The Glory of Love

We're honored to present another live-performance edition of Mark's Song of the Week:

If you saw singer/pianist Carol Welsman do "As Time Goes By" as our Sunday song a few weeks back, you'll know that she can freshen up the most familiar standard. So we're thrilled to have Carol back with her splendid arrangement of "The Glory of Love", accompanied by the Steyn house band. And do scroll down for Mark's own take on this enduring, indestructible song.

To enjoy Carol Welsman's live performance, simply click below:

Carol Welsman was accompanied by Michel Berthiaume, drums; Jon Geary, guitar; Mathieu McConnell-Enright, bass; and Jean-Pierre Zanella, soprano sax.

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We're not transcribing Carol's performance into print, because we don't think that would do it justice. But, if you're in the mood for a block of text, here's Mark telling the story of "The Glory of Love":

Billy Hill was a mercurial talent who successfully self-destructed after several efforts. Yet eight decades ago he gave us one great, enduring love song:

You've got to laugh a little, cry a little
Before the clouds roll by a little
That's the story of
That's The Glory Of Love...

In the Forties, the Andrews Sisters harmonized it; in the Fifties, Peggy Lee swung it. In the early years of rock'n'roll, every male vocal group doowopped it ever more melodramatically - the Platters, the Dells, the Cleftones, the Velvetones, the Orioles, Jordan & the Fascinations, Dante & the Evergreens, the Four Knights, the Five Satins, and most successfully the Five Keys. Dino gave it his ballad-with-a-beat treatment, Big Bill Broonzy made it bluesy, Otis Redding made it soulful, Prince Buster reggaefied it, Nina Simone poppified it, Eddy Arnold countrified it, and Regis Philbin regified it in a very philbinic way. In the Sixties, Jacqueline Fontaine sang it as the theme of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?; in the Seventies, Lew Stone's very British dance band version was a signature sound of Dennis Potter's "Pennies From Heaven" mini-series on the BBC; and in the Eighties, Bette Midler exhaled it very breathily in the film Beaches.

But it all began eighty-one years ago: "The Glory Of Love" was brand new and Number One on the hit parade, in a recording by Benny Goodman with a terrific vocal by Helen Ward. There's "Land Of Hope And Glory" and "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" in "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic", but, with the notable exception of "It's still the same old story/A fight for love and glory" in "As Time Goes By" (also sung by Carol Welsman here), it's not a word that turns up in a lot of love songs. In the Eighties, when Peter Cetera appropriated the "Glory Of Love" title for a power ballad, the resulting boilerplate bombast underlined how unusual the word's use is in the earlier song. It's an oddity, from a man who was himself an oddity.

I have before me a song folio from the Thirties, Billy Hill's American Home Songs. For "home", read somewhere out there under western skies: "The West, A Nest And You", to quote one of his earliest songs; "Rock Me To Sleep In My Rocky Mountain Home", to quote another; also, "There's A Cabin In The Pines", and "There's A Wild Rose That Grows On The Side Of The Hill". He wrote songs about life and love gone awry - "The Wedding Gown That Nellie Never Wore" - and lumber gone awry: "They Cut Down The Old Pine Tree". The old pine tree, like "The Old Spinning Wheel" and the "Little Black Shawl", was old even when he first wrote the songs in the 1930s. Billy Hill worked in genres that had peaked a quarter-century before his career got going: He wrote old-fashioned mother songs ("Just An Old-Fashioned Mother") and train songs ("The Westbound Freight") and death songs ("Little Old Buryin' Ground") and death-on-the-train songs ("There's A Little Box Of Pine On The 7.29").

"The West, A Nest And You"? "The Oregon Trail"? "Moonlight On The Colorado"? "There's A Home In Wyomin'"? So Billy Hill was a western songsmith? Not really. In fact, he had the kind of background that would have been entirely normal for a man about the music business in New York: A little bit classical, little bit Jewish. He was born in Boston in 1899, the son of a wandering sea captain and an immigrant mom from a Jewish family in Latvia. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and played violin in the Boston Symphony. He was set for a career in classical music, but on his first trip out west at the age of 17 he had heard "The Call Of The Canyon" (as he would later put it) and so, instead of playing with the Symphony, he spent a decade-and-a-half as a cowpuncher in Montana, a timekeeper at a mining camp in Death Valley, and a dishwasher at roadhouses across the map. The west was wild in those days, and Billy Hill figured he could use a good woman. He walked into a hotel lobby and spotted one. So he asked her to marry him. She was an out-of-work showgirl called Dedette Walker, and she laughed at him. So he asked her again, and explained that he was on his way to New York to become a big-time Tin Pan Alleyman. She figured why not? They got married, and headed to Yuma for the honeymoon. But his Model T blew all four tires and they spent their wedding night in a ditch on the side of an Arizona highway. That's the story of, that's the glory of love?

