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.

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