Musick for a Royal romance - that's "musick" as in Master of the Queen's Musick and Handel's Musick for the Royal Fireworks, although it may also accurately convey the effect the last week's torrent of Royal Wedding gush has had on you. I can't say I've exactly got Royal Wedding fever, but I did think it worth strolling down Memory Lane in search of a soundtrack for Royal courtship.
There is, of course, a lot of "official" Royal music. In fact, the new Duke of Sussex can claim to be one of the very few people in human history to have had songs written about him upon the very moment of his birth - specifically speaking, the cycle Songs for a Royal Baby was written by the genial Aussie composer Malcolm Williamson (then Master of the Queen's Musick and a chap I once shared a telly sofa with long ago) for Prince Harry's entry into this world. His late mother these days is best known in popular song through "Candle In The Wind/Goodbye, England's Rose" (our Song of the Week #69, gulp), but it was a different story in 1981, when there were many novelty numbers inspired by the betrothal of HRH The Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer. I'm happy to say I cannot recall any of them except the chorus of a splendidly rousing ditty by the legendary morning man at 2SM in Sydney, Ian Macrae, and his sidekick the Hon Nick Jones:
And Lady Di Di Di
Said stick it in your eye
The only man I'm going to marry
Is Prince Charl-eye...
It made the UK, Aussie and a few other Commonwealth hit parades in 1981, and earned Macca and Hon Nick a ticket to the imperial metropolis to cover the Royal nuptials. I am amazed to discover that, in the age of Google, it has all but entirely vanished off the face of the earth. As you can hear on last week's Mother's Day audio special, wax cylinders from the earliest days of recorded sound are easier to turn up than "The Ballad Of Lady Di". It came out on the very cool punk label Stiff, but in the mere blink of an instant has apparently been placed beyond the joys of digital remastering. My memory of the verses between that catchy chorus is that they were a more pedestrian affair. The only one I can recall is the opener:
Down among the upper crust
Lord Spencer had a thought
I'll marry off me daughter Di
That should amuse the court
So he placed an ad in The Sunday Times
And one on the castle gate
It read, 'Come and have tea
With Di and me
'Cause it's time she had a mate'
And Lady Di Di Di
Said stick it in your eye...
Okay, after another ten minutes of Googling, here it is - the Hon Nick Jones and Ian Macrae and the sound of Royal romance in 1981:
So much for musicalizing the courtship of Prince Harry's mum and dad. Three decades earlier, his grandparents' marriage provided the title for an MGM musical by a far more eminent writing team than two Sydney disc-jockeys. Royal Wedding has a score by Burton Lane, composer of our Sinatra Song of the Century #44 ("How About You?"), and Alan Jay Lerner, lyricist of our Song of the Week #41 ("Almost Like Being In Love"). It wasn't exactly "about" the 1947 marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip, but the film-makers used it as a background for a plot based on a bit of Fred Astaire's family history. In 1931, Fred's sister and dancing partner Adele Astaire had retired from the stage to wed Lord Charles Cavendish, son of the Duke of Devonshire. In the MGM version, Fred's sister and dancing partner was played by Jane Powell and she was wooed around Royal London by a fellow called "Lord John Brindale", played by Peter Lawford. Meanwhile, Astaire's character romanced an English gel, "Anne Ashmond", played by Sarah Churchill, the real-life daughter of the real-life Leader of the Opposition and a real-life guest at the real-life Royal wedding, Winston Churchill.
The film was neither Lane nor Lerner's finest hour. As Alan Jay Lerner said:
Although Burton Lane wrote some spiffy songs and Fred danced in a way that made all superlatives inadequate, my contribution left me in such a state of cringe that I could barely straighten up.
Decades later, I quoted this bleak self-assessment to the film's director, Stanley Donen. "He's right," said Donen. "It made me cringe, too." Nevertheless, the score contains the distinction of having the longest title of any movie song. Motoring to the studio one morning, Lerner said to Lane, "You know how Fred loves to do vaudeville numbers? Why don't we write him a song called something like 'How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life?'"
"Great," said Lane, at the wheel of the car. "And it should have a tune that goes something like this..." And he sang the title phrase.
"Not something like that," said Lerner. "That!"
