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September 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1511

Song of the Day: Diggy [YouTube link with lyrics], by Spencer Ludwig, is featured on the "Target" commercial "Vibes" [YouTube link] focusing on "Leggie Moves." Having just watched the Emmy Awards, honoring excellence in television, I figured it would be nice to note some danceable music on TV commercials! Check out the full video version as well, in keeping with the Summer Dance Party theme that started way back in June. We're in the final few days of the season, and promise to go out dancing every day until summer ends!

September 17, 2017

Song of the Day #1510

Song of the Day: Feud ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Mac Quayle, is heard in the title sequence to one of the best of this past season's TV minseries (as is another one of my favorites: "The Night Of"), focusing on the "feud" between legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, which reached its climax in the production of the classic horror-fest "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Susan Sarandon (as Bette) and Jessica Lange (as Joan) deliver fine performances, and both are nominated in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Television Movie. And Quayle has earned nominations for "Outstanding Original Dramatic Score" and for "Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music"; in fact, the opening credits have been nominated for "Outstanding Main Title Design," giving "Feud" a total of 18 Emmy Award Nominations. Check out the Emmy Awards tonight on CBS.

September 16, 2017

WFAN-AM: My 2 Minutes and 30 Seconds of Fame

So let me report on my 2 minutes and 30 seconds of chit-chat on New York Sports Radio WFAN-AM (660), where I called the knowledgeable and hilarious sports commentator, Steve Somers sometime around midnight. I was a first-time caller, and once I was screened, I was put in the queue, as I waited for Steve to announce "Chris from Brooklyn."

The reason for my call was because a few nights ago, I was listening to his broadcast, and a gentleman had called from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn (the neighborhood one step removed from my Gravesend section of the county of Kings). Steve remembered that Bensonhurst was home to Lafayette High School, famous for its many sports alumni. They mentioned Dodgers pitching Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, the wonderful Mets reliever John Franco, and Mets owner Fred Wilpon (whom Steve affectionately calls "Fred Coupon" for his unwillingness to spend any money to improve the Mets organization). And then, the guy from Bensonhurst got stuck and said something about another Lafayette alumnus, named "Marv," who ran with Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. And Somers wondered, because the guy couldn't be talking about sports announcer Marv Albert, who was born six years after those Olympic games, and was actually a graduate of another Brooklyn educational institution: Abraham Lincoln High School.

So I'm sitting home, and screaming at the radio: "Not Marv Albert"---it was that other voice of New York Knicks basketball (for 21 years), mentor to Albert, and famous also as the radio voice of the football New York Giants (for 23 years), among other sports: Marty Glickman. And Glickman was not a graduate of Lafayette High School, but of James Madison High School. I should know, because my Mom was in the same graduating class as Glickman, and she remembered what a great athlete he was.

So I called for two straight nights and couldn't get through; lo and behold, I got through after midnight today, and finally spoke to Steve on the air! It was a hoot. First I told him, very sincerely, that I thought he was the most entertaining guy in sports commentary, and that anyone who uses snippets from films like "The Ten Commandments" to make fun of sports moments was out of this world. He couldn't thank me enough.

So we finally turned to the nature of my call, and I reported the facts to him. I told him that the guy from Bensonhurst was actually referring to Marty Glickman; of course, Steve knew immediately about the Great Glickman, and we spoke a bit about the superb HBO documentary on his life. It was actually Glickman and fellow runner Sam Stoller, who were removed at the last minute from the track and field events at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. We recalled that the U.S. didn't want to embarrass or offend Adolf Hitler, the host of the games by having two Jewish American athletes on the Olympic field. Of course, Hitler ate dirt anyway, because one of the athletes who took the place of Glickman and Stoller was Owens, who went on to win the Gold Medal.

When I told Steve that my Mom had been a member of Glickman's senior class at Madison High, he mentioned "Ah! Six Degrees of Separation." He added that Brooklyn had given the world so many famous people, including Barbra Streisand from Erasmus Hall High School.

So my 2 minutes and 30 seconds were over, and knowing I was a first-time caller, he told me to call back anytime.

Now that was a lot of fun!

September 05, 2017

Song of the Day #1505

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("Judgment Day, Part 2, Finale") [YouTube TV clip, Spoiler Alert!], composed by Dominic Frontiere, is the music that highlights the climax of the 120 episodes of one of the most iconic "TV Noir" shows in the history of the medium: "The Fugitive," which ended its four-season run on Tuesday, August 29, 1967, in front of over 78 million viewers. It was the largest audience to watch any show in TV history up to that date [YouTube, Leonard Goldberg interview]. But in the "Epilog" of that famed Quinn Martin production, narrator William Conrad tells us that it was "Tuesday, September 5th, the Day the Running Stopped" [YouTube TV clip]. And in those closing moments, the haunting theme of the show, composed by Pete Rugolo, re-emerges, as it must. Frontiere, who was a great fan of Rugolo from the days when he arranged and composed for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, got the chance to complete the score to the climactic finale. Cheers to a great series, its great score, and its unforgettable finale [YouTube link to the final two episodes in their entirety], which concluded, in narrative legend, fifty years ago, on this date.

August 22, 2017

The Trouble with Trump and with "Antifa"

Recently, I have been deeply critical of President Trump, especially with regard to his tepid response to the mini-Nuremberg-like rallies of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in places like Charlottesville, Virginia (whether they have ACLU-approved permits or not). Trump, I have argued, is becoming more and more like a typical politician, rather than the "outsider" he claimed to be; it seems to me that he is not wanting to offend some of these groups, since they were among the constituencies that voted for him. And the first goal of all elected politicians is to be re-elected; a politician can't achieve the latter by alienating core groups that were supportive of his or her election in the first place.

When all the political pundits were predicting a Clinton victory, I was predicting a Trump victory back in July 2016. I saw that he was speaking to a large swath of American voters who felt disenfranchised and disillusioned, but I was especially critical of some of the proposals he was putting forth as solutions to the economic and political problems faced by the United States. His high-tariff, protectionist agenda was certainly in keeping with the nineteenth-century roots of the Republican party, with its "pro-business" neomercantilist policies and support of banks and infrastructure (back then, especially railroad) subsidies. But I warned that Trump's proposed anti-immigration policies, which threatened to round up 11 million undocumented individuals, had all the makings of a police state in terms of its enforcement. Fortunately, though he's taken a tougher stance on immigration, I suspect that his proposals for walls and such may fall by the wayside.

And while I've been critical of the fact that Trump's hirings and firings in the Oval Office or the West Wing appear like weekly installments of "The Apprentice," it is clear that despite Republican control of both Houses of Congress, 26 governorships, and 32 state legislatures, the GOP is so fractured that it is as much a demonstration of Madisonian "checks and balances" and frustrated ambitions, as if two or more parties were vying for power, as my old NYU politics professor, the late H. Mark Roelofs spoke about in his wonderful book, Ideology and Myth in American Politics: A Critique of a National Political Mind. As I have maintained, due to "this political fragmentation, the GOP can't seem to do one fundamental thing to alter the course that this country has been on for a hundred years or more... a 'road to serfdom' paved by both Democrats and me-too Republicans . . ."

I have never been comfortable with Trump's alliance with Steve Bannon, so his departure from the White House brings no tears to my eyes. And I am not fond of the so-called "alt-right", even though its stance---and Trump's original stance---against the neoconservative foreign policy that has dominated this country for too long was a breath of fresh air. Alas, now, even Trump's noninterventionist "instincts" against unending war are at odds with his newly declared policy shift in the Middle East. No timetable has been offered for 'strategic' reasons for the end of the longest war in American history, but at least Trump retains the view that the United States should not be attempting to "rebuild" other countries in its own image. Gone is the "nation-building" agenda put forth by the neocons who ran George W. Bush's foreign policy, of which Trump was deeply and justifiably critical. But how much longer this war lasts is anyone's guess. Judging by the longevity of Islamic terrorist memory, we could be looking forward to at least a century or two more of armed conflict before any armistice.

To be clear, however, my criticisms thus far of Donald Trump's policies are not an open endorsement of what has become known as "Antifa." It is supposed to be a short-form designation of a variety of groups that are "antifascist" in their agenda. Well, I'm as antifascist as any libertarian can be; I'm also an anticommunist, an antisocialist, or in libertarian parlance: an antistatist. I do not believe that augmenting the power of the state in any way, shape, or form benefits the "common good." As I pointed out in my post on "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins," it was Hayek who noted in his Road to Serfdom that

. . . the more politics came to dominate social and economic life, the more political power became the only power worth having, which is why those most adept at using it were usually the most successful at attaining it. That's why, for Hayek, "the worst get on top." Well, I don't know if we have yet seen the worst, but one thing is clear. It is in the very nature of advancing government intervention that social fragmentation and group balkanization occurs; indeed, one might say that the rise of statism and the rise of group conflict are reciprocally related. Each depends organically on the other.

So, to be "antifascist" tells us nothing about what one is for. It is not sufficient to be "anti-" anything if one does not know what one is fighting for. When the Nazis and the Soviets signed a 1939 nonaggression pact, too many voices on the "antifa" left, who had formerly opposed Hitler, fell silent, as the Nazis and the Soviets carved up Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Romania. And when war finally came to the Soviet Union, those same voices were raised in concert for United States intervention in World War II on the side of the Soviets to defeat fascism in Europe. For the Old Right, the "America First-ers" of their time, fighting on the side of one mass murderer (Stalin) to defeat another mass murderer (Hitler) had no inherent value for the victory of human freedom. That debate was effectively ended in the wake of the events of December 7, 1941, which made it impossible to keep the United States out of a war that led to the deaths of over 60 million people and the birth of the nuclear age.

What my "instincts" tell me is this: adopting the thuggish behavior of the thugs one opposes, leads, almost inexorably, to the victory of thuggery, under whatever political guise. Perhaps those who oppose the policies of Donald Trump should study the works of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution. He is one of the foremost theoreticians of nonviolent resistance. And make no mistake about it: whether it was practiced by Gandhi in India or Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States, the nonviolent techniques that Sharp has articulated in his many works are fully in keeping with the strategy of resistance. But they do not duplicate the paradigm of force that is being practiced by those whom one opposes. Inevitably, the use of coercive force by opposition groups merely replaces one form of coercion with another. It has been argued, persuasively, that "[f]rom 1966 to 1999, nonviolent civic resistance played a critical role in 50 of 67 transitions from authoritarianism." So if "Antifa" wants to show its commitment to another, "revolutionary" form of politics, it should start by renouncing violence. And if "Antifa" wants to fight effectively against any perceived authoritarian threats from the Trump administration or its supporters, it needs to take pause, for among its ranks is a collection of groups, some of whom would replace America's "neofascism" with yet another form of statist tyranny.

For the record, I want to state that I am not very optimistic about the future of individual liberty in this country. I fear that the promise of genuine freedom and individual rights is becoming a distant dream. But if you oppose those elements of Trump's policies that will undermine liberty, you gain neither freedom nor rights if you happily join hands with folks who would slit your throat in a new battle for political power, in a system where political power is the only power worth having.

Postscript: My friend Irfan Khawaja had a nice retort to my post: "I don't know about this non-violence stuff. I mean, I'm not one to cast the first stone. But the second one has its attractions...."

I responded:

I know. I just think that there are a lot of strategies within civil disobedience that can be amazingly effective. Civil disobedience is not turning the other cheek, but being disruptive in ways that can put one on the moral high ground and bring down walls of power.
But I'm also from Brooklyn. And half-Sicilian to boot (no pun intended). And the second stone can sometimes stop power in its tracks too. There are contexts where I, myself, don't see how nonviolence is a universal prescription for resistance. How, for example, does one use nonviolence as one is being led by SS guards into a gas chamber? Bombing the trains that led into Auschwitz, and massively disruptive riots in the Warsaw Ghetto can be acts of heroism too, but the Holocaust still happened. And let it be noted that 13,000 Jews died in the Warsaw uprisings, in contrast to 300 Nazis, while the vast majority of the Ghetto residents (estimated to be around 300,000+) were to die in Treblinka.
It's a tough question to answer. But there's a wonderful story told about surviving terror by literally standing up, no matter how many times you are struck. It's in the [2015] film "Bridge of Spies," a story told by the Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (played by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance), to attorney James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), about "Standing Man."

Jim Farmelant raised a good point with which I agreed, in general, when he said: "Violence should never be one's first resort. But it is foolish to take it off the table completely." Chris Despoudis raised another good issue, stating:

Regarding Civil Disobedience, it reminds me of Slajov Zizek's comment that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler specifically because his civil disobedience aimed directly at disrupting the existing edifices of the system totally and without backing out. I think he's correct to some degree. Non-violence works when you're opponent cannot see you as an externalized other that needs to squashed, when those who are fighting aren't willing to do terrible things for their country instead of merely great things. The issue of Germany on 1939 was not an issue of non-violence. The issue was that Germany had to be destroyed completely in order for its system to be able to be changed.

I replied:

Very interesting points; but you know, some studies have been done of the concentration camp guards at the various death factories in Germany. And it was no coincidence that so many of those who threw the victims into the gas chambers were also habitual drinkers, as if they had to numb themselves from any feelings of concscience.
One of the kernels of truth of nonviolent resistance is that at some point, the people who are victimizing you start to realize that you are a human being, and for those who have any vestige of conscience, that reality eventually takes hold, and begins to erode their own capacity to victimize you. The key to the Nazi ideology, the Nazi "social psychology," therefore, was to create a culture that saw all non-Aryans as not human; this was fatal for the victims, but it was also essential to those who would be doing the victimizing, for if you are convinced that what you are killing is not human, you will exempt your conscience from human empathy.
Obviously, for some, this did not work; alcoholism and habitual substance abuse was a way of drowning out any thoughts that the Other was human. Interestingly, Leonard Peikoff has a good chapter on this in The Ominous Parallels but one can find good studies of this throughout the post-World War II literature. And let us not forget the famous "Milgram experiment", which illustrated just how far intelligent people would go in following the orders of a superior. It showed that even highly educated folks, when ordered to do so by an "authority figure" would be drawn to inflict more and more "pain" on folks who didn't answer questions correctly (the pain inflicted was only indicated on a scale, not actual; but this fact was not known to those who were being ordered to inflict greater and greater levels of pain intensity on the actors who were playing the part of students answering incorrectly).

August 07, 2017

The Summer of Sam: Forty Years Later

Forty years ago this week, on August 10, 1977 to be exact, the man known to the world as "Son of Sam" was arrested after more than a year of terrorizing the city I've always called home. David Berkowitz, first dubbed the .44 caliber-killer, was caught outside his Yonkers apartment after a year during which he had murdered six people, while injuring seven others, and holding 8 million people hostage to his random carnage.

Having lived through the "Summer of Sam," a time during which New York City was in fiscal disarray and intense urban decay, I can say that we were all more than a little bit jittery, reading the daily news articles and keeping up with the nightly TV reports. In fact, on the day that Berkowitz was arrested, the New York Daily News had put on its front page a police sketch of the alleged serial killer that didn't resemble him in the least. The Daily News had played a pertinent role in the story as it unfolded, because Berkowitz was busy writing a series of bizarre letters to columnist Jimmy Breslin that spooked the public. Up until July 31st, however, Berkowitz had restricted his killing to the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx. But then, on the night of July 31, 1977, he came to the corner of Shore Parkway and Bay 44th Street in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn, not far from my home, and opened fire on a car parked there as two people, Robert Violante and Stacy Moskowitz. were sitting inside. Their first date had ended with Violante losing his sight, and Moskowitz dying a day or so later from the .44 caliber bullets that had exploded into her head. The Son of Sam had come to Brooklyn; the word on the street was that now, even the Mafia was going to find and "take out" this "nutjob."

I had just finished my senior year at John Dewey High School, preparing for my long stint at New York University, which would begin in September 1977. Till this day, I look back at that 1977 summer and I honor the memory of the victims of those horrific shootings, while keeping their loved ones in my thoughts.

But every tragedy seems to elicit memories that provide a little relief in the form of gallows humor. I remember that during that summer, every time my sister and cousin Sandy (who was staying with us at the time) went out, they were very much aware that virtually all of the victims of Son of Sam had dark hair. Both my sister and cousin had brown hair, and Sandy even took to wearing a hat. But on the night after July 31st, in the wake of that shattering news of a senseless Brooklyn murder, we had taken an evening walk, about ten blocks from our apartment, to visit our grandmother, aunts, uncle, and cousins. We were there quite late; it must have been about 1 am, and we finally decided to walk along the brightly lit Kings Highway back to our apartment. I told my mother and sister not to worry. "I will protect you," I announced, confident in my Brooklyn street smarts. About half-way through our walk, we passed an all-night gas and auto service station. And in the silence of that hot and humid summer night, one of the cars in the service area suddenly backfired. Well. I must have jumped about two feet in the air and let out a scream that could have awakened the dead. My mother and sister were nearly bent over in laughter; even I got so hysterical with laughter that tears rolled down my cheeks. "Yeah, yeah, you're going to protect us!", they ribbed me but good. "Sure, sure!"

Fortunately, ten days later, the police had arrested the creep that had so defined the Summer of 1977. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

But we still chuckle when we remember our walk home, when a car backfired in the still of a steamy August night.

July 29, 2017

Song of the Day #1483

Song of the Day: Give Me Your Love, words and music by Bruce Fielder, John Newman, and Steve Manovski, was released in 2016 by British DJ Sigala, featuring the vocals of John Newman and some added production by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Nile Rodgers. The song, which was a Top Five hit on the UK Dance chart, was showcased in several routines of this week's episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" (my favorite dance competition show, the first to give Mandy Moore a platform for her choreography, before she went off to "La La Land"). Check out the song's official video and these remixes: Cedric Gervais, Andy C, Alex B-Cube & Michael Klash, Jacob Doehner, Kasmet Bootleg, MZT, Tough Love, Cliak, PBH and Jack Shizzle, DJ eMa, Viduta, Shimron Elit, and the Rap Remix.

July 18, 2017

In Memory of Three New Yorkers: Wolff, Landau, and Romero

This past weekend, three New Yorkers died, each of whom left a significant mark on American popular culture.

On Saturday, July 15, 2017, legendary sports broadcaster Bob Wolff died, at the age of 96. Born in New York City on November 29, 1920, Wolff broadcasted his first sporting event in 1939 as a student at Duke University. He had the longest career of any sports broadcaster in history; he also has the distinction of having called games in the four major American sports: hockey (for the New York Rangers), basketball (for the New York Knicks), football and baseball. In fact, throughout his eight decades as a sportscaster, he called two of the most iconic games in football and baseball history: the 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and the Colts and Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series (between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers).

