From The Mark Steyn Show, a valentine to one of the great iconic love songs:
Singer/pianist Carol Welsman comes from a very musical family (her grandfather was a founder of the Toronto Symphony), but she has a style all her own. Mark has always liked her version of "As Time Goes By" (from Carol's marvelous Benny Goodman album) and invited her along to recreate the song live on the show, with Michel Berthiaume on drums and Mathieu McConnell-Enright on bass. Click to enjoy:
As for Mark's tease about Carol's second great love song, stay tuned! And, if you're interested to know more about Herman Hupfeld and "As Time Goes By", here's Mark's essay on the song from his book A Song For The Season:
Back in my disc-jockey days, this was one of those verses I liked to use to stump listeners for "Beat The Intro"-type competitions:
This day and age we're living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension
Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr Einstein's theory
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax, relieve the tension...
Einstein's theory? Fourth dimension? ("Third dimension" in the original lyric, which suggests an even shakier grasp of scientific advance.) What the hell's that all about? And on it goes:
No matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed...
And then the chorus kicks in:
You must remember this...
And the minute you hit those first four words you can almost hear the audience sighing in contentment.
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh...
But not always, not when it's a sigh of sheer pleasure at the opening bars of one of the great signature love songs of the 20th century. It proves its own assertion – it's become one of those fundamental things that do indeed apply as time goes by. Rod Stewart uses it as the title for one of his karaoke croaks through the Great American Songbook, and for a duet with Queen Latifah, to boot; Clint Eastwood plays it very playfully to Rene Russo in In The Line Of Fire; Sleepless In Seattle opens with it, but sung by Jimmy Durante, as Nora Ephron's way of signaling we don't want to get too portentous and reverent and iconic about one little pop song, even as she attempts to deflect a little of its luster her way. Gordon Jenkins arranged it for Durante; he also arranged it a few years later for Harry Nilsson, which gives you some idea of the range of performers who've recorded it. Not bad for a song Dooley Wilson claimed not even to remember when Ingrid Bergman first asked him to "play it" in Casablanca. And, when he feigned ignorance, she hummed it for him, very Swedishly. It was "their song" – Rick and Ilsa's – in the movie and it seemed no big deal at the time, but as this week's feature at the Roxy faded into history and became a period piece Rick and Ilsa's song became the "our song" to end all "our songs", the one that sums up all the aspirational power of popular song, the one that makes you want to find a love as enduring as the song, and worthy of it.
"As Time Goes By" was officially born not in Casablanca, with Sam playing it again for Bogey and Bergman, but in a Broadway show. Everybody's Welcome opened at the Shubert on October 13th 1931. And as my old friend Sammy Fain liked to recall, "Everybody's Welcome. But nobody came."
Fain was the show's composer, and it wasn't exactly his finest hour. Don't worry, he left for Hollywood and cleaned up with "I'll Be Seeing You" (Bill and Monica's song, according to the Starr Report) and "Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing" and much more. Everybody's Welcome was a pedestrian adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's play Up Pops The Devil, about a writer with a severe block who agrees that the time has come for the little missus to be the breadwinner while he stays home and keeps house. The same plot subsequently serviced the film Thanks For The Memory, with Bob Hope and Shirley Ross. On stage at the Shubert, the househubby was Oscar Shaw (a bit of a stiff, he was the straight man to the Marx Brothers in The Cocoanuts) and the working wifey was Harriette Lake (who hit the big time in movies under the name Ann Sothern). But there were all kinds of other folks in it, including the Ritz Brothers, and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey in the pit. And at one point during the evening Frances Williams came out and sang for the first time:
You must remember this...