As Burton Lane explained it to me, the problem was trying to remember the tune for the rest of the commute until he got to MGM and could write it down.
Lane also contributed a wonderfully lilting and quintessentially Astaire melody to which Lerner put a somewhat ordinary travelogue lyric, "You're All The World To Me". The keeper from the film was a rueful intimate ballad called "Too Late Now", subsequently nominated for an Academy Award. "It lost to a song you don't even hear anymore," Lane told me. "In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening", by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. On the other hand, "Too Late Now" grew in popularity over the ensuing half-century into a second-tier semi-standard. My personal favorite from the picture was also the only song in the score explicitly about royal romance. In the plot, Astaire and Jane Powell are starring in a West End hit called Every Night At Seven - the show within the film, as it were. In this number, Astaire is a bored monarch fighting vainly the old ennui. First we meet the ladies of the court:
Your Majesty, what shall we wear to the dance?
LamĂ© or satin or silk?
Sequins or jersey or maybe perchance
That stuff they're making from milk?
To which King Fred responds:
My royal day can be a royal bore
It leaves me colder than a basement floor
The only moment I keep waiting for
Is when the day will be through
I never notice if it's dark or clear
What people say to me I hardly hear
The passing hours are an endless year
Until at last I'm alone with you
At which point Astaire and Jane Powell rise from their thrones and go into their dance:
Ev'ry Night At Seven
You walk in
As fresh as clover
And I begin
To sigh all over
Ev'ry Night At Seven
You come by
Like May returning
And me, oh my
I start in yearning
A long time ago, I hosted a show that began at seven in the evening and commissioned a big swingin' version of Lane's splendid tune for the theme song. I've always loved it - the music, that is. But the lyrical premise isn't strong enough for a love song, nor does it quite hold up as anything else. Still, this is as close as anyone got to a speculative duet for the young Princess Elizabeth and her dashing duke.
The most famous royal romance of the modern age was that of Prince Harry's great-great-uncle Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson. The King-Emperor gave up the throne for "the woman I love", and they spent the rest of their lives as redundant royals wandering the world as high-end Eurotrash. It wasn't exactly a happy ending. "You have no idea," said the Duchess of Windsor late in life, "how hard it is to live out a great romance." Very few songwriters have attempted to capture the Windsors' "great romance", but it turns up en passant among the many namechecks of the era's headlines in every aging starlet's anthem to survival, from Stephen Sondheim's Follies:
I've been through Gandhi
Windsor and Wally's affair
And I'm here
Amos 'n' Andy
Mahjong and platinum hair
And I'm here
I got through Abie's
Five Dionne babies
But no one referred to them as "Windsor and Wally", did they? Sondheim is a grand nitpicker of others, so it seems only reasonable to point out the false tinkle of that line, especially when everything else is right on the money. Poor "Wally". She knew a lot of musical types. When she died, Diana Mosley, one of her last friends during the Windsors' long exile in France, insisted to me that Cole Porter loved her company because in conversation "she always returned the ball". I think I giggled, because it reminded me of the then current rumors about the Duchess' mastery of certain arcane sexual techniques. At any rate, Porter put the Duchess' husband in a lot of songs. In his 1929 show Fifty Million Frenchmen, at the height of the Prince's eligible bachelorhood, he namedropped him at the races:
At Longchamps Today
They're all so busy
They're simply dizzy
Throwing money away
The Prince of Wales is here
And Mabel Boll is here
And that delightful very merry Berry Wall is here...
Mabel Boll was once "Broadway's most beautiful blonde", and the million-dollar bejeweled bride of the Columbian coffee baron Hernando Rocha. Berry Wall was dubbed by The New York American "King of the Dudes" for his spreadeagle-collar shirts. He and his chow Chi-Chi wore matching cravats. How soon all the everybodies who are anybody dwindle down to footnotes. Three years later, for the show The Gay Divorce, Porter devoted the Act Two opener to the Prince of Wales and his potential brides:
From the ladies dining at the Berkeley
To the Lizas tippling in the pubs,
From the girls who frighten
The kippers down at Brighton
To the dowagers rippling in their tubs
From the girls who b'lieve that life is rosy
To their sisters harder to convince
From the gayer set to the glummer set
From the great soubrettes in London's mummer set
To the girls even dumber down in Somerset
They're all in love with the Prince...
