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.

Monday, September 7, 2009

#64-55: Garland-Carroll Sing Arlen-Rodgers

It's 14 songs -- and two divas -- for the price of one blog entry. In 1964, Judy Garland hosted Diahann Carroll on her variety show for a Harold Arlen-Richard Rodgers medley, featuring:

It's Only a Paper Moon (Arlen, with Yip Harburg and Billy Rose), previously featured as #81.

#64: Dancing on the Ceiling (Rodgers, with Lorenz Hart) was introduced in the 1930 show, Evergreen, in which the daughter of an aged singer surprises the music world by pretending to be her mother -- and, of course, looking quite good for her age. Here's the enchanting Jo Stafford with her rendition.

#63: That Old Black Magic (Arlen, with Johnny Mercer) spent 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts in 1943. Years later, Sinatra sang "That Old Jack Magic" at Kennedy's inaugural festivities, and Marilyn Monroe warbled it in the film version of Bus Stop. Check out the bossa nova-like version by Vikki Carr.

#62: The Gentleman Is A Dope (Rodgers, with Oscar Hammerstein II) sounds like a response to the Rodgers and Hart song, "The Lady Is a Tramp," and comes from the 1947 musical Allegro, which bucked the traditional R&H string of musical comedies by dealing with the corruption of large institutions. While the show did not do well, Jo Stafford sure knows her way around a Rodgers tune.

#61: Ill Wind (Arlen, with Ted Koehler) is a haunting tune written for the collaborators' last show at the Cotton Club in 1934. Used in the movie Cotton Club, Arlen has captured the feeling of a strange storm with his use of churning lows and frenzied highs musically.

#60: It Might As Well Be Spring (Rodgers, with Oscar Hammerstein II) won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1945, appearing in the film State Fair. With its use of lattice-like musical intervals and alliterative, assonant lyrics to match ("as restless as a willow in a windstorm" and "jumpy as a puppet on a string"), it's deservedly one of the most popular R&H cabaret numbers more than a half-century after Shirley Jones sang it on the Danny Thomas show.

Not making it on the Top 100: Hit the Road to Dreamland (Arlen, with Johnny Mercer). I'm not feeling it.

#59: Surrey With a Fringe on Top (Rodgers, with Oscar Hammerstein II) is the "Greased Lightnin'" of Oklahoma, where cowboy Curly is trying to impress his girl, Laurey, with his buggy. While I'm not exactly sure why this became so popular with cabaret singers, there is a romantic charm to the theme with its folksy lyrics ("chicks and ducks and geese better scurry"). It makes our list because of the diversity of renditions that it sparked, from a Vegas version by Nat King Cole to the cool-as-a-cucumber Blossom Dearie.

#58: Stormy Weather (Arlen, with Ted Koehler). All of the songs on this list, it deserves better than Garland using it to change keys in the midst of this medley -- and better than #58, actually. Enjoy it over and over again -- with the woman who made this famous, Lena Horne, and Ella Fitzgerald in a rare performance from 1975.

#57: Bali Ha'i (Rodgers, with Oscar Hammerstein II), an ode to the mystical island -- "where the sky meets the sea" and based on Ambae Island -- from the musical South Pacific and sung by Bloody Mary. It's now also a brand of lager sold in Indonesia. "Here am I your special island. Come to me, Come to me." Diahann only sings one line ("Bali Ha'i may call you"), but in it you hear that dramatic octave jump striking a sudden minor chord that gives this song its allure. For the rest, try Peggy Lee's smoky version.

What did not make the top 100: Let's Take the Long Way Home (Arlen, with Johnny Mercer), a Bing Crosby tune for which I cannot even find a version online.

#56: Manhattan (Rodgers, with Lorenz Hart), an adorable, bouncy love letter to the different sections of the famed New York island. Diahann only belts out one quick line ("I'll take Manhattan") in the above recording, so you're missing out on its tongue-and-cheekness; "Tell me what street compares with Mott Street in July...sweet pushcarts gently gliding by" is only amusing you know how hot and stinky New York can be in summer, and Chinatown is wonderful -- but few pushcarts have ever "gently glided by" there. See what else you can chuckle at in this version by Lee Wiley in 1951.

Not earning a place in our top 100: The Sweetest Sounds (Rodgers, with Oscar Hammerstein II) from the musical Cinderella. Boring.

#55: Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home (Arlen, with Johnny Mercer), from the 1946 Broadway show St. Louis Woman, takes a languid look at the lifestyle of a loose-living lady. While Lena Horne turned down the role -- created specifically with her in mind -- because of the stereotype it seemed to project, here's Susannah McCorkle and Vanessa Williams in a recording and a concert performance respectively.

Nice medley, right? Diahann had become the first African-American woman to win the best actress Tony two years earlier for the Rodgers musical, No Strings, and would later star in the groundbreaking TV show, Julia. Judy was, of course, Judy -- and had been the voice of Harold Arlen songs for years. Garland's variety show series was critically acclaimed and nominated for multiple Emmys, but it was cancelled after one season, perhaps suffering from being pitted against TV's Bonanza. Oh, America.

