Monday, September 7, 2009

#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.

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