Also on Saturday, a son of Brooklyn, New York (born on June 20, 1928), died at the age of 89: actor Martin Landau. Landau made his debut on the Broadway stage in 1957, but his film career began with a bang, as a supporting actor in my all-time favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, the 1959 classic "North by Northwest," starring Cary Grant, James Mason, and Eva Marie Saint. He would go on to star in memorable roles on both the small screen (in the TV series "Mission: Impossible") and the big screen, for which he received three Oscar nominations throughout his career, winning in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of film icon Bela Lugosi in the 1994 Tim Burton film, "Ed Wood."

Of course, Lugosi was the famed actor who brought Bram Stoker's Dracula to life, so-to-speak, on both the stage and screen. Speaking of vampires brings to mind another category of the Un-Dead: the Zombie. And no director was more instrumental to the development of the Zombie genre of horror flicks than the Bronx, New York-born George Romero, who died on Sunday, July 16, 2017, at the age of 77. Romero (who was born on February 4, 1940) directed the first in a series of Zombie cult classic films, the creepy 1968 black-and-white movie "Night of the Living Dead," which scared the living daylights out of me as a kid. In fact, it's still not a film I like to watch before going to bed. But for any fan of horror flicks, Romero remains the "progenitor of the fictional zombie of modern culture."

Each of these men, in his own distinctive New York way, had an impact on entertainment in general, and on my youth in particular, as I developed my love of sports and film. They will be missed.

July 14, 2017

It's a Wonderful ... Christmas in July!

There is a Facebook thread that tears apart one of my all-time favorite movies, but also one of those films that Rand-fans especially have made into a cinematic pinata: "It's a Wonderful Life." According to this story, Rand, who was a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in its efforts to uncover communist propaganda in the American film industry, apparently pegged the 1946 Frank Capra classic as pinko propaganda.

I've addressed this issue several times before on Notablog, especially in a 2016 post about the 1946 film, and in a 1999 interview with "The Daily Objectivist" on the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol," starring Alastair Sim, who gives a superb, nuanced performance as Scrooge.

On Facebook, I added these comments:

People who cannot look at a film on different levels are guilty of context-dropping; Rand was not always consistent. "It's a Wonderful Life" says more about the remarkable impact that a single individual can make on the lives of many people and as such, it is a celebration of a "wonderful life." Is it guilty of having "mixed premises"? Sure. What film isn't?
Rand herself wrote some wonderful screenplays in her day ("Love Letters" is one of my favorites; "The Fountainhead" succeeds on some levels, but is botched on other levels). But one can disagree with her assessment of a film and still agree with the fundamental principles of Objectivism. I'm quite frankly appalled by the kind of knee-jerk response that I always see from Rand-fans to films like this or, say, "A Christmas Carol" (the 1951 version especially, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge), which tells the story of a man whose life is fractured and dis-integrated. In the end, Scrooge does not renounce business; he becomes a more integrated human being. Does the film have mixed premises? Like I said: There are few films that don't have mixed premises. And any art form, especially film, can and should be appreciated on a variety of levels. Some of those films were made in black and white, but they were superb at showing the greyness and complex textures of life, as well as the remarkable color of character and individual integrity.

And that's my "Christmas in July" moment, especially fitting when you're coming off things like Amazon Prime Day and 90-degree temperatures with 80% humidity.

Merry Christmas! And good premises! ; )

Postscript: In reply to a question about how faithful the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol" was to the original Charles Dickens story, I wrote:

The 1951 film version considerably embellishes the original Dickens novel with a deeper backstory as to how Scrooge evolved into the dis-integrated individual he had become, truly a man with a "disowned self." I think when viewed through this lens, the complexity of the character and his transformation is made all the more poignant.

Postscript II: In response to Michael Stuart Kelly, who points out that the original article link posted on Facebook qualifies as "fake news", I wrote:

I agree with everything you said, Michael, about the "fake news" character of the original link that prompted the initial thread on this topic. But it was in that thread from which my discussion comes that I was reacting not so much to the link as to the fact that it got nearly forty "Thumbs Up" from people sympathetic to Rand who find any condemnation of "It's a Wonderful Life" a welcome relief. Indeed, it has become a seasonal ritual of late that some Objectivist or libertarian goes on some tirade about the Capra flick or any variation of "A Christmas Carol" because they allegedly depict business people in a bad light.
In truth, we do know this much: Rand never got the chance to tell HUAC what she really wanted to: that among the most loathsome films of 1946 was "The Best Years of Our Lives" (which, I consider a cinema classic for the reasons described here), as Susan [Love Brown] mentions above. Rand despised that film's depiction of bankers "with a heart" etc., and completely overlooked the cathartic character of a film that depicted the difficulty of people returning from the worst carnage in human history (World War II) and trying to adjust to civilian life. She was asked by studio folks to stay clear of such a public condemnation of such a popular film, and was incensed to focus attention instead on "Song of Russia"---clearly a trivial propaganda film made during the war to "humanize" communists, with whom the U.S. had allied in the fight against the Nazis (Lillian Hellman had a field-day ridiculing Rand over this in her book Scoundrel Time, but Robert Mayhew discusses the whole affair in much greater detail in his book, Ayn Rand and "Song of Russia": Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood).
If it were not for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rand (and Isabel Paterson, John T. Flynn, Albert Jay Nock, and others on the Old Right) would most likely have continued to adhere to the "America First" line, which was adamantly opposed to U.S. entrance into that war; Rand even declared that she would have rather seen the Nazis and Soviets destroy each other, such that if the U.S. were drawn into the conflict, it would have been fighting a much-weakened foe.
Indeed, it should be noted that Rand is on record as having been against all US involvement in virtually every twentieth-century war: World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; that noninterventionist stance should give us pause, considering that so many of her followers were ready to atomize the Middle East after 9/11. I treat this a bit more extensively in Chapter 12 of the second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, in a new section called "The Welfare-Warfare State".
In any event, getting back to this thread: though the article I linked to may qualify as "fake news," what I was responding to in the original thread was mainly Rand-fan condemnations of films like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol", which are offered up as Christmas pinatas every season for their alleged depiction of business in a bad light. This past year, it was libertarian Tim Mullen's turn to take a crack at both films; his comment on "A Christmas Carol" was that it was a tale of one man stalked by three left-wing ghosts. Well, maybe Dickens was a soft socialist, but the 1951 film version to which I point is the one that most speaks to the horrors of living a dis-integrated life. There is nothing I find in it that is so loathsome, when the point of the film is the reintegration of one's disowned self. Scrooge never denounces his own business or becomes any less rich than he always was; he simply becomes a healed man who understands the roots of his self-alienation.
But I do appreciate you pointing to the various errors in that original link; I laughed at some of the comments therein as well.

I added:

Well, you know where I stand on the topic of "gate-keepers." :) But the original thread to which I posted my comment got 39 Thumbs up, not quite 40... it is here. And I really can't stand seeing Jimmy Stewart called a Pinko. But that's another story...

In the continuing discussion, I made one further point on the issues of aesthetic reponse versus ethical evaluation:

[On the issue of how Scrooge is portrayed in film,] I think it depends on which version of Scrooge we look at; it is very clear in the 1951 version that Scrooge is very self-alienated, and the time spent on his past establishes the facts and tragedies that led to this.
But on another subject, I would just like to make one comment about politics and aesthetics: we all know that there were communists in Hollywood and that politics sometimes showed up in screenplays and stories. But I can't help feeling distressed that some people will dismiss any writer, actor, musician or other talented artist strictly because of their politics or personal flaws, such that we can't possibly endorse their art. If that were the case, you might as well give up listening to music, watching films, reading books, or enjoying any art whatsoever.
I was not a fan of Dalton Trumbo's politics; but I loved "Spartacus"; I am not a fan of Barbra Streisand's politics, but I adore "Funny Girl" and all the music she has made, gal from Brooklyn that she is; for all I know the charges against Michael Jackson regarding pedophilia may be true, but that doesn't stop me from loving "Off the Wall" or "Thriller" or being enthralled by the elegance of his dancing. I bet a high percentage of artists from ancient times through today, were tortured souls, who spilled out their guts in works of sculpture, painting, music, and literature. Bill Evans, perhaps the most influential jazz pianist of the twentieth century, was a tortured drug addict, but it was his modal take on jazz that made "Kind of Blue" what it became, as Miles Davis himself testified; when Evans played--and I was fortunate to see him play live at the Village Vanguard--it was as if he became part of the piano he was playing. At some point, you have to separate aesthetics and ethics and be willing to accept the fact that you can respond positively to art by folks you might not like, politically, ethically, or personally. It would be a very boring world if we all had to toe the party line every time we responded with any kind of emotional impact to any work of art.

Postscript III: My friend, Mark Fulwiler, raised the issue that Paul Robeson was a Stalinist, even though he was a good singer, and then asked the proverbial Hitler question: "What if Hitler were a great singer?" I replied:

Well, I can tell you that Hitler was definitely NOT a good painter. But Robeson was a great singer. And I suspect that if Hitler were a great singer, he would not be singing "Billie Jean"; I suspect it would be something really dissonant with some pretty scary Aryan theme. So I probably wouldn't respond to it aesthetically, if I was blinded and didn't know who the artist was.
But let's take a better example concerning somebody whose work we do know and whose contributions to music and compostion are well known: Richard Wagner. Wagner's racism and anti-Semitism are repugnant to me, but can anyone deny the brilliance of his harmonies, textures, or his use of leitmotifs in music? I have a hunch that Wagner did more to influence the whole development of what has become known as the film score than any single composer in history.
I'm not particularly fond of the work of Ezra Pound, who embraced Mussolini and Hitler, but I can't deny the impact of his work on everybody from Robert Frost to Ernest Hemingway; Ayn Rand herself detested many writers and their views; she made it a point of stating, for example, that she thought Tolstoy's philosophy and sense of life were "evil, and yet, from a purely literary viewpoint, on his own terms, I have to evaluate him as a good writer."
All I'm arguing here is that there is a lot of art out there, be it painting, sculpture, literature, film, music, etc., and if I had to use an ideological litmus test as a filter with regard to what I might like or dislike, I might find myself very unhappy because there are too many artists out there, talented in their own right, whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to my own. I don't live like that, and I think we impoverish ourselves if we bracket out of our aesthetic scale anybody and everybody with whom we disagree.

Mark liked the points I made, but said, "What if I told you I had a recording of Hitler playing Rachmaninoff on the piano with the Berlin Philharmonic?" -- to which Jerry Biggers replied, "But you don't!"... to which I replied:

LOL ROFL... sorry, I tried to take this one seriously, but you have to make me bust a gut. And you KNOW I can't afford to bust a busted gut! LOL

Jerry Biggers added: "What if I told you that I had a recording of Stalin (or other Soviet thug) having private ballet lessons for an exclusive presentation of Aram Khachaturian's "Spartacus" ballet to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet? So?......"

Chris Matthew Sciabarra (has finally collapsed into hysteria)

June 30, 2017

Song of the Day #1470

Song of the Day: Stormy Weather, words and music by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler debuted in 1933 at the Cotton Club in Harlem by Ethel Waters [YouTube link]. But one of its most famous versions was recorded by the Tony- and Grammy-award winning singer and actress Lena Horne, who died on 9 May 2010, at the age of 92. Lena sang this timeless tune in the 1943 movie of the same name. Check out Lena's film rendition and her 1943 single, which went to #21 on the U.S. Pop chart [YouTube links]. In honor of the centenary of her birth on 30 June 1917, I celebrate the gift that was Lena.

June 28, 2017

Song of the Day #1469

On Facebook, I prefaced this "Song of the Day" entry with this comment: It is officially June 28, 2017; on this date in 1969, in the wee small hours of the morning, the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. With all the hoopla of this past weekend’s “Pride” events nationwide, some folks seem to forget that the parades emerged initially to commemorate what happened in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. For despite the ritual nature of these police raids, it was on this night that the patrons fought back on the basis of a crucially important libertarian premise; they rioted and rebelled in defense of their individual rights to live their own lives and to pursue their own happiness in private, safe havens, away from the brutality and harassment they faced on an almost daily basis. It is in this spirit that I add another song to my Summer Dance series. From “To Wong Foo…”, it’s Chaka Khan blowing a hole through the roof with "Free Yourself":

Song of the Day: Free Yourself, words and music by Sami McKinney, Denise Rich, and Warren McRae, is given a scaldingly hot treatment by Chaka Khan, whose pipes tear the roof off the motha'. The song is featured on the soundtrack to the 1995 comedy, "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" (and is also played over the end credits). I dedicate it today to those who participated in the Stonewall Rebellion, which began in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, in response to yet another regular police raid on a gay bar, this one in NYC. It remains a symbolic event for those who have sought equality before the law and the right to live their lives and to pursue their own happiness, without the interference of government. It began on this date as a quintessentially libertarian reaction against state repression of establishments that catered to a clientele of gays, lesbians and even their straight friends, who in their consensual social interactions just wanted to enjoy themselves at a Christopher Street bar in Greenwich Village, a safe haven away from police and social brutality (though it should be noted that such bars were typically "protected" by Mafioso who traded in under-the-table police payoffs). This track from the 1990s wasn't on the Stonewall Inn's famed 1969 jukebox, but it is an appropriate dance burner to mark the day, in keeping with our Summer Dance Party. Check it out on on YouTube.

June 11, 2017

Song of the Day #1461

Song of the Day: Hello, Dolly! ("Before the Parade Passes By"), music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, was featured in the 1964 Broadway musical that clobbered yesterday's "Funny Girl" at the Tony Awards that year. It won a then-record 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Carol Channing). Ironically, Streisand, who lost the Tony to Channing, would go on to star in the 1969 film version of the musical. In any event, this year, it is nominated in the Best Musical Revival category, with Bette Midler receiving a nomination for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical." Check out the original Carol Channing rendition and Bette Midler's rendition. And so concludes our mini-Tony tribute; check out the Awards tonight.

June 10, 2017

Song of the Day #1460

Song of the Day: Funny Girl ("You are Woman, I am Man"), music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, was featured in the 1964 Broadway musical that made Barbra Streisand a star. Streisand would go on to sing this duet with Omar Sharif in the 1968 film version of the musical about the life of Fanny Brice. Check out the Broadway musical version [YouTube link], which featured the Tony-nominated Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie, as Nicky Arnstein. And then check out the charming 1968 film version [YouTube film clip], the one in which Babs got her Best Actress Oscar, tying with the Great Kate, who won for "The Lion in Winter." This was only one of six ties in Oscar history and both actresses were certainly equally superb in their roles.

June 09, 2017

Song of the Day #1459

Song of the Day: Show Girl ("Liza, All the Clouds'll Roll Away"), music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn, debuted in the 1929 Ziegfeld musical by Ruby Keeler (of later "42nd Street" fame), with stage accompaniment provided by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Keeler's husband, Al Jolson [YouTube link] recorded the song, and is said to have freqently serenaded Ruby with it. And for a trip down memory lane, check out this wonderful instrumental version [YouTube link] by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, featuring the great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and the legendary gyspy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

June 08, 2017

Song of the Day #1458

Song of the Day: You Never Know ("At Long Last Love") words and music by Cole Porter, written for the 1938 Broadway musical, where it was sung by Clifton Webb (yes, he of "Laura" fame!). It was also featured in the 1975 film, "At Long Last Love." It's become a standard of the Great American Songbook, and has been covered notably by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne (who provides the lovely introduction), Nancy Wilson, Jack Jones, and Carmen McRae (a lively live recording featuring Jimmy Rowles on piano and Joe Pass on guitar) [YouTube links]. Today begins my mini-Tony Awards tribute to music from the Broadway stage. The Tonys air on CBS this Sunday, June 11, 2017.

May 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1456

Song of the Day: Star Wars: A New Hope ("Throne Room / End Title") [YouTube link], composed by the legendary John Williams, was part of the Oscar-winning soundtrack to the 1977 first installment (later known as "Episode #4") in the "Star Wars" franchise. On this date, forty years ago, the film made its debut, and the most epic space opera in cinema history was born. It is no secret that Williams's "Star Wars" scores have been among the most majestic achievements in his repertoire and so important to the success of this franchise. So Happy 40th Birthday to the first film. And May the Force Be With You!

May 23, 2017

Song of the Day #1455

Song of the Day: Moonraker ("Main Title"), lyrics by Hal David, music by John Barry, was the theme to the 1979 James Bond film, starring Roger Moore, who passed away today at the age of 89. Sean Connery remains my favorite Bond, but Moore had his moments. This song was the third Bond theme sung by Shirley Bassey, who had previously recorded the vocal themes to "Diamonds are Forever" and, most famously, "Goldfinger" [YouTube links]. Bassey provides different renditions of the song at the film's opening and the more upbeat end credits [YouTube links]. RIP, Roger Moore; and my deepest condolences to those of his fellow Brits, who are mourning today the deaths of those attending an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, victims of a shameful act of terror.

May 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1454

Song of the Day: Casino Royale ("You Know My Name") features the words and music of David Arnold and Chris Cornell, who died yesterday at the age of 52. This 2006 song features Cornell's lead vocals, from the first 007 film starring Daniel Craig as Bond, James Bond. Actually, Craig's "Skyfall" (2012) is one of my favorite Bond flicks). But today's tribute goes to Cornell, another talent gone too soon. Check out the opening credits [YouTube link], and while you're at it, check out Cornell's transformative version of the Michael Jackson hit, "Billie Jean" [YouTube link]. RIP, Chris Cornell.

May 03, 2017

Song of the Day #1453

Song of the Day: The Every Thought of You, words and music by Reid Hall and Chuck Moore, was, for years, the theme song of "Private Screenings," hosted by the late TCM pioneer, Robert Osborne, who was born on this date in 1932. The version performed on the show is by jazz vocalist Rene Marie, in a smoky jazz room sort of way. Listen to this lovely song at 6:26 in the closing credits of a show [YouTube link] in which Osborne interviewed Liza Minnelli. Osborne was always at the top of his game; as a film historian, he participated in a "Buy the Book" program designed for educators and students, introducing viewers to "The Fountainhead." Check that out here [YouTube link]. In the meanwhile, do check out Rene Marie; finding her music has been a real eye- and ear-opener. Just wonderful.

April 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1452

Song of the Day: Too Darn Hot, words and music by Cole Porter, was written for the 1948 musical, "Kiss Me, Kate." It's another one of those songs from Ella's Porter Songbook album, and is an appropriate conclusion to our Centenary Tribute to the Great Ella Fitzgerald, who will always be Too Darn Hot [YouTube link]. Happy 100th, Ella!

