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.