#65: A Sleepin' Bee

When a bee lies sleepin'
In the palm of your hand
You're bewitched and deep in love's
Long looked-after land
Where you'll see a sun-up sky
With the morning dew
And where the days go laughin' by
As love comes a-calling on you

Two bordellos competing for business in the West Indies is the setting for the 1954 musical, House of Flowers, a collaboration between Harold Arlen (after he wrote The Wizard of Oz) and Truman Capote (before he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's). Based on Capote's novella of the same name, this was his only musical. An all-star cast, including Pearl Bailey, Juanita Hall, Ray Walston and Diahann Carroll, couldn't save this show from poor reviews and a relatively short run, but Carroll's song, "A Sleepin' Bee," took on a life of its own. Months after an 18-year-old Barbra Streisand learned it for an amateur contest at a Greenwich Village bar that she of course won, she radiantly sang it for her national television debut on the Jack Paar Show in 1961; the textures she brings in this performance are remarkable. And here she is 40 years later, with a lead-in verse that explains what it means to catch a sleepin' bee. This was a signature song for Diahann Carroll as well, and she reprised it in this performance at the 1985 Tony's; artists such as Audra Ann McDonald and seven-time Grammy winner Al "Moonlighting" Jarreau have also been attracted to the dreamlike musical intervals and long, poetic phrases of this bewitching song.

#66: Bill

And I can't explain
It's surely not his brain

That makes me thrill
love him because he's wonderful
Because he's just my Bill.

While the opening to Gershwin's "I've Got a Crush on You" teases, "It's not that you're attractive, but -- oh -- my heart grew active," the song soon refers to its subject as "my big and brave and handsome Romeo." Not with Kern and P. G. Wodehouse's "Bill" from the epic 1927 musical Show Boat, where the torchsinger Julie goes to great lengths to detail why her boyfriend is unexceptional intellectually, physically, athletically, artistically, professionally and on. The best she can do is explain that she fits snugly in his lap. Oh, the improbable, unexplainable impulses of love! (And, yes, Oscar Hammerstein II was Kern's collaborator on Show Boat, but they pulled this tune out of Kern's trunk after it had proven too melancholy for a different show.)

Famous nightclub singer Helen Morgan played Julie in the Broadway and film versions of Show Boat and -- like her character -- struggled with alcohol. You can listen to Helen Morgan's performance in the 1936 movie, or enjoy this more recent interpretation from the always incredible Audra Ann McDonald. I happen to like this song best when it's more sultry and less operatic, but you can't argue with Audra.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

#67: Let's Fall in Love

Let's fall in love
Why shouldn't we fall in love?
Our hearts are made of it
Let's take a chance

Why be afraid of it?
Let's close our eyes

And make our own paradise

Little we know of it

Still we can try

To make a go of it

After meeting model and showgirl Anya Taranda, it was probably easy for Harold Arlen to write songs with his frequent collaborator Ted Koehler for the 1933 film, Let's Fall in Love. Harold, born Chaim Arnook in Buffalo, apparently yearned for Anya when he was in Hollywood and she in New York as he wrote the score. But he took his time proposing -- after five years into their relationship, he left her a note: "Dearest Anya - We're getting married tomorrow - 'bout time don't you think? All my love, H." They did marry, a year before Arlen was hired to write what was to become his best-known score, The Wizard of Oz.

Not to be confused with Cole Porter's "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)," Koehler and Arlen's was not only the title song from the 1933 film with Art Jarrett and Ann Sothern, but it also charted at #21 when Peaches and Herb recorded it in 1967. The whole conceit of the song -- the presumption that you cannot fall in love unless you decide to do so -- is as innocent and sweet as the naivete that the singer professes ("the little we know of it"). One of the only rhyming couplets is a stretch ("close our eyes...paradise"), only heightening the feeling of awkward, new love to this song. Take a seat and listen to Diana Krall at the 2008 Sonoma Jazz Festival, or try American Idol's crooner, John Stevens, and Erika Christensen.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

#68: Cheek to Cheek

I'm in heaven
And my heart beats so
That I can hardly speak
And I seem to find
The happiness I seek
When we're out together
Dancing cheek to cheek

Written specifically for danceman Fred Astaire and first performed in the Depression Era upper, Top Hat, I've heard Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" everywhere from the score of The English Patient to a recent ringing of the town bells in Black Hawk, Colorado. This song's got a soothing, swaying melody as it climbs and descends the scale, with a dramatic minor C section -- "dance with me / I want my arms about you / the charms about you / will carry me through"-- before returning to the familiar floating "A" section. Because I'm not sure that a gambler wants his lucky streak to vanish the same way you might want your cares that hung around you through the week to do so, I think the unconventional 72-bar music takes first place to the lyrics here. My one beef is that the B section ("oh, I'd love to climb a mountain") comes across as a little sing-songy for my taste, but I defer to Berlin here.

Nothing beats the original Fred and Ginger dancing cheek to cheek in 1935, but here's actor Kenneth Branagh trying in a fanciful version from the 2000 film Love's Labour's Lost. For a recent, more standard nightclub rendition, try the lovely Jane Monheit.