April 24, 2017

Song of the Day #1451

Song of the Day: I Can See It, music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones, is a highlight from "The Fantasticks," the original production of which ran for 42 years Off-Broadway. It is also a highlight of "My Name is Barbra," the first of two studio albums that were tied-in to Barbra Streisand's television special of the same name, which won five Emmy Awards and Streisand's first of four Peabody Awards. For this album, Streisand won her third consecutive Grammy for Best Vocal Performance, Female. I was almost three years old when my mother returned from a Broadway show called "I Can Get it For You Wholesale," having enjoyed the production, but telling us that this one performer, "no beauty," had such a voice that she stole the show. "This girl is going places," Mom said. And boy has she. Streisand has collected ten Grammy Awards, along with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Grammy Legend Award, a Special Tony Award, nine Golden Globe Awards, two Oscars, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, an AFI Life Achievement Award, and a Kennedy Center Honor. Even though we are in the middle of an Ella Fitzgerald Centenary Salute, which concludes tomorrow, I don't think Ella would have minded one bit giving a "shout-out" to Brooklyn Babs, who today celebrates her 75th birthday. This is one of my all-time favorite early Streisand recordings. Check out the song, arranged and conducted by Peter Matz, on YouTube.

April 22, 2017

Song of the Day #1448

Song of the Day: Just One of Those Things, words and music by Cole Porter, was written for the 1935 musical "Jubilee." The song is featured on the first of Ella's great songbook albums, released in 1956 as the first album for a new label: Verve Records. The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000 and one of fifty recordings selected by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. Check out Ella's rendition on YouTube.

April 21, 2017

Song of the Day #1447

Song of the Day: Love is Here To Stay, music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, was written for the 1938 film, "The Goldwyn Follies." This jazz standard has been recorded by so many artists through the years, and is another one of those that can be heard in two versions, like yesterday's featured entry: one, a solo version by Ella, the other a duet with Louis Armstrong [YouTube links], heard in the 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally."

Ha Ha "Hail, Caesar!"

A Facebook friend, Joel Schlosberg, has been asking me to watch the 2016 film [YouTube link] "Hail, Caesar!," produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Well, Joel, I've finally seen it and it was utterly hilarious. You know they are poking fun at the era of 1950s big budget epics and musicals (the subtitle of the film the characters are working on is "A Tale of the Christ," an obvious allusion to "Ben-Hur.") But in poking fun, they are also doing a loving homage to a bygone Hollywood era, and they do it with one hilariously over-the-top scene after another.

I had to stop and rewind a couple of times because I was laughing so hard. One of my absolutely favorite scenes was, as Joel suggested, the Channing Tatum tap dance number, which readers can see on YouTube. Tatum is a talented guy, and the scene just plays with its audience with a few "wink-winks" that invite more than a few chuckle-chuckles.

In any event, I highly recommend the film; it's entertaining, off-center, and sometimes on-target. After all, it's the Coen brothers! So, thanks Joel!

Next up, and soon, maybe next month, I'll drag myself to watch the 2016 version of "Ben-Hur": I don't anticipate having as nice a reaction, but I'll try to do my best impression of "being objective" (given that the 1959 version remains my all-time favorite!) I've been holding off watching it precisely because I am anticipating a train wreck (and the reviews of the film were pretty awful). CGI might be able to give us some great dinosaurs and fantastic epic space odysseys, but there were no CGI tricks in the 1959 chariot race. Those guys (the actors themselves, with a little help from the great Yakima Cannutt) rode the chariots and when they said there was a cast of thousands, they meant it! But I'll give the 2016 version a whirl. Stay tuned.

For now, I'm still laughing. Hail, Caesar indeed! In this arena, it gets Two Thumbs Up!

April 20, 2017

Song of the Day #1446

Song of the Day: I Won't Dance, music by Jerome Kern, has two sets of lyrics: the first (in 1934 for the London Musical "Three Sisters") by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach, the second (in 1935, for the film version of the Kern-Harbach musical "Roberta") by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. It is the latter version that remains the most recorded, and Ella's Grammy-Award winning rendition with Nelson Riddle (from "Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson") is one of the best. Check it out on YouTube. And also check out another recording of the song that Ella performed with Louis Armstrong [YouTube link].

April 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1444

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Suite") [YouTube link], composed by today's birthday boy, Miklos Rozsa, includes all of the sweeping themes for the grand 1959 epic "Tale of the Christ," starring Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur [YouTube documentary on Chuck]. This is, to my knowledge, the only suite I have heard that is different from any other pieces I have already highlighted from the soundtrack of my all-time favorite film. But what makes it so very special is that it features the composer himself conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (in 1979). It is a special treat to see this man so alive with the music of the score that remains his crowning achievement. It is a true genius that we honor today [pdf link to my Rozsa essay] on the 110th anniversary of his birth [YouTube documentary on Rozsa]. Tomorrow, we begin a week-long Centenary Tribute to another musical legend from an entirely different genre. Just don't drop your brown and yellow basket because within a week, it'll be filled with the glory of Ella.

April 17, 2017

Song of the Day #1443

Song of the Day: Eye of the Needle ("Love Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by Miklos Rozsa for this 1981 film based on the Ken Follett spy novel. This lush romanticism shows us another side to the man who composed scores for fantasy films, film noir, historical and Biblical epics, not to mention magnificent orchestral concert works.

April 16, 2017

Song of the Day #1442

Song of the Day: Quo Vadis? ("Overture") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa for the 1951 MGM film adaptation of the Henryk Sienkiewicz novel, helps us to mark Easter, which is celebrated today by both Western and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The phrase "Quo Vadis?" ("Where Are You Going?") appears in the Latin Bible in both the Old Testament (based on the Tanakh) and the New Testament (including an apocryphal book). It is said to have been asked to the risen Christ by Peter as he hurried along the Appian Way, away from Rome, where he would face certain execution under Emperor Nero. This musical overture is quintessential epic Rozsa, whose music I will feature for the next three days, as we celebrate the 110th anniversary of his birth. A Happy Easter to all my Christian friends! Christos Anesti! And to all my Jewish friends who have been celebrating Passover this past week: a Zesan Pesach [that's a special link to the entire Elmer Bernstein score for "The Ten Commandments", given that Bernstein himself celebrated Rozsa by recording so many of his compositions over the years!]

April 06, 2017

Mr. Warmth is Gone But His Insults Live On

Don Rickles, the iconic comedian of insults, has passed away; I have busted an already busted gut several times through the years, watching his stand-up routines and sit-down interviews. An equal opportunity offender, RIP, Don [YouTube links].

March 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1440

Song of the Day: Johnny B. Goode features the words and music of Chuck Berry, who died today at the age of 90. A genuine rock and roll pioneer, Berry brought a wonderful R&B sensibility to his music.  This 1958 song [YouTube link] is one of his best, ranked in the Top Ten of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was also a comedic-musical highlight of the 1985 film "Back to the Future" [YouTube link] with Michael J. Fox. RIP, Chuck!

March 06, 2017

Robert Osborne, RIP

I was sad to learn today about the death of Robert Osborne, aged 84, who was selected as the host of the nightly broadcasts of Turner Classic Movies, when it opened up shop in 1994. He had been absent from this year's TCM annual "31 Days of Oscar" salute (which coincides with my own "Film Music February"), and viewers knew that he had not been well.

TCM has set up an Osborne Tribute page, which provides valuable information about the Peabody Award-winner's life and work. He was a warm and classy presence on a network dedicated to showing a broad range of cinema classics, uncut and typically, in their original theatrical format, from the silents to the contemporary era. His knowledge of film was astounding. I very much valued his presence on "The Essentials" (and his foreword to the book version, celebrating "52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter.") But more importantly, I valued his wonderful way of introducing a film, with poignancy, with wit, and always with respect for the craft of the cinema. There's a really wonderful TCM tribute that was aired on Osborne's 20th anniversary with the network; "Ben-Hur" was one of his favorites, but seeing the multiple takes of him trying to pronounce "La Cienega Boulevard" are a hoot!

I had written to him with regard to the two vastly different film versions (one flat-screen, the other becoming the first "CinemaScope" film release) of the 1953 Biblical epic, "The Robe," which is, ironically, being broadcast tonight, the first night of a month-long tribute to TCM's Star of the Month, Richard Burton. But I'd received no reply; I knew he was ill, and doubted I'd hear back from him.

He was a massive presence to lovers of the cinema as a beloved host, and he will be missed by loyal viewers of TCM. RIP, Robert.

Ed: TCM has announced that it will devote 48 hours of its broadcast schedule (the weekend of March 18-19, 2017) to tributing Robert Osborne.

February 26, 2017

Song of the Day #1439

Song of the Day: That's Dancing! ("Invitation to Dance") features the words and music of Brian Fairweather, Dave Ellingson, Martin Page, and Kim Carnes, who sings the song over the closing credits to this wonderful choreographical retrospective, following in the footsteps of the MGM film-clip franchise "That's Entertainment," which recaptures the glory days of Hollywood musicals. The 1985 film focuses on the art of dance; it takes us from the silent era thru Busby Berkeley, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly, from "42nd Street" (1933) and "West Side Story" (1961) to Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" strut (1977) and the ensemble dance steps created by Michael Jackson and Michael Peters for "Beat It" (1983) [YouTube link], marking a definitive moment in the evolution of the music video. Given the reemergence of the classic Hollywood musical, in "La La Land," a 2016 film that could conceivably become the all-time Oscar champ tonight, with 14 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, it's fitting not to forget the significance of choreographer Mandy Moore, a favorite from television's "So You Think You Can Dance," for her contribution to the success of this film. Hence, it's all the more appropriate to highlight a selection from this 1985 cinematic celebration of dancers and choreographers throughout film history. Whoever takes home the Oscars, one thing is clear: Tonight, there should be lots of Oscar winners dancing in the aisles with their golden statuettes in hand. So, we conclude our annual Film Music February tribute with today's song [YouTube link] and with a reminder to watch the Oscar broadcast this evening! Till next year . . .

February 25, 2017

Song of the Day #1438

Song of the Day: Hacksaw Ridge ("One at a Time") [YouTube link], composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, encapsulates an extraordinary motif in this shattering 2016 film, which tells the story of Desmond Doss, who served as a conscientious objector during World War II, receiving the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of an estimated 75 infantrymen in the Battle of Okinawa, one man at a time. Andrew Garfield, who played Spiderman in two films, plays real-life superhero Doss, who refused to even hold a gun or to kill another human being in military engagement, but vowed to save human life as a medic on the battlefield. It is a role for which Garfield has earned a well-deserved 2016 Best Actor Oscar nomination. I have seen many films concerning "war and peace" in my life, and this Mel Gibson-directed Oscar-nominated Best Picture, which depicts all of the unspeakable horrors and miraculous heroism of battle, easily makes my Top Ten-ish list in that cinematic genre. [Ed: See also Lawrence Read's FEE essay, "Hacksaw Ridge Deserves an Oscar for Redefining Heroism."]

February 24, 2017

Song of the Day #1437

Song of the Day: Cinq Jours en Juin (Five Days in June: "Love Makes the Changes") [YouTube link] features the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and the music of Michel Legrand, who was born on this date in 1932. Legrand also directed this 1989 film, and in case you were wondering, the song is delivered with soul and grace by the only Ray Charles, accompanied by the greatest jazz harmonica player to have ever graced this earth, Toots Thielemans, both men no longer with us. The soundtrack is pure Legrand, but boasts a few pieces by some lightweight composers, folks like Frederic Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach. In any event, Happy 85th Birthday to one of my all-time favorite musical innovators, a brilliant and legendary composer who also happens to be a remarkable jazz musician.

February 23, 2017

Song of the Day #1436

As I stated on Facebook:

Today, as our Film Music February series moves toward its final weekend, I tribute Manton Moreland---one of the greatest and most talented African American comic actors, a trailblazer who broke through the walls of the cinema with his remarkable timing and often improvised use of the double entendre. It's exhibited in today's featured music from Kay's soundtrack to this 1941 film.

Song of the Day: King of the Zombies ("Main Title") [YouTube link, full movie, check the first minute), composed by Edward J. Kay, is from one of those classic comedy/horror hybrids. The 1941 film opens with music over ominous drumming. Remember that drumming, because it is key to one of the most memorable lines in the movie (at 1:00:52). With "voodoo" drums playing in the distance, Bill Summers, played by John Archer, asks his valet, Jefferson Jackson, played by the utterly hilarious Manton Moreland: "What does that sound like to you?" Moreland replies: "I don't know, but it ain't Gene Krupa."

February 22, 2017

Song of the Day #1435

Song of the Day: The Women ("Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone"), words and music by Sam H. Stept, Sidney Clare, and Bee Palmer, was actually written in 1930, but it first made its way into film in this 1939 version of the Clare Booth Luce play, where its first line was sung by Norma Shearer (playing the character Mary Haines) to her lady friends at 00:19:08 into the movie [MovieZoot link]. The film sported an all-star cast, which included among others, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine. It can also be heard in the 1949 film "House of Strangers," the 1951 film "Lullaby of Broadway" [check out the YouTube discussion], and the 1955 animated short "One Froggy Evening." The song became a jazz standard, and has been recorded by so many wonderful artists through the years, including Billie Holiday, Rat Packers Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, as well as Ella Fitzgerald with the Count Basie Orchestra [YouTube links].

February 21, 2017

Song of the Day #1434

Song of the Day: The Help ("Swingin' on a Rainbow"), words and music by Peter De Angelis and Robert Marcucci, was recorded originally by Frankie Avalon as the title track of his 1959 album. Anything with Frankie Avalon's name attached to it brings to mind films with beaches, blankets, and bingo. But this swingin' song was among the "source music" used in this critically acclaimed 2011 period film set in the Civil Rights era of the early 1960s. Source music can play a crucial role in the cinema, providing an aural authenticity to films with an historical setting. Check out the teen idol's swingin' song on YouTube.

February 20, 2017

Song of the Day #1433

Song of the Day: I Want to Live! ("Main Title" / "Poker Game") [YouTube link to the entire soundtrack album; these tracks encompass the first 6:50] was composed by the ever-jazzy and wonderfully prolific Johnny Mandel. It provides a superb backdrop for this Robert Wise-directed 1958 tale based on the harrowing true story of Barbara Graham, who went to the gas chamber for murder. Susan Hayward gave an Oscar-winning performance as Best Actress, playing the "brazen bad girl . . . implicated in murder and sentenced to death row." Two scores for the film were actually released---"Johnny Mandel's Great Jazz Score" and "The Jazz Combo from 'I Want to Live!'"---the former received a Grammy nomination for Best Soundtrack Album (losing out to Andre Previn for "Gigi"). The film's soundtracks feature such jazz luminaries as Gerry Mulligan, Frank Rosolino, Jack Sheldon (the trumpeter who delivered Mandel's haunting 1965 "Sandpiper" score with such passion), Art Farmer, and Shelly Manne (who was also featured on Previn's "Gigi").

February 19, 2017

Song of the Day #1432

Song of the Day: Hell to Eternity ("Main Title") [YouTube link], music by Leith Stevens (who provided that great score for the splendid 1953 George Pal production of "War of the Worlds"), is an appropriate theme to highlight on this day of remembrance, a day we forget at our peril, when the United States government opened internment camps during World War II for Japanese Americans. The 1960 film stars Jeffrey Hunter, along with David Janssen (who played Dr. Richard Kimble in the trailblazing TV series, "The Fugitive"). It is a biopic about Marine hero Guy Gabaldon Pfc. (played by Hunter), who went on to fight in the Pacific theater of the war, using his considerable Japanese language skills in the Battle of Saipan, where he persuaded the Japanese commander to order the surrender of about 1000 troops and 500 civilians.

February 18, 2017

Song of the Day #1431

Song of the Day: Son of Frankenstein ("Main Title"), composed by Frank Skinner, is from the third film in the Universal Studios Series of Frankenstein films. The first two, "Frankenstein" (1931) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), directed by James Whale, were followed by this 1939 film, the last in which Boris Karloff played the role of the Monster---and the first to feature the character Ygor, played by Bela Lugosi (famous, of course, for his "Dracula" role in both the 1927 Broadway adaptation and 1931 film versions of the Bram Stoker novel). Skinner had a wide range of scores to his credit, from "Saboteur" to the Douglas Sirk classics, "All that Heaven Allows" and "Imitation of Life," but he is especially noted for contributing to the definitive soundtracks for several Universal Monster Movies, including "The Wolf Man," "The Invisible Man Returns," and that ultimate horror-comedic hybrid, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."

February 17, 2017

Song of the Day #1430

On Facebook, I wrote the following preface:

Today’s entry in my film music series comes from an epic story of struggle and redemption with which I’ve always identified. And it’s a custom I’ve developed, every February 17th since 2005, to choose a cue from the glorious Miklos Rozsa score to my all-time favorite film, “Ben-Hur,” which made its debut at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1959, just a day over 3 months before my birth in 1960. Perhaps I fell in love with the film before I was even born, since Mom saw it around the 1959 Christmas holidays, but one thing is certain: I actually first fell in love with the soundtrack to this film, playing it over and over on the ol’ Victrola for a good 5 or 6 years prior to seeing the MGM Oscar champ for the first time on its tenth anniversary re-release, which began its run on June 18, 1969 at the Palace Theatre in NYC, the Overture, Intermission, and Entr’ Acte still intact. I should add that the re-release ran in 70 mm through November 5, 1969, in preparation for the 70 mm showing of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." My family and I saw the film in the late summer of 1969. The lobby of the Palace was already adorned with Roberto Gari's famous portrait of Judy Garland, in the wake of Garland's death on June 22, 1969---Garland having given a series of legendary performances at the theatre.

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Valley of the Lepers" / "The Search") [YouTube link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the more mournful themes from his majestic soundtrack for this 1959 film, winner of 11 Academy Awards, including one for Rozsa's score (a record tied by "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," but never surpassed). It's a tradition during Film Music February to pick a cue from my all-time favorite film, on this particular day because it's my birthday! This ain't birthday party music---no victory parade or parade of the charioteers! [YouTube links]. But it shows another thematic side of the grandest symphonic film score ever written by one of my all-time favorite composers. And while you're at it, check out 10 Famous Lines from this Oscar champ [YouTube link]---though at least four classic lines are missing: "Bravely Spoken," "Down Eros, Up Mars" [TCM link], "Ramming Speed" and "We keep you alive to serve this ship: So row well and live!" [YouTube links]. That last one is a line I've used in some of my more whimsical moments with contributors to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. It's very effective!