And when the show folded nobody did remember it. "As Time Goes By" wasn't written by Sammy Fain. It was an interpolation by Herman Hupfeld, and after Everybody's Welcome flopped even he barely remembered it. Dodo Hupfeld was one of those peripheral men about Broadway who placed a song here and a song there over the years without ever becoming a big name. He had "Two Quick Quackers" in Ziegfeld's 9 O'Clock Frolic Of 1921 and "A Hut In Hoboken" in the 1929 Little Show and "Two-Gat Gertie" in The Nine-Fifteen Revue. In the early Thirties, his biggest hits were the charm song "Let's Put Out The Lights And Go To Sleep" and the maddeningly catchy "When Yuba Plays The Rhumba On The Tuba", plus "Sing Something Simple", which was used by the Cliff Adams Singers as their theme song on Sunday afternoons on the BBC Light Programme and Radio 2 for over four decades until Cliff's death in 2001. (They sang it somewhat lugubriously, I felt. When I hear it in my mind's ear, it's always four o'clock on a November Sunday afternoon, and dark already.)
I said nobody remembered "As Time Goes By". But that's not strictly true. One man did. His name was Murray Burnett and in 1931, an undergraduate at Cornell, he chanced to go to Everybody's Welcome and fell in love with "As Time Goes By". Nine years later, he and Joan Allison were working on a play called Everybody Comes To Rick's. "Rick's" was Rick's Café Americain, a fictional establishment loosely based on La Belle Aurore, a nightclub on the Côte d'Azur Burnett had visited in 1938. Quite a joint. The eve of war in Europe, but customers of all nationalities, including both French and German officers, sat around listening to a black pianist and singer perform great love songs. Some say Burnett even got the guy to play "As Time Goes By". But the point is that, long before there was Casablanca or a plot or Captain Renault or Victor Laszlo or anybody else, there was a bar and a piano and a singer. That was why Burnett wanted to write the play, and he had the perfect song for it.
Aside from the fact that he'd always liked it, it's certainly true that the geopolitical scene had enlarged "As Time Goes By" in ways Herman Hupfeld couldn't have foreseen in 1931. You'll recall the composer's theme was that whatever scientific and technological progress we make – "speed and new invention... Mr Einstein's theory" – the fundamental things will always apply:
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate...
In Europe in the late Thirties, passion, jealousy and hate were making quite the comeback. The fundamental things apply as time goes by: That's worth keeping in mind today as well.
If Everybody's Welcome didn't exactly set the stage afire, Everybody Comes To Rick's didn't even get that far. Burnett and Allison couldn't get anyone to produce the play, and so eventually they sold it to Warner Brothers for 20,000 bucks. That was more money than Burnett got for anything, and he never wrote another thing anyone took any notice of. But he's the man responsible for putting "As Time Goes By" in Casablanca, and in large part for keeping it there: it was the one point he insisted on. In Burnett's script, Rick didn't say "Play it again, Sam", or even "Play it. If she can stand it, I can". What he said was: "Play it, you bastard!"
Warner Brothers didn't care much. Their music publishing subsidiary happened to own the rights to the song, so playing it wouldn't cost the bastards anything and, if it was a problem later, it could be dealt with when Burnett was off the lot. Three more polished movie writers – Howard Koch and Julius and Phillip Epstein - came in to work on Burnett and Allison's outline and it started to take shape as the Casablanca we know and love today.
Up to a point. The producer Hal Wallis had been to hear Hazel Scott at Café Society in Greenwich Village and thought it'd be great to get her in the picture: How about instead of saying "Play it, Sam", Rick and Ilsa said, "Play it, Samantha"? Well, Miss Scott didn't pan out, and so Dooley Wilson was brought over from Paramount to play Sam, and only after the contract was signed did they discover that he wasn't a pianist: never mind "Play it again", he couldn't even play it the first time. He wasn't much of a singer, either. But they dubbed the piano playing and decided to leave in his swooping tenor. Hey, what difference did it make?
Max Steiner, one of the great glories of American movie music, came on board to compose the incidental score and decided "As Time Goes By" was too insipid to carry the dramatic burden placed upon it. So he persuaded the producer, Hal Wallis, to let him write a replacement song. But Michael Curtiz had finished shooting by then and Ingrid Bergman had already moved on to her next picture, For Whom The Bell Tolls, which she considered far more important than Casablanca. For one thing, it required her to get her hair cut short, which she had done. To re-shoot the song in Casablanca would oblige Warner Brothers to have a matching wig made for Miss Bergman. Hal Wallis didn't think it was worth the expense. "'As Time Goes By' stays," he told Max Steiner.