#69: Honeysuckle Rose

When I'm takin' sips
From your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
You're confection
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

Harlem's famed stride pianist, Fats Waller, earned a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame with his 1928 recording of sweetness syncopated. Written with Wallers' frequent collaborator, lyricist Andy Razaf, this bouncy, sassy number is one of the big duets in the Broadway musical honoring Waller's trunk of hits, Ain't Misbehavin', and is the title of a 1980 movie starring Willie Nelson and Amy Irving. Here's Fats himself serenading one of the Cotton Club girls in an up-tempo version (his eyebrows alone are worth the watch), and then Betty Grable (at about 1:45) with a whitewashed, Ziegfield-like version that reveals, if nothing else, how versatile this song proved to be. For a more modern take, check out American Idol's Ruben Studdard and Frenchie Davis (channelling the unbelievable Nell Carter) from a recent touring production.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

#70: Ain't That A Kick In The Head?

How lucky can one guy be?
I kissed her, and she kissed me.
Like a fella once said:
"Ain't that a kick in the head?"
The room was completely black,
I hugged her, and she hugged back.
Like a sailor said -- quote --
"Ain't that a hole in a boat?"

One of the youngest songs in this Great American Songbook, "Ain't That A Kick In the Head" entered the canon in 1960 when Dean Martin and the rest of Rat Pack starred on the silver screen in the original version of Ocean's Eleven. The writing team that ran with the Rat Pack, Sammy Cahn (lyrics) and Jimmy Van Heusen (music), captured the swingin' spirit with everything from the fun colloquial phrases to a syncopated bridge that builds on its rhymes and leapfrogs up the scale. While this is a Dean Martin trademark number, the Irish band Westlife brought it back in 2005 on their album, "Allow Us to Be Frank." There's a bit of a paradox between the oozing self-confidence of any of these guys and the incredulity expressed in the song, but the snap-your-fingers music and head-cocked-just-so phraseology that makes it work nonetheless.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

#71: Getting to Be a Habit With Me

Oh, I can't break away
I must have you everyday
As regularly as coffee or tea
You've got me in your clutches
And I can't break free
You're getting to be a habit with me

Fifty years before Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" and a year before Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out of You," Harry Warren and Al Dubin captured the narcotic virtues of romance in this soft-shoe-like number from that classic show within a show, 42nd Street. I love those eighth-note triplets ("getting to be," "regularly") that give the song such daintiness. Performed twice in the movie, the second time features the female lead being charmed by one man, and then another, and then two more. What kind of habit is that?

While it never rose above No. 4 on the charts in 1933 (Warren and Dubin's "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" was more popular), this piece has since endured as a classic, performed by Frank Sinatra in the Fifties, Diana Krall in the Nineties and the jazz-bossa nova Brazilian group, Delicatessen, in 2006. I like listening to Ben Selvin's orchestra and "America's Sweetheart of Song," Ruth Etting, on the Victrola. You can learn more about Etting (pictured) and her tempestuous life by watching Doris Day's performance in the 1955 film, Love Me or Leave Me.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

#72: I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo

I got a gal in Kalamazoo,
Don't wanna boast,
But I know she's the toast
Of Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo-zoo.

Written in 1942 as the big production number for the film Orchestra Wives, this tune by New Yorkers Harry Warren and Mack Gordon (born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna and Morris Gittler, respectively) sings the praises of a Midwestern sweetheart, underscored by homesickness in the heart of wartime. It was perhaps the first time that many listeners ever heard of Kalamazoo, Michigan, but the four-syllable setting was distinctive enough to be memorable while folksy enough to capture the idea of an American Heartland hometown perfectly. Musically, the song just swings. Don't you love the use of the alphabet in the opening verse? It's like a wind-up to the rest of the line, which shoots up the major triad to the top of the octave.

Nominated for an Academy Award (they lost to "White Christmas," so they shouldn't feel too bad), the classic recording is The Glenn Miller Orchestra, featuring Tex Beneke and The Modernaires. The Big Band members really put on a show with their choreography of sorts; the female vocalist Marion Hutton is adorable; and you have to watch at 4:30 through the end when the Nicholas Brothers reprise the song and then do the most incredible splits in their subsequent dance. A real piperoo!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

#73: Goody Goody

So you met someone
Who set you back on your heels,
Goody goody!
So you met someone
And now you know how it feels
Goody goody!
Well, you gave her your heart too,
Just as I gave mine to you
And she broke it in little pieces
Now, how do you do?

"Goody Goody" is the Schadenfraude of the Great American Songbook. While most songs of the period are known for their earnest, romantic and wistful lyrics, this peppy tune revels in a cheating lover getting jilted. Johnny Mercer penned the oh-you-rascal patter while his sometime-collaborator, jazz violinist Matty Melnick, contributed the swingin' music.

