Archive for the ‘Anatomy of a Song’ Category
Another Gershwin classic is in the spotlight today, joining three others we’ve featured in the past — but for a different Special Feature. All of the previous tunes appeared on our Fantastic Foursome feature. (You can see them here: “I’ve Got a Crush on You” – “Summertime” – “‘S Wonderful”) However, today’s offering is showing up as the newest edition of Anatomy of a Song.
Written for the 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy, “But Not for Me” was introduced by Ginger Rogers and was just one of many classic songs in the show. A couple of years later a forgettable Girl Crazy movie featuring Bert Wheeler came along, but in 1943 the story was revised and remade as a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musical comedy. Judy’s performance of the song in the movie was memorable. (Video below.)
Like most good songs from the era, “But Not for Me” subsequently became a standard, and has been performed and recorded by countless singers through the years. Some of the best included Billie Holiday, Chet Baker (who employed both his trumpet and his singing voice), Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. In later years it was notably covered by Harry Connick, Jr. for 1989’s When Harry Met Sally, and by Elton John for 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Chet Baker – “But Not for Me”
This edition of our Anatomy of a Song feature showcases a classic that’s a little unusual. Like many of the old standards, it was written for a movie way back in the golden days of Hollywood musicals, but in this case it also became a hit record decades later for a doo-wop singing group.
Written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin for the 1934 film Dames, “I Only Have Eyes For You” was introduced by Dick Powell when he sang it to Ruby Keeler, but the song made other appearances in the movie. It often played in the background, and it made another big splash in a Busby Berkeley chorus number.
In the years to follow “I Only Have Eyes For You” would be performed by a wide range of singers in an amazing number of movies, including Gene Raymond in The Woman In Red, Gordon MacRae in Tea For Two, and Dean Martin in Money From Home. As time passed it also became a part of just about every singer’s songbook and many jazz musicians also covered the song with great success, turning it into a standard.
The song’s numerous movie moments continued in later years too, with it showing up in American Graffiti, The Right Stuff, and a host of others, along with TV shows and even commercials — but it was often the Flamingos’ modern version by then. The group’s best-selling 1959 hit also inspired a later highly-charted record by Art Garfunkel, but the song lives on as both a modern and a classic standard.
Frank Sinatra – “I Only Have Eyes For You”
Our recent post about British singer Anne Shelton mentioned that she was the first to record an English version of the German song, “Lili Marlene,” a World War II musical piece that has a fascinating history, including the fact that it became a favorite for fighting men on both sides. That fact alone makes it a worthy subject for Anatomy of a Song.
The song actually began life during World War I as a German love poem with a title that translates as “The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch.” Not much happened for the next couple of decades, but in the late 1930s it was set to music and recorded by a relatively unknown German singer named Lale Andersen, under a title that translates as “The Girl under the Lantern.”
As the war progressed, the song — by now known as either “Lili Marleen” or “Lili Marlene” — began to find favor among German troops after the record was repeatedly played on the radio in occupied Belgade. As its popularity grew, it also caught the attention of the Allied forces on the other side of the battlelines, and even if the language was unfamiliar the message came through. Before too long, the song was being heard and appreciated by both sides all over Europe and even into the North African theater of combat.
Not surprisingly, other singers jumped on board, and English versions of the song from Anne Shelton, Vera Lynn, and others did well, but Marlene Dietrich was destined to be most closely identified with the song — and not just because of her name. The German-born actress and singer had already spent more than a decade as a Hollywood star, and despite lucrative offers from film-makers in her native land, was openly anti-Nazi. She spent a lot of time during the war performing for Allied troops, and often included the song in her shows. She also recorded it in both German and English versions.
(The video below is of a short film made during the late stages of the war, and it has a few things wrong — including incorrectly saying Lale Andersen was Swedish. It also seems to occasionally get heavy-handed and melodramatic, but we have to remember the life and death struggle that was taking place at the time. In any case, it provides a fascinating look at the era.) LATER: video removed at source.
Marlene Dietrich – “Lili Marlene” (English)
Marlene Dietrich – “Lili Marlene” (German)
It’s about time we had another edition of our oldest Special Feature, Anatomy of a Song, so here we go. Today’s choice was popular with fans in two different eras although it had a contrasting style in each. It began life in the mid-1940s as a movie love song that was perfect for crooners, but then became a big hit record for a 1960s teen idol when he performed it in a decidedly different way.
The song — “The More I See You”– was written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, and made its debut in the 1945 musical film, Diamond Horseshoe. Smooth baritone Dick Haymes did the honors, presumably serenading his co-star, Betty Grable. His record of the song came out in the same year, as did one by Betty’s husband, bandleader Harry James (with vocal by Buddy Divito) but the song didn’t seem to create a big stir at the time.
By the 1950s it was a different story. Versions by singing stars like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole gave it some momentum, and it soon became a mainstream pop standard. Its surge continued into the 1960s with popular records by Bobby Darin, Doris Day, Johnny Mathis and others, but in 1966 it was given a makeover. Chicano rock star Chris Montez recorded what would be the biggest seller of all time on the song, in a very unique style.
Dick Haymes – “The More I See You”
Isham Jones kept pretty busy in the 1920s and 1930s as the leader of a popular orchestra, but years later his legacy is more about his songwriting ability. He was the composer of a number of familiar songs, among them “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “There Is No Greater Love,” and our Anatomy of a Song subject today, “It Had to Be You.”
The year was 1924, and Jones wasted no time making a record of the song with his band, something that several others did in that same year. Among them was the orchestra led by the self-styled King of Jazz, Paul Whiteman, but it seemed to be a popular choice for many bands of the era.
The song also had words added by lyricist Gus Kahn, which opened up things for vocalists too. One of the earliest memorable performances by a singer occurred when Ruth Etting did the honors in the 1936 movie short Melody in May, but the song became a popular choice for the soundtrack of many movies, including some in later years — like Harry Connick, Jr’s version in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally. It also furnished the title for a surprising number of movies and TV shows — although not all of them included the song itself — and even a book or two.
A lot of performers have had successful records with “It Had to Be You” through the years, with a duet by Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest charting the highest — #4 — in 1944. But it has been recorded by just about every singer you can imagine, including Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Williams, and maybe one or two that would surprise you — for example, Elvis Costello and John Travolta.
Isham Jones Orchestra – “It Had to Be You”