Hey, whatever works. Stuck in the ditch with his bride, he sat up all night and wrote what would become his first published song, "The West, A Nest And You". There was no "country-&-western" category in those days. The East Coast publishers called it hillbilly music, and Billy Hill had no desire to find himself the very personification of the genre: "Hill, Billy, writer of hillbilly songs." So he wrote them under the name "George Brown" and, being a very poor businessman, he often sold them outright, for ten bucks a piece.

It's hard to be Irving Berlin when you're that stupid. So he got to New York, wrote a lot of songs, and wound up working as the doorman at the Essex Hotel on Fifth Avenue. Nobody needed Dedette's showgirl skills on Broadway. They couldn't pay the rent, the gas got cut off in their flat, they had a baby on the way and the hospital refused to admit Dedette to the maternity ward until Billy managed to rustle up some money. By the time he had, she'd given birth to his daughter in the hospital elevator.

And then, after a decade of ten-buck songs, he had his hit. It was 1933, and he turned a distant memory of a long-dead cowboy into a song called "The Last Round-Up". Eight decades on, it comes over as near parodic:

I'm headin' for The Last Round-Up
Gonna saddle ol' Paint for the last time...

And of course:

Git along
Little dogie
Git along
Git along
Little dogie
Git along
Git along
Little dogie
Git along...

But it was fresh and new in the early Thirties. When Joe Morrison introduced it with George Olsen's orchestra at the Paramount Theatre, audiences were moved to tears. Olsen's record took the song to Number One, and then Gene Autry and Bing Crosby picked it up. Working on Porgy And Bess down at Folly Beach, South Carolina, George Gershwin was sent a copy of the song and liked it so much he invited Billy Hill to perform it on his Sunday-night radio show. And then "The Last Round-Up" wound up, amid all the feathered showgirls, in The Ziegfeld Follies. A "live" recording of the 1934 edition was made, and so you can experience the Howard Brothers singing "The Last Round-Up" pretty much as Broadway audiences heard it for the first time.

It was almost just another near-miss for Billy Hill in those first grim months of 1933. He had a newborn baby, an unheated flat, and he considered selling the song outright for $25. But he had a friend and patron in Gene Buck. A sheet music cover painter in the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, Buck had become a mediocre lyricist ("Daddy Has A Sweetheart And Mother Is Her Name") and then a very effective president of the songwriters' collection agency Ascap. He liked Hill's work and, in the case of "The Last Round-Up", he personally loaned him $200 until he could get the song placed with a reputable publisher. He succeeded. Billy Hill was signed to Shapiro Bernstein, and The Ziegfeld Follies snapped up a second song - "Wagon Wheels", written with Peter DeRose, composer of the Steyn Christmas sensation, "A Marshmallow World". The royalties rolled in like wagon wheels, Billy Hill quit his job as hotel doorman at the Essex and moved into another hotel - the Park Plaza on 57th.

DeRose was a marvelous composer, so I assume he contributed most of the tune on his collaborations with Hill and the latter stuck mainly to lyrics. As I said, his songs were old-fashioned at the point of creation. In 1936, he wrote two numbers that have lasted over the decades. The first, "In The Chapel In The Moonlight", is typical Billy Hill: A fragrantly nostalgic parlor song that sounded dated at the time, and perhaps for that very reason has never dated at all. At any rate, when acts as various as the Four Aces, Kitty Kallen, Dean Martin and the heavy metal band Celtic Frost have been in the market for something with the faintly over-ripe whiff of yesteryear, "In The Chapel In The Moonlight" has done the trick just fine.

But "The Glory Of Love" is in another category entirely. He wrote words and music, and it's the best tune he ever composed. Indeed, it's a perfect 32-bar pop song. Lyrically, its main theme follows the simplest structure:

You've got to give a little, take a little
And let your poor heart break a little
That's the story of
That's The Glory Of Love...