Originally performed by Helen Ward and the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the 1930s, Frankie "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" Lymon tweaked the genders and became well-known for the song in the late 1950's after breaking up with his group, The Teenagers. I think the song's even better with live back-up vocalists, which is why I'll recommend either Marie Adams and the Three Tons of Joy (performing with the Johnny Otis Band) or the Hi-Lo's. Those two performances showcase the stylistic possibilities of the song and its wide appeal. Also, notice how the Hi-Lo's broadcast was shot; it looks like a very early "Total Request Live," with the youngsters bopping infectiously in the foreground.

One other fun note: In her memoir, Grace Lee Whitney remembers the wrap party for the film "Some Like It Hot," where Melnick (who music-directed the movie) asked her to get up and sing "Goody Goody." She did -- accompanied by a live band and Jack Lemmon on piano.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

#74: There's a Small Hotel

There’s a small hotel
With a wishing well
I wish that we were there together
There’s a bridal suite
One room bright and neat
Complete for us to share together

Written by Rodgers and Hart for the 1935 musical, Billy Rose's Jumbo, used in the musical On Your Toes and again in the film version of Pal Joey, "Here's a Small Hotel" asks to go straight to the honeymoon. While the lovely Hilary Kole recently offered a traditional, sweetly seductive take of "Hotel," I like that the Benny Goodman orchestra did an up-tempo version in 1936, featuring Helen Ward. The big question is: Where's this hotel? The Stockton Inn in New Jersey claims the title, but so does Santa Barbara's Montecito Inn. However, renovations in the 1950's replaced the California wishing well with a fountain. How rude!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#75: Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart

Dear, when you smiled at me
I heard a melody
It haunted me from the start
Something inside of me
Started a symphony
Zing! Went the strings of my heart

When Burton Lane heard the eleven year-old Frances Gumm sing "Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart" during her sisters' act at the Paramount Theater in Hollywood, he knew he had found a star. She sang it again for the impatient MGM impresario Louis B. Mayer, who agreed. Indeed, Frances would become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history -- soon after she changed her name to Judy Garland. Garland would go on to sing the James Hanley tune in the movie, Listen, Darling, in 1938, a year before The Wizard of Oz. Advance this YouTube clip to 2:30 to hear an angelic young Judy, or try the brassier version 25 years later. For an even more contemporary take, here's Rufus Wainwright's "Zing" at the London Palladium.

Monday, May 25, 2009

#76: The House I Live In

The house I live in
A plot of earth, a street
The grocer and the butcher
Or the people that I meet
The children in the playground
The faces that I see
All races and religions
That's America to me

As World War II came to a close in 1945, Frank Sinatra starred in a short film challenging anti-Semitism and racial prejudice. In the 10-minute movie, Frank intervenes upon witnessing a pack of boys bullying one child because of his religion. Frank sets them straight with some tough-talk and then sings the movie's title track, "The House I Live In," a patriotic number by the very liberal Earl Robinson and Lewis Allen. The song's second verse (referring to "my neighbors black and white") was cut from the film, enraging Allen to the point where he had to be removed from the movie theater. The film would go on to win an honorary Academy Award, and the song was covered later by everyone from Paul Robeson to Patti LaBelle.

#77: What'll I Do?

When I'm alone
With only dreams of you
That won't come true
What'll I do?

Written in 1923, this Irving Berlin gem takes a colloquial phrase of its day and uses the first three syllables as a triplet that has baffled Brits every since ("whattle eye?"). The result, a kind-of syncopated waltz, became a recurring melody in the 1974 The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; Sam and Diane danced to the ballad in a fantasy sequence on the 1980s' television show, "Cheers," after the two broke up for good. More recently, the Coca Cola Company served up 30 seconds of Judy Garland's version for a commercial.

A simple and haunting melody with lyrics to match ("what'll I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to?"), "What'll I Do" has a rhyme on the fourth and sixth syllable of each verse whose quickly repeated sounds enhance its wounded effect. Berlin said that this was his favorite composition; fellow songwriter Johnny Mercer listed it as one of his favorites, too. It's sadly fitting that YouTube has captured "Golden Girls" actress Bea Arthur taking the spotlight in this rendition, as she recently passed away and was mourned by audiences around the world.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

#78: Sentimental Journey

Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories
Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford
Like a child in wild anticipation
I long to hear that, "All aboard!"

In the latter years of World War II, bandleader Les Brown coaxed Doris Day (see picture, left) to join his orchestra at the Hotel Pennsylvania's Cafe Rouge and wax nostalgic with his "Sentimental Journey," which became Day's first song to hit number-one on the charts. Born Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff, Day would later become America's girl-next-door as a silver-screen ingenue. Here, she takes on loping and sultry verses that skip the downbeat for a jazzy bounce, capturing the allure of a train voyage to see a lost love as the war comes to an end (see "I Thought About You" for more on railroad romance). To hear it, check out this montage tribute to Doris Day on YouTube, or take a trip back with Vikki Carr to 1961 (a year before she made it big with the girl-group classic, "He's a Rebel"). For a more recent recording, enjoy Renee Olstead on iTunes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

#79: Ac-Cent-Tchu-ate the Positive

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene

While trying to wrap up the music for the 1944 film Here Comes the Waves, Mercer and Arlen found themselves uninspired and depressed by their inability to finish the last song for the score. On a long drive meant to distract them from the hard work of writing, Mercer asked Arlen to hum a spiritual on which he'd been working. At that moment Mercer recalled something he had heard from a pulpit- you gotta accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative- and before the drive was over, one line was transformed into a complete song.

