February 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1313

Song of the Day: High Society ("Now You Has Jazz"), written by Cole Porter for this 1956 film, which was a musical version of the "The Philadelphia Story" (1939 play), subsequently made into a 1940 romantic comedy with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn (who starred in the Broadway play), and James Stewart. The musical has an all-star cast as well: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong as himself. Check out this wonderful scene, with Pops offering his "definition" of jazz, by just blowing that great horn, playing and interplaying with Crosby at his best [YouTube link]. For the next few days, we're turning a little attention to Crosby, who contributed so much music to the film score soundtrack of our lives.

February 08, 2016

Song of the Day #1312

Song of the Day: Earthquake ("Main Title"), [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is the classic "disaster film theme" when the genre was hot (as was this film in 1974). For a composer who has mastered virtually every genre, we celebrate his 84th birthday.

February 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1311

Song of the Day: The Monuments Men ("Opening Titles") [YouTube link]. composed by Alexandre Desplat, takes its inspiration from some of those great war films of the 1950s and 1960s. The film is an astonishing tribute to those who recovered and preserved the art looted by the Nazis during World War II. Check it out on YouTube. The big monument today, however, has little to do with such grand history; it is the Trophy that went to the Denver Broncos and their quarterback Peyton Manning, who won Super Bowl 50.

February 06, 2016

Song of the Day #1310

Song of the Day: Paris Holiday ("Nothing in Common") features the music of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, and, by the title, one would think of it as something that could have been a product of one of those Hope-Crosby "Road To . . . " films. And, indeed, it was recorded and released by United Artists as a single by the pair [YouTube link] in February 1958, the same month as this film's release, and with obvious links to the film in its marketing. But this wasn't a "Road To" film and Crosby never appeared in it; the original duet was filmed for the movie by Bob Hope and Martha Hyer but was cut from the final edit. The song was also released in 1958 in a pumped-up Billy May arrangement by Frank Sinatra and Keely Smith [YouTube link]. So here we have a song from the movies that wasn't in the movies.

February 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1309

Song of the Day: Hole in the Head ("High Hopes"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, became a hit for one of the stars of this 1959 Frank Capra comedy, Frank Sinatra, a singer who took up quite a bit of cyber-ink by this writer at the close of 2015. The film's score was written by Nelson Riddle, but it was Miklos Rozsa who took home the Score Gold in 1959. Nevertheless, it was Jimmy and Sammy who walked away with the Oscar for Best Original Song for this hit record. It was one of the few Oscars "Ben-Hur" didn't win that year, having walked away with 11 statuettes that till this day remains a record, tied twice thereafter, but never beaten. The song was later adapted with substitute lyrics in Sinatra's campaign for JFK. Check out the original, the song as heard and seen in the film, and the campaign rendition.

February 04, 2016

Song of the Day #1308

Song of the Day: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner ("The Glory of Love"), with words and music by Billy Hill, was recorded in May 1936, becoming a #1 pop hit by the great clarinetist Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, featuring Helen Ward on vocals [YouTube link; and check out this sweet clip of BG with Ella and Peggy Lee doing the song). Ironically, given the subject matter of our film choice today, it's worth noting that the King of Swing was one of the most heroic musicians of his era, "swinging" a bat at the notion of segregation in jazz, and in music, working with Fletcher Henderson, who wrote wonderful arrangements for BG's big band, and forming an original trio and quartet, which featured two African-Americans, respectively, pianist Teddy Wilson and vibes player Lionel Hampton (and later, the trailblazing guitarist Charlie Christian, who was a featured player in Goodman's Sextet and Big Band). On tour, Goodman refused to play in "Jim Crow" Southern states that required the exclusion of his black musicians. Years later, in 1951, the Five Keys took the song to #1 on the R&B chart [YouTube link]. And it has been recorded by countless artists since, making its way into many films as well, from the 1988 tearjerker, "Beaches" (check out Bette Midler's rendition [YouTube link]), to the 1981 film "Pennies from Heaven" and the 2009 horror film, "Orphan." But no film used this song to greater effect than this Stanley Kramer-directed 1967 movie, on our tribute list today. The film is "dated" in some respects, but it boasts a wonderful cast, headed by Spencer Tracy, in his last film role (he received a posthumous Oscar nomination in the Best Actor category), Katharine Hepburn, who won the Oscar for Best Actress (and who repeated that feat the following year for her brilliant performance in "The Lion in Winter," tying with Barbra Streisand, who received the Oscar for her terrific film debut in "Funny Girl"). In any event, the issues with which this film deals were controversial in its day, but the problems surrounding racism, integration, segregation, and the institution of marriage itself remain with us. After all, in this film, Sidney Poitier, who gives us a typically fine performance, wants to marry Tracy and Hepburn's daughter (played by her real-life niece Katharine Houghton), and when the film was released, it was only six months after the last 17 states in the United States were forced to recognize interracial marriage, because the U.S. Supreme Court had finally struck down antimiscegenation laws (with obvious parallels to the more recent debate over same-sex marriage). Sadly, Tracy had actually passed away two weeks after filming his final scene in the movie, and two days after the Court's decision. His character goes through immense pain dealing with the issue of knowing that his daughter could marry a "colored" man, and that they would be tortured by the harsh cultural forces around them, forces that exist till this day. But his character undergoes a transformation throughout the course of the film, and his final monologue [YouTube link] becomes, in essence, a paean to "The Glory of Love" [YouTube link].