February 16, 2017

Song of the Day #1429

Song of the Day: The Godfather, Part II ("Immigrant Theme") [YouTube link] is a superb Nino Rota composition, conducted by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola, the director of "The Godfather" (1972) and its two sequels (1974 and 1990), adapted from Mario Puzo's original 1969 novel. But nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing beats the re-edited version of the first two "Godfather" films known as "The Godfather Epic" (a later collection, "The Godfather Trilogy," incorporates "Godfather III"). The original re-edited epic (now playing regularly on premium cable channels, though originally broadcast on NBC in 1977, with a bit of language-scrubbing, as "A Novel for Television") provides us with the whole Corleone family history arranged chronologically (with many scenes not shown in the original theatrical film releases seamlessly integrated). Here, the Family history begins with the tragic youth of Vito Andolini of Corleone, Sicily, fatefully renamed as a child upon his arrival at Ellis Island, as Vito Corleone. Coming to maturity, Vito (superbly played by Robert DeNiro) settles in the Little Italy section of Manhattan. We then move on to the mature Mafia Don of the Corleone syndicate (played brilliantly by Marlon Brando) with special attention focused on one of his American-born sons, Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino, who gives us a master class on evolutionary character development). Michael is an idealistic World War II hero who eventually becomes the family's chieftan, wielding his power with shocking precision. Overall, seeing this brilliant epic, a masterpiece of direction, writing (and improvisation), acting, cinematography, and the use of symbolism, in this chronological reconfiguration provides us with one of the most fascinating cinematic portraits of the power of values in human life---by showing what happens when they are gradually inverted and corrupted. (And for cinemaphiles, check out the the uh, shooting locations that were used in the original film, including Clemenza's house, only ten blocks from where I live!) This particular Rota theme (featured originally on the soundtrack to "Godfather II," for which both Rota and Carmine Coppola shared a much-deserved Oscar in the category of "Best Original Score") is one of my all-time favorites. It expresses the yearning of those who emigrated to this country in search of the American Dream, even as it provides us with a sense of a tragic, underlying American nightmare.

February 15, 2017

Song of the Day #1428

Song of the Day: Now, Voyager ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], was composed by Max Steiner, who won the Academy Award for Best Music Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for this 1942 film, starring the great Bette Davis, along with such acting luminaries as Claude Rains and Paul Henreid. Steiner's music rises to a crescendo when Davis turns to Jerry (played by Henreid) and utters, "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars." It's a line that was ranked #46 by the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 Cinema Quotes. Check out the last scene on YouTube and also a lovely musical tribute by composer and former Boston Pops conductor John Williams, featuring violinist Itzhak Perlman.

February 14, 2017

Song of the Day #1427

Song of the Day: Brooklyn ("End Credits") [YouTube link], composed by Michael Brook, is from the 2015 film of the Colm Toibin novel about Ellis Lacey, an Irish woman (played by Oscar-nominated Saiorse Ronan) who settles in Brooklyn, and who develops a relationship with Anthony "Tony" Fiorello, a man of Italian descent (played by Emory Cohen). This is just one of those love stories that tugs at the heart strings, perhaps because in the end [semi-spoiler alert!], the woman realizes where her real home is. It's a romantic story about the power of love and the power of home. Fuhgedaboudit [YouTube link to a classic exchange in the 1997 film "Donnie Brasco"!]. The film is practically a Valentine's Day card to Brooklyn, New York. Just the greatest borough in the greatest city on earth (in this regard, "IMHO" is not part of my acronymic vocabulary)! But love is universal, so Happy Valentine's Day to all!

February 13, 2017

Song of the Day #1426

Song of the Day: In the Line of Fire ("Taking the Bullet") [YouTube link], music by Ennio Morricone, exhibits one side of perhaps the most versatile film score composer of his generation. This cue from the 1993 film, starring Clint Eastwood, Rene Russo, and an utterly maniacal John Malkovich (who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), encapsulates all the tension and suspense of an unsettling political thriller.

February 12, 2017

Song of the Day #1425

Song of the Day: Trolls ("What U Workin' With?") features the words and music of Max Martin, Ilya, and Justin Timberlake, who joins Gwen Stefani in a duet from the soundtrack to this 2016 animated flick (which my pal Jeffrey Tucker likens to Atlas Shrugged in some of its basic themes). The soundtrack yielded a #1 single for Justin, whose "Can't Stop the Feeling!" received the People's Choice Award and has been nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar this year. It has also received a Grammy nomination for "Best Song Written for Visual Media." [Ed: He won!] Given that the Grammy Awards are being broadcast tonight, I think it's only fitting to highlight another song from the Justin-produced soundtrack, which also includes Justin's homage to "Earth, Wind & Fire" in a terrific rendition of their 1978 hit, "September" [YouTube link]. Justin and Gwen also provide the voices for two of the characters in the flick (Branch and DJ Suki, respectively). Check out the song on YouTube. And check out the Grammy Awards tonight on CBS television, hosted by James Corden, noted for his hilarious Carpool Karaoke stunts on his Late, Late Show!

February 11, 2017

Song of the Day #1424

Song of the Day: Ocean's 11 ("Ain't That a Kick in the Head"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, was first recorded by Dean Martin in a swingin' Nelson Riddle arrangement in May 1960; it is performed by Martin in an alternative arrangement with the Red Norvo Quartet, in this wonderful 1960 Rat Pack heist film. What better way to mark the 11th with Danny Ocean played by Frank Sinatra) and his up-to-no-good gang of 11! Check out this song's original arrangement and its film rendition [YouTube links].

February 10, 2017

Song of the Day #1423

Song of the Day: Hoosiers ("Best Shot") [YouTube link], composed by Jerry Goldsmith, expresses the thrilling athletic adventures of a small-town Indiana high school basketball team, coached by Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman, who delivers one of his best performances). This 1986 film provides many "feel-good" moments, and few composers could express this with more majesty. On this date in 1929, Goldsmith was born, and his music graced some of greatest films of his time. This humble little tale is embodied in Goldsmith's score, which expresses all the excitement, passion, and poignancy that were endemic to his artistry.

February 09, 2017

Song of the Day #1422

Song of the Day: The Magnificent Seven ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is just one of the most memorable title themes of any western---indeed, any film---in cinema history. A 2016 remake was good, and both the remake and the rousing 1960 original film (inspired by the great 1954 Japanese film, "Seven Samurai") had terrific ensemble casts, but, for me, nothing beats the title theme of the 1960 film.

February 08, 2017

Song of the Day #1421

Song of the Day: Close Encounters of the Third Kind ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], music by John Williams, is featured today, for it was on this date that the great composer was born in 1932. The Oscar-nominated score for this wonderful 1977 sci-fi film shows us, in five simple notes, that music really is the universal language. Alas, Williams lost the Oscar for this film that year to another film score of his: a little movie called "Star Wars." This score features a clever reference to the composer's famous "Jaws" theme (from his Oscar-winning score to that summer blockbuster). I'll give you a hint: it's near the two-minute mark in this YouTube clip. (And in the "Main Theme" of today's selection, there is an homage to "When You Wish Upon a Star," from Disney's "Pinocchio", at around 4:30.) See if you can catch it, uh, while you can. And Happy Birthday, Maestro!

February 07, 2017

Song of the Day #1420

Song of the Day: Batman ("Trust"), composed by Prince, features sampled horn parts from jazz trumpeters Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss. This Prince soundtrack album to the 1989 film, directed by Tim Burton, stars Michael Keaton as our Caped Crusader. The film also boasts an utterly off the wall, over-the-top, but still classically Jack Nicholson performance in the villainous role of the Joker (formerly played in the 1960s campy TV series by Cesar Romero, and later played much more darkly by the posthumously awarded Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winner Heath Ledger in the 1998 film, "The Dark Knight"). Check out this song and the scene in which it unfolds as well as a rockin' Shep Pettibone 12" dance remix [YouTube]. And so concludes our mini-tribute to Prince's film music repertoire.

February 06, 2017

Song of the Day #1419

Song of the Day: Under the Cherry Moon ("Kiss"), words and music by Prince, is heard in the 1986 film, which featured the first of many collaborations between the artist and jazz pianist Clare Fischer. The soundtrack to the film was marketed under the title of "Parade." This song was a huge hit; it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot 12" Singles Sales, Hot US Club Play, and Hot Black Singles. Check out the single (it's #11 at this link). The song has been covered by many artists, but among the most fun-filled recordings is the one by Tom Jones. And it's not unusual! [YouTube links]. I'm sure that today Gisele Bundchen is not the only person wanting to Kiss Tom Brady, for leading the New England Patriots to an epic, comeback, overtime 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

February 05, 2017

Song of the Day #1418

Song of the Day: Purple Rain ("When Doves Cry"), words and music by Prince, is featured in the 1984 film and was the biggest hit single from the soundtrack album. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Black Singles chart, and Dance/Disco chart. It is one of those notable R&B-inspired tracks lacking a bass line, but certainly not lacking in soul. On the soundtrack album, Prince plays all the instruments in addition to providing the vocals. Check out the music video [video link]. Some football fans are going to be crying at the end of Super Bowl Sunday; maybe this song will ease the agony of de-feet. If not, then watch the commercials for a laugh or embrace Lady Gaga's halftime show for a little shock and awe.

February 04, 2017

Song of the Day #1417

Song of the Day: Purple Rain ("Darling Nikki"), words and music by Prince, hit the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart. It's a raw, sexually charged track from the 1984 film that prompted the use of "Parental Advisory" stickers on the soundtrack album, despite never having been released as a single. It has been covered by many artists, but there is only one Prince. Check out the film version [YouTube link].

February 03, 2017

Song of the Day #1416

Song of the Day: Purple Rain ("Purple Rain"), words and music by Prince, is the title track to the artist's quasi-autobiographical 1984 film. In 2016, I paid tribute to Prince on the occasion of his untimely death in a week-long celebration of his birthday in June. This week, as part of my annual celebration of film music, I feature a few classic songs from Prince's cinema repertoire. This iconic signature tune is one of his best. Check out the soundtrack album rendition on YouTube.

February 02, 2017

Song of the Day #1415

Song of the Day: King Kong ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John Barry, has all those Barry signature touches of intrigue and mystery, which could be found in every one of the eleven James Bond film soundtracks he scored (and we shall not forget Ayn Rand, who was born on this date in 1905, was a fan of the early Bond films, especially "Dr. No," for which Barry was the uncredited arranger of the famous Monty Norman Bond motif, though there is lots of controversy surrounding who actually composed that theme). Sadly, this 1976 remake of the classic 1933 film doesn't quite live up to the majesty of the subject matter or the score, but the movie did introduce to the world of cinema, a wonderful actress in her first film role, Jessica Lange. The ending, like all the "King Kong" remakes does feel a bit like Groundhog Day (because the fate of our famous ape is sealed the moment he is brought to New York City). But this particular film features an ending that fans of the Twin Towers will never forget.

February 01, 2017

Song of the Day #1414

Song of the Day: The Gauntlet ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Jerry Fielding, opens this 1977 film, in which Clint Eastwood has to deliver an escort (played by Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix to be a witness in a mob trial. As is the case with so many Eastwood vehicles, this one offers a genuinely jazzy score. The soundtrack features trumpeter Jon Faddis and saxman Art Pepper. Today we throw down the gauntlet to start what has become, since 2005, an annual feature of Notablog: Our tribute to music featured in film, hence, Film Music February, beginning on this first day of the month (like TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, which begins at 6 a.m., tributing films with Oscar winners and nominees, this year, in alphabetical order!). The only difference is that our tribute, which exhibits a reverence for the art of the score, concludes on February 26th, the date on which the 89th Academy Awards will air. Within this month, I'll be showcasing songs, famous themes, terrific cues, and other "source" music that have been featured in films throughout the years. And we'll also devote time throughout the tribute to some folks who get special recognition, for one reason or another. So sit back, get out the popcorn, and enjoy 26 Days of Cinema Music.

January 09, 2017

Trump versus Streep

Last night, Meryl Streep was honored at the Golden Globes with the Cecil B. DeMille Award. Our President-elect took great exception to Streep's eloquent words in opposition to some of the attitudes projected by Trump on the campaign trail (though never actually using his name in her remarks). Trump has not been kind to Hollywood types, foreigners, or the press (and the feeling has been, generally, mutual), and since the Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press, Streep, who is probably one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation, used her acceptance speech to put folks on notice that she fully intended to work toward holding the President-elect accountable. Streep was exercising something that is fundamental to this country: the right to speak freely.

In an era where the President-elect reaches his fan base with policy statements that are 140 characters or less, Trump tweeted, in a classic ad hominem, that Streep was "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood . . ." Mr. Trump, you may be right on a lot of things, and wrong on a lot of things, but if you can achieve half of the accomplishments in politics that Ms. Streep has achieved with her talents in the art of acting, then you'll be a great U.S. President. I just find it amazing that a man can be so thin-skinned as to feel the necessity to belittle one of the finest talents to have ever graced the screen. If he'd simply said: "I didn't expect to be celebrated among the Hollywood elites, and Ms. Streep didn't disappoint, but I hope to prove her wrong," it would have been a welcome break from his typical Twitter tirades. Unfortunately, I think we'll have to settle for at least four years of what is typical of him.

Postscript: I'm reminded by a colleague that in her lifetime, Streep has had 19 Oscar nominations and only 3 Oscar wins in nearly 40 years. If anything, she's not been over-rated; she's been overlooked and underappreciated; for a person who has consistently delivered a remarkable range of performances (and dialects), from her roles in "Sophie's Choice" and "Silkwood" to becoming Julia Child and Margaret Thatcher, she's been taken for granted.

December 28, 2016

Song of the Day #1410

Song of the Day: Singin' in the Rain ("Good Morning"), music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed, made its debut in the 1939 film "Babes in Arms." But it was made super-famous by the wonderful singing-and-dancing trio of Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly, and Debbie Reynolds in the great 1952 movie musical "Singin' in the Rain" (and while you're at it, check out the original Garland-Rooney "Babes in Arms" performance) [YouTube links]. Yesterday, I posted a tribute to Carrie Fisher, who died at the age of 60. I have just learned of the death of her 84-year old mom. To have to post, a day later, a tribute to Reynolds, whose many movies and television appearances I so loved (from "The Debbie Reynolds Show" to "Will and Grace," where Reynolds debuted the "Told Ya So" dance [YouTube link]), just goes beyond tragedy. It is almost literally unbelievable to see within a few days, the deaths of celebrities such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and now, Debbie Reynolds. I am greatly saddened. For me, Debbie Reynolds was as "unsinkable" as Molly Brown. RIP, Debbie.

December 27, 2016

Song of the Day #1409

Song of the Day: Star Wars: A New Hope ("Princess Leia's Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the great John Williams, was first heard in "Episode Four," which for those who have been living under a galactic rock for 40 years, is actually the first film in the "Star Wars" franchise, which began in 1977. It is fitting to feature this theme in remembrance of the sad passing of the woman who first brought Princess Leia to life: Carrie Fisher, who died today at the age of 60. Daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, she was a gifted talent, who achieved many wonderful accomplishments in her life. But she will forever be identified with this role, which she also played in "The Empire Strikes Back" (Episode Five, 1980), "Return of the Jedi" (Episode Six, 1983), and "The Force Awakens" (Episode Seven, 2015). The setting of this epic space opera may have begun "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," but Fisher's force will be with us for light years to come. RIP, Carrie Fisher.

December 25, 2016

Song of the Day #1407

Song of the Day: That's What Christmas Means To Me, words and music by Harry Revel, is heard in the heart-warming 1947 film, "It Happened on Fifth Avenue." The title of this tune might pertain to at least four different songs, but this rare soundtrack gem can be heard in a TCM film clip. The film received an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Story", but it actually lost out to another wonderful Christmas film: "Miracle on 34th Street." For an extra dose of good cheer and good will, check out another holiday classic by the wonderful USAF Band playing "Jingle Bells/Auld Lang Syne" [YouTube link]. It may have you dancing right into the New Year (a tip of the Santa hat to Roger Bissell for that wonderful video!). And a Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends!

December 10, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

I just finished reading a typical "libertarian" takedown of yet another classic Christmas tale, long celebrated in American culture: "It's a Wonderful Life," one of the finest Frank Capra films ever made. This critique is by Tom Mullen. Years ago, I read another typical "libertarian" takedown of "A Christmas Carol," (and Tom Mullen appears to be of the same school of thought on this story as well) and what occurs to me is that in both cases, the libertarian critics completely miss the point because they are too busy focusing on the dollars-and-cents issues of how businesspeople are portrayed in these tales. I'll grant the critics one major point: these tales do contain what Ayn Rand often called "mixed premises." Such "mixed premises" are on display in much of Western literature, film, and art in general. But anyone who shares in the larger, benevolent sense of life that Rand saw in American culture should learn to "bracket out" some of the conventional "pink" premises often slipped into films that give us cardboard-cutout portraits of greedy businessmen who operate in very one-dimensional ways almost always understood in terms of strict dollars and cents. Rand herself, however, often fell victim to being incensed by such portraits that she could not see the value of great films, like "The Best Years of Our Lives," which put forth such nefarious notions as "the banker with a heart." Rand didn't "get it": as a 1946 film release, like that of "It's a Wonderful Life," this movie reached deeply into the cultural psyche of a war-weary American public. Debuting about a year after the official end of the most horrific war in human history, the film provides its audience with a cultural catharsis. It does a terrific job of depicting the palpable struggles of World War II's survivng veterans. The film resonated with the audience, which saw on the silver screen riveting portraits of post-traumatic stress and the struggles of veterans trying to live "normal" lives, despite having lost their limbs in battle. In fact, Harold Russell who actually lost both his hands in the war, received an Oscar for Supporting Actor and an Honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."

Then again, I'm the kind of guy who identifies with the subtexts of films that are complex enough to appreciate on a level that might not seem obvious at first blush---hence, till this day, my favorite film of all time remains "A Tale of the Christ": the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur," directed by the same William Wyler who directed "The Best Years of Our Lives," and starring Charlton Heston in the title role. Of course, even Rand the atheist could appreciate great literature and great film, no matter how deep its religious context. As I state in my essay on "Ben-Hur":

Ayn Rand herself counted a Biblical work of historical fiction as among her favorites. She regarded Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz as one of the greatest novels ever written. In fact, Rand tells Ross Baker (Letters of Ayn Rand, 11 December 1945, 251): "A book expert in New York told me that the biggest fiction sellers of all times (and the surest recipe for a bestseller) have always been religious novels with a good story (Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis?, The Robe [all made into spectacular epic films--CMS] )--and that The Fountainhead is a religious novel [insofar as] it gives to . . . readers . . . a sense of faith, courage and moral uplift."

Well, then, for me, and for so many other viewers, there is both reason and rhyme in viewing such films as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" as providing precisely that "sense of faith, courage and moral uplift" that nourish the requisite spiritual inspiration sought by most of us on this planet we call home.

So let's turn to "It's a Wonderful Life," the newest punching bag among some critics in libertarian circles. Contary to what Tom Mullen has said in his essay, there is no evidence that George Bailey has been anything but honest with his customers. Even when there is a run on the bank in 1929, when the Stock Market crashes, George tries to explain to each person who put their money in the Bailey Building and Loan Company, that every single one of them signed a contract when they made their initial deposits, with the stipulation that their money would be secure and that if they wanted to withdraw all of their savings at any time, they would receive it within sixty days.

From the first moments of the crash, something engineered by the Federal Reserve System during the Roaring Twenties, Ol' Man Potter, the guy whom Mullen extols as the real "hero" of the film, offers folks 50 cents on the dollar if they come to his bank (not exactly the "generous offer" Mullen celebrates). He's the kind of guy who was probably involved in the Fed's 1913 formation, which made twentieth-century booms and busts both possible---and inevitable, including the 1929 crash depicted in the film. And he's also the kind of guy who took pride in running the Draft Board, assisting his government to draft men into involuntary servitude on the precipice of World War II. Yeah, a real hero, that Mr. Potter.