I love how the two most colossally unlucky guys in biblical history- Jonah in the whale and Noah in the ark- are trotted out to explain how they latched on to the affirmative, eliminated the negative, and no no no! didn't mess with Mister In-Between. They've got the cred. We need to listen. Check out Ella's version on Verve's Ella Fitzgerald sings the Harold Arlen Songbook.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

#80: Skylark

Skylark, have you anything to say to me?
Won't you tell me where my love can be?
Is there a meadow in the mist
Where someone's waiting to be kissed?

Written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, this soaring song of unrequited love poses questions upon questions to a feathered friend. "Skylark" turns out to be one of several songs in Carmichael's "jazz aviary," along with "Baltimore Oriole" and "Mister Blackbird." Meanwhile, one biographer said Johnny Mercer wrote the words for this song as he yearned for Judy Garland. I love the marriage of composition and lyrics -- see the "crazy as a loon / sad as a gypsy serenading the moon" line in the bridge -- and musicians say that improvisation is just built right into the melody.

As for excellent renditions, the great Anita O'Day, who one critic said "is the only white woman that belongs in the same breath as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan,” tempered her typically boisterous style to coo this number with the Gene Krupa Orchestra in 1941. Here's Anita singing it, accompanying some family reunion slideshow (hey, we'll take what we can get). Aretha Franklin also does a beautiful job, and here's Bette Midler taking a lot of liberties for Carmichael's melody on Johnny Carson in 1985.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

#81: It's Only a Paper Moon

Yes, it's only a canvas sky
Hanging over a muslin tree
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me
Without your love
It's a honky-tonk parade
Without your love
It's a melody played in a penny arcade
It's a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me

Harold Arlen's "Paper Moon" hopping rhythm and skipping melody are an infectious combination -- a world that is, like the song implies, almost too good to be true. Interviewed by Walter Cronkhite, lyricist and frequent Arlen collaborator Yip Harburg said his colleague's music had “a particularly wonderful creative quality-imaginative, new, fresh and having identification. His songs live! His songs seep into the heart of a people, of a nation, a world, and stay there." This song was part of a show called, "The Great Magoo," written for a cynical carnival barker who falls in love. The show may have flopped in the Thirties, but the song caught on in the Forties, thanks to both Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald. Everyone from Bobby Darin to Marvin Gaye to Rufus Wainwright has recorded "Paper Moon," but let's hear Nat "King" Cole, and then his daughter, Natalie, share their takes.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

#82: I Thought About You

And every stop that we made,
Oh, I thought about you
When I pulled down the shade
Then I really felt blue
I peeked through the crack,
Looked at the track
The one going back to you
And what did I do?
I thought about you

In 1939, composer Jimmy Van Heusen played this soaring melody for Johnny Mercer, who was leaving that evening for Chicago. He rode the Denver Zephyr and mined the trip for inspiration, producing a lyric full of longing. The imagery is classic Mercer, putting us right in the car and cinematically taking us step by step -- from being alone, to spying a sliver in the floor of the car exposing the speeding track, back to "you." Mercer and Van Heusen generally worked with other musicians, but they had a magical moment in "I Thought About You." I'm told that the original artist, Mildred Bailey, performed this memorably, but I can't find a recording on the Web, so Sinatra will be her stand-in.

Friday, April 24, 2009

#83: How Long Has This Been Going On?

I could cry salty tears
Where have I been all these years
Little wow, tell me now
How long has this been going on?

Written by the brothers Gershwin in 1927, this emotional roller-coaster of a song has been tossed around a bit. It was dropped from the musical, "Funny Face," before it hit Broadway -- but was later included in the movie version thirty years later, sung by Audrey Hepburn. It appeared earlier on stage in "Rosalie," a show about a princess from a mythical kingdom who falls in love with a West Point cadet, but was dropped from the movie version, when Cole Porter wrote all new music and lyrics. Musicologist Allen Forte must have liked it, however; he wrote eight pages of analysis on this song, noting in the bridge, “Ira gives us his all, with the erotic lyric ‘Oh, I feel that I could melt; into heaven I’m hurled’--erotic for that time, that is."

