when I awake and you're out of sight
Oh, darn that dream

Rodgers and Hart's adapation of A Comedy of Errors, The Boys From Syracuse, had been a hit, so why not a swingin' Shakespeare musical? A racially integrated musical using A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in Louisiana, called Swingin' The Dream -- with Benny Goodman in the pit, Agnes DeMille in the choreographer's chair, and Louis Armstrong and the Dandridge Sisters on stage -- sounded like perfection. But while the show only ran two weeks (too much Shakespeare, one critic said), audiences are still enjoying one of the show's haunting tunes, "Darn That Dream," with music by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Eddie DeLange. Van Heusen turned out to be a music-writing machine, writing 40 songs in the year after "Darn That Dream."

I can't find Lena Horne's version of these lovelorn lyrics, though do check iTunes. Alas, here are two other performances, a male and a female: Kenny Hagood and the Miles Davis orchestra, on the 1950 album, "Birth of The Cool," and Nancy Wilson in 1969.

Monday, September 28, 2009

#50: My Baby Just Cares for Me

My baby don't care for shows,
My baby don't care for clothes,

My baby just cares for me.

My baby don't care for furs and laces,

My baby don't care for high toned places.

My baby don't care for rings,

Or other expensive things.

She's sensible as can be.

My baby don't care who knows it,

My baby just cares for me!

While Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn wrote this tune in 1928 for the Ruth Etting-Eddie Cantor show,
Whoopee, it found a permanent home when singer and pianist Nina Simone adopted it as her signature song, performing it on her first album, Little Girl Blue, in 1958. There's definitely something Donaldson-esque about this song; this hit reminds me of two others -- "My Blue Heaven" and "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby,"the latter also from Whoopee -- perhaps it's a shared jolliness.

Enjoy a very ve-de-o-do version with
Jack Payne and the BBC Dance Orchestra, or check out Nina "Little Girl Blue" Simone, satiating an audience for her signature song. For more current renditions, try George Michael or Ed Norton, the latter singing and dancing to "My Baby" in Woody Allen's song-filled movie, "Everybody Says I Love You."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

#51: Tea for Two

I'm discontented with homes that are rented
So I have invented my own;

Darling this place is a lover's oasis,

Where life's weary chase is unknown.

Far from the cry of the city

Where flowers pretty caress the streams

Cozy to hide in, to live side by side in,

Don't let it abide in my dreams.

Picture you upon my knee
Just tea for two and two for tea,

Just me for you and you for me alone.

Nobody near us to see us or hear us,

No friends or relations on weekend vacations,

We won't have it known, dear,
That we own a telephone, dear,

Day will break and you'll awake

And start to bake a sugar cake

For me to take for all the boys to see.
We will raise a family,

A boy for you, a girl for me,

Oh, can't you see how happy we would be?

A plea for a simpler life needs a simple melody, and composer Vincent Youmans sticks to a few adjacent notes to get the point across. A popular musician of the Twenties, Youmans partnered with Irving Caesar on the show, No, No, Nanette, in which "Tea For Two" was the breakout song. Caesar later claimed that he wrote these lyrics in five minutes. His speed shows in the nearly inane chorus, but I think the verses are quite inventive.

When No, No, Nanette was transformed into a 1950 film with the then-rising star Doris Day, it was renamed Tea For Two, and you'll notice the melody all over the trailer. The tune has been reinvented a number of times, including this dancetastic version from the Julie Andrews Hour in the early 1970s, a slow and thoughtful ballad from master standards interpreter Blossom Dearie, and even a wacky backwards version from the Muppet Show. Most recently, "Tea For Two" appeared on the big screen when Drew Barrymore captured the essence of Edie Beale, scooping notes and mangling lyrics in the cinematic version of the famous Maysles documentary Grey Gardens.

Friday, September 25, 2009

#52: You Do Something to Me

You do something to me
Something that simply mystifies me

Tell me why it should be
You have the power to mystify me

The first song in Cole Porter's madcap 1929 musical, Fifty Million Frenchmen, "You Do Something to Me," feels a bit lazy. Mystify rhymes with itself. Power is one syllable. But it somehow works and makes into the Great American Songbook for its simple, yet terribly clever, bridge alone:

Let me live 'neath your spell
Do do that voodoo that you do so well

So many people have been enchanted with this tune since the classic version of the Twenties. Here's Leo Reisman's recording; notice how he treats the bridge, with a Charleston-like rhythm. I prefer Lee Wiley, who actually began her career with Leo and sang her version of "You Do" in the 1940s, but you may like Doris Day or the "Emperor of Easy," a young Andy Williams, with his own ring-a-ding flourishes, in the 1950s. Used again and again in films -- Night and Day (Jane Wyman in 1946), The Helen Morgan Story (Gogi Grant in 1957), and Can-Can (Louis Jordan in 1960) -- there's also this touching little scene on television between Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra in the early 1960s -- and a elegantly-orchestrated, beautifully-lit, and bizarrely-sung rendition by Sinead O'Connor on the Arsenio Hall Show from the early '90s. You may also recall Hank Azaria singing it in the 2001 Julia Roberts-Catherine Zeta-Jones movie, "America's Sweethearts." So, pick a decade, and get caught in the spell.

Monday, September 14, 2009

#54-53: Get Happy / Happy Days Are Here Again

It was called "a meeting of god and titan exponentially more genuine and torch-passing than the Bill Clinton-J.F.K. photograph." While Barbra Streisand had reinvented the old FDR theme song, "Happy Days Are Here Again," as a slow vamp for a 1962 album, it was Judy Garland's idea to combine it with one of her own favorites, "Get Happy," for their duet on Garland's television show.

Written a year apart, "Happy Days" (1929) was both Milton Ager and Jack Yellen's most famous song, while "Get Happy" (1930) was Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's first together. After the television performance of two legends -- one a 21-year-old just starting her career and the other a star for decades -- Judy reprised the song at the London Palladium with another powerhouse, her daughter, Liza. Want someone other than Judy? Shame on you. Okay, fine. Here's Broadway rockstars Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald giving the intertwining "Happy" tunes a whirl.