It was his orchestrator, Hugo Friedhofer, who persuaded Steiner of the tune's merits, convincing him so thoroughly that the composer used it to bind the entire picture together. He plays it major, minor, fast, slow, joyous, tragic, carefree, brooding, big and soaring, sweet and intimate. In fact, it's used ingeniously, to tell us all the things Rick and Ilsa aren't saying: the theme is the first indication both that they once had a love, and that they're still in love. Thank God for cheese-paring over the wig budget.
Friedhofer was right, but Steiner wasn't necessarily wrong. "As Time Goes By" is a conventional (more or less) A-A-B-A 32-bar song of no particular harmonic interest, which is why there are so few jazz instrumental versions. But it has great melodic strength and even greater philosophical power. It proceeds step-wise, ascending through the first half of each section and coming down for the title phrase, rueful and reflective. And the middle section surges with passion:
Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny...
I can't resist, though, pointing out a small flaw, all the more surprising from a composer/lyricist:
You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh...
There's no musical difference between "still a kiss" and "just a sigh", even though the lyric is clearly drawing a distinction. That's why newspaper headline writers always misquote the song: "A Kiss Is Just A Kiss". And why blame them? Even in the film itself, Dooley Wilson manages to mangle the lyric and sing "a kiss is just a kiss".
Having blown his first chance at a hit in 1931, Herman Hupfeld nearly lost the song all over again 11 years later. Casablanca opened during the famous musicians' strike, which meant that pop records were having to do without instruments: it was all voices and choral backgrounds, and for a song so specifically linked with the sound of a nightclub piano that was a bit of a problem. Dooley Wilson's version didn't chart until it cracked the British hit parade in the 1970s, and then it was just a slab of the film soundtrack complete with Bergman's Swedish hum and Bogart cutting off the first chorus with "Sam, I told you never to play that!" before returning after some Max Steiner sturm und drang to demand of his pianist: "You know what I want to hear. You played it for her, you can play it for me. If she can stand it, I can!"
And for a while, as time went by, "As Time Goes By" seemed too precisely tied to the picture. Woody Allen wrote a play called Play It Again, Sam, and Tony Bennett recorded a song called "Play It Again, Sam", and John Pizzarelli did one called "Here's Looking At You, Kid". And it seemed as if "As Time Goes By" was so embedded in the mythic status of Casablanca it would never wiggle free.
But it did. As Rick noted, the problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But give 'em the right song and those two little people and their love are as big as anything. "As Time Goes By" has become the apotheosis of a certain kind of song and a certain idea of love. I'm often told that the standards of the Great American Songbook will fade away. I doubt it. But, even if they do, even if by 2050 or 2100 no one's singing them, then this one will be among the very last to die. As Dooley Wilson sings:
The world will always welcome lovers
As Time Goes By...
Still don't buy it? Check out "Unruly Hare", in which Bugs Bunny, after singing "Woman needs man/And man must have his mate...", shoots a sly aside to the camera:
Ain't that the truth.
~The above is adapted from Mark's book A Song For The Season. Order your personally autographed copy exclusively from the Steyn Store.
~Join Mark later this week for a personal reminiscence on Chuck Berry. And there's more from Steyn's Song of the Week:
#292: Don Black reminisces about "Born Free", with Robert Davi
#291: Tim Rice recalls "A Winter's Tale", with Emma Kershaw
#290: Patsy Gallant sings "La Vie en rose"
#289: The Klezmer Conservatory Band perform "Dance Me To The End Of Love"
#288: Cheryl Bentyne sings "This Masquerade"
#287: Maria Muldaur sings "Aba Daba Honeymoon"
#286: Mark asks "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"
#285: Anthony Kearns sings "The Wexford Carol"
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