Originally made famous by Peggy Lee and then rediscovered by Sarah Vaughn, this one has attracted performers as diverse as Van Morrison, Bon Jovi and Cher, but I personally like the Kristin Chenoweth version from her album, "Let Yourself Go." Also, check out this live performance by Judy Butterfield at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which has a different opening verse and has a slower tempo than I'm used to, but is still quite lovely.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

#84: Something Good

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are standing there loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good
Gentle readers: know that I would not post just any Sound of Music number on this list. This is a special one, written later than most "standards" (1965) and a Richard Rodgers song with an unusual lyricist (himself). Since his long-time collaborator, Oscar Hammerstein II, passed away right after Mary Martin opened on Broadway as Maria, Rodgers was on his own when Sound of Music hit the big screen with Julie Andrews, and he replaced "An Ordinary Couple" from the stage production -- with which he and Hammerstein had apparently always been dissatisfied -- with "Something Good." While I absolutely love the earnest, confessional nature of this near-hymn and like to think of it as a plaintive reply to The King and I's "Something Wonderful," it's a little weird for Maria to sing it; sure, she's a nun who's a free spirit (and has a great voice, so why not use it?), but Captain Von Trapp is the jerk in the relationship. It works better when Elaine Stritch used it poignantly as the encore of her one-woman show, At Liberty; after pouring out her life history of drunken missteps, she thanks the audience for a blessed career despite it all.

For a slowed-down jazzy glimpse of "Something Good," check out Adrian Sicam on Microsoft Music. Or watch Karen Walker be silly on Will & Grace.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#85: Something Wonderful

He will not always say
What you would have him say
But now and then he'll do
Something wonderful

Captain Von Trapp. The King of Siam. Billy Bigelow. I like to think that the women who love these headstrong, hard-hearted Rodgers and Hammerstein men don't have low expectations; they see something truly special that forgives all of the drama these blokes bring. This particular early Fifties ballad tugs at the heartstrings with its closed melody that opens up like a flower every time it hits the phrase, "Something Wonderful." While I would stay away from operatic interpretations of the song and am partial to Shirley Bassey's full-throated performance here, I also like this stirring, softly soulful version of Amel Larrieux's 2007 album, "Lovely Standards," which rescues this tune from well-meaning sophomores playing Lady Thiang in their high school productions of "The King and I," from where this song originates.

Friday, April 17, 2009

#86: Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)

Electric eels, I might add, do it
Though it shocks 'em, I know
Why ask if shad do it?
Waiter, bring me shad roe

From educated fleas to chimpanzees, Cole Porter catalogues the romantic habits of most of the animal kingdom -- not to mention most of the United Nations (from the Dutch, to the Argentines, to the Siamese) -- with this naughty valentine. Full of double-entendres and witticisms, this 1928 gem got on the radio because of its parenthetic title addendum ("Let's Fall In Love"), which slipped the insouciant tune passed the censors. Since then, everyone from Mary Martin to Joan Jett to Molly Ringwald has done it -- that is, fallen in love with this classic. Do not watch the pretty terrible Kevin Kline - Ashley Judd flick, De-Lovely; you'll get the gist watching Alanis Morrisette singing in this production number on YouTube. Better yet, try Eartha Kitt's more intimate version, where her eyes alone are worth the watch.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

#87: Moonglow

It must have been moonglow
Way up in the blue
It must have been moonglow
That led me straight to you
I still hear you saying
Dear one, hold me fast
Then I start in praying
Oh lord, please let this last

This beautifully simple jazz number, written by composer Will Hudson in 1933 as a theme song for his Detroit band and lyricized soon after by Eddie DeLange, is just a few notes, and maybe that's why it feels as ethereal and magical as its subject. The bridge -- "we seem to float right through the air" -- glides right down the scale.

"Moonglow" became a go-to song for clarinetist Benny Goodman and his quartet, and it's still going strong with interpreters like the young New Orleans trumpeter and vocalist Jeremy Davenport on his album, "Maybe In a Dream." Here's Billie Holiday on YouTube with her 1952 take. Oh lord, please let this last, indeed!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

#88: You're The Top

You're the top!
You're Mahatma Gandhi.
You're the top!
You're Napoleon Brandy.
You're the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain,
You're the National Gallery
You're Garbo's salary,
You're cellophane.
You're sublime,
You're a turkey dinner,
You're the time
Of a Derby winner
I'm a toy balloon that is fated soon to pop
But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!

What was considered cool in 1934? Cole Porter'll tell you -- in rhyme, no less. Written first on a lark (it reads like it was penned as a party-game, doesn't it?) and then adapted for the musical "Anything Goes," satirists have rewritten the lyrics many times over to fit every occasion. Ethel Merman has sung this name-dropper with everyone from Bing Crosby to Kermit the Frog, but here's a version with Frank Sinatra. (Those are two people you don't usually think of in the same sentence.) Or try Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. Or Cary Grant, playing an extremely flattering and sanitized version of the Indiana-born, Yale-educated composer in a 1946 biopic. Then see this footnoted version of the lyrics from to get the skinny on Porter's famous list.

Monday, April 13, 2009

#89: Rhode Island Is Famous For You

Minnows come from Minnesota
Coats come from Dakota
So why should you be blue
'Cause you, you come from Rhode Island
Don't let 'em knock Rhode Island
It's famous for you

Called "a punning inventory of the most famous products of almost every state in the Union," this ode to the home of Providence and Newport came from the pen of Howard Dietz, clearly a diligent student of Gilbert and Sullivan. Dietz and Arthur Schwartz collaborated on the 1948 Broadway revue, "Inside U.S.A.," which featured this cheeky geography lesson ("New Jersey gives us...glue!") sung by Jack Haley, perhaps best known for being the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz." Dietz and Schwartz would go on to write "That's Entertainment," which is third fiddle only to "Hooray For Hollywood" and "There's No Business Like Show Business" as one of the classic actors' anthems.