Apparently, the story and the glory of love is a little of this, and a little of that: A little give, a little take, a little heartbreak, a little laughing, a little crying, a little winning, a little losing. That's it. And Hill sets his four-note descending "little" phrase - "give a little", "take a little", "break a little" - a step up each time. The fill phrase - "And let your poor heart" - is all on the same note as "break", and the title phrase - "story of"/"glory of" - is another repetition, but this time a step down. It's about the simplest song you could devise and yet it works brilliantly:

You've got to laugh a little, cry a little
Until the clouds roll by a little
That's the story of
That's The Glory Of Love...

And then for the middle eight he comes up with a wonderful contrast with the main theme yet one which fits it perfectly:

As long as there's the two of us
We've got the world and all its charms
And when the world is through with us
We've got each other's arms...

"Two of us" doesn't really rhyme with "through with us". As Ira Gershwin would have pointed out, strictly speaking "two of us" should be paired with "through of us". But it's like Ray Noble's rhymes in "The Very Thought Of You" - "thought of you"/"ought to do", "daydream"/"may seem", "idea of you"/"here for you"/"near to you": Technically speaking, he's playing fast and loose, but the overall effect is hard to object to. In fact, I'd say "The Glory Of Love" is a slightly lesser example of the same phenomenon as "The Very Thought Of You": A first-rank standard - an uber-standard in the case of "Thought", but getting there in the case of "Glory" - that's head and shoulders above anything else its author ever wrote.

And then for the final section Hill returns to:

You've got to win a little, lose a little
And always have the blues a little
That's the story of
That's The Glory Of Love...

It's easier to sing it than to live it. Billy and Dedette had had the blues a lot, and lost a lot, but they were now winning. They were also drinking, heavily. Dedette had also taken to writing songs: She collaborated with the great Willard Robison on a fine song called "Old Folks", and with Carmen Lombardo and Johnny Marks (the "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" man) on "Address Unknown". You've got to give a little, take a little, but they'd given so much through a long rough decade and a half. In 1939, Billy and Dedette separated.

That year he and Peter DeRose wrote "On A Little Street In Singapore". I'm always trying to persuade Jessica Martin (whose dad came from Singapore) to record the song. It's best known through the Manhattan Transfer's hit single of 1978, but back in 1939, Hill and DeRose placed it with the Harry James band and their up-and-coming vocalist Frank Sinatra. By 1940, Sinatra was with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and singing what would prove to be Billy Hill's last hit song, "The Call Of The Canyon". On September 24th that year, at the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco, Ascap mounted the all-time greatest "And then I wrote..." evening, featuring dozens of its top songwriters from across their generations performing their most beloved compositions: Albert von Tilzer sang his "Take Me Out To The Ball Game", George M Cohan belted out "Yankee Doodle Dandy", Jerome Kern played "Old Man River", Harold Arlen accompanied Judy Garland on "Over The Rainbow", W C Handy played cornet on "St Louis Blues", Hoagy Carmichael sang "Stardust" and Arthur Freed "Singin' In The Rain", and Irving Berlin rounded out the evening with "God Bless America".

But Billy Hill was there, too. The master of ceremonies was his old friend Gene Buck, who introduced Hill as "a big tall lumbering shy guy who will coo for you a song which I personally consider the greatest western cowboy folk tune ever written". Hill walked out and sang in simple fashion "The Last Round-Up". That was Buck's only mistake: They should have had him do "The Glory Of Love".

Exactly three months later, on Christmas Eve 1940, a horribly sick Billy Hill died in a Boston hotel room. He was 41. He never heard Patti Page or Count Basie or Bette Midler or any of those doowop guys or the r'n'b and reggae fellows do "The Glory Of Love". He never knew the song would survive and prosper in musical genres that barely existed in 1936. Almost everything else in his catalogue - the pine trees, the pine coffins, the moonlight in the pines - can only be treated in western style, but "The Glory Of Love" is the archetypal standard, a universal sentiment you can express in ballad style, rock'n'roll, bossa nova, ska and heavy metal. Billy Hill wrote it, and in his own way he lived it. Symphony violinist, cowpuncher, dishwasher, hotel doorman, hit songwriter, he laughed a little, cried a little, and then the clouds rolled by. That's the story of the guy who wrote "The Glory Of Love".

If you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club, feel free to weigh in on Carol's performance or Mark's backstory in our comments section below. For more on The Mark Steyn Club, see here.

There's more live music from Steyn's Song of the Week:

#297: Robert Davi swings "At Long Last Love"

#295: Cheryl Bentyne sings "The Meaning of the Blues"

#294: Tal Bachman performs "I'll Never Smile Again"

#293: Carol Welsman sings and plays "As Time Goes By"

#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"