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Mark Steyn

Steyn's Song of the Week

Love Me Tender

This last week we've been marking the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, with a look at early Elvis, mid-period Elvis, and dead Elvis. To round our our series, I thought we'd celebrate the biggest hit song supposedly written by Elvis:

These days more or less every pop star is expected to come up with his own songs. It wasn't always that way: Once upon a time, songwriters wrote songs, and singers sang them. Very occasionally, a singer ventured onto the writer's turf: Frank Sinatra genuinely wrote a handful of songs, including the much covered "This Love of Mine", and made a significant enough contribution to the even more covered "I'm A Fool to Want You" that Joel Herron and Jack Wolf insisted he be given a co-author's credit. In a looser age of pop composition, surely then Elvis Presley, coming midway between Frank and the self-composing Beatles, must have penned a ditty or two over the years?

Well, like Sinatra, Presley had a house composer in his bodyguard. Frank's muscle was Hank Sanicola, a music-bix jack-of-all-trades who served as Sinatra's co-writer on "This Love of Mine" and his Christmas song "Mistletoe and Holly". Presley's muscle was a guy called Red West. (Red died just last month, and, for a dilettante songwriter, he did a pretty good job on a late-Elvis number called "If You Talk in Your Sleep".) One day in 1961 Elvis said to Red, "How about coming up with a song called 'That's Someone You Never Forget'?" He was thinking about his mother, Gladys, who'd died a couple of years earlier. Red did most of the rest of the work, but a good title is half the song, so Red gave Elvis 50 per cent of the credit. The gospel-ish record isn't bad but they sat on it and only released it as a B-side six years later.

A few months after "That's Someone You Never Forget", Elvis had another idea for a song. He'd had a big hit in 1960 with "It's Now or Never" - which is, of course, "O Sole Mio" with new lyrics. So he figured it would be fun to do that again, and he had the perfect song: "Begin the Beguine." "I like the melody," he told Red West, "so let's put new words to it." Unfortunately, unlike "O Sole Mio", "Begin the Beguine" wasn't written by long-dead foreigners, but by Cole Porter, who in 1961 was alive and well-ish - and certainly well enough to tell an impertinent pelvis-waggling whippersnapper to go take a hike for even suggesting that one of the greatest standards in the American Songbook might benefit from having its blithe, sophisticated lyric replaced by some rock'n'roll grunting.

So Elvis was back to square one, and decided to write his own "Begin the Beguine" from scratch, co-opting Red West and another member of the "Memphis Mafia", Charlie Hodge. "You'll Be Gone" had exotic Latin rhythms and Spanish-style guitar, and Elvis was pretty pleased with it. So, when the teenage Priscilla came to visit from Germany, he proudly played her his brand new composition. She replied that she preferred his rock'n'roll stuff. Elvis flew into a rage, and never wrote another song.

So what does that leave? Well, if you pick up almost any Elvis Greatest Hits compilation, you'll find:

Love Me Tender, love me sweet
Never let me go
You have made my life complete
And I love you so...

Words and music by Vera Matson and Elvis Presley.

So who wrote what?

Answer: Neither of the above.

The tune for "Love Me Tender" was by Geo. R. Poulton.

Geo. R. who?

He was born in 1828 in Cricklade, a modestl settlement between Cirencester and Swindon in Wiltshire. It's the first town on the Thames as it flows down to London. When the boy was seven, his family emigrated to America, and George was raised in New York state in the village of Lansingburgh, which is now part of the city of Troy. So Troy gave us two protean artifacts of 19th century American pop culture - "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" (first published in The Troy Sentinel) and George Poulton's most famous tune. Just for the record, Herman Melville wrote two novels in Lansingburgh, but neither was Moby Dick. Whereas Mr Poulton spent his entire adult life in the area. As a schoolboy at Lansingburgh Academy, he began organizing local concerts, and proved a popular pianist, violinist, singer and conductor, and pretty soon his reputation spread and publishing houses in New York City and elsewhere began picking up works like the "Albion Polka" and the "Linwood Waltz".

Somewhere along the way he set a poem about a "maid with golden hair" by "W W Fosdick, Esq", as the sheet music credited him. That's not "esquire" in the contemporary British sense of gentleman (or, in 19th century precedence, as denoting the rank between a gentleman and a knight), but in the American usage of attorney. Fosdick was a Cincinnati lawyer, but with a theatrical background on his mother's side. By the 1850s, he had published anthologies of his poetry. By 1860, his law practice was sufficiently lucrative that he could launch an illustrated periodical in Cincinnati called The Sketch Club. The following year he wrote what would prove to be his most famous words:

When the blackbird in the spring
On the willow tree,
Sat and rocked, I heard him sing
Singing Aura Lea

Aura Lea, Aura Lea
Maid with golden hair
Sunshine came along with thee
And swallows in the air...

Dedicated to S C Campbell of Hooley and Campbell's Ministrels, the song was written for minstrel shows but is of a quality far transcending the genre. Indeed, the beauty of George Poulton's lovely, lyrical setting of Fosdick's words was one of the few things Americans agreed on in the turbulent years after its composition. It was popular with both Union and Confederate troops, and in 1865, a few weeks after the end of the Civil War, the graduating class at West Point sang Poulton's beloved tune with new lyrics:

We've not much longer here to stay
For in a month or two
We'll bid farewell to "Cadet gray"
And don the "Army blue"

- which just about fits, except for the awkward prosody on the word "cadet". How did W W Fosdick feel about this change of text? Well, we'll never know. He was long gone, having died aged 37 in April 1862 and thus never seeing the end of the war, or knowing that his would be one of the few songs of the era to retain its popularity in the decades after. To be sure, the story of "Aura Lea" is that of an indestructible tune to which endless lyrical variations have been set, but I confess a certain affection for Fosdick's somewhat over-ripe effusions:

In thy blush the rose was born
Music when you spake
Through thine azure eye the morn
Sparkling seemed to break

Aura Lea, Aura Lea
Birds of crimson wing
Never song have sung to me
As in that sweet spring...

Wouldn't you rather trust your daughter to a young swain coming a-courting with those words on his lips than some coarse blackguard braying that he's going to treat her body like a "drive-thru"? Whoa, not so fast. The composer of "Aura Lea" was not such a demure wooer as his lyricist's words might suggest, or the sheet-music illustrations of him as a fey daydreamer with shoulder-length poetical hair. George Poulton was a popular music professor in upstate New York, but something of a rake and a cad where his lady students were concerned. And, after one such affair, according to Kathleen Tivnan of the Lansingburgh Historical Society, he was dismissed from his job for "conduct unbecoming of a teacher". A few days later, the girl's outraged family exacted their revenge by seizing Poulton and tarring and feathering him on the banks of the Hudson River. The loss of income and reputation affected his health, and he died in disgrace at the age of 38 in 1867.