And let's not forget [SPOILER ALERT!] that Potter is as guilty as sin for stealing $8000 from the absent-minded Uncle Billy, who was just about to deposit it. There is nothing redeemable about sending another business into a tailspin by stealing its deposits in an act of outright thievery.

Now, let's get back to the real meaning of "It's a Wonderful Life," and why it is that so many people regard it as a holiday classic. The irony is that when it was released, it wasn't as successful in its first run because people found it too "dark"; after all, the plot twist of the final reel reads like a script from an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone": at the end of his rope, with $8000 of bank deposits missing, the prospect of financial scandal and prison hanging over his head, George Bailey is ready to end it all by jumping off a bridge. And Clarence, Bailey's Guardian Angel, is looking to earn his wings, which he can't do unless he saves George. So Clarence jumps into the water and starts screaming for help. George Bailey, played beautifully by the great James Stewart, forgets his own intended act of self-sabotage, because inside of him is a benevolent sense of life, a sense of life so profound that at the moment of contemplating suicide, he saves the life of another man. When Clarence explains that he can't "earn his wings" without saving George, George is so mystified by all this "angel" talk, and he's beyond disgusted: "I wish I'd never been born."

In a moment of remarkable inspiration, Clarence grants George his wish. That's it, he says: You've never been born. There's no George Bailey.

So when George makes his way back to Bedford Falls, Clarence tagging along, he discovers that the town is now known as Pottersville, and it is like one gigantic speakeasy, violent and decadent. He goes into the local bar, and the bartender doesn't recognize him. George sees an old, haggard Mr. Gower, his first employer, enter the bar. He's just been released from jail, apparently, serving a prison term for manslaughter for having poisoned a child. Bailey tells Clarence that this is impossible: As a kid, George worked at Mr. Gower's pharmacy; Gower (played by the gracefully expressive H. B. Warner), distraught over the death of his own son from influenza, mistakenly mixes poison into a prescription meant for another child. But Clarence tells George that the boy died because George wasn't around to alert Mr. Gower of his carelessness. Angry exchanges ensue in the bar, and before you know it, he and Clarence are thrown out on their butts.

George tells Clarence that Harry, his brother, had just gotten the Medal of Honor for saving an amphibious transport by shooting down a Kamikaze pilot in the Pacific War against the Japanese. But Clarence tells George that Harry Bailey wasn't there to save the transport because George wasn't alive to save Harry, who nearly drowned as a kid, falling into the ice on a frozen lake in Bedford Falls. George has no wife (Mary became an "old maid," says Clarence), no children, and a bitter mother who doesn't know him. George is slowly degenerating into a raving maniac, inhabiting a universe that is as unknown to him as he is to it. As the cops chase after him, he runs back toward the bridge, the place where he sought to end his life, and he is crying: "I want to live again."

And suddenly, the nightmare is over: George Bailey lives again to see another day; and all the townspeople who were the beneficiaries of his Building and Loan Company come through for him, as does an old friend, to keep the Building and Loan solvent. Reunited with his wife and family, with the townspeople singing "Auld Lang Syne," his brother Harry alive, George is holding his little girl Zuzu in his arms, and a little bell rings on the Christmas tree behind him. Zuzu tells him that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. He opens a gift, it's a book from Clarence (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain), and in it, there is an inscription: "No man is a failure who has friends."

What Capra is telling us in this remarkable film (whose plot twist has been used as a device in so many other stories on both the big and small screen) is that each one of us has the capacity to lead a wonderful life by the very fact of our existence and by the choices we make that are essential to sustain our lives. We learn that every action we take is like a pebble thrown into still water, the ripple effects of our choices and actions moving out in concentric circles, affecting people, even some people we've never met, in ways that none of us could have possibly anticipated.

Now, it is true that sometimes action or inaction can cause bad unintended consequences. But the importance of Capra's story is that George Bailey is a beautiful soul, and that if we suddenly wipe out the existence of that beautiful soul, the ripple effects cease; it is as if the pebble never touched the still water. And all the things that were done are now undone. And even when we are at the end of our ropes, so-to-speak, it is valuable to pause and to think about all the good in our lives, all of our achievements, personal and professional, and, by that fact, all the effects we have had on those around us. What a truly wonderful testament to the power of a single individual to shape and alter the people and the realities around him. What a tribute to the honor and dignity and life-altering power of the individual that each of us has by virtue of our humanity.

Now, while we're at it, let me turn to another favorite film of the holiday season that has had its share of libertarian naysayers: "A Christmas Carol." In "Scrooge Defended," Michael Levin uses a tactic similar to Tom Mullen, this time in defense of Scrooge as a good businessman, like Ol' Man Potter of "It's a Wonderful Life." A long time ago, on the now defunct site of "The Daily Objectivist," I defended the famed 1951 film version starring the extraordinarily gifted actor, Alastair Sim, who gives a multilayered performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. As I said back in the year 1999:

I challenge Levin and anyone else who sees Alastair Sim in the classic film version of "A Christmas Carol" (1951) to walk away unmoved by this man's transformation. The central issue is a man so torn from his emotional side and from any concern with the effects of his actions on other human beings. His finding of his self is really wonderful to behold. Yes, the film and the book [by Charles Dickens] have lots of mixed premises, some that don't make us comfortable [as libertarians or Objectivists, etc.]. That is the case with many products in English literature. But the story does speak to all of us in many ways, about the need to live integrated lives.

So to the naysayers of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," there are only two words appropriate in reply, and it's not "Merry Christmas." I say: "Bah, humbug!" Count this libertarian out if you think it's better to live in a world of Pottersvilles or that those who are less fortunate than us should die and decrease the surplus population.

December 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1403

Song of the Day: Spartacus ("Overture"), composed by Alex North, is featured on this day, the 100th birthday of the very much alive actor, Kirk Douglas. From his starring roles in such movies as "Champion," "Lust for Life," and "The Bad and the Beautiful" (all for which he received Oscar nominations in the category of Best Actor) to "Paths of Glory" and his seven films with Burt Lancaster (including "Seven Days in May"), Douglas has been Hollywood royalty for decades. He was awarded an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement [YouTube link]. But there are few films that capture his grit at its most heroic than the Stanley Kubrick-directed 1960 blockbuster, "Spartacus." Happy birthday to the "Young Man with a Horn." And instead of singing Happy Birthday, I'd like to stand up and say: "I'm Spartacus."

John Glenn, RIP

One of my earliest memories as a child was sitting in front of the black-and-white TV we owned, which was the centerpiece of our living room. It was February 20, 1962. I had just turned two years old on February 17th, and the 20th was my mother's birthday (and the birthday of my best pal, Paul, who lived in the apartment next to us). Maybe it was because it was Mom's birthday, or maybe it was just because I was, at two years old, completely and utterly dazzled by the images I saw on the small screen that day.

John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, having lifted off from Cape Canaveral in his Friendship 7 rocket, among the very first group of astronauts of the young Mercury program. And he orbited our planet three times before making a dramatic splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is amazing to me that I have such vivid memories of that day in front of the television set; it would be my freshman orientation, so-to-speak, with what became a lifelong education and love affair with the very idea of space travel. In later years, we'd sit in front of the TV to see the Apollo 11 moonlanding and to view the first two human beings from the planet Earth to walk on the moon. I was pinned to the TV when Apollo 13's crew announced, "Houston, we have a problem." I saw a rover drive across the surface of the moon, and the Apollo-Soyuz dockings, and the heartbreaking, tragic Challenger disaster. I have never lost my childlike fascination with space, with the potential of space travel, and with the heroic spirit that motivated those space travelers, each taking "one small step for a man," and "one giant leap for mankind."

This is all quite apart from any of the political dimensions that surround the dawn of the space age, or the political career of Glenn, when he served as Senator of Ohio (and got mixed up in political scandal. Hat tip to Christopher Baker!).

For this two-year old, still lurking inside me, Glenn's flight still encompasses the majesty and wonder of human achievement.

And so it is with sadness that I learned of the passing of John Glenn yesterday, December 8, 2016. He provided me with my first encounter with space travel; that the memory has stayed with me in such a vivid way for over 54 years now is almost as remarkable as the event itself. It was Glenn who ignited, in this two year old, the seeds of the belief in a world of boundless possibilities.

RIP, John Glenn. And thank you.

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, some questions were raised about John Glenn's post-astronaut, political career, and, by extension, about the nature of government intervention that made the space program possible. I added the following comment:

Thank you Caroline, and Christopher, read the blog entry: I give you a hat tip! I added the point about the political ramifications of the space program (and the political scandals with which Glenn's name is linked) as outside the context of this specific post: how a 2-year old kid watched a man leave the ground atop a rocket, only to orbit the Earth three times and return safely to that Earth. That thrill is forever etched in my mind, regardless of what Glenn was (as a man) or who he became (as a politician). And regardless of the fact that the US space program was government-funded on taxpayer revenue seized by force, by definition, that achievement is what it is. Ayn Rand herself made the distinction of being able to celebrate the moon landing, as a triumph of human achievement, while being opposed to the funding of programs to propel man into space. She was deeply aware of the kinds of distortions in the evolving structure and development of production that resulted anytime the government has stepped in to socialize the risks of "development", as it did with the building of transcontinental railroads in the 19th century (see her essay, "Apollo 11," September 1969, "The Objectivist"). She wrote that the " 'conquest of space' by some men ... [was] accomplished by expropriating the labor of other men who are left without means to acquire a pair of shoes." She points out, of course, that in the space program, taxpayer funding notwithstanding, "the scientists, the technologists, the engineers, the astronauts were free men acting of their own choice. . . . Of all human activities, science is the field least amenable to force: the facts of reality do not take orders." This said, Rand was also aware of another sobering fact: that when government does become heavily involved in the directions of scientific research, what often results is an interventionist dynamic that alters everything from educational to economic institutions, resulting in a self-perpetuating system that leads to a kind of 'military-science-industrial complex' more suited to producing the means and weapons of mass destruction, rather than tools for mass creation. Check out my expanded section in the second edition of "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical", in Chapter 12, "The Welfare-Warfare State," as well as the story of Project X in Rand's magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged."

I also added:

I should add that there is much to be said about what Murray Rothbard called the power of the market to transform the products emerging from coercive intervention into products that are of use to consumers, what he called, "a process of converting force to service." See Chapter 6 of my book, "Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism."

December 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1402

Song of the Day: Chunky features the words and music of Philip Lawrence, Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, and Bruno Mars, who performed this on both "Saturday Night Live (@ 3:39 in the YouTube video of his performances on the October 15, 2016 show) and the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" [YouTube link] last night. I don't how those razor-thin models reacted to a song extolling the virtues of "girls with the big old hoops," but Bruno was #1 on the runway for me. His new album, "24K Magic" (whose title track, with a spotlight-solo dance segment on November 20th's American Music Awards [YouTube link]) was a pure MJ throwback), has a touch of James Brown, Prince, and Michael Jackson, on whose shoulders he proudly stands (see his "60 Minutes" interview [CBS News link]). Pure Magic. 24K. (Oh, and check out this great cinema montage set to the Mars-Ronson hit, "Uptown Funk".)

December 02, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

On this day, marking the one-year anniversary of the San Bernardino terror attack, I pause to remember the victims and the survivors.

And yet, somehow, we have survived. There is a culture of life in this country, but especially in this city, New York City, the grandest city on earth, which in 2001 suffered a horrendous attack of its own.

Nothing seems to dampen this country's (or this city's) ability to rise above the rubble, not even a contentious election that has left many of us with the feeling that Armageddon is around the corner. Yet, from the moment Santa Claus comes riding into town at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on its 90th anniversary, surrounded by about a thousand cops, seen and unseen, with submachine guns, something good happens to this city.

Indeed, every time you think the world is heading for the apocalypse, just turn on the Hallmark Movie Channel, where they've been showing Christmas movies nonstop practically since Halloween! The other night I was watching Happy the Cat and Happy the Dog on The Happy Yule Log---and I'm a long-time fan of the ol' WPIX Yule Log, so you know you have to go a long way to move this New York loyalist! But moved I was. How could I not be?

And on Wednesday night, thousands of people gathered around Rockefeller Center in the pouring rain to watch the annual Christmas Tree lighting, along with Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Donald Trump (actually actor and SNL Donald-impersonator Alec Baldwin) and Hillary Clinton (actually SNL comic and Hillary-impersonator Kate McKinnon), striking a chord for unity. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can dampen the New York Values that light up our streets and our hearts at this time of year. This city is a universe unto itself, and if you've not seen the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall or the remarkable light displays that blanket Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, well, you ain't seen nothin'!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; we live to grieve those who have lost their lives on American soil on this sad anniversary (in which people were murdered in a facility filled with celebratory Christmas decorations), but we embrace the warmth of a holiday season that reminds us how much life is worth living.

November 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1399

Song of the Day: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ("Main Themes"), composed by the great Jerry Goldsmith, graced the original TV show in various iterations for its mid-1960s small-screen run. It led to a series of spin-offs and film adaptations, including a 2015 movie version. The show was inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond series; indeed, Fleming contributed to the development of the original show, which featured two characters, one Soviet and one American, who join forces in a secret international counter-espionage agency called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law Enforcement). The Soviet agent, Illya Kuryakin, was played by the handsome, blond David McCallum and the American agent, Napoleon Solo, was played by cleft-chinned Robert Vaughn. It was a fun show that I'll always remember from my childhood. I post this theme in remembrance of Robert Vaughn, who passed away today at the age of 83.

November 09, 2016

The Day After...

Some years ago, ABC Television showed a made-for-TV film about a nuclear attack on the United States called "The Day After." Well, for many, today is, indeed, "The Day After" the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. His Trump Revolution, over which I expressed grave reservations, propelled him into the greatest bully pulpit the world over.

And yet, despite poll after poll expressing the possibility of a victory for Hillary Clinton, I had my doubts; this morning I expressed those doubts in a post on Facebook, in reply to a comment by my friend and colleague, Douglas Rasmussen, who thought Clinton would win. I wrote:

I have been thinking for a long time that there was a larger constituency that might vote for Trump but that was not showing up in the polls because people were embarrassed to admit it (and I don't blame them!). It's entirely possible of course that Clinton may have still won the national popular vote, but not the Electoral College. I was for neither candidate but hoping that some gridlock would remain to block either candidate's excesses; I'm of the belief, however, that whether this country elected a US-version of Evita Peron or a US-version of Benito Mussolini, there is little if any "establishment" check on the power of those who wield it in the shadows (though I am concerned about Supreme Court candidates who might rollback abortion rights, privacy rights or equal civil marriage rights, etc.). But most real "power" in the US resides outside of the official channels anyway: e.g., the Fed, what libertarians are fond of calling the "state-banking nexus" and the entrenched regulatory-welfare-warfare establishment that benefits "elites" who are forever in the shadows. The bottom line is: This country will see no fundamental change as long as the greatest powers that regulate our lives remain beyond the effects of the ballot box. Period. As long as all the institutional barriers to freedom remain a part of an entrenched system, no one man or one woman can possibly make a difference. They say the job of the next person to become President is to make the last one look good. Well, to the old bosses: welcome to the new boss. Today, the NY Daily News has on its cover a photo of the White House and the banner headline "House of Horrors". Let's just hope that the new boss doesn't make the last one become a candidate for a place on Mount Rushmore (which has a few questionable images sculptured into it already!).

In short, as the Talking Heads never tired of saying throughout the campaign, stealing a line from Bette Davis in "All About Eve": "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

Let's just hope there is a truly emergent sunny day after the long, long night that still lies ahead.

October 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1397

Song of the Day: Nasty, words and lyrics by Jimmy "Jam" Harris III, Terry Lewis, and Janet Jackson, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop Singles charts. This 1986 Janet Jackson signature tune, from her #1 album, "Control," is a particularly appropriate "song of the day" today; last night in the final face-off between Benito and Evita, "Nasty Boy" Trumpster called Hillary a "Nasty Woman," and the phrase has now gone viral. Only the future of the republic is on the line, but I'm still chuckling over a comment made by my long-time colleague and friend, David Boaz, who, when asked, "If somebody held a gun to your head, and gave you the choice of The Don or Hillary?" replied: "Take the bullet." Whatever your political persuasion, most of us will look back on this 2016 Presidential campaign as having provided us with some "nasty" entertainment for months. There's only one thing left to do: "Gimme a Beat" (and you thought I was going to say: "Rock the Vote!"). Check out the video to this iconic Janet song [YouTube link] (and yes, in the video, you'll find a young Paula Abdul, who did the choreography).

September 19, 2016

Song of the Day #1393

Song of the Day: Sesame Street ("Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street"), composed by Joe Raposo, originally featured the ever-recognizable harmonica of the late, great jazz musician Toots Thielemans [YouTube link]. A vocal version often opened the series (and check out the Jimmy Fallon-Roots version as well) [YouTube links], while Thielemans closed it out in a strictly instrumental rendering. I just learned of the death of this jazz giant, who passed away at the age of 94 on August 22, 2016. He was one of my all-time favorite musicians. Now, while this theme closes our mini-tribute to TV themes for 2016, it also opens a two-day tribute to Toots. I first heard his talents on display when he whistled in unison with his melodic and inventive improvisational guitar playing, so deeply influenced by Django Reinhardt, on an original Toots composition [a .pdf file], which became his signature tune: "Bluesette" [YouTube link]. So when I was later introduced to his harmonica playing, I was utterly floored by what I heard. (In fact, he played a harmonica rendition of that classic composition in a live harmonica duet with Stevie Wonder [YouTube link].) Whether he was enriching the sounds of a film score ("Midnight Cowboy," "Sugarland Express" [YouTube links]), accompanying such artists as Vanessa Williams and Sting on "Sister Moon" [YouTube link], or conjoining his musical talents with the incomparable Michel Legrand for a lovely rendition of the main theme from the Oscar-winning 1971 Legrand film score for "The Summer of '42" [YouTube link], Toots could play that small instrument with all the dexterity of a jazz saxophonist. Check out his jazz work on such tunes as "Au Privave" [YouTube link] (a live recording with guitarist Joe Pass and pianist Oscar Peterson), "The Days of Wine and Roses" [YouTube link] (with jazz pianist Bill Evans), and "Manha de Carnaval" [YouTube link], from the first of a two-volume collection of melodic, lyrical Brazilian classics.