February 03, 2016

Song of the Day #1307

Song of the Day: And Justice for All ("Main Title" / "There's Something Funny Going On") [YouTube link], music by Dave Grusin, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is heard over the closing credits of the 1979 film; it has that late '70s disco vibe, as it is performed by Zach Sanders and the NY Jailhouse Ensemble. Directed by Norman Jewison, this film is a cynical look at our judicial system (there are fewer ways to look at the structural deformities that often pass for "justice," and this motion picture captures it with touches of satire and tragedy). Al Pacino is virtually forced to defend a hated judge (played by John Forsythe of "Dynasty" fame), [SPOILER ALERT] whom he discovers to be guilty. But you've got to see the entire closing scene of the film, with Pacino at the peak of his career (and Jack Warden, who provides one of his finest turns as the wonderful character actor he is). The scene is just one of those "I'm As Mad As Hell and I'm Not Going To Take This Anymore" 'Network' moments that all of us should have more often. Check the scene out on YouTube. The film opens with an instrumental "Main Title" version [YouTube link] of the closing credits song; it features the unmistakably fine sax work and sound of Tom Scott.

February 02, 2016

Song of the Day #1306

Song of the Day: Son of Kong ("Runaway Blues"), music and orchestrations by Max Steiner, William T. Stromberg, and John Morgan, and lyrics by the uncredited Edward Eliscu, is sung by Helen Mack, in a hilarious scene in this 1933 sequel to the iconic Great Ape film, "King Kong." Carl Denam (played by Robert Armstrong) and Captain Englehorn (played by Frank Reicher) ship off from New York City to avoid the onslaught of lawsuits being readied to cash-in on the destruction wrought by King Kong, shot down from atop the Empire State Building. Denam tells Englehorn that Nils Helstrom, from whom he got the map of the prehistoric Skull Island, hinted that there was a treasure on the island. While en route, Denam and Englehorn stop off in the Dutch port of Dakang, and check out the local show, featuring performing monkeys and Hilda, who sings this song. "She's got something," Denam says to Englehorn. "Well it certainly isn't a voice." You be the judge; check it out on YouTube, along with this expanded version, which includes three variations (though the film has been colorized! For shame!). The film has an awfully unnecessarily tragic ending, but cannot be overlooked due to the superb Steiner score, which expands on many of the themes first established by Steiner in "King Kong" (and let's not forget that Steiner scored the 1949 film version of The Founainhead). The film features great stop motion animation by the legendary Willis O'Brien. This is the only film I could think of that encapsulates two of the chief themes of the day: "Runaway Blues," the perennial song of the Groundhog who can't wait to run back into his burrow, less he face the blues of six more weeks of winter (and it's official: for Puncsutwaney Phil, "There is no shadow to be cast, an early spring is my forecast" and Staten Island Chuck, who once took a chunk out of former Mayor Bloomberg's finger, and who remains the champ of correct forecasting, agrees with Phil completely: Expect an early spring.) All the better if you want to see The City clearly from atop the Empire State Building. In that grand Art Deco masterpiece of a building, there was once housed the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which, for years, had been publishing and disseminating the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who was born on this date in 1905.

February 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1305

Song of the Day: The Music Goes 'Round ("The Music Goes Round and Round) features the music of Edward Farley and Mike Riley and the lyrics of Red Hodgson. It became a 1935 hit for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, with Edythe Wright on vocals [YouTube link]. In February of 1936, almost 70 years ago to this day, a film, "The Music Goes 'Round" made its debut to less-than-sparkling reviews, and used this song for its interlude, something the New York Times said was "the best thing in the new picture," and many artists through the years would agree with that. Today begins Film Music February, an annual tribute that I post every year; it gives a nod to a film score cue, a song, or even music that wasn't specifically written for a film, but whose presence in the film gives moviegoers a scent of familiarity, while embedding it in an entirely new cinematic context that evokes a fresh emotional response for those who experience it (talk about shifting dialectical applications!). We'll feature a different daily selection right up to the Oscars, and beyond, as our film tribute metaphorizes into a paean to another Centenary Saint. For me, one of the most memorable versions of this particular song was issued in 1959 by the late great Sicilian American jazz entertainer, Louis Prima, who always honored his greatest influnce, Satchmo (and, for those of you following Black History Month, which begins today, take note: It was the great Louis Armstrong who did the 1936 classic rendition [YouTube link] of this song). Take a listen to Prima's version here. And check out another film in which the song is featured [YouTube link], the entertaining 1959 biopic of cornetist, Red Nichols (played by Danny Kaye), "The Five Pennies", in which Armstrong has a cameo.