Which necessarily invites the question:
So What Will Become Of Our England
When the Prince of Wales finds a wife?
Who's going to dance with our debutantes?
Who's going to worry our maiden aunts?
What will become of our fair sex
When Prince Charming furls his sails?
What Will Become Of Our England?
And what will become of our Prince of Wales?
The song was felt to be a touch disrespectful, so it was dropped from the London production of The Gay Divorce. In fact, if you recall the Duchess of Windsor's plaint about having to live out a great romance, Porter's second chorus cut very near the bone:
As a lover he charms
As a husband he'll bore
As a lover he's devoted
As a husband - no more
As a lover he loves you
As a husband he'll snore
So what will become of our Prince of Wales?
After the abdication, and the King-Emperor's exile, Porter put him in an unpublished song marveling at British resilience in straitened times:
How Do They Do It?
Put on all this swank?
How Do They Do It
Without a penny in the bank?
You've seen the butler
And admired his tails
He's the only British subject
Who still cuts the Prince of Wales...
Droll. Porter's final reference to the Prince of Wales came in his 1953 Broadway hit, Can-Can, in which Claudine (Gwen Verdon) is advised that a dancing career will vastly expand the range of "men you could meet":
Our newly elected President
I hope he isn't impotent
A viscount who's filthy rich
A Rotschild, no matter which
The Nizam of Hyderabad
The Prince of Wales can still be had!
But Can-Can is set in the 1890s so this Prince of Wales is Edward VII - young Prince Harry's great-great-great-grandfather.
There was never a Prince of Wales as popular in his heyday as the man who decayed into the Duke of Windsor. The song that sums up his particular hold on the popular imagination comes not from Cole Porter, who, as one of those everybodies who was anybody, partied with the same set as the Prince. Instead, it comes from the pen of the far lesser known Herbert Farjeon. For the first half of the 20th century, Farjeon was one of those figures that civilized societies produce - a man who does a little bit of everything, not brilliantly but competently and urbanely and amusingly. He produced revues, wrote plays and books, edited Shakespeare, dabbled in criticism and cricket analysis, encouraged younger talent (such as Joyce Grenfell). Everybody in his family did much the same thing. His sister Eleanor Farjeon wrote "Morning Has Broken", famously recorded by Cat Stevens. So if anybody ever asks you what's the connection between Yusuf Islam and Joyce Grenfell, now you know. But, like Eleanor, Herbert also had one big hit song in him. In 1927, he wrote a number about the Prince of Wales' unprecedented popularity whose very title encapsulates the dim but potent glow of proximity to celebrity:
I've Danced With A Man
Who's Danced With A Girl
Who's Danced With The Prince Of Wales.
I'm crazy with excitement
Completely off the rails
And when he said to me
What she said to him
The Prince remarked to her
It was simply grand
He said 'Topping band'!
And she said 'Delightful, sir.'
Those last lines are beautifully written, and get far closer to court life than any of Cole Porter's flashier offerings. "It was simply grand/He said 'Topping band!'" skewers with absolute precision the thrilling banality of royal small talk.
They used it as the theme for the otherwise excellent TV series "Edward and Mrs Simpson" - but, alas, treating Herbert Farjeon's perfect pop trifle as modular furniture, dis-assembling it and shuffling it about to strip it of all its power:
When Edward VIII abandoned his throne, he was succeeded by Prince Harry's great-grandfather. These days George VI is the big Oscar-winning star of The King's Speech, but in 1936 he seemed a very small figure after the klieglight celebrity of his brother. Nobody boasted about dancing with a man who'd danced with a girl who'd danced with the Duke of York. Until her death, Diana Mosley and her sister the Duchess of Devonshire always referred to his consort Elizabeth (later the Queen Mum) as "Cake" because the first time they met her had been at a girl's birthday party and she'd entered the room and squealed that solitary monosyllable at the sight thereof.
"Cake!" "Topping band!" That's pretty much all you need really.
And yet the Duke of Windsor would have made a disastrous king (and was wretched in discharging even the minimal responsibilities of Governor of the Bahamas), while his stuttering brother and his sister-in-law cleaned up the mess. When she died in 2002, I heard an American disc-jockey play a particular song and then add: "Did you know that was the Queen Mother of England's favorite song?"