But his song endured. College glee clubs and barbershop quartets sang it for a century - although I was a little surprised when, a couple of years ago, my youngest kid's music teacher assigned it to the grade-school chorus. While he was practicing it at home, I said, "Don't you know the Allan Sherman version?" Sherman was America's most tireless song parodist ("Hello, Muddah, Hello, Faddah", "(It's very clear) Your Mother's Here to Stay", "Beautiful Teamsters", etc) and had a one-verse version of "Aura Lea". My wonky memory recalled it as:

When they take your temp'rature
Take it orally
That's because the other way
Works more painfully.

But in fact, when we got a-Googling, it turns out Sherman wrote:

Ev'ry time you take vaccine
Take it orally
As you know the other way
Is more painfully.

Which makes perfect sense: Sherman penned his version shortly after Jonas Salk's breakthrough polio vaccine. Vic Damone delivered a lovely rendition of "Orally" on The Dean Martin Show.

In 1956, the year after Dr Salk's vaccine hit the big time, an unrelated phenomenon was doing likewise: Elvis Presley had been signed for his first motion picture - and this wasn't one of those viva-Acapulco-fun-in-Las-Vegas vehicles from his post-army phase: this was a bona fide historical drama with Presley, for the first and only time, in period costume. The film was a bit of cheapo B-picture filler called The Reno Brothers and the part of the youngest of the quartet had been turned down by several likely lads, including Robert Wagner. And then suddenly Elvis was inserted into the action and the role got bulked up extensively. His three siblings are all cavalrymen in the Confederate Army, topically enough, but young El is too much of a wee nipper to wear his secessionist nation's uniform, and so has to stay home. Which is just as well, otherwise today Antifa would be tearing down the King's statues all over Vegas and Memphis.

The oldest brother Vance (Richard Egan) has a sweetheart called Cathy (Debra Paget). Word comes from the distant front that Vance has been killed in battle, and back at the farm his betrothed grieves. But eventually Cathy agrees to wed the only Reno brother still around, young Clint (played by Elvis). Unfortunately, it's all a big mix-up, and Vance is not deceased. So he is somewhat surprised, when the three siblings return from soldiering, to find that his girl is now married to his kid brother. This creates some tension in the household, although Vance does his best to stiffen his upper lip: "We always wanted Cathy in the family", etc. Alas, Cathy is very obviously still in love with Vance, notwithstanding that Clint is played by Elvis Presley.

Complications ensue. But the basic plot premise is made more convincing by the fact that Debra Paget was genuinely antipathetic to Elvis, being in love with Howard Hughes at the time. She expected the rock'n'roll sensation to be a moron and described herself as "quite surprised" that he wasn't - but, alas for the Pelvis, insufficiently surprised to give him a tumble, and instead leaving down at the end of Lonely Street for the duration of the shoot.

You don't cast Elvis in his first movie and then not let him sing. But sing what? It's set in the Civil War, and they didn't have blue suede shoes back then, so a hip-swiveling rocker'll stick out like a sore hip - as it does when Clint sings "We're Gonna Movie" on the Renos' front porch. A period number would seem the obvious choice, and "Aura Lea" is certainly among the most beguiling. But do Elvis fans really want the King warbling all those flowery inverted-order lines like "Yet if thy blue eyes I see/Gloom will soon depart"? So it was decided to give "Aura Lea" a makeover - and fortunately, unlike Cole Porter, Messrs Poulton and Fosdick were no longer around to object. Of course, the clever trick of the rewrite is how adroitly it straddles both the period and the au courant:

Love Me Tender, love me true
All my dreams fulfill
For my darling I love you
And I always will...

It's an unlikely song for the 1860s ("dreams" coming true belongs to a later pop vernacular), but it has the whiff of a more genteel era of courtship than "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck" - that "for", for example, in "For I love you..." Very nice.

So who re-wrote "Aura Lee"? Step forward, Ken Darby. He was born in Nebraska in 1909, so he was no rock'n'roller, but a talented mainstay of the music world. A fine choral arranger, he had a group called the Ken Darby Singers, who backed Judy Garland in a studio album of the Wizard of Oz songs in 1940, and two years later sang with Bing Crosby on the original single of "White Christmas". On the radio, he provided the music for "Fibber McGee and Molly", in which capacity he performed a version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", his first point of contact with those two great cultural contributions from the Troy area. He was Marilyn Monroe's vocal coach on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and there are certainly worse ways of passing your time than getting up in the morning and going to work to spend the day teaching Marilyn how to sing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend". And by the time he was done he had three Oscars on his shelf, for scoring The King and I, Porgy and Bess and Camelot.

The Reno Brothers project was just another day at the office for Ken Darby. Told that they needed a Civil War song for the picture, Darby picked out five ballads from the early 1860s and played them for Elvis. "Aura Lea" was the third or fourth. "This is the one," said the singer. So Darby set about turning "Aura Lea" into "Love Me Tender", and did it very expertly. Unlike Mr Fosdick, he imposed a song form on the tune - nothing too obtrusive, just that two-thirds echo of the title: "Love Me Tender, love me sweet"... "Love Me Tender, love me true"...

Love me Tender, love me long
Take me to your heart
For it's there that I belong
And we'll never part...

All that "love me" repetition could get a bit boring, except that they alternate between the low notes of Poulton's verse ("Love Me Tender, love me long") and then the high notes ("Aura Lea, Aura Lea") of the chorus ("Love Me Tender, love me dear"), which gives a real ache and intensity to the reprises. It's very deftly organized. And I doubt that Ken Darby thought it was anything more than just a solid professional job that served the needs of the picture.

Elvis' manager, Colonel Parker, looked on it a little differently. His boy was a raucous rock'n'roller, but this movie song was going to be his first mainstream love ballad, and Parker thought that would be a big deal with the public, and potentially very lucrative. "Aura Lea" was out of copyright, so they didn't have to pay Poulton and Fosdick anything ...or even mention them. And, if nobody knew who wrote the song, why couldn't Elvis have written it? So, when they heard Ken Darby had rewritten "Aura Lea" into "Love Me Tender", the Colonel and the Aberbach brothers, who ran the Presley music publishing operation Hill & Range, politely informed Mr Darby that they'd be publishing the song and that in addition Elvis would be getting a credit as co-author.

Darby didn't mind, because 50 per cent of an Elvis record still works out better than 100 per cent of a Ken Darby Singers record. But there was a problem. American songwriters have two copyright collection agencies, Ascap and BMI, the latter of which was founded in opposition to the former's monopoly. Broadly speaking, Ascap had the Broadway and Hollywood writers, and BMI had the country & western and rhythm'n'blues guys. Elvis had been signed up as a member of BMI, whereas Darby, being a motion picture composer, was Ascap. And in those days it was not permitted for an Ascap writer and a BMI writer to share credit on the same song. So Darby risked losing his 50 per cent of "Love Me Tender" to a non-writing writer who'd contributed precisely 0 per cent to "Love Me Tender".