January 18, 2016

Song of the Day #1304

Song of the Day: Take it Easy, words and music by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, a member of the Eagles, who recorded the song with that group. It's one of those Eagles Essentials, their first single (released on May Day in 1972), a part of a greatest hits collection that, at 29 million sales, remains second only to "Thriller" (30x Platinum), for having the greatest domestic sales of any album in the history of the charts. It's hard to believe, given what I said the other day, but Glenn Frey, today, joins the growing choral group in the heavens. Check the song out on YouTube; thank you for all the wonderful music you've left behind for us to enjoy.

January 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1303

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 ("Snape's Demise") [YouTube link], composed by Alexandre Desplat, is an amalgam of several themes from the climactic final film of this classic fantasy series, based on the J. K. Rowling novels. Alas, today, we mourn the passing of actor Alan Rickman, who embodied the character Severus Snape in each of the eight feature films of that remarkable series. It is two weeks into the New Year, and we've already lost high profile artists Natalie Cole, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman. We mourn even for Celine Dion, whose husband, Rene Angelil, lost his long battle against cancer. There is nothing unusual about witnessing such a natural part of the life process on a daily basis, but I didn't expect Notablog to become an almost hourly obituary; we'll take it as it comes.

January 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1302

Song of the Day: Let's Dance, not to be remotely confused with the great Benny Goodman Theme Song, features the words and music of David Bowie, who tragically passed away yesterday, January 10, 2016. For some, this song, the title track from Bowie's 1983 album, was David's movement into the kind of commercial success that apparently takes the "edge" off your music--a polite way of saying "sell-out." But for me, the song brings me back to 1983, dancing in the hottest clubs on Fire Island, where DJs regularly kicked down the artificial walls that separated various genres of pop-dance music. You could hear scalding sets of remarkable mixing that brought together everyone from Bowie to Michael Jackson to the Clash; you could revel in a kaleidoscope of materials that went from disco to post-disco to new wave to early hip hop. Perhaps this mash-up was a natural by-product of bringing Bowie together with Nile Rodgers [YouTube link; some nice recollections by Rodgers of Bowie], of Chic fame. Ah, the universality of music; the power of memory. Check out the Bowie-Rodgers collaboration on YouTube.

January 02, 2016

Song of the Day #1301

Song of the Day: Unforgettable, words and music by Irving Gordon, was originally a truly unforgettable 1951 hit, arranged by the great Nelson Riddle, for Nat King Cole [YouTube link]. But those of us from a later generation, remember it for reasons that, today, are especially poignant. On New Year's Eve, Natalie Cole, daughter of the great Nat King Cole, passed away at the age of 65. Natalie was a successful singer of pop music, but it was not until her remarkable album, "Unforgettable . . . With Love," that she truly embraced the niche that was so deeply engrained in her DNA. A talented, swinging, jazz vocalist, she walked away with the 1991 Grammy for Album of the year, largely on the technological triumph of a title-track duet between Natalie and her dad. I'll never forget how, when the title song actually won a Grammy for Best Song, there being no statute of limitations for song-writing recogntion, the songwriter, Irving Gordon, still alive and kicking ass, 40 years after having written the song, took to the stage to accept the Grammy. There was no shutting up Mr. Gordon. It was just after Michael Bolton had performed his own Grammy Award-winning rendition (for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance) of "When a Man Loves a Woman", and without missing a beat, Gordon celebrated the fact that it was still possible to win awards for songs such as his, while attacking songs that "scream, yell, and have a nervous breakdown," in which the singers performing them "have a hernia" delivering the lyric. "Unforgettable" was a new beginning for Natalie. Throughout the years, I've highlighted a number of her performances on "My Favorite Songs," including "Almost
Like Being in Love
," "Avalon," "Baby It's Cold Outside," "Jingle Bells," "The Music That Makes Me Dance" (a wonderful song from the Broadway musical that never made it to the film version of "Funny Girl"), "My Baby Just Cares For Me," "A Song for You," "Thou Swell," "Too Close for Comfort," and "What You Won't Do For Love." It seems only natural, then, that I choose a genuine favorite of mine, with which Natalie will forever be associated: the Grammy-winning title track, and Best Record, and Best Song, from her Grammy-winning album, which, through the miracle of modern technology, enabled her to sing an other-worldly duet with her immortal father: "Unforgettable" [YouTube link]. Like her father, Natalie's contributions to the world of music will remain unforgettable. I will miss her.

January 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1300

Song of the Day: Feeling Good, words and music by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, has been heard every third or fourth second on American television, as Volvo has been killing us with the Avicii version of this classic jazzy standard [YouTube link]. But the song made its debut in the stage musical, "The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd," which received 6 Tony award nominations in 1965. It turned out two other fine songs, "The Joker" and "Who Can I Turn To?" But there have been some very nice renditions of this song through the years; it was performed in the 1964 UK tour by Cy Grant and the 1965 US Broadway cast recording by Gilbert Price. Among the other definitive recordings, from her album "I Put a Spell on You," Nina Simone; the English rock band Muse, Sammy Davis, Jr., Billy Paul, George Michael, and Michael Buble. I hope every one within earshot of Notablog is "feeling good" as we welcome 2016 on this New Year's Day. This is the 1300th "Song of the Day" and there ain't no luckier number than 13!! (And check out this nice Newley-Davis duet of Newley-Bricusse songs.)

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