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.