Happiness lies/Right under your eyes, as they sing in "Back in Your Own Backyard", and so it proved for Ken Darby. He signed up Mrs Darby - Vera Matson - as a member of BMI, and gave her his 50 per cent of the song.

Credit where it's due, though. The studio decided they didn't want Elvis' band (Scotty Moore, Bill Black, DJ Fontana) on the soundtrack, so Ken Darby brought in his own trio (Vita Mumolo on guitar, Charles Prescott bass, Red Robinson drums). But he was impressed by the way Presley took charge in the studio: "Elvis has the most terrific ear of anyone I have ever met," he said. "He does not read music, but he does not need to. All I had to do was play the song for him once, and he made it his own! He has perfect judgment of what is right for him." "What is right for him" turned out to be something the wailing Elvis of "Heartbreak Hotel" had never done before on record. On Wednesday August 22nd 1956 Colonel Parker's secretary, Trudie Forsher, wrote in her diary:

At 10.00 am Colonel Parker calls me to report to music director Mr Ken Darby's bungalow where Mr Presley is rehearsing the song he sings in 'Love Me Tender'. The Colonel arrived,Elvis and his cousin Gene also entered. When I came into the bungalow,standing next to the grand piano with Mr. Darby playing - with his head back and thick dark hair tumbling over his eyes Mr. Presley was oblivious to those around him. Soon the bungalow was filled with Elvis' strong voice singing the most beautiful ballad, I thought. He was dressed in his favorite dark gabardine slacks and blue sports shirt with turned up collar,open at the neck,Mr Presley likes freedom in his shirts-he needs the room to move around. One broad horizental white stripe was around the shirt and across his chest accentuating Mr. Presley's naturally broad shoulders.

Okay, enough about the shirt and shoulders; the key point is "the most beautiful ballad". And Elvis dialed back that "strong voice" on the day of the recording. A friend of his, the actor Dennis Hopper, chanced to be present:

He invited me out to the studio, It was at 20th Century Fox,and I went out and he recorded 'Love Me Tender',and it was really strange because I was standing about five yards away from him,and he was singing into a microphone and I couldn't hear him. I thought how strange it was,and I thought well maybe he's not really doing anything ...cause I was standing a way behind him,and then he asked for a playback and his voice came out - 'Love Me Tender..' - and I thought 'Wow!' How strange! I knew so little about music, it was a different world to me ...that he could be actually recording something that would come out that clearly, and yet I was like in touching distance, practically, of him and I couldn't hear his voice.

That was the key to it: not "The Wonder of You", but a soft, understated rendition of a simple, translucent song. As Elvis would tell friends, "A lot of people thought all I could do was belt." Trudie Forsher again:

The guitar around his broad shoulders, he leaned towards...

Okay, enough with the broad shoulders. How about the song? Dennis Hopper wasn't alone; nobody present had really heard it. So Elvis ordered a playback. And at the end, according to Miss Forsher:

There was a stunned silence, Elvis was satisfied, So was Lionel Newman, so were Ken Darby and the King's Men. As the playback ended, there was an awed silence. Then Ken Darby, the quartet and the old 'pros' in the orchestra broke into spontaneous applause. All at once I heard a torrent of words. 'Great','Terrific','Tremendous'. Elvis smiled his thanks, he was sincerely humble, but he appreciated this reaction, coming from the people who knew music well.

On September 9th 1956, during a break in the shoot, the singer flew back to New York to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show". He sang "Love Me Tender", and generated enough advance orders that RCA, for the first time in the history of the recording industry, had a million-seller and a gold record before the track was even released. Back in Hollywood, 20th Century Fox hastily changed the name of the movie from The Reno Brothers to Love Me Tender. By November, when the picture came out, "Love Me Tender" was chasing the double-A-sided "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" up the charts to make Elvis the first singer ever to occupy the top two positions on the Billboard Top 40. When "Love Me Tender" succeeded "Hound"/"Cruel" at the top of the hit parade, it marked the first time any performer had had two consecutive Billboard Number Ones (the Beatles did it next, then Boyz II Men). Elvis' first non-rock ballad had massively expanded his appeal.

For a simple song, "Love Me Tender" remains oddly elusive for the many other singers who've attempted it. Sinatra's version, with a Don Costa arrangement on his Trilogy set in the Seventies, is pretty insipid, and not as memorable as his first crack at the song - on TV in 1960. Frank's ABC Timex specials had underperformed in the ratings, so someone had come up with the idea of getting Frank and Elvis on screen together for Presley's first appearance after two years in the army. To pull this off, they'd been obliged to give Colonel Parker 125 grand, a then unprecedented amount, especially considering that in exchange for that eighth of a million the Colonel would still not permit Elvis to be on camera for more than six-to-eight minutes max.

Nevertheless, this was one of the incompetent Parker's better deals, at least compared to the pitiful price he sold Presley's masters for in the early Seventies: As Frank's daughter and Elvis' sometime girlfriend, Nancy Sinatra, often says, the best advice her dad ever gave her was always to own your own masters (as he did). In 1960, Parker was looking to land Presley a little of the Sinatra action, and pitch him to a more adult audience so that, post-army, he wouldn't be vulnerable to eclipse by whoever next week's teen idol was. By that measure, the show worked, and was a ratings blockbuster. But the terms the Colonel painstakingly demanded lends a cramped and wary atmosphere to the Sinatra/Presley summit. It's standard variety-show stuff: Frank shrugs his shoulders to the rocky vamp and then Elvis is supposed to gyrate his pelvis but forgets to do it, so Frank does his pre-scripted line anyway - "We work in the same way, only in different areas." And then Frank sings one of Elvis' songs, and Elvis sings one of Frank's. So there's a finger-snappy "Love Me Tender" punctuated by a rock'n'roll "Witchcraft", both arranged by Nelson Riddle and concluding with an a cappella harmonization:

For my darling I love you
And I always will

- in the middle of which Frank interjects "Man, that's pretty." Which it would be if Sinatra had worked on it the way he would have with Ella or Dinah and if Colonel Parker weren't running the clock and wrapping up the medley in a minute and a half.

Nine years later Elvis offered his final version of "Love Me Tender", for the film The Trouble with Girls (1969), accompanied by a troublesome girl, on piano, plus a vocal quartet of college boys. This is kinda sorta "Aura Lea" meets West Point graduation:

Violet, Violet
Flower of NYU
We will ever sing thy praise
To thee we'll e'er be true.

Elvis Presley was always perfectly at home with those "thees" and "thous": He would have made a fine record of "Aura Lea".