September 18, 2016

Song of the Day #1392

Song of the Day: Batman ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the celebrated jazz trumpeter, composer, songwriter, and arranger, Neil Hefti, opened every episode of the campy 1960s series starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne / Batman, and Burt Ward as Robin facing off against a host of villains played by an evolving all-star cast, including The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin and John Astin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and Catwoman (Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt), among them. The cartoon graphics at the beginning of the show inspired a hilarious SNL parody, called "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" [YouTube link]. I was so swept away by the series as a kid that I went out to my Aunt Joan's house in Bellmore, Long Island, just so I could see Adam West and Burt Ward pass by in a Long Island bus tour! And my sister, my cousins, and I made the cover of Long Island's Newsday in a photo showing me holding up a sign of greeting as high as any 7-year old kid could. Tonight, they'll be lots of people holding up Emmy Awards in the Primetime broadcast. Tomorrow, I'll have one more encore TV theme, in honor of one of the greatest musicians who ever lived, now gone. But tonight, check out the Emmys.

September 17, 2016

Song of the Day #1391

Song of the Day: Queer as Folk ("Sanctuary"), words and music by Brian Canham and Ben Grayson (both formerly of Pseudo Echo), was recorded by Origene and featured prominently in Season 4 of the pathbreaking Showtime series. "There is a place within all of us, it is sacred, so free of judgment, and this is yours to share with who you wish. . . this is your sanctuary . . ." It is a lyric so in sync with the individualist ethos of the series in which it was heard. Moreover, the song's dance rhythm meshes well not only with our TV-themed week, but also as a contribution to the final weekend of our Summer Saturday Night Dance Party, which ends officially on the last full day of Summer (September 21st). Check out the original telescore single mix, the extended Harry Lemon remix, and the Ivan Gough remix.

September 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1390

Song of the Day: The Passion of Ayn Rand ("Love Is, Love is Not"), words and music by Jeff Beal, is sung by Shirley Eikhard over the closing credits of the 1999 Showtime film, based on Barbara Branden's 1986 Rand biography of the same name. The film earned awards for some of its stellar acting performances: an Emmy Award for Helen Mirren in the lead role of the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand ("Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie") and a Golden Globe Award for Peter Fonda in the role of Rand's husband, Frank O'Connor ("Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for TV"). Check out the sensitive jazz-infused song on YouTube.

September 15, 2016

Song of the Day #1389

Song of the Day: I Love Bosco, words and music by John Edwards and Lyn Duddy, featuring the adorable Bosco bear, was a commercial staple during the children's TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s. (Though, in truth, I was an even bigger fan of Farfel from Nestle's!) Check out the jingle on YouTube.

September 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1388

Song of the Day: Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should, ghost written by Margaret Johnson and her husband Travis Johnson, was performed by their Song Spinners group for one of the most recognizable cigarette commercials in TV history. You don't see these commercials anymore, but the jingles stay in your head, if you were among those situated in front of the TV from the 1950s through the 1970s. Our Emmy mini-tribute this year includes a couple of those jingles, as memorable as many of the TV show themes we all grew up listening to. Check out this unforgettable commercial jingle on YouTube.

September 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1387

Song of the Day: TCM Feature Presentation Theme [YouTube link], is a familiar and friendly instrumental, featuring a lovely clarinet, and an uncredited composer. For regular fans of Turner Classic Movies, it's just an indication that another genuinely classic movie is about to grace our television screens.

September 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1386

Song of the Day: Land of the Giants ("Main Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by the great John Williams for the Irwin Allen-created sci-fi TV series. As an eight-year old kid, I enjoyed this TV series when it premiered in 1968. The show lasted two seasons on the ABC network.

September 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1385

Song of the Day: The Night Of [YouTube link], music by Jeff Russo, opens each episode of the tense HBO miniseries that recently concluded its summer run. The show was to star the late James Gandolfini, who retains a posthumous executive producer credit; his role was subsequently offered to Robert DeNiro, but due to scheduling conflicts, it was ultimately played superbly by John Turturro. And so begins our annual-ish tribute to television themes en route to the Emmy Awards, which will be broadcast on Sunday, September 18th. Though seemingly simple in its composition, this show's theme seems to take its 'cue' from "Psycho" and "Jaws," warning us of the ominous things to come. After viewing hours of touching tributes today, we have come to the night of September 11th. The twin beams of light from downtown Manhattan can be seen clearly from my apartment in Brooklyn, in tribute to the shattering events that occurred on 9/11/2001, destroying the WTC Twin Towers. There is a bit of irony to commence a mini-tribute to television themes with a show centered on a murder mystery in a post-9/11 America. Indeed, over the years, not even television series have been able to sidestep the ultimate "reality show" that took place on this day, fifteen years ago.

WTC Remembrance: Fifteen Years Ago - Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to my own personal reflections on the fifteenth anniversary of the day that my hometown was attacked in 2001, a day that changed our lives forever. These reflections emerge from my viewing of a series of VHS tapes that I used to record the tragic events of that day and the days, weeks, and months that followed. My focus for this essay is exclusively on the unfolding minute-by-minute television coverage from 8:46 a.m. to midnight on the day of terror that we commemorate today.

I have to admit that this essay was one of the most difficult, and yet cathartic, pieces I've ever written in my entire life. I invite readers to view the newest addition to my annual series here.

I also provide this index for those readers who would like easy access to the previous entries in this series:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine


Never forget.

Postscript: Much appreciation to Ilana Mercer, who has noted the newest essay on her blog here. She writes:

I recall calling Chris Matthew Sciabarra around the time September 11 happened. Like the best of New York, Chris was hyper, in fight-but-never-flight mode. That’s my Chris. And he has commemorated the attack on the greatest city in the world—was I overcome by patriotism when I visited New York!—his hometown, in the most personal way each year.

Postscript 2: Much appreciation to Rational Review News Digest for making this the lead commentary in their September 11th edition. See here. Special thanks to long-time colleague and friend Thomas L. Knapp for noticing.

August 21, 2016

Ben-Hur 2016: I'll Wait for the DVD

Back on March 23, 2016, I posted a Notablog entry, "A New 'Ben-Hur' Looms . . . Oy Vey!," where I provided links to the first promotional trailers to the newest version of the classic Lew Wallace "Tale of the Christ." Preceding this newest version, there was a 1907 one-reeler, a 1925 MGM silent spectacular, and a 1959 11-Academy-Award-winning epic (not to mention a 2003 animated version and a 2010 television miniseries). I had every intention of seeing the 2016 version, and I will do so... once it is released on DVD and/or Blu-Ray. With very few exceptions, the film has received a host of ghastly reviews, and I've just decided it's not worth the effort to go to a theater to see it. But I will provide a serious comparative review when I do have the chance to see the new film, and will reserve judgment on it. What I could not reserve judgment on, however, was the characterization of the record Oscar-winning, William Wyler-directed version as a "kitschy 1959 sword-and-sandals epic," by the New York Times reviewer, Stephen Holden. So I posted a reply yesterday, and the Times published it today at this link. I wrote:

The 1959 "Ben-Hur" is my favorite film of all time. It was the first "intimate epic" that never buried the characters' inner struggles, despite its spectacular grand scale. Heston's performance---even his silent moments and expressions---was worth Oscar gold. This "Tale of the Christ" has always been a parallel story of Judah and Jesus (though director Wyler never clobbers us over the head with religiosity; even an atheist can revel in its spiritual message). And ultimately, it is about redemption; Judah goes from an optimistic, wealthy man to a galley slave bent on vengeance, and finally to a healed man (and that is the true miracle depicted, the curing of Judah's mother and sister's leprosy a physical symbol of a larger spiritual redemption, when Judah says he felt Jesus's words to "'forgive them' . . . take the sword out of my hands"). The film deserved every one of its 11 Oscars, a record tied twice but never beaten. Wyler's brilliant direction and use of symbolism (e.g., take notice of Ben-Hur & Messala aiming their spears where the beams "cross", or Pilate's crowning of Judah after the chariot race as the people's "one true god", or the use of water--and blood--as a cleansing agent) are unparalleled. From its acting, cinematography & editing to Rozsa's greatest film score, it is a crowning achievement. It redefined a genre and stood the test of time. So much for "kitsch." I'll wait for the DVD of the 2016 remake.

Most of the reviewers, to their credit, did not feel the need to pan the 1959 epic; most were laudatory in their evaluations of its intimacy, epic scale, and especially for its thundering chariot race sequence, filmed without the aid (or distortions) of CGI, as one of the three most important action sequences ever to be seen in the cinema (the others being the crop-dusting scene with Cary Grant in the great Hitchcock classic, "North by Northwest," and the Steve McQueen-driven car chase scene in "Bullitt"). And most critics have condemned the new 2016 film as a cut-rate "Classics Illustrated" version of the story, with well-bred actors who are nonetheless puny when compared to the stellar cast of its 1959 predecessor. They have vastly augmented the role of Sheik Ilderim (played in 2016 by Morgan Freeman, and by Oscar-winning supporting actor Hugh Griffith in 1959) and have eliminated entirely the important character, admiral and Roman consul, Quintus Arrius (played with remarkable depth by Jack Hawkins in the 1959 version).

Based on this advance notice, I'm already predisposed toward a less-than-positive review; but, as I said, I will reserve judgment until I see the film. Till then, all I can do is to repeat what I said the first time I posted on this topic: "Oy vey."

Postscript: A number of Christian-oriented publications posted reviews that showered praise on the 2016 version for depicting the virtue of forgiveness even more explicitly than its 1959 predecessor. I reply to this in a Facebook post:

Interestingly, some of the Christian-oriented print media are praising this version of "B-H" as more "forgiving" than the 1959 version, for in this one, Messala lives and the two rekindle their friendship after the crucifixion. The Christian message seems more prominent if only because the 2016 film was produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett who brought us those none-too-subtle "Bible" and "AD" miniseries for television. But if that's the case (and again, I reserve judgment), I think it completely misses the subtlety and power of the Wyler film. Watch the chariot race closely; Messala begins to whip Judah and the two play a tug of war over the whip till Judah takes the whip from Messala and strikes back. And yes, all this is achieved with real men riding real chariots in a real arena, not with CGI effects. But Messala is riding a Greek chariot, with blades meant to rip the wheels off the other chariots in the arena, and he gets so tangled up with Judah's chariot that his own wheels come off and he is dragged and trampled by the other competitors in the arena. At that very moment, watch Heston's expression very closely. He turns and sees Messala fallen, and his expression is not that of a victor, but of somebody who is feeling anguish and pain. He visits the dying Messala, perhaps in a quest to hear something of value. When Messala tells him, in effect, 'you think you've won a victory over your enemy,' Judah responds with: "I see no enemy." But Messala exacts one last cruelty by telling Judah that his mother and sister are not dead, but can be found in the valley of the lepers "if you can recognize them." For Messala, the battle goes on, even with his dying breath. When confronted by Pilate later in the film, an increasingly bitter Judah is told that he's been made a citizen of Rome. Pilate tells him that the intelligent man must learn to live in the real world and for now, that real world is Rome. Pilate admits that there was great injustice in the deeds of Messala's, but despite his anger at his former friend, even at this moment when his lover Esther tells him, "hatred and bitterness are turning you to stone... it's as if you had become Messala," Judah tells Pilate that the deed was not Messala's. "I knew him ... well." He blames the cruelty of Rome for having poisoned his friend, and Pilate tells him, in essence, to get out of Judea, for he is too rich and powerful among his people and a potential threat to the Roman occupation. Judah, in essence, believes that the only way to cleanse this land is "in blood" to scour off their bodies the filth of tyranny. His bitterness begins to shed only when he recognizes Jesus en route to Golgotha, that this was the man who gave him water in the desert and the will to live, when he was first sentenced to the galleys. "What has he done to merit this?" he asks. He attempts to give the fallen Jesus water (the symbolism of water is omnipresent in this 1959 version), but it is kicked away by a Roman soldier. He witnesses the crucifixion--for its time, a very explicit hammering is depicted, and when Jesus dies, his blood falls into the water of a storm, and it travels throughout the land. A symbolic irony here, as the land is indeed cleansed "in blood." When Judah returns home, it is only then that he tells Esther, his lover, that almost at the moment he died, Jesus uttered the words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And he says that he felt those words "take the sword out of [his] hands." Reunited with his cured mother and sister, amidst a glorious Miklos Rozsa backdrop of rising music, we understand the power of redemption, and of not giving in to hatred and bitterness. Wyler achieves this with subtlety and grace. That subtlety and grace is what makes the 1959 version a masterpiece, a work of art. Downey and Burnett's productions have always clobbered us over the head with their evangelical message; if the new "Ben-Hur" depicts that, then it is only a fool who cannot see the greater power, and universality, of the 1959 version, precisely because of its subtlety.

Postscript II: A reader on Facebook suggests that the 1959 film has been criminally underrated by many critics because of its religious content, but often don't see it from the perspective of one of its screenwriters, Gore Vidal, who added another layer entirely to the tale. I replied:

You are absolutely correct; Vidal claims that he told Wyler that they should approach the relationship between Judah and Messala as a kind of lover-relationship gone bad, with the latter wanting to start up again, and the former, having moved on. Wyler films it that way. And there are the explicit "homoerotic" trappings of "bromance"--even as the two of them look into each other's eyes and intertwine their arms when they drink wine together upon their first meeting after so many years. It is clear that they loved each other very deeply. The truth is that I also think a lot of critics just couldn't stand Heston for his conservative politics, so they forgot about stellar performances in "Touch of Evil," "Ben-Hur," "Will Penny," "The Agony and the Ecstacy," and a host of trailblazing sci-fi films. Heck, even though the script was corny, can you imagine another man parting the Red Sea? But this politics stuff is taken too far and it's a joke, considering that he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights, in Washington, D.C. and was President of the Screen Actor's Guild, and only later went on to support Reagan and the NRA. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, that paragon of virtue, George Clooney, remarked that Heston announced he had Alzheimer's, but he forgot he had announced it already. Nice, huh? Make fun of a disease that is destructive and debilitating, no matter how cruel, because you hate the fact that the man said he'd hold onto his guns with his "cold dead hands." Heston is said to have answered that he loved Rosemary Clooney, and that it was clear "class" had skipped a generation.

I added (in several Facebook replies):

If we were to look through the lens of politics or personal predilections, we'd probably dismiss three-quarters of the giants of Western civilization, and 90% of pop culture. You don't like Streisand's politics, so does that make her a horrible singer or actress? You think Sinatra was a womanizer and a bully, so does that make him anything less than The Voice of the 20th century? You think Michael Jackson was a pedophile, so does that mean you can't love his dancing or embrace his music? Sometimes people just can't evaluate art for what it is, and when politics gets in the way, they go blind. . . . Quite frankly, without Wagner, the art of the film score might never have been born--that's how important his influence has been on the development of music-as-story-telling, and most of the great Golden Age Hollywood film composers would credit Wagner with that impact. Everything has to be put in perspective (context, context, context :) ) ... and it is possible, and necessary, in fact, to evaluate things and people and achievements on different scales and from different vantage points, As my friend Douglas Rasmussen once reminded me: "Art is not ethics." Indeed! . . . [And] just because I love "Ben-Hur" (1959) does not mean that there was not a "sword and sandals" genre that flourished in its time, which makes the achievement of "Ben-Hur" all the more important as a break from many of the former incarnations of the genre. As the first "intimate" epic of its kind, it was the "fountainhead" so-to-speak of other "intimate" epics, none of them Biblical, per se, but certanly historical, such as "Spartacus" and "Lawrence of Arabia," both of which also benefited from magnificent film scores (Alex North, composer of the former; Maurice Jarre, composer of the latter). To a certain extent, it was even the template for what James Cameron achieved in "Titanic," and Cameron would be the first to admit the impact of "B-H" on his own evolution as a director. All the more interesting because "Titanic" tied the "B-H" record for 11 Oscars (though none of them in acting categories).

Song of the Day #1381a

Song of the Day: Summer Samba ("So Nice"), music by Brazilian composer Marcos Valle, with Portuguese lyrics by Paulo Sergio Valle, and English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, has been recorded by so many artists through the years, second, perhaps, only to the bossa nova anthem "Girl from Ipanema," to which Gisele Bundchen [video link] strutted her stuff in the Opening Ceremonies [video link] of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. We heard this song too during the Opening Ceremonies, and we have been treated throughout these last two weeks to so many entertaining musical interludes featuring this lyrical Brazilian bossa nova fusion of samba rhythms and jazz, each derived from both African and (North and South) American roots. But tonight the Torch is extinguished as the Summer Olympics come to a close. The games were "So Nice" to see and to root for some of our favorite international athletes. Check out renditions by the Walter Wanderly Trio, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, Nancy Ames, organist Walter Wanderly with vocalist Astrud Gilberto (who sang that great "Girl from Ipanema" [YouTube links] rendition on the Grammy-award winning album featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz, called "Getz/Gilberto". Check out a TV performance of the Ipanema classic with Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz [YouTube link]). And yes, this repeats another song from my long list, so I've called it "Song of the Day #1381a."

August 17, 2016

Ayn Rand, David Cross, and Hypocrisy

Ilana Mercer recently made me aware of some off-the-wall [YouTube, sorry, couldn't resist MJ] comments by stand-up comedian David Cross on Ayn Rand. I'll just have to chalk up his, uh, misunderstanding to the fact that he's a comedian, and not somebody who has actually studied Rand's corpus. On his new Netflix special, he makes the following statement:

"Let's be honest, that's what makes America weak, is empathy. When we care about those less fortunate than ourselves, that['s] what brings us down. . . . Ask Ayn Rand—I believe you can still find her haunting the public housing she died in while on Social Security and Medicare."

Now, it's not my intention to simply defend Ayn Rand; she did a good job of that when she was alive, and her writings have stood the test of time, whatever one thinks about her position on this or that particular issue. But Cross is just all crossed up. About so many things.

First, let's clear up one grand myth: Ayn Rand never lived in public housing. I recently queried Rand biographer, Anne Heller, who wrote the 2009 book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Heller could provide us with every address Rand ever lived at, and not a single one of them corresponds to a public housing project. But even if Rand lived in the Marlboro Housing Projects in Brooklyn, who cares? More on this, in a moment.

Now, it is true that Rand did collect Social Security and Medicare. Ayn Rand Institute-affiliated writer, Onkar Ghate, addresses the so-called hypocrisy of this fact about Ayn Rand's life in his essay, "The Myth About Ayn Rand and Social Security." Ghate reminds us that Rand opposed

every "redistribution" scheme of the welfare state. Precisely because Rand views welfare programs like Social Security as legalized plunder, she thinks the only condition under which it is moral to collect Social Security is if one "regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism" (emphasis hers). The seeming contradiction that only the opponent of Social Security has the moral right to collect it dissolves, she argues, once you recognize the crucial difference between the voluntary and the coerced. Social Security is not voluntary. Your participation is forced through payroll taxes, with no choice to opt out even if you think the program harmful to your interests. If you consider such forced "participation" unjust, as Rand does, the harm inflicted on you would only be compounded if your announcement of the program's injustice precludes you from collecting Social Security.

