Thursday, June 30, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Every successful person encounters failure now and then, and this is especially true for song writers. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, one of the greatest songwriting teams of modern times, didn't always come up with a hit. Here's a story of a failure.

In May, 1933, Rodgers and Hart were writing songs for "Hollywood Party", a movie featuring some top stars. They wrote one for Jean Harlow to sing, in which she prays for God's help to become a movie star. The lyric--"Oh Lord, if you're not busy up there, I ask for help with a prayer, so please don't give me the air."The song was registered for copyright in July 1933 and immediately forgotten. In 1934 the two were working on a song for a movie called "Manhattan Melodrama" that starred Clark Gable. Since they liked the melody, Hart wrote new lyrics "Act One: You gulp your coffee and run, into the subway you crowd, don't breathe, it isn't allowed."

The song was cut from the film before its release. It was registered for copyright in March, 1934 and immediately forgotten. The studio then asked for another song for a nightclub sequence in the movie, so again Hart wrote a new lyric--"Oh Lord, I could be good to a lover, but then I always discover, the bad in every man." It was sung my Shirley Ross in blackface in the movie, a big production number, and immediately sank without a trace. By then, Rodgers and Hart were sick of the melody and decided to bury it, but Jack Robbins, the head of MGM's publishing company, thought the melody would work with a new set of romantic lyrics . He persuaded the reluctant writers to give it one more try so Rodgers tweaked the tune and Hart wrote a new lyric and lo and behold, this time they struck gold.

The new/old song became an overnight sensation under the title "Blue Moon" and every major singing star in the music industry recorded it including Frank Sinatra and Billy Holiday, Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, and countless others. Moreover, in addition to becoming a standard in mainstream music, Elvis Presley made it a hit in rock and roll and the Marcels made it a hit in doo-wap. Ultimately it became one of the biggest money making songs that Rodgers and Hart wrote, and as we all know, they wrote a great many. So here are the romantic lyrics that made it a hit on the fourth try.

Blue Moon, You saw me standing alone.
Without a dream in my heart, Without a love of my own.
Blue Moon, You know just what I was there for,
You heard me saying a payer for,
Someone I really could care for.
And then there suddenly appeared before me,
The only one my arms will ever hold,
I heard somebody whisper please adore me,
And when I looked the moon had turned to gold.
Blue Moon, Now I'm no longer alone,
Without a dream in my heart,
Without a love of my own.

Remembering 'Star Dust'

In honor of Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday on Dec. 12, 2015, I updated Harry's 2011 post on this blog by adding this photo and caption, and a link to the song he discusses below, Star Dust. Harry left behind Frank Sinatra books in his library, of course; I kept the one pictured above. He originally wrote this article for his column in the Leisure World apartment community newsletter in Silver Spring, MD.

A funny thing happened in the field of Popular Music on the way to the 21st century. Those of us who grew up in the 20th century, and that includes all of us Creekside residents and all other Leisure World residents as well, have memories of this song. We danced to this melody, we hummed along with it, we mouthed the lyrics whenever we heard it played -- we know this song. In every poll or survey of the most popular songs of the century, Star Dust was always included in the top ten and in most of them it led the list at Number One.

The melody was composed by Hoagy Carmichael in 1927 as a jazz piano interlude, purely instrumental. It was not until about 1929 or 1930 that Mitchell Parrish, that master lyricist, wrote the lyrics that captured the mood so completely. Yet, Star Dust does not follow the traditional format of most popular songs, neither in words nor in music. It is much more complicated. It lends itself to almost every tempo, from fast, syncopated jazz to slow, dreamy ballad. Not many songs can do that successfully.

It has been estimated that there have been at least five hundred formally registered recordings of this song, and nobody knows how many others not registered. It has been translated into some forty languages, too. And, just to clarify, while many publishers list the title as one word, Stardust, the proper, correct title is two words, Star Dust. Every major band, every band that performed for audiences, included Star Dust in its repertoire and every singer recorded it. The most successful recordings were by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore and Lena Horne.