There was one problem with the film Love Me Tender. In test screenings, his fans didn't like the way Elvis (spoiler alert) dies. Wanting to stay true to the story while not offending millions of teenagers, the producers came up with a compromise. As his widow and brothers walk away from the funeral and return to the homestead, an ethereal Elvis would shimmer over the graveyard and sing a final round of "Love Me Tender" accompanying himself on a celestial guitar St Peter had lying around at the bottom of a pile of harps. So the hit songwriting team of "Vera Matson & Elvis Presley" were pressed into service one last time, and Ken Darby rattled off:

When at last my dreams come true
Darling, this I know
Happiness will follow you
Everywhere you go

Love Me Tender, love me true
All my dreams fulfill
For you know that I love you
And I always will.

In other words: Go with my blessing, and fulfill all my dreams without me. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Elvis was a generous man. Singing "Love Me Tender" on stage over the years, he was wont to credit the number to Stephen Foster - either because he'd entirely forgotten he'd "written" it himself, or because he couldn't remember the guys he'd stolen it from, whether Poulton and Fosdick, or Ken Darby. But Foster didn't write it any more than Elvis did, so he might just as easily have credited it to Bach or Rimsky Korsakov.

As to why Ken Darby gave his missus, Vera Matson, the credit as Elvis' co-author on "Love Me Tender", Darby had a standard response:

Because she didn't write it either.

~If you're a Mark Steyn Club member, feel free to weigh in in our comments section over the competing merits of "Aura Lea", "Army Blue", "Love Me Tender" and "Violet (Flower of NYU)". As we always say, membership in The Mark Steyn Club isn't for everybody, and it doesn't affect access to Song of the Week and our other regular content, but one thing it does give you is commenter's privileges, so have at it. You also get personally autographed copies of A Song for the Season and many other Steyn books at a special member's price. For more on The Mark Steyn Club, see here - and check the first edition of our new Club newsletter, The Clubbable Steyn, for a seasonal song feature by Mark.

from Elvis Week at SteynOnline, August 20, 2017

 

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Aba Daba Honeymoon

For this week's live-music edition of Steyn's Song of the Week, Maria Muldaur temporarily abandons "Midnight at the Oasis" for a wild jungle ride:

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What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

As a postscript to this year's Mark Steyn Christmas Show, here's a first-footing video edition of our Song of the Week, celebrating the only New Year number since "Auld Lang Syne" to become a seasonal staple:

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The Wexford Carol

On this year's Mark Steyn Christmas Show Mark was in sentimental mood, recalling some of his earliest festive memories from his grandparents' home in Ireland. So he asked Anthony Kearns to sing his favorite Irish Christmas carol:

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Baby, It's Cold Outside

I've been bombarded by emails from readers demanding to know what I think of a limp, inert rewrite of "Baby, It's Cold Outside"...

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The (Christmas) Glow Worm

The return of a festive favorite

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Jingle Bells

An enduring Christmas song that started out as a Thanksgiving song

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Roses of Picardy

This week's Song of the Week is one hundred years old today: that's to say, it was published by Messrs Chappell & Co of New Bond Street, London on December 4th 1916, at a price of one shilling and sixpence. And in one form or another it's been with us ever since...

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A Greasepaint Medley

Three enduring songs from one flop musical

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Dance Me To The End Of Love

Mark on his favorite Leonard Cohen song

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It's All In The Game

The only hit song written by a candidate on a winning presidential ticket

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It's De-Lovely

A SteynOnline audio special on the 80th anniversary of a great Cole Porter standard

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It's the End of the World as We Know It

A pop culture footnote to our tenth-anniversary observances of America Alone

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Morningtown Ride

The grueling schedule of my sellout Aussie tour kept my nose mostly to the grindstone, but I did get a couple of hours off on the Victoria leg and so treated myself to a matinée of Georgy Girl: The Seekers Musical at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne...

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I Honestly Love You

The Steyn Oz tour moves on. We had a great time in Parliament House today, where the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, gave me a far better introduction than I deserve. I'll be in Sydney on Tuesday. As I said last week, we always like to have a few Aussie Songs of the Week on my forays Down Under, and I'm not sure "Georgy Girl", written by two Englishmen, quite qualifies. But this one does: Ten years ago, I found myself sitting in a taxi in George Street in Sydney behind another cab bearing a big ad for Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz – the Peter Allen musical. Of course! Peter Allen! Australia's most successful pop songwriter – "I Go To Rio", "Arthur's Theme (When you get caught between the moon and New York City)", "Don't Cry Out Loud", "I ...

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Georgy Girl

Hey there, Georgy Girl Swingin' down the street so fancy free... We always like to have an Australian Song of the Week to kick off my tours Down Under, but this one isn't strictly speaking an Aussie song, in the sense that its composer and lyricist are English. On the other hand, it's indelibly associated with the biggest pop group ever to come out of the Lucky Country – and it provides the the title for the brand new biotuner about them that's enjoying its world premiere at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne and which I hope to catch if I get a spare couple of hours over the next fortnight. But my main reason for picking "Georgy Girl" is because the novelist and biographer Margaret Forster died last week. I can't claim to have known her, ...

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Ain't Misbehavin'

A hit song by the great nephew of Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar

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Down Under

Happy Australia Day to all our readers Down Under. It's actually Tuesday, which is tomorrow, but tomorrow here is probably already yesterday there, so I may be too late. I'm looking forward to seeing many of those antipodean readers next month on my Aussie tour, which kicks off on Valentine's Day in Perth. Half the dates are already sold out, so, if you haven't booked your seats yet, don't leave it too late. Details of towns, times and tickets can be found via the IPA here. We always like to have an Oz song for Australia Day, and, what with one thing and another, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" doesn't seem to get played as often as it used to. So in lieu of that: Do you come from a land Down Under Where women glow and men plunder? Good ...

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The Man Who Sold The World

I've received a remarkable number of emails in the last week more or less taunting me to eschew my usual Jerome Kern and Cole Porter and pick a David Bowie number for our Song of the Week. Well, I like a challenge, and, given that the British press has been full of people with not a thing to say about Bowie saying it at great length, I figured that I might as well get a piece of the action. That said, it would be hard to beat this last word in Bowie-eulogizing from The Croydon Advertiser:

Old Coulsdon man delivered David Bowie's milk in summer of '69

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Sixteen Tons

A backbreaker of a blockbuster, courtesy of the company sto'

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Unforgettable

Mark remembers Natalie Cole, an unforgettable song, and an unshuttupable songwriter

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Sinatra Century at SteynOnline

In case you missed it, here's our rundown of Mark's Sinatra Century - 100 years in 100 songs: 1) IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR 2) THE SONG IS YOU 3) HOME ON THE RANGE 4) AFTER YOU'VE GONE 5) IT HAD TO BE YOU 6) THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) 7) LOVE'S BEEN GOOD TO ME 8) STARDUST 9) MY FUNNY VALENTINE 10) WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? 11) CHICAGO 12) THE CONTINENTAL 13) ALL OF ME 14) WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE 15) NIGHT AND DAY 16) I WON'T DANCE 17) I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN 18) SOUTH OF THE BORDER 19) EAST OF THE SUN (AND WEST OF THE MOON) 20) ON THE ROAD TO MANDALAY 21) A FOGGY DAY (IN LONDON TOWN) 22) I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU 23) I'M A FOOL TO WANT YOU 24) OUR LOVE 25) ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL 26) I'LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN 27) FOOLS RUSH ...