Rand felt the same way about any number of government programs, including government scholarships, and such. In reality, Rand got a free education at the University of Petrograd in the Soviet Union, a newly-minted communist state; next to that, collecting Social Security is "a mere bag of shells," as Ralph Kramden would put it. But, you see, that's the whole issue, isn't it? Rand was born in the Soviet Union, and even that state wasn't "pure communism," as Marx envisioned it; for Marx, communism could only arise out of an advanced stage of capitalism, which, in his quasi-utopian imagination, would solve the problem of scarcity. The point is that there is not a single country on earth or in any historical period that has ever fit the description of a pure "-ism"; to this extent, Rand was completely correct to characterize her moral vision of "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal."

But there is a second point that is lost on critics who accuse Rand of hypocrisy; there is not a single person on earth who isn't born into a specific historical context, a particular place and time. At any period in history, we live in a world that provides us with a continuum of sorts, enabling us to navigate among the "mixed" elements of the world's "mixed" economies, that is, those economies that have various mixtures of markets and state regimentation. But as that world becomes more interconnected, the destructiveness of the most powerful politico-economic institutions and processes extend in ripple effects across the globe. And as F. A. Hayek never tired of saying, the more political power comes to dominate the world economies, the more political power becomes the only power worth having... one of the reasons "why the worst get on top." What Hayek meant, of course, is that in such a system, those who are most adept at using political power (the power of coercion) for their own benefit tend to rise to the top, leaving the vast majority of us struggling to make a buck. The "road to serfdom" is a long one, but serfdom is among us; it comes in the form of confiscatory taxation and expropriation to sustain an interventionist welfare state at home and a warfare state abroad.

I have always believed that context is king. And given the context in which we live, everyone of us has to do things we don't like to do. Even anarchists, those who by definition believe that the state itself lacks moral legitimacy, can't avoid walking down taxpayer-funded, government-subsidized sidewalks or travel on taxpayer-funded government-subsidized roads and interstate highways, or taxpayer-funded government-subsidized railroads, or controlled airways.

Then there's the issue of money. You know, whether of the paper, coin, or plastic variety. There are many on both the libertarian "right" and the new "left" who have argued that the historical genesis of the Federal Reserve System was a way of consolidating the power of banks, allowing banks (and their capital-intensive clients) to benefit from the inflationary expansion of the money supply. This has also had the added effect of paying for the growth of the bureaucratic welfare state to control the poor and the warfare state to expand state and class expropriation of resources across the globe. And it has led to an endless cycle of boom and bust. And yet, there isn't a person in the United States of whatever political persuasion who cannot avoid using money printed or coined by the Fed. Even among those on the left, so-called "limousine liberals" (a pejorative phrase used to describe people of the "left-liberal" persuasion who are hypocrites by definition) or those who advocate "democratic socialism" of the Sanders type, or those who advocate outright communism, own private property and buy their goods and services with money from other private property owners. It seems that there is not a single person on earth of any political persuasion who isn't a hypocrite, according to the "logic" of David Cross.

Ever the dialectician, I believe that given the context, the only way of attempting even partial restitution from a government that regulates everything from the boardroom to the bedroom is to milk the inner contradictions of the system.

But some individuals can't get restitution, because they were victims of another form of government coercion: the military draft. Ayn Rand believed that the draft was involuntary servitude, the ultimate violation of individual rights, based on the premise that the government owned your life and could do with it anything it pleased, including molding its draftees into killing machines, and sending them off to fight in undeclared illegitimate wars like those in Korea and Vietnam (both of which Rand opposed). What possible restitution is available to those who were murdered in those wars, or even to those who survived them, but who were irreparably damaged, physically and/or psychologically, by their horrific experiences on the killing fields?

The draft is no longer with us, and David Cross should be thanking that good ol' hypocrite Ayn Rand for the influence she had on the ending of that institution. Such people as Hank Holzer, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and Martin Anderson were among those who mounted the kind of intellectual and legal challenge to conscription that ultimately persuaded then President Richard M. Nixon to end the military draft.

And yet, Rand's taxes were certainly used to pay for the machinery of conscription and for the machinery of war; does this make her a hypocrite too, or should she have just refused to pay taxes and gone to prison? Yeah, that would have been productive. Perhaps she could have authored more works of fiction or nonfiction anthologies, chock-full of essays on epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, politics, economics, and culture from Rikers Island. Yeah, then Cross would have been correct: Rand surely would have been living in the worst public housing imaginable.

Thanks for giving me a chuckle, Mr. Cross.

Postscript: I was just made aware of a very detailed essay on the subject of "Ayn Rand, Social Security and the Truth," at the Facebook page of The Moorfield Storey Institute.

Postscript #2: Thanks to Ilana Mercer, who alerted me to Cross's "comedy," and for reprinting this post on her own "Barely a Blog." We're obviously compadres; a "Notablog" and a "Barely a Blog" are close enough to be cousins. :)

Song of the Day #1379

Song of the Day: The McLaughlin Group ("Main Theme") [Television Tunes link] opened up this show every week, where viewers have been treated since 1982 to shouting matches between the discussants, among them, regulars such as Patrick Buchanan and Brooklyn-born Eleanor Clift. I often thought that only New Yorkers could really appreciate the ability of the discussants to speak louder and louder over each other, but the show has always been syndicated and appreciated nationally. Sadly, the host of the show, John McClaughlin, missed his first show in the entire run of the series last weekend [YouTube link] (though he still provided the voiceovers for the opening and the "Issue 1," "Issue 2" and so forth announcements). He passed away yesterday at the age of 89. I don't know how or if the show will continue, but it certainly provided this political junkie with a half hour of entertaining discussion of current events every Sunday morning. Check out also an alternative rendering of the theme, an orchestral version of the theme, a YouTube remembrance, his appearance in the film "Independence Day," and his famous "Bye Bye" [YouTube links].

August 07, 2016

Song of the Day #1375

Song of the Day: The King and I ("Hello, Young Lovers"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is one of the highlights from the 1956 film score of this classic Broadway musical. I highlight the film version, which starred the Oscar-winning Yul Brynner as the King of Siam (a role he immortalized on the Broadway stage, and for which he won the 1952 Tony Award as "Best Featured Actor in a Musical"), in the same year that he played the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II in the DeMille epic, "The Ten Commandments." Brynner starred opposite the lovely Deborah Kerr, who lost the Best Actress Oscar, but won the Golden Globe for her role as Anna Leonewens. In the film, her singing voice was dubbed by one of the greatest invisible talents of the silver screen: Marni Nixon, who just passed away on July 24, 2016. Dubbed the "American cinema's most unsung singers," she was the singing voice of Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." Check out her rendition of this unforgettable song from the film version of "The King and I" [YouTube link].

August 06, 2016

Song of the Day #1374

Song of the Day: He's a Pretender, words and music by G. Goetzman and M. Piccirillo, was the lead 1983 single of the Motown group High Inergy, from their final album "Groove Patrol." This song was a Top 30 Dance Hit on the Billboard Dance Chart. And it was performed with high energy in a "Can't Stop" medley with DeBarge on the classic special "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever." It was a performance, no doubt, a little vague in the minds of many, because it was on that special that Michael Jackson performed with the Jackson Five, before showing the world how to moonwalk in an unforgettable solo rendition of "Billie Jean" [YouTube link]. Speaking of Jackson, his sister Latoya did a version of this song as well, as did Jennifer Holliday [YouTube links]. Nevertheless, check out the original High Inergy single and their Motown performance with DeBarge of this rhythmic track, part of our Saturday Night Dance Party [YouTube links] and perfect for the political season, full of those "pretenders" seeking election or re-election.

July 31, 2016

Celebrating an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90

A "Song of the Day" Tribute to Tony Bennett

For the next six days, I will be featuring a Notablog tribute in honor of a great American artist as part of my "Song of the Day" series: "Celebrating an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90."

Introduction

Today, Sunday, July 31, 2016, I begin a mini-tribute to Tony Bennett (a Wikipedia link that provided me with the basic information herein). Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, this man would become one of the greatest vocal interpreters of The Great American Songbook. On Wednesday, August 3rd, he will celebrate his 90th birthday. Like Frank Sinatra, whose centenary we celebrated last year, Bennett recorded so many albums that I grew up listening to in my home, which was always alive with music, seemingly every waking hour of every day. Like Sinatra, Bennett was a talented Italian American singer nourished on a diet of swing and jazz. But unlike Hoboken's best, Bennett was a native New Yorker, a child of Astoria, Queens (indeed, one of his finest gifts to those who live in Astoria, was his founding of the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts, for high school students). He is a man who, like Sinatra, saw his ups and his downs, but who grew to embrace, without compromise, the music that inspired him and even the painting that he embraced as a creative product of his boundless imagination.

Favorite Songs

It is almost impossible to come up with enough songs in tribute to the great entertainer, because anyone looking at "My Favorite Songs" would find him among my most cited singers: "A Child is Born," "Darn that Dream," "The Days of Wine and Roses," "Falling in Love with Love," "For Once in My Life," "Give Me the Simple Life," "The Good Life," "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "I Could Write a Book," "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "If I Love Again," "If You Were Mine," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "I'll Be Seeing You," "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)," "In a Mellow Tone," "It Was Me," "I've Got Your Number," "I Wanna Be Around," "Just in Time," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Let's Face the Music" (also check out a sweet duet version with Lady Gaga [YouTube link]), "Let the Good Times Roll," "The Moment of Truth," "My Baby Just Cares For Me," "Nuages," "Once Upon a Summertime," "Polovetsian Dance No. 2," "Put on a Happy Face," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Street of Dreams," "There'll Be Some Changes Made," "Thou Swell," "Until I Met You," "We'll Be Together Again," "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?," "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "You Must Believe in Spring." Without a doubt, my all-time favorite album of Tony's is and remains: "I Wanna Be Around," and nearly all of the songs from that album are on the list above.

My Top Ten (in alphabetical order)

I could easily give you a Top Ten list of my favorite Bennett recordings, not in any particular order except alphabetical (and all the titles below are hyperlinks to their original Bennett recordings, as featured on YouTube):

1. "For Once in My Life" [YouTube link]. Stevie Wonder may have had the bigger chart hit, but he's always said, "This is Tony's song." Appropriately, Tony did a version of this song in a tribute to Wonder in the TV special celebrating "Songs in the Key of Life" [YouTube link]. And the two also did a ballad duet rendition of the song on Bennett's "Duets" album [YouTube link].

2. "The Good Life" [YouTube link]. The lead-off track on Bennet's great "I Wanna Be Around" album, this one rose to #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1962.

3. "If I Love Again" [YouTube link]. This one also appears on "I Wanna Be Around," and it is one of the most sensitive, heart-breaking renditions of this song ever recorded.

4. "If You Were Mine" [YouTube link]. Obviously, a champion of communicating heartbreak, Bennett recorded this one for the "I Wanna Be Around" album as well.

5. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" [YouTube link]. Written by two Brooklynites (George Cory and Douglass Cross), this one became a signature tune sung by the boy from Queens, one of two officially recognized anthems for the city of San Francisco (joining the song "San Francisco," title theme from the 1936 film). It peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100.

6. "I Wanna Be Around" [YouTube link]. This one still remains one of the great, bitter "screw you" songs in the history of lost love. It is the title song from my all-time favorite Bennett album, released in 1963.

7. "Just in Time" [YouTube link] . Introduced in the 1956 musical, "Bells are Ringing," Tony scored a big 1960 hit with this one.

8. "The Moment of Truth" [YouTube link]. From his album, "This is All I Ask" and as a bonus track on the CD release of the album "I Wanna Be Around," this one swings hard.

9. "Put on a Happy Face" [YouTube link]. So good, I picked it TWICE (by accident) for "My Favorite Songs."

10. "The Shadow of Your Smile" [YouTube link]. Bennett delivers the utterly definitive version of a classic Oscar-winning "Best Original Song" from the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor 1965 film, "The Sandpiper" (and this song has been recorded umpteen times by artists as varied as jazz pianist Bill Evans and dance group D Train! [YouTube links]). Bennett's recording actually won the 1966 Grammy for "Song of the Year." His rendition, with its introductory lyrics intact (not heard on the original score), was arranged and conducted by the man who composed and arranged the original film score: Johnny Mandel, who also collected a Grammy for "Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media," a perfect match for the shatteringly beautiful backdrop of Big Sur, featured in the film. The lyrics were written by Paul Francis Webster. And the score itself features the achingly beautiful trumpet work of Jack Sheldon.

So those are my Top Ten Bennett songs, alphabetically arranged; as for my Number One Bennett impersonator, there is only one: Alec Baldwin [among these "Saturday Night Live" skits, check out, especially, the Baldwin "Tony" interview with "Phony Bennett" played by the real one!].

Bennett's Career

Bennett emerged on the music scene in the early 1950s, a child of the Sinatra generation, who would go on to sell over 50 million albums worldwide. Bennett was impacted by many of the same artists that Sinatra listened to, from Bing Crosby to Louis Armstrong (and one of my favorite jazz violinists, the great Joe Venuti). He served in World War II, and didn't get his first musical break until 1949, when Pearl Bailey asked him to open for her in Greenwich Village. Signed to Columbia Records, he was warned by Mitch Miller not to sound like an imitation of Sinatra, though it was impossible for anyone in that era not to have been touched by the greatness of Ol' Blue Eyes. His artistry deepened with his collaborations with the great jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne (a man whose "consecutive-picking technique" greatly influenced the approach of my own brother, jazz guitarist Carl Barry, to whom Wayne was a dear friend). Wayne became Bennett's musical director for his first LP, "Cloud 7" in 1954, but by 1957, Bennett began his long musical relationship with pianist Ralph Sharon, with whom Bennett embraced an even deeper jazz idiom, resulting in albums featuring Herbie Mann, Nat Adderly, Art Blakey, and several with the Count Basie Orchestra. For me, the heights of his intepretive jazz work can be found on two magical sessions with the immortal pianist Bill Evans.

Yet the times they were a changin', musically speaking, and as the rock era came to dominate the music scene, Bennett fell into a great depression, his art form seemingly lost. He had no recording contract, no concerts outside of Las Vegas, a failing marriage, and increasingly severe tax problems with the IRS. He suffered a near fatal cocaine overdose in 1979. But with the help of his son Danny, he began to turn his life around. Stressing the music that made him grand in the eyes of generations of fans, he reached the MTV Generation, winning a 1995 Grammy for Album of the Year for his "MTV Unplugged" concert. Recognized for his achievements, he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. He has won 2 Emmy Awards, and 19 Grammy Awards (mostly in the category of "Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance"). In 2001, he became a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner." In 2005, he was inducted as an honoree of the Kennedy Center, and in 2006, he was honored with the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Award.

It is no coincidence that Frank Sinatra, the singer whose centenary I marked with a three-week tribute in November-December 2015, called Tony Bennett "the best singer in the business." Over the next week, we'll have a chance to hear a few of the reasons why Sinatra was so moved. Our tribute starts today with a beautifully appropriate "Song of the Day," a sign of their personal, mutual admiration society: "Last Night When We Were Young," a track from the 1992 album, "Perfectly Frank," Bennett's tribute to one of his musical heroes.

When our celebration is complete, I will list all the songs of the tribute here, with their accompanying links.

July 30, 2016

Song of the Day #1367

Song of the Day: La La La features words and music credited to a host of writers, chief among them being Shahid "Naughty Boy" Khan, James Napier, Jonny Cofler, and Sam Smith, who provides the central vocals for this 2013 "Naughty Boy" production. The track charted on no fewer than five Billboard charts and went to #1 in 26 countries. It also served as the theme song for the 2013 film, "The Internship." Check out its steaming beats and infectious vocals on the White Panda X Gazzo Remix, James Egbert Remix, and DEvolution Remix.

July 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1360

Song of the Day: To Each His Own ("Main Title"), composed by Victor Young, is from the 1946 film that won Olivia de Havilland her Academy Award for Best Actress, and today, on July 1st, we celebrate her 100th birthday. (She and her sister Joan Fontaine, with whom she had an estranged relationship, are the only sisters to share the distinction of having won a Best Actress Oscar each.) Ironically, there was a popular Livingston-Evans song released in that same year, but it is unrelated to the film. How can one go wrong, then, picking the main theme from the film that brought Olivia her Oscar, when the music was composed by the great Victor Young, in fine melodic form. Check out the lush opening credits on YouTube.

June 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1356

Song of the Day: Stitches, words and music by Danny Parker, Teddy Geiger, and Daniel Kyriakides, was a top 5 Billboard hit for Canadian singer, Shawn Mendes, for his 2015 debut album, "Handwritten." As I watched the 70th Annual Tony Awards last night, I thought of this song [YouTube link], for the Awards show opened with a tribute to the 50 known dead, murdered in an Orlando, Florida gay dance club, Pulse, which has also left more than 50 people injured, many of them critically. I've wanted to post this song for a long time, for the young singer seems to capture the pain of someone who has lost his love; but today, when I read some of the song's lyrics, I cannot help but think of this terrible tragedy, the worst mass killing in U.S. history (not counting the obscenity of 9/11). "You watch me bleed until I can't breathe," Mendes sings. "Shaking, falling onto my knees; And now that I'm without your kisses; I'll be needing stitches; ripping over myself; Aching, begging you to come help; And now that I'm without your kisses; I'll be needing stitches..." No stitches will bring back the loved ones who were massacred in that club. For the LGBT movement, living in a country that until recently didn't even recognize their civil right to marriage--"civil right" has never implied that religious institutions be forced to perform gay marriage ceremonies--this is truly a horrific tragedy. This community opened the doors of a dance club peacefully, joyfully, welcoming people of all lifestyles, to celebrate a Gay Pride month that marks the anniversary of that day in libertarian history when the gay rights movement was born at the Stonewall Inn, when drag queens were sick and tired of being harassed and arrested, and having their clubs routinely raided by the tormenting forces of law. It took decades for that community to get certain civil rights recognized under the constitution as applicable to all people. But it wasn't just the opposition of the police and the law that the LGBT movement faced. The process of "coming out," after all, is something that is intensely personal; many gay men and women have also dealt painfully with the rejection of their parents of various faiths, who have viewed homosexuality as a sin, punishable by everything from excommunication to prison, and in some tribalist cultures, even death by stoning. They say that this terrorist act was committed by an ISIS-motivated gay-hating whackjob; but there was a time in this country that the death of 50 people, most of them probably gay, would have been a party event for those on the Christian Right, who, like Fred Phelps, showed up at the funeral of the murdered, martyred Matthew Shepard, with placards declaring "God hates fags" and that the young gay man was now condemned to eternal damnation in hell because he had not repented. And let's not let the left off the hook either, for communist societies have been known for their gay gulags, many of them adhering to the Marxist mantra that homosexuality was simply a sign of the decadence of capitalism. Let me be clear: This is not a fight simply of doctrinal religious differences or political differences. It is a fight that goes to the deepest core of a society's cultural values. Until a time comes when people can simply live their lives free of coercion or of coercing others, there is not an individual alive in this country who will be safe from the culture of hate, a culture that simmers when stoked by rejecting parents, holier-than-thou religious leaders, and prejudiced politicians. A few years ago, the U.S. government invaded a country in the Middle East, and partially justified the insanity as an exercise in "nation-building"--in a section of the world that still has no conception of what a nation is or what kinds of nonbarbaric cultural values any human society must embrace in order to sustain itself: values such as the rule of law, the sanctity of individual rights, and the pursuit of justice. The apocalypse that has resulted is the kind of blowback that people of good will warned against at the time. Today, however, this is not just a fight for your right to liberty and or your right to justly-acquired property, but a fight for your very right to life, your very right to exist, whatever sexual orientation you are. This is a country and a world that will not, and cannot, be held together in "stitches." Every person of any orientation must be able to find the courage, the "eternal vigilance" that it takes to preserve life and liberty. Those who kill in the name of a hateful God are truly of the godless; and if there is a hell, it is not the innocent dead in that club who will be consumed by its inferno, but the killers themselves who will burn on the very ninth circle they wish to create on earth.