While legendary chanteuse Blossom Dearie is in a league of her own with "Rhode Island," I do like Erin McKeown's version with her raucous band on her recent "Sing You Sinners" CD. Listen to a subdued version of Erin on YouTube.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

#90: They All Laughed

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
When he said the world was round.
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.
They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother
When they said that man could fly.
They told Marconi
Wireless was a phony.
It's the same old cry.
They laughed at me wanting you.
Said I was reaching for the moon.
But oh, you came through,
Now they'll have to change their tune.

They all said we never could be happy,
They laughed at us and how!
But ho, ho, ho!
Who's got the last laugh now?

Mimicking a popular advertisement of the day (see photo, above), this Gershwin brothers' tune pairs well with Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets In Their Eyes," where "laughing friends deride tears I cannot hide." Here, who's got the last laugh now? Written for the 1937 film, "Shall We Dance," this swingin' romp through American explorers and inventors (including "Hershey and his chocolate bar!") celebrates the improbability of love. The song starts on the off-beat, unconventionally hits the rhyme on the downbeat, and then reaches for an unexpected key, catching the listener off-guard each time, just like the singer's message. Genius!

While Ginger Rogers sang this tune to Fred Astaire on the silver screen, I think Stacey Kent's version is both sweet and sassy. Enjoy it on YouTube.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

#91: Just One of Those Things

Cole Porter, the master of breezy sophistication, brilliantly unsentimentalizes love in his much recorded, now-standard "Just One of Those Things." Written for the 1935 musical Jubilee, this tune out-Porters Porter in its cool take on the loss of love. Hey, it was just one of those nights...just one of those fabulous flights...a trip to the moon on gossamer wings...just one of those things. And really, if we'd thought a bit of the end of it (when we started painting the town), we'd have been aware that our love affair was too hot not to cool down.

With its uptempo beat and trademark inner rhyming in the refrain, Porter reminds us all that romance may not last, but hey, why should we be sad and sentimental? After all, it was great fun! And really just one of those things. Watch Ella in Amsterdam, 1957:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

#92: Everybody Eats When They Come to My House

Have a banana, Hannah
Try the salami, Tommy
Get with the gravy, Davy
Everybody eats when they come to my house

"His High-de-Highness of the Ho-de-Ho," Cab Calloway and his band co-headlined Harlem's famed Cotton Club with Duke Ellington in the 1930s. While Calloway's most famous song may be "Minnie the Moocher," I love the jaunty, rhyme-licious "Everybody Eats," written by Jeanne Burns. Look out for Calloway's Yiddishisms ("do have a bagel, Fagel" or "look in the Fendel, Mendel"), which are not only cute -- but also make transparent the intertwining of Jewish and African-American cultures in this distinctly American art form. While John Lithgow dusted off this song for a kids' album ten years ago, I'd listen to Mr. Calloway in this YouTube clip.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

#93: Them There Eyes

My heart is jumpin'
Sure started somethin' with
Them there eyes
You'd better watch them if you're wise
They sparkle
They bubble
They're gonna get you in a whole lot of trouble
You're overworkin' them
There's danger lurkin' in
Them there eyes

This 1930 tune literally winks at you. "Them There Eyes" is a jazz-band favorite and gets a lot of its bounce out of its heart-fluttering tempo, flirty theme and quick, paired rhymes. Made famous by Billie Holiday (who took melody as a suggestion, rather than a given), it's been sung by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Chaka Khan. Maceo Pinkard and William Tracey collaborated on this naughty number with the 23-year-old Doris Tauber, who went on to write Bette Midler's famous "Clams on the Half Shell" revue 45 years later. Once a flirt, always a flirt.

Listen to this great rendition by Rebecca Kilgore.

#94: I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter

I'm gonna smile and say
I hope you're feeling better
And close "with love"
The way you do
I'm gonna sit right down
And write myself a letter

And make believe it came from you

This is either a massively passive-aggressive message ("write me, damn it!"), or it's just darn sad. Either way, it's a little odd that the melody is so cheerful (it's kinda "Tip Toe Through the Tulips" to me somehow), but perhaps because I can totally see myself doing exactly what the lyric says, I like it just the same. This tune, written in 1935 by Fred Ahlert (music) and Joe Young (lyrics), was a Fats Waller standard, later recorded by plenty of stars, including Frank Sinatra with Count Basie, but also Bill Haley and the Comets (in a rejiggered version), Tony Danza, and Danny Aiello. Me, I'd go with Nat King Cole or Sarah Vaughn.

YouTube has the Fats Waller version, snipped from a cute Sesame Street vignette. Hats off to PBS for introducing this one to the young'uns.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

#95: On A Slow Boat to China

I'd love to get you
On a slow boat to China,
All to myself alone.
Get you to keep you in my arms evermore,
Leave all your lovers
Weeping on the faraway shore.