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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

ImageA Christmas song rewritten for Sinatra

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Baby, It's Cold Outside

Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban launch the clash of civilizations

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Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

A happy 75th birthday to the most famous reindeer of all

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All I Want For Christmas Is You

Mark hits a new high as he takes a crack at Mariah Carey's Christmas classic

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One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)

ImageFrank Sinatra called himself a "saloon singer," because that's where he used to sing, way back when, in Jersey juke joints and roadhouses....

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Put Your Dreams Away

ImageOur 99th Sinatra Century song is, after "My Way", the second most performed Sinatra song written by a Canadian...

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That's Life

ImageA big hit, but a tense moment in the studio

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Body And Soul

ImageTwo takes separated by four decades

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Mack the Knife

ImageThe last crowd-pleaser of a six-decade career

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You'd Be So Easy to Love

Image...but not so easy to sing

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Pick Yourself Up

ImageThe sexy polka that made a presidential inaugural speech

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Time After Time

ImageA timeless ballad from a Sinatra stalwart

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The Lady Is A Tramp

ImageApril 14th 1937: a major expansion of the American songbook

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Goody Goody

ImageFrank sings a classic Johnny Mercer revenge song

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Try A Little Tenderness

ImageVia Frank and a couple of Londoners, a black American soul classic

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Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

ImageFrank and Nancy sing Sonny and Cher

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Theme from New York, New York

ImageOn September 19th 1979 in Los Angeles, it fell to Vinnie Falcone to conduct what would become one of the biggest Sinatra recordings of all time:

Start spreading the news...

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Something

ImageOn the first of our Sinatra Century audio specials, Frank's longtime pianist and conductor Vincent Falcone talks, among other things, about the singer's relationship with the George Harrison ballad "Something". So I thought we'd spend a little time with the song as we head into the final stretch before the big 100th birthday.

In November 1968 George Harrison and his then missus Pattie Boyd attended the recording sessions in Hollywood for Sinatra's album Cycles...

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Send In The Clowns

ImageUntil the mid-1960s Broadway was the biggest supplier of the most enduring standards ...and then gradually it all sputtered to a halt, and even hit shows didn't produce really popular songs. With one notable exception...

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My Way

ImageBy sheer coincidence, our scheduled Sinatra song is, in fact, a French song. Indeed, by further coincidence, it belongs to a lost age of Franco-Arab cultural co-mingling...

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Some Enchanted Evening

ImageSinatra's highly variable results with the acme of the mid-20th century showtune

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For Once In My Life

ImageRonald Miller's hit-makers share a hot tub...

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Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars

ImageThe meaning of existence, and all that jazz...

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The Girl From Ipanema

ImageThe girl who launched a song, and the song that launched an industry

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Me And My Shadow

ImageThe black cat who crossed Sinatra's path

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Moon Love

ImageIn 1960, Frank Sinatra left Capitol and founded Reprise Records because he wanted to have total artistic control. But oddly, once he'd got total artistic control, he seemed disinclined to exercise it...

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Strangers in the Night

ImageBy 1966 it had been over a decade since Frank Sinatra had had a Number One single. It's fine to be acclaimed as a great artist, to have big-selling albums, sell out in Vegas and on world tours, and star in Hollywood movies. But, if popular singing is what you do, there's something special about a Number One hit single...

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A Theme to a Kill

An encore presentation of Mark's audio salute to James Bond's music man, John Barry

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This Is All I Ask

ImageSinatra Sings The Sacroiliac Songbook

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The Best Is Yet To Come

ImageThe song Sinatra took with him to the grave

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The End of a Love Affair

ImageWe've been spending a little time this Columbus Day weekend with a man who was born in Columbus, Ohio exactly a century ago - October 10th 1915 - and was at Sinatra's side for some of his most thrilling records of the Fifties and Sixties: Harry "Sweets" Edison, whose trumpet mute was a big part of Frank's Capitol sound.

When you're as good a jazz player as Edison, studio sessions aren't really what you want to do. You'd much rather be in some night spot with a handful of other guys taking a full chorus for every solo...

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I Thought About You

ImageThe master of the muted trumpet, Harry "Sweets" Edison

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We'll Gather Lilacs

ImageSinatra in London with a classic British ballad...

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Come Rain Or Come Shine

ImageA bluesy ballad Sinatra sang for 30 years

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Moonlight In Vermont

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Sinatra, a meadowlark, and a rhymeless romance

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It's All Right With Me

ImageA classic Sinatra moment - on record, on film, on TV.

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Autumn Leaves

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A truly great song for the season isn't about the calendar, or the weather. It's about the seasons of life and love...

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Fly Me To The Moon

ImageAccording to Johnny Mercer, "Writing music takes more talent, but writing lyrics takes more courage." What he meant was that a tune can be beguiling and melancholy and intoxicating and a lot of other vagaries, but there comes a moment when you have to sit down and get specific, and put the other half of the equation on top of those notes. A songwriter spends his life chasing the umpteenth variation of "I love you"...

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Ol' MacDonald

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In honor of Alan Bergman's 90th birthday, we've been spending a little time this weekend with some of his early hits for Sinatra. Although I myself have recorded an Alan & Marilyn Bergman number, I reluctantly concede that, vocalist-wise, they're better known for their association with Barbra Streisand ("The Way We Were", "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", etc). But long before Barbra they wrote a few songs for Frank that have a different character...

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Nice 'N' Easy

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Mark celebrates Alan Bergman's birthday, and one of his biggest hits...

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I Cover The Waterfront

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A Sinatra song for Labor Day

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Just In Time

ImageA record the songwriter didn't like, of a song the singer didn't like

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Angel Eyes

ImageSteyn on a saloon song classic

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Come Fly With Me

ImageUp there where the air is rarefied: Sinatra and the soundtrack of the Jet Age...

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Ebb Tide

ImageFirst the tide rushes in. Then you rush out and write the song...

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Witchcraft

ImageI've always loved songs that use magic as an image of romantic seduction...

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Stars Fell On Alabama

ImageWhen Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle found their groove in the mid-Fifties, the music just poured out. In 1956 there was so much of it: The year began with the sessions for the defining album of the early LP era - Songs For Swingin' Lovers. It ended with the sessions for Swingin' Lovers' swingin' successor, A Swingin' Affair!...

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(Love Is) The Tender Trap

ImageA Sinatra signature - and the birth of a new songwriting team

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Learnin' The Blues

ImageThe strange story of a one-hit wonder

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In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

ImageFor over half a century songwriters tried to get their best work to the best singer of the best songs. The sitcom "Frasier" devoted an entire episode to the proposition, after Dad revealed that he'd written a song for Frank, "You're Such A Groovy Lady".