June 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1355

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("A Lot of Livin' to Do") is another gem from the Adams and Strouse soundtrack to the 1960 Broadway musical. Check out the original Broadway cast recording, the 1963 ensemble film version, and a few really swinging renditions by: Chita Rivera (who was in the original musical; this one is about 2 minutes into her "Great Performances" concert), Sammy Davis, Jr., Judy Garland, Jack Jones, and Nancy Wilson [YouTube links], which only goes to show how much of Broadway's music has made its way into the Great American Songbook. So we end our mini-Broadway tribute today; enjoy the Tony Awards tonight!

June 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1354

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("Kids") is a sweet and funny song from the Adams-Strouse songbook for "Bye Bye Birdie," a 1960 musical I'm tributing for three days, since I'm a 1960 baby. Paul Lynde made a career in the center square of the old game show "Hollywood Squares" (for which he won two Daytime Emmy Awards, his answers so typically hilarious), and, of course, he was the warlock Uncle Arthur on the classic TV series, 'Bewitched." But he shines in song as well, with his duet partner Marijane Maricle (on stage) and Maureen Stapleton (in film), in both the original stage production and in the film version [YouTube links].

June 10, 2016

Song of the Day #1353

Song of the Day: Bye Bye Birdie ("Put on a Happy Face"), with lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse, was a memorable song from the hit Tony Award-winning "Best Musical" in 1961 (for the 1960 season). As a 1960 baby, I'm tributing three of my favorite songs from that year from this musical, also adapted for the film version. It was, of course, the 1963 screen version that I saw as a kid and loved. Check out the cast album version and the film version [YouTube links] (both performed by the ever-cheerful Dick van Dyke, joined by Janet Leigh in the film version) and then jump on over to the joyful rendition of our Queens-born neighbor, Tony Bennett [YouTube link], who turns 80 years old on August 3rd (and we'll be doing a mini-tribute to him as well).

June 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1352

Song of the Day: Hello Dolly ("Hello Dolly") is the memorable theme from the 1964 Broadway blockbuster that featured the music and lyrics of Jerry Herman. The musical faced stiff competition from Barbra Streisand's sparkling star turn in the Broadway production of "Funny Girl," but it swept the night, winning 10 Tony Awards, including one for Carol Channing over Streisand. Streisand would later win a 1970 Special Tony Award for "Star of the Decade." And it is not without some irony that she went on to play the Dolly role that Carol Channing made famous in the Gene Kelly-directed 1969 film adaptation of the musical. So here's a nice line-up for comparison: the original Channing rendition with the ensemble, the Streisand film version, which included Louis Armstrong, and, my favorite version of all time: the Louis Armstrong solo version [all YouTube links], which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 9, 1964, ending 14 consecutive weeks at #1, dominated by various singles from an obscure British band.

June 08, 2016

Song of the Day #1351

Song of the Day: Oklahoma! ("Oklahoma!") was the first musical that teamed composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. The original Broadway hit opened on March 31, 1943, and hence, it preceded the first Tony Awards. It did, however, receive special Tony recognition on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1993. But that doesn't mean we can't jump from a mini-Prince tribute to a mini-Tony Award Tribute in honor of the American stage. The main title was delivered in the original production by Alfred Drake and Chorus [YouTube link] and the original album released by Decca Records on 78 r.p.m. records, was the first Broadway cast album to sell a million copies. We should also note that this musical spawned countless revivals and, of course, the wonderful 1955 film version, in which it is Gordon McRae who delivers the unforgettable theme [YouTube link].

May 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1343

Song of the Day: Can't Stop the Feeling! features the words and music of Max Martin, Shellback, and Justin Timberlake, who debuts with this single from the animated film, "Trolls," due out in November 2016. This is Timberlake's fifth solo #1 Hit and, perhaps, the most retro-disco sounding recording of his career. The voice cast has fun with the song in a pre-release video, even as the official video was released this week [YouTube links]. I remain a life-long Timberlake fanatic, and disco just might usher me through the Pearly Gates or the Disco Inferno, whichever is in store for me. Ed. Note: Since posting this as Song of the Day #1343, the video community has provided us with hilarious takes on the song; check out the Storm Troopers videos, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. And the DJ community has provided us with a plethora of wonderfully diverse remixes: the Chris Chrone remix, the Daniel Simon Tov Remix, the Tripping Nationz Remix, the Thascya Remix, the Fenton Gee Remix, and the PLP DJ Remix.

April 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1341

Song of the Day: The Ten Commandments ("The Red Sea") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, provides a musical backdrop for what remains one of the greatest cinematic moments in motion picture history: Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film's rendering of the parting of the Red Sea [YouTube link]. The Jews are liberated after ten plagues, the last brought about by Pharoah's mocking of God, resulting in the death of the first born of Egypt, including Pharoah's own son. A vengeful Pharoah (played by Yul Brynner), chases the Jews through the desert. But Moses shows the power of God; as a pillar of fire blocks the Egyptians, he lifts his arms, allowing the Jews to escape through the midst of the waters, and subsequently destroying Pharoah's chariots in their pursuit after the pillar dissipates (celebrated on the seventh day of the Passover holiday). Charlton Heston plays Moses in the way that only Heston could play it; the film's screenplay is not the most contemporary, but its reverence is genuine. It is said that Heston was in the last film of the old Bibical epics, and the first film of the modern Biblical epics, "Ben-Hur," one which did not dispense with the intimacy of characterization, while retaining the cinematic grandeur that only Hollywood could deliver. To all my Jewish friends and colleagues, celebrating the last day of Passover, I wish health and happiness.

April 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1338

Song of the Day: Calamity Jane ("Secret Love"), music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Weber, was composed for the 1953 movie musical, where it was introduced by the incomparable Doris Day, who celebrated her 92nd birthday on April 3rd. With a melody based on the opening theme of the A-major piano Sonata D.664 [a Wilhelm Kempff version on YouTube] of Franz Schubert, this song was released before the film, and made it to #1 on both the Billboard and Cashbox charts, before going on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. For years, fans have lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to give Oscar recognition to Day for all of her wonderful film performances through the years, from the title role of this film to her co-starring role with Kirk Douglas in the 1950 Bix Biederbecke-inspired film, "The Young Man with a Horn" (and that was the legendary Harry James providing the trumpet work) to the 1956 Hitchcock thriller "The Man Who Knew Too Much," opposite Jimmy Stewart, where she introduced another Oscar-winning Best Song, "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)." Check out this lovely Grammy Hall of Fame single by the lovely lady who knew how to sing it in a film clip and in the longer studio version [YouTube links]. And check out this sweet Shirley Bassey tribute to Doris as well. A belated Happy 92nd Birthday to one of the world's greatest animal lovers, who will always be an Award-winner in my songbook!

March 28, 2016

Nucky Thompson Was Right

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series "Boardwalk Empire," Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson — racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger — lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to "the distinguished gentlemen of our nation's Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards," who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."

This nightmarish "noble experiment" lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR's initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:

Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of "black-market violence" and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement's hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: "The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol... [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

One of the few really good things to have come out of that era has been a terrific flow of really good gangster movies, including the 1987 Grammy Award-winning Ennio Morricone-scored film, "The Untouchables," with Robert DeNiro as one terrific Al Capone, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, and a fine Sean Connery, who played Jimmy Malone (based on the real-life Irish American agent, Marty Lahart), who went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In the end, Capone was brought down not by his criminal activities, per se, but by tax evasion.

With prohibition repealed, however, the model for the expansion of organized crime extended into the prohibited black markets for hard drugs, from cocaine to heroin. From Mafia chieftans to drug lords running operations across the world, from Latin America to Afghanistan, much of the profits of this business have boosted the money flow to terrorist organizations of all sorts. Crime has soared. And the prison population in the United States began to outstrip that of every modern society.

Last week, a cover story with regard to the "War on Drugs," was published by the New York Daily News stating that John Ehrlichman, who went to prison for Watergate-related crimes, and "who served as President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief," admitted that the ‘War on Drugs’ strategy was a "policy tool to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’." Apparently, these revelations were made in an interview with journalist Dan Baum, for a 1994 book, but were not revealed until the current April 2016 issue of Harper's, where the writer provides a wide-ranging discussion of how to seriously readjust drug policies in the United States. Here is an excerpt from the Daily News article:

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said in the interview after Baum asked him about Nixon’s harsh anti-drug policies. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying,” Ehrlichman continued. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” . . . By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law — the majority of whom were African-American.

The following day, the News reported that Nixon's former White House counsel John Dean expressed shock over the revelations "but admitted 'it's certainly possible.' . . . If this was indeed true, it would have been the Nixon-Ehrlichman private agenda.'"

On this issue, a fine piece appears today from Mark Thornton, writing on Mises Daily (the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute): "The Legalization Cure for the Heroin Epidemic." For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a "War on Drugs," 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed — drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets — but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia.

It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those "beautiful, ignorant bastards," until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.

March 23, 2016

A New "Ben-Hur" Looms... Oy Vey!

Given that this is Holy Week for Western Christians, I thought it was high time to take a look at the two trailers for a new film version of the classic story of "Ben-Hur," based on the great "Tale of the Christ" published by General Lew Wallace in 1880. The story was adapted for the stage, but saw its first cinematic expression as a 1907 one-reeler, then a 1925 silent classic, and finally, a 1959 blockbuster. (I should note that there was also a 2003 animated adaptation with the voice of Charlton Heston, who received the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Judah Ben-Hur in the 1959 version [a nice documentary link at YouTube], and a very forgettable 2010 miniseries starring Klaus, from "The Vampire Diaries," as Judah.)

You can take a look at the two trailers for the 2016 film version: here and here [YouTube links].

I've actually commented on the Collider Crew review of the trailers at YouTube, where I said the following:

I must admit that this film is going to have to go a long way toward topping the 1959 version, winner of 11 Academy Awards, and perhaps the greatest "intimate" epic ever put on screen. From its larger-than-life Academy Award-winning actors to its remarkable cinematography, special effects (none of them CGI--those guys rode the chariots and there were 6000 extras in the arena, not computer-generated people), to its utterly superb score by Miklos Rozsa and its superb direction by the immortal William Wyler, whose use of symbolism throughout the film can be the subject of a book in itself, the 1959 "Ben-Hur" is still the standard by which epics are judged. Can't the folks in Hollywood leave classics alone? Is there nothing original? Must everything be reinvented? We'll see...

Apparently, the screenwriters for the new version thought the 1959 version spent too much time on revenge, rather than forgiveness. To which I can only say: Bollocks, and I'm being polite.

The 1959 film is the ultimate story of redemption, captured brilliantly by Wyler's magnificent symbolic use of the cleansing nature of water and blood (see my essay on why the Wyler version is my all-time favorite film).

So, I'll see the new one... but all I can say is, God help us. But to my Western Christian friends, I say: Have a Happy Easter this coming Sunday. My orthodox Christian upbringing will allow me to join in the festivities on May 1st (Eastern Orthodox Easter almost always arrives around the time of the Jewish Passover).

Ed.: A "hat tip" to my friend Don Hauptman for bringing the new trailers to my attention.

March 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1335

Song of the Day: Toccata [YouTube link] is an adaptaion of the fourth movement of Albert Finastera's First Piano Concerto, in this instance featured on the classic progressive rock album, "Brain Salad Surgery," arranged by Keith Emerson (Carl Palmer did the percussion movement). Emerson tragically died on March 20th of an apparent suicide. Emerson, Lake,& Palmer were perhaps among the most significant keyboard-driven rock/classical/jazz fusion groups to grace the genre. They were often dismissed by critics as "pompous" and "pretentious" like most other bands in the genre, but there was always a touch of envy in that critique, for few rock keyboardists could integrate that fusion with the effectiveness of Keith Emerson. The piece has an almost cinematic feel to it, suited for the sci-fi screen.

March 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1334

Song of the Day: Love Me Do, words and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was the first single released by The Beatles in 1962 in the United Kingdom, and later, in 1964, in the United States, where it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And the British Invasion was underway (even if the original version released in the U.S. had Andy White on drums and Ringo Starr on tamborine, though versions with Starr on drums, and Pete Best before him, were also recorded). Leading the charge of this invasion, however, was the man who worked behind the scenes as a producer, the so-called Fifth Beatle, who was no Fifth Wheel: the deeply talented and visionary George Martin, who passed away yesterday at the age of 90. Martin was an amazingly prolific producer, arranger, and composer, for both the recording studio and the cinema. He produced over 20 #1 singles in the US and 30 #1 singles in the UK. And he was responsible for the string arrangements brought to one of my all-time Beatles favorites, "Eleanor Rigby," something that was influenced, he acknowledged, by the work of the great film score composer Bernard Herrmann. But it's best to start at the beginning; check out the original UK single, with Ringo on drums, and remember the love [YouTube links].

February 29, 2016

Song of the Day #1333

Song of the Day: Alone Together, words and music by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, is featured on the Gleason production "Music for Lovers Only," and includes another sparkling Hackett solo. The 2016 88th Annual Academy Awards gave its "Best Original Song" statuette to Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes for "Writing's On the Wall" from the Bond flick, "SPECTRE," and the "Best Original Score" went to the immortal Ennio Morricone for "The Hateful Eight." Meanwhile, having closed out our Film Music February yesterday, we can now conclude our Centenary tribute to Jackie Gleason. "And Away We Go...." Check out the warmth of Hackett's trumpet in this track [YouTube Link], which could only have been produced by a warm and loving Jackie Gleason. In this cantankerous political season, I can think of nothing more triumphant than a full-hearted embrace of the cultural contributions of The Great One, who arose from the blisters of his childhood and even above the bluster of his most famous characters to Leap Up and Declare, with undiluted joy: "How Sweet It Is."

February 28, 2016

Song of the Day #1332

Song of the Day: I Cover the Waterfront ("Main Title"), music by Johnny Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman, was originally released in 1933 as a popular song, inspired by the 1932 novel of the same title, written by Max Miller. The book also inspired a 1933 film, which right before its release, was re-scored to include this song. It has been recorded by so many artists, including everybody from Billie Holiday to Sarah Vaughan [YouTube links]. In keeping with both our Film Score February music tribute, which in its final three days intersects with our mini-tribute to the Great One, Jackie Gleason, I should mention that this song was also featured as an instrumental, with a sweet solo by the great trumpet and cornet player, Bobby Hackett, on Gleason's first album, "Music for Lovers Only," which still holds the record for the album longest in the Billboard Top Ten Charts (153 weeks). And so, we end our annual Film Music February, but we're going to give one more encore to Jackie tomorrow, thus concluding our mini-Gleason tribute. In the meanwhile, enjoy the Oscars tonight, especially those competitive categories dealing with music! For now, just dim the lights, and check out the Gleason and Hackett rendition [YouTube link].

February 27, 2016

Song of the Day #1331

Song of the Day: Requiem for a Heavyweight ("Main Title"), composed by Laurence Rosenthal, is the soundtrack for the film version of this boxing drama. It was filmed initially as a 1956 installment of TV's "Playhouse 90", and Rod Serling's teleplay won a Peabody. But it was remade into a 1962 feature film. There are more than a few literal "Bang! Zooms!" in this one. Mickey Rooney and Anthony Quinn co-star; and contrary to any intuitive thoughts you might have had, it was Jackie Gleason who played the role of the manager, not the heavyweight. Quinn observed that Gleason did things just like Frank Sinatra. One take, sometimes with improvisational flair, and he was satisfied. Quinn needed a few more takes than that; but either way, it contributed greatly to a film that was a much darker movie than its small-screen counterpart.

February 26, 2016

The Jackie Gleason Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon

"A SONG OF THE DAY" GLEASON TRIBUTE BEGINS WITH "THE HUSTLER"

Facebook Announcement: The first episode of the famous television series "The Honeymooners" made its debut in prime time, and so I've waited for prime time to debut this essay in honor of the man who gave "The Honeymooners" life: Jackie Gleason. One hundred years ago today, Jackie Gleason was born. Since my celebration of Gleason's Centenary intersects with my Annual Film Music February Tribute, I have decided to post an exclusive Notablog essay (and brief musical series) on the importance and impact of Gleason, and to highlight music cues from films in which Gleason appeared on the culminating Oscar weekend of Film Music February.

This essay can be found in the Essay Section of the Sciabarra "Dialectics and Liberty Site" but I am reproducing it here as a Notablog Exclusive.

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Today, Friday, February 26, 2016, I begin a mini-tribute to one of the greatest entertainers to have ever graced American culture: Jackie Gleason. Just as I grew up listening to the music of Francis Albert Sinatra, an artist who was the focus of my centenary celebration in November-December 2015, so too did I grow up watching the television shows, and films, and listening to the music produced by the man whom Orson Welles called "The Great One," Jackie Gleason. Gleason was a native Brooklynite, born in my hometown one hundred years ago on this date.

Though he was a co-recipient (with Perry Como) of the 1955 Peabody Award for his contributions to television entertainment, his career is notable for what he didn't get: despite five Emmy nominations, for situation comedy ("The Honeymooners"), variety shows ("The Jackie Gleason Show"), and general Recognition ("Best Comedian"), he never won an Emmy. Despite three Golden Globe nominations, he never won a globe. Despite an Oscar nomination as "Best Supporting Actor" in "The Hustler," he never won an Oscar (though he did receive the Golden Laurel Award for the performance). And despite having produced nearly 60 albums that charted on The Billboard 200 album chart, including
"Music for Lovers Only"---which was the #1 album of 1953, spending 153 total weeks within the Billboard Top Ten (nearly twice the number of weeks in the Top Ten that Michael Jackson's opus, "Thriller," which, with 78 weeks in the Top Ten [and 37 weeks at #1], and at 100 million worldwide units sold, is the biggest selling album of all time)---he has never been recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, not even with a "Hall of Fame" induction. Indeed, Gleason practically