But let's come back to the funny thing. As I said, a funny thing happened. All through the 20th century, Star Dust was without a doubt the most popular song in every poll. Then suddenly, early in the 21st century , the music industry proclaimed that the Number One song of the 20th century was -- ta,ta -- Over the Rainbow. Can you believe it? Now, I like Over the Rainbow, it's a nice song written by Harold Arlen who lived down the street from me in Buffalo, NY, and Judy Garland sang it charmingly in The Wizard of Oz. But I don't care what the music industry proclaims -- it was not the most popular song of the 20th century. Star Dust was.

Sing along with me, those magic words that evoke such romantic memories:

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart,
High up in the sky the little stars climb,
As always reminding me that we're apart.
You wandered down the lane and far away,
Leaving me a song that will not die,
Love is now the star dust of yesterday,
The music of the years gone by.
Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely night
Dreaming of a song. The melody
Haunts my reverie, And I am once again with you
When our love was new, and each kiss an inspiration.
But that was long ago, and now my consolation
Is in the star dust of a song.
Beside a garden wall when stars are bright,
You are in my arms. The nightingale
Tells his fairy tale of Paradise where roses grew.
Tho' I dream in vain, In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody, the memory of love's refrain.

A Success Story

The story of Israel as an independent state on the world scene is a story of success beyond the wildest imagining and one in which Jews everywhere (and Jews are everywhere) can take justifiable pride. Consider what Israel, the 100th smallest country in the world with less than 1000th of the world's population, has accomplished in just 62 years of its current existence as a modern state, backed by 3,300 years of historic connection to its land. Charles Murray, the distinguished social scientist/historian in his book, "Human Accomplishment", focused on the fact that three-tenths of one percent of the world's population that is Jewish has contributed 25 percent of all notable human intellectual accomplishment in modern times. In the first half of the 20th century, he notes, while Jews throughout Europe and the rest of the world faced severe discrimination and legal constraints on their activities, and even despite the Holocaust in which the Germans attempted to exterminate the Jews completely, Jews won 14 percent of the Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature. In the second half of that century, when Jews generally were more free to compete, that figure rose to 29 percent. And, so far in the 21st century, it is up to 32 percent.

In Israel itself, technology is the name of the game. Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other country including the US---109 per 10,000 people. It also has the highest rate of patents filed per capita. It has the highest number of new start-up companies in proportion to its population and in total numbers is second only to the US---3,500, mostly in high-tech. Except for the US and Canada, Israel has the most NASDAQ listed companies. There is no question that Israel has the highest living standards in the entire Middle East and North African region of the world with a per capita income of more than $18,000 per year, even higher than England. Israel's $100 billion economy is larger than all its immediate Arab neighbors combined. Some 25 percent of its workforce holds university degrees, ranking third in the industrialized world, while some 12 percent hold advanced degrees. In proportion to its population, Israel is the largest immigration-absorbing nation in the world, where newcomers arrive seeking religious freedom, economic opportunity and democracy. The fastest growing segment of Israel's population, surprisingly, is not Jewish or Muslim. It is Christians, fleeing Arab persecution in all the surrounding countries to the only country in the Middle East where they can find a safe haven.

Some of the technical advances are having a significant impact on the world. In medicine, for example, Israeli scientists developed the first fully computerized, no-radiation diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer, which will facilitate earlier detection and treatment . An Israeli company developed a computerized system for administering medications, thus eliminating human error from medical treatment, which accounts for so many deaths in US hospitals. Israel developed the first ingestible video camera small enough to fit inside a pill, which can view the small intestine from the inside and help doctors diagnose cancer and digestive disorders. In communications, Motorola's Israeli branch developed the cell phone technology that the whole world uses now. Most of the NT and XP operating systems for personal computers were developed by Microsoft-Israel. The Pentium-4 microprocessor and the Centrino processor were both designed and developed in Israel, as was voice mail technology. We could go on and on, but the point is that this remarkable record of accomplishment has taken place while this small country has been under siege, literally, in a continuous state of war with most of the Arab world, forced to spend an inordinate share of its national treasure on its security needs.