But in the entire history of Getting Songs to Frank there are no luckier guys than Dave Mann and Bob Hilliard...

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Baubles, Bangles and Beads

Image2015 is the centenary year not only of Frank Sinatra but also of Chet Forrest, born one hundred years ago this weekend on July 31st 1915 in Brooklyn, New York.

Chet who? Well, Robert Wright and his partner George "Chet" Forrest were never exactly household names in the music biz, but they certainly worked with a lot of household names, including Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov...

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The Gal That Got Away

ImageA Sinatra song that wore out a jukebox in Toms River, New Jersey...

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Young at Heart

ImageAn ode to youthful optimism

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I've Got The World On A String

ImageThe opening of Frank Sinatra's spectacular Second Act

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Why Try To Change Me Now?

ImageFrank Sinatra poses a musical question to Mitch Miller....

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I Have Dreamed

ImageThe early Fifties were a rough time for Sinatra - and for his voice...

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(Ah, the Apple Trees) When the World Was Young

ImageWe're a day away from Bastille Day, France's fĂŞte nationale, and so it seems appropriate to spend a little time with franco-Sinatra. He sang a lot of French songs over the years, most famously this:

Je me lève et je te bouscule
Tu n'te réveilles pas
Comme d'habitude...

Oh, no, wait. Frank sang the English lyric:

And now the end is near
And so I face
The final curtain...

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We'll Be Together Again

ImageFrankie sings Frankie

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Luck Be A Lady

ImageFrank Loesser was a busy Hollywood lyricist who decided he was going to turn himself into a Hollywood lyricist-and-composer. Having pulled that off, he then decided to become one of Broadway's great musical dramatists to boot. His first stage musical, an adaptation of Charley's Aunt, opened in 1948, with a great score and a legendary showstopper of a song in "Once In Love With Amy". On our double-CD Frank Loesser centenary celebration (exclusively available from SteynOnline), you can hear me...

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The House I Live In

ImageWe had a Sinatra song from Canada for Dominion Day, and so we surely have to have an American Sinatra song for Independence Day...

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How About You?

ImageDominion Day looms - on Wednesday - and we always like to have a Canadian song for the national holiday. Sinatra recorded many maple-infused numbers over six decades, from "I'll Never Smile Again" and "Put Your Dreams Away", both by my fellow Torontonian Ruth Lowe, all the way to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and, of course, Paul Anka's "My Way" (he wrote the English lyric). But, for a great national occasion, I figured what could be more Canadian than...

I like New York in June
How About You?

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I Concentrate On You

ImageA Sinatra classic - as ballad, bossa or swinger

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The Coffee Song

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He was the saloon singer - quarter to three, set 'em up, Joe, drinkin' again and thinkin' o' when... spinning round in my brain, like the bubbles in a glass of champagne... But Sinatra liked a non-alcoholic tipple, too. He took "Tea For Two" with Dinah Shore in 1947, and in 1960 recorded "When I Take My Sugar To Tea". But he wasn't averse to something a little more caffeinated:

Way down among Brazilians
Coffee beans grow by the millions
So they've got to find those extra cups to fill...

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Soliloquy

ImageHappy Father's Day to you and yours. I miss my dad more and more as the years go by. Our Sinatra Century would be incomplete without this particular entry:..

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I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)

A one-hit wonder who never got to hear her one hit sung by anyone - from Sinatra to Molly Ringwald

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You Make Me Feel So Young

ImageOn January 9th 1956, Frank Sinatra went into the not yet famous Studio A of Capitol Records at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles for the first of a handful of sessions for a new album...

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Somethin' Stupid

ImageAs a companion piece to Friday's "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)", here's a Frank-and-Nancy moment from a couple of decades later...

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Nancy (With the Laughing Face)

ImageSeventy-one years ago this Monday, June 8th, a cute little four-year-old girl was having a birthday party, and a couple of pals of her dad decided to present her with a very special gift...

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Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry

ImageFrank Sinatra rescued a lot of songs over the years, but rarely on the scale he did with this one. It was from an awe-inspiringly hideous train-wreck of a musical. But Sinatra recorded it, and made it a standard - and the only torchy ballad of lost love whose central image is of laundry...

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Blues In The Night

ImageOn June 24th 1958 Nelson Riddle raised his baton, and Frank Sinatra made one of the greatest recordings of a great song...

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Pennies from Heaven

ImageThis one stayed in Sinatra's book almost to the end, mainly because he just had so much fun singing it...

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The Nearness of You

ImageWhat's the connection between Frank Sinatra and Mickey Rooney?

Oh, that's easy. They were both married to Ava Gardner.

What's the connection between Frank Sinatra and William Shakespeare?

Hmm, well, lemme see...

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I'll Be Around

ImageIn the pithy summation of Terry Teachout, Alec Wilder "spent his life looking for cracks to fall through". Back in the days when we still had record stores, he didn't quite fit the pop bins or the classical bins or the jazz bins. Which is why, if you're hung up on categorization, it's easier to leave him out of the store altogether...

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The Way You Look Tonight

ImageMany years ago - when a lot of the guys who wrote the American Songbook were still around - I started asking composers and lyricists to name their all-time favorite song. This one came right at the top...

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I'll Be Seeing You

ImageAs much as "It Had To Be You" or "The Way You Look Tonight", "I'll Be Seeing You" belongs to a select group of über-standards, the ones we'll still be singing when 90 per cent of the rest have fallen away. It's one of those "our song" songs - especially if you happened to find yourself on a railway platform in the early 1940s waving a loved one off to war...

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Everything Happens To Me

ImageWhen I first got interested in the great standard songs as a teenager, I sort of assumed that they were all written by the big names - Cole Porter, Gershwin. It took a while to dawn that not everything from, say, the Thirties was concocted by a major writer for a famous Broadway score or a Fred Astaire movie. So after a while, when I heard a song I liked, I'd say, "Hey, I wonder who wrote that." Quite often, the answer would be "Matt Dennis & Tom Adair". Let's just stick to the Sinatra end of their catalogue: Who wrote "The Night We Called It A Day"? Matt Dennis & Tom Adair. Who wrote "Let's Get Away From It All"? Matt Dennis & Tom Adair. Who wrote "Violets For Your Furs"? Matt Dennis & Tom Adair. Who wrote "Angel Eyes"? Matt Dennis. Who wrote "There's No You"? Tom Adair. And who wrote..?

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My One And Only Love

Before St George's Day fades for another year, I thought we'd have a Sinatra English song

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Fools Rush In

Image"Fools Rush In" isn't thought of as a Sinatra song. If you were anywhere near a jukebox or a transistor radio in the early Sixties, you'll think of it in Ricky Nelson's bouncy-bouncy teenypop arrangement. But once upon a time the song was new, and Frank Sinatra was the guy singing it...