Well, no, I didn't. As far as I can tell, the deejay got it from the New York tabloids, which reported that, in her recent London concerts, Liza Minnelli had sung it as a tribute to the Queen Mum because it was "one of her favorites". But I'm not surprised. It's a lot of people's favorite song - especially if you happened to find yourself on a railway platform in the early 1940s waving a loved one off to war:
I'll Be Seeing You
In all the old familiar places...
It's one of those tunes that's more than a hit, that somehow distills the mood of an era, as John Schlesinger understood when he used it in Yanks, his 1979 wartime romance starring young Richard Gere, over-sexed, overpaid and over here. It turns out to be not only the Queen Mum's favorite, but Bill and Monica's song, too. If you turn to footnote 707 of the Starr Report, you'll find a letter from Miss Lewinsky to President Clinton:
When I was hiding out in your office, I noticed you had the new Sarah McLachlan CD. I have it, too, and it's wonderful. Whenever I listen to song #5 I think of you. That song and Billie Holiday's version of I'll Be Seeing You are guaranteed to put me to tears when it comes to you!
For the soundtrack of Yanks, Schlesinger had it sung not by Vera Lynn but by Anne Shelton, Britain's other "Forces' Sweetheart". I once asked Sammy Fain, the song's composer, which was his favorite recording, and he reeled off about 40 he enjoyed - country, big band, rhythm'n'blues. But, if you fell in love with it as a wartime ballad, you always hear it in the voices of the day, as the last dance under the glitterball, with some big-band canary up on the stage. A couple of years back, Nancy Franklin wrote a piece for The New Yorker insisting Jo Stafford's was the best version.
Nevertheless, it's not a war song, not really. Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal wrote "I'll Be Seeing You" in 1938, for a Broadway show called Right This Way. The plot is basic boy-meets-girl, but the boy's a foreign correspondent based in Paris and, when he's called back to the States, the girl's left behind. Hence the song:
I'll Be Seeing You
In every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way...
How could it miss? But it did. Right This Way ran 15 performances, which suggests an awful lot of theatergoers never stuck around for the big ballad. "Where's the exit?" "Right this way." The song disappeared, and it took the upending of the world for it to find its raison d'ĂŞtre - in a transformed landscape where parting is a fact of life. The lyrical imagery is unexceptional but in the tune you hear something melancholy and uncertain and even (in the final bars) Mahleresque. That's what made the song in 1943: In war, you can't even bet on ordinariness, on small cafes and parks across the way. Kahal's lyric is a kind of talisman for parted lovers, an accumulation of treasured places where memory lingers. I'll be seeing you...
In that small cafĂ©
The park across the way
The children's carousel
The chestnut tree, the wishing well...
Most couples have done these things - sat in cafĂ©s, walked in parks. But one of the few who almost certainly hadn't were the Queen Mother and King George VI. Even when she and the Duke of York were courting, you'd be unlikely to find a Bowes-Lyon in a Corner House (an English pun: if you're American, don't worry about it). I doubt she ever visited a municipal park except to name it after her husband. Yet the imagery of love songs is a kind of aspirational ordinariness - the ennobling of trivialities - and they speak to princes as well as paupers.
The songwriter has to say it for everyone, for the GIs shipping out tomorrow, and for more specialized scenarios. Like "It Had To Be You" or "The Way You Look Tonight", "I'll Be Seeing You" belongs to a select group of ĂĽber-standards, the ones we'll still be singing even when 90 per cent of the rest have fallen away. The Queen Mother's friend NoĂ«l Coward called it "the potency of cheap music", and how potent it must be to appeal to a Queen-Empress for whom its commonplace imagery is purest fantasy. It turns out you don't have to have done any of those things to recognize your own love in those lines, as the Queen Mum did. Nothing special, nothing dazzling, nothing to warrant Cole Porter putting you in a glittering high-society laundry-list about Longchamps. But a love that endures.
Good luck, Harry and Meghan.
Mark tells the story of many beloved songs - from "Auld Lang Syne" to "White Christmas" - in his book A Song For The Season. Personally autographed copies are exclusively available from the Steyn store - and, if you're a Mark Steyn Club member, don't forget to enter the promo code at checkout to enjoy special Steyn Club member pricing.
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