I love all of the things happening lyrically here. In 1945, when Frank Loesser wrote this song, there weren't many trips you could take that would be longer than the crossing to Asia, so a slow boat to China would be an eternity. The singer suggests that, on such a long and romantic trip, surely s/he'll be successful at "melting your heart of stone." Sprinkle in the jealous suitors, out of breath and shaking their fists as the ship leaves port, and you've got yourself quite a drama in just a few lines.

Frank "Guys and Dolls" Loesser loved bringing the vernacular into his music. In her 1993 biography of her father, Susan Loesser explains that experienced poker players used the phrase "I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China" when their opponents were both low in skill and high on cash. She writes, "My father turned it into a romantic song, placing the title in the mainstream of catch-phrases in 1947."

While everyone from Bette Midler to Jimmy Buffett has recorded this one, I prefer the old-time Benny Goodman / Al Hendrickson version. (Sorry, Ms. M.) Listen here for a YouTube clip of a Kay Kyser recording.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

#96: Top Hat, White Tie and Tails

I'm stepping out, my dear,
To breathe an atmosphere
That simply reeks of class
And I trust
That you'll excuse my dust
When I step on the gas

Irving "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up In the Morning" Berlin never sounded more debonair than this partnership with the epitome of Depression-era escapism, Fred Astaire, for this ode to a fancy invitation.

This song positively dances, from climbing up the scale in the intro ("your presence / requested / this evening / it's formal") to skipping in the bridge, quoted above. This white tie and tails were tailor-made for Astaire. Listen here for a (kinda scratchy) YouTube clip.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

#97: I Could Write a Book

If they asked me, I could write a book
About the way you talk
And whisper and look
I could write a preface of how we met
That the world would never forget

This tune is so charming that it captures the "lovers from friends" romance perfectly in "When Harry Met Sally," despite being thick with irony in its original context. Pal Joey, the song-and-dance anti-hero in the 1940's Rodgers and Hart musical of the same name, just met a naive newcomer to the city and is already beguiling her with chapters about their storied romance through this song, despite the fact he's probably never read a book in his life.

I love newcomer Dana Lauren's interpretation on her 2008 album, "Stairway to the Stars," with one verse as a ballad and another up-tempo. Dana's story is incredible: she met Cuban trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval on her 18th birthday when he was performing at the Newport Jazz Festival; they got to talking backstage, where he learned that she was a vocal jazz student at the New England Conservatory. He asked her to perform with him, and the rest is history. In fact, she could write a book. Click here for Dana's MySpace page; then choose this song from her player.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

#98: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Now, laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes

This song is a precious little heartbreaker. With a few short lyrics, we go from budding romance ("They asked me how I knew / my true love was true") to dramatic irony to wistful acceptance of the truth. I love how, to the singer, the smoke isn't about a blinding naivete, but rather a tearful acknowledgement of a tragedy. I also love that the jilting lover is never really mentioned, and that those know-it-all friends are the real villains of the tale.

Moviewatchers may remember "Smoke" from American Graffiti, covered by doo-wop group, The Platters, but the song is from the Depression Era. Composer Jerome Kern apparently wrote the melody as a tap-dance number for his landmark musical Show Boat with Oscar Hammerstein II, but it went unused until lyricist Otto Harbach recovered it from Kern's trunk and convinced him to slow it down for their 1933 show, Roberta. The result was a haunting, unforgettable tune in a banal show about an American footballer who inherits a Parisian dress shop. It is much better as a standalone when someone like Dinah Washington wails it. Listen to Dinah on YouTube.

Monday, March 30, 2009

#99: 'S Wonderful

'S wonderful
'S marvelous
That you should care for me

Ira Gershwin must have had fun with this whimsical lyric wrapped up in his brother's simple melody. Originally in the musical "Funny Face" and then sung on the big screen by Gene Kelly in "An American in Paris," 'S Wonderful has that memorable slurring "s" throughout the "A" verse, with that great "glamorous / amorous" rhyme in the "B" section. Check out Julie London's 2007 album, "Cry Me A River," where she plays with cheeky rhythms and tempos that add to the fun. S'awful nice. Listen here for a taste of Julie's track.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

#100: I've Got You Under My Skin

I'd sacrifice anything come what might
For the sake of having you near
In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night
And repeats, repeats in my ear

Dont you know you fool, you never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality

Cole Porter knows how to plumb the depths of love. This 1936 standard, written for the movie "Born to Dance," is all about forbidden passion ("I tried so not to give in"), a subject Porter knew intimately. These feelings come from such a deep place inside that the voice of reason saying "use your mentality" doesn't stand a chance. What an artful way of framing the biology/choice argument over homosexuality! But I digress.

Some would claim that Sinatra owns this classic, but recording the song as the twelfth track on his 2005 album, "It's Time," Michael Buble really mines the imagery here, lingering just long enough on the lyric "under my skin" to evoke a tingling, visceral connection to his lover. Click here for Buble in concert on YouTube.

Another priceless rendition is Muppet Show episode 119, when Behemoth eats Shakey Sanchez and then sings this number, with Shakey still alive in Behemoth's mouth.