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I'll Never Smile Again

ImageWe began the week with Sinatra's one big hit with the Harry James band. We end it with his first big hit with the Tommy Dorsey band. This essay contains material from Mark's book A Song For The Season:

I'll Never Smile Again
Until I smile at you
I'll never laugh again
What good would it do?

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All Or Nothing At All

ImageIt was June 1939 and the singer Louise Tobin was in her room in the Lincoln Hotel in Manhattan, packing for a gig in Boston with Bobby Hackett's band. Her hubby was napping on the bed. He was a trumpeter, name of Harry James, who'd just left Benny Goodman to put together his own orchestra. The radio was carrying a remote from some joint in New Jersey, and a male vocalist came on...

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Our Love

Someday someone should release an album called Classical Frank. I mentioned a couple of days ago that "Take My Love" was adapted from Brahms' Third Symphony. Aside from Brahms (whose Lullaby he also recorded), Sinatra sang over the years Anton Rubinstein, Grieg, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Borodin. That's to say, "If You Are But A Dream" (Rubinstein's Romance No 1), "I Love You" and "Strange Music" (Grieg's "Ich Liebe Dich" and "Wedding Day At Troldhaugen", respectively), "Full Moon And Empty Arms" and "I Think Of You" (both from Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto), "The Lamp Is Low" (Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte)...

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I'm A Fool To Want You

Image2015 is not only the centenary year of Frank Sinatra but also of Billie Holiday, born April 7th 1915 in Philadelphia. We will mark the occasion formally a little later this week, and acknowledge Sinatra's admiration for Holiday. But the respect was mutual, and on Billie Holiday's last major recording the stand-out track was a Sinatra song...

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I Get A Kick Out Of You

When Frank Sinatra was 18, it was a very good year. Anything Goes opened at the Alvin Theatre in November 1934 and provided young Frank with a slew of Cole Porter material he would sing in his maturity:.The title song turned up in 1956 on his landmark album Songs For Swingin' Lovers; "Easy To Love" was dropped at the insistence of leading man William Gaxton, but became a highlight of Sinatra's first album at Reprise...

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A Foggy Day (In London Town)

Sinatra sang a lot of Gershwin over the years, but if you had to name the most important "Gershwin song" in his book it would probably be "The Gal That Got Away" - words by Ira Gershwin, but music by Harold Arlen. He made a terrific record of it when the song was new, and then returned to it a quarter-century later to make it - in a medley with "It Never Entered My Mind" - the last great saloon-song sequence to be added to the Sinatra act.

But a lot of George Gershwin tunes stayed with him to the end, too...

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On The Road To Mandalay

ImageSeventy years ago, the 14th Army under the command of General Bill Slim finally liberated Mandalay and returned it to British rule. Given the popularity of this song among British military concert parties of the time, more than a few of Slim's men must have found themselves singing:

Come you back to Mandalay
Where the old flotilla lay...

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East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)

Where do you head after you've gone "South Of The Border"? Oh, that's easy...

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South Of The Border

St Patrick's Day looms, and so a Sinatra Irish confection would seem to be appropriate. Unlike Peggy Lee, he never recorded "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"; unlike Rosie Clooney, he never recorded "Danny Boy". In the 1949 film Take Me Out To The Ball Game, he sang a song called "O'Brien To Ryan To Goldberg" - Gene Kelly, who was of Irish ancestry, played O'Brien; Jules Munshin, who was of Russian Jewish ancestry, played Goldberg; and Frank Sinatra, who was of Italian ancestry, played, er, Ryan.

But what of the great Irish songwriters..?

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I've Got You Under My Skin

The night it took 22 takes...

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I Won't Dance

The 1930s were the golden decade of American popular song. The great Broadway blue chips - Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart - were hitting their stride, and, as we've explored in recent weeks, a whole generation of far lesser known names were providing great individual numbers that, thanks to Sinatra, have lasted across the decades...

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Night And Day

What's the connection between the Muslim call to prayer and Frank Sinatra?

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When Your Lover Has Gone

E A Swan?

Who's he?

Well, if you saw Frank Sinatra on stage...

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All Of Me

A Sinatra classic, born from a happy accident at a summer resort, and a widow's grief

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The Continental

It's the wee small hours after Oscar Night, and so our Sinatra Centenary song is obliged to take a nod at least in the direction of the Academy Awards. Frank made a whole album of Oscar winners, with the unwieldy title of Sinatra Sings Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River, and Other Academy Award Winners...

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Chicago

An anthem to "the town that Billy Sunday couldn't shut down"

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What Is This Thing Called Love?

On March 27th 1929 the Charles B Cochran revue Wake Up And Dream opened at the London Pavilion, with a host of West End talent, including Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Tilly Losch and Douglas Byng. And at one point in the evening Britain's "Radio Sweetheart Number One", Elsie Carlisle, stepped forward and sang...

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My Funny Valentine

Valentine's Day looms, and, given his contribution to its popularity, we would be remiss not to include in our Sinatra Century the one great Valentine standard...

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Stardust

It's July 8th 1939 and the Harry James orchestra is on stage at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. They have a new singer - a 23-year old boy vocalist who signed with the band a few days earlier - and he steps to the microphone to sing...

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Love's Been Good To Me

ImageThe other day I was reading, strictly for pleasure, The Complete Lyrics Of Johnny Mercer, and in particular the work of his somewhat frustrating final years. And a handful of pages before the end you turn the page, and from one of those projects that never came to fruition are a couple of songs bearing the credit "Words and music by Johnny Mercer and Rod McKuen".

My God, what was he thinking?

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The One I Love (Belongs To Somebody Else)

We're spending this weekend with the Isham Jones/Gus Kahn end of the Sinatra songbook. Following "It Had To Be You" on Friday, here's a song Frank sang for almost half-a-century from June of 1940, as the new boy vocalist with a hit orchestra, to deep into the 1980s, as a lion in winter jumpin' all over a hard-swingin' band...

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It Had To Be You

An ĂĽber-standard everyone sang before Frank

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After You've Gone

A song as old as Sinatra that he only got to in the Eighties

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Home on the Range

I received a letter, as I do from time to time and particularly since we launched this series, making the familiar complaint that I "only write about the kind of songs Frank Sinatra sings" and thereby ignore the older, vernacular American musical tradition. Well, I happen to think Frank chose pretty good songs, so why kick the habit? For example, here's a ring-a-ding-ding Sinatra classic he recorded in 1946:

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam
And the deer and the antelope play...

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The Song Is You

It's often said that the pop songs you like when you're 17 years old are the pop songs that stay with you your entire life. And in that respect Frank Sinatra was very fortunate: When he was 17, to pick up where we left off last week, it was a very good year. The songs in the air as a Hoboken schoolboy prepared to start his adult life were the songs he would record a quarter-century later and still be singing on stage, at Caesars' Palace and the Royal Albert Hall, another quarter-century beyond that...

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It Was A Very Good Year

Our Sinatra Song of the Century Number One

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Auld Lang Syne

This essay is adapted from Mark's book A Song For The Season

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Morning Train (Nine To Five)

I love the Great American Train Song. It's a genre that has the sweep and size of the nation...

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It's the End of the World as We Know It

After "Cat Scratch Fever", Mister Squaresville goes in search of other rockers to cover

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The Quality of Mercer

A musical moment from The [Un]documented Mark Steyn

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Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead

This month marks the 75th anniversary of one of the greatest and most enduring film musicals ever made, and one of the few to match the dramatic ambition of the best Broadway shows. The Wizard Of Oz gave us a standard song that won the Oscar that year and was potent enough to provide Eva Cassidy with a posthumous hit in the 21st century. We'll get to that next week, but for this week's Song of the Week here's one of my personal favorites from a truly marvelous score: Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead Which old witch? The wicked witch! Ding-dong! The wicked witch is dead... If you associate those lines not with Munchkins but with layabout lefties, you're probably British. In early 2013, that was the bestselling song at Amazon UK and at iTunes. ...

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They Didn't Believe Me

When this weekly feature began eight and a half years ago, our Song of the Week Number One was "San Francisco", to mark the centenary of the 1906 earthquake. But, if I'd been thinking about a Number One song in more profound terms, our Number One song would have been the song we're finally getting round to almost a decade later - because this week's song was really the Number One song for an entire school of songs. As Mel Tormé put it, when Jerome Kern composed this melody, he "invented the popular song". If your idea of a popular song is "Call Me Maybe" or "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" or "The Tennesee Waltz", Tormé's claim is a bit of a stretch. But it's not unreasonable to claim that with this tune Kern invented what we now call the American Songbook - standards that endure across the decades and can be sung and played in almost any style. It is, thus, the Number One Song, the first and most influential entry in that American Songbook...

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(I'm In Love With) A Wonderful Guy

A few weeks back, apropos "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", I mentioned that we hadn't done a lot of "month" songs in the years we've been running this feature. Some months - mostly spring ("April Showers", "April In Paris") and fall ("September Song", "September In The Rain") - seem to lend themselves to musicalization. If "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" is about as big a hit title as the sixth month of the year has ever produced, the eighth (which looms this very week) can't even manage a title at all. In the Seventies, Neil Diamond had a monster album called Hot August Night, with him doing what I recall as a denimed and vaguely pelvic thrust on the cover. But, unless I'm mistaken, Hot August Night doesn't actually include a song called ...

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Cinderella Rockefella

What with all the Jew-hate around on the streets of Europe in recent days, I thought it would be nice to have a big Europop hit from that fleeting cultural moment when the Continentals regarded Israel not merely as a normal sovereign state but in fact a rather cool and enviable one...

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Put On A Happy Face

Some musical advice from Mark's graduation season

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Nessun dorma

The all-time great World Cup song

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Georgia On My Mind

Steyn celebrates the song Ray Charles used to hum in the back of his car on the way to the gig - until one day his driver told him to record it.

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June Is Bustin' Out All Over

Well, it's the beginning of June and that means June is bustin' out all over! Except that June doesn't really bust, does it..?

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Yesterday When I Was Young/She

Ninety years ago this Thursday a baby boy was born in Paris ...well, that was the first unexpected plot twist. He was supposed to be born in America...

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My Lady Nicotine

Mark explores the art of the cigarette song

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Tea For Two

One of the biggest pop standards of the 20th century celebrates its 90th birthday this month. Exactly nine decades ago - April 21st 1924 - a new musical comedy opened in Chicago on its pre-Broadway tour. The plot was the usual fluff - three couples in Atlantic City, complications ensue, etc. It should have been a breeze, but it wasn't going well...

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Rock Around The Clock

Six decades ago - April 12th 1954 - a chubby-faced kiss-curled man pushing 30 with a backing group named after a theory published in Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae in 1705 went into the recording studio at the Pythian Temple on West 70th Street in New York and sang a song written by a man born in the 19th century...

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Blue Moon

A Rodgers & Hart classic - after three false starts...

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Till There Was You

The 50th anniversary of the Beatles' only showtune

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On The Good Ship Lollipop/Animal Crackers In My Soup

Shirley Temple - singer, dancer, actress, and rock'n'roller

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Almost Like Being In Love

A song for Groundhog Day?

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The Lion Sleeps Tonight

This column comes by way of request from several readers, ever since the demise of Cecil the Lion hit the front pages. Here is the story of the biggest hit ever to come out of Africa - and why its author never reaped the benefits: In the jungle, the mighty jungle The Lion Sleeps Tonight... A third of a century ago, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" got to Number One in Britain for Tight Fit. Can't quite place Tight Fit? It sounds like a vaguely parodic name for a boy band, but in fact they were a coed combo - one boy, two girls, a male model and two female dancers, hired as a photogenic front after the record had already been made. The girls had failed to make the cut at an audition for the more successfully contrived group, Bucks Fizz, and were ...

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Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Number One in January 1934 ...and January 1959

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What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Happy New Year with one of Mark's favorite songs for the season

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Camelot

On the centenary of the birth of John F Kennedy, Mark tells the story of how a Broadway musical became a key part of the President's posthumous mythology

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Ain't That A Kick - Sammy Cahn All The Way

2015 is Frank Sinatra's centenary year, which necessitates a few modifications to SteynOnline's music, film and entertainment coverage. Our official observances commence tomorrow when our Song of the Week department becomes a Song of the Semi-Week in order to squeeze in 100 Sinatra songs of the century between now and December. Several other folk seem to have opted for this approach, too - our old friend the Pundette has launched a dedicated Sinatra Centenary site for that very purpose - so we hope you'll have lots of finicky fun nitpicking through competing hit parades and demanding to know why this or that song hasn't made the list. Don't worry, we'll still make space for other musical content this year, not least because I need to come ...

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Light My Fire

How a psychedelic anthem from the summer of love became an easy-listening blockbuster

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What A Diff'rence A Day Made

A day late for Cinco de Mayo, here's Steyn's Song of the Week: the most successful composition by Mexico's first successful female composer.

~and don't forget, if you like Mark's Song of the Week essays, some of his most requested are collected in his book A Song For The Season - including many songs for national days, from "America The Beautiful" to "Waltzing Matilda". You can order your personally autographed copy exclusively from the SteynOnline bookstore.

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The Sheik of Araby

April 29th apparently marks the anniversary of the launch of the Islamic conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the year 711. So I thought it would be fun to have a suitably Islamo-dominant number for our Song of the Week.

~and don't forget, some of Mark's most popular Song of the Week essays are collected in his book A Song For The Season. You can order your personally autographed copy exclusively from the SteynOnline bookstore.

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Easter Parade

Here's a special Steyn podcast on the most famous pop hit about Easter and its (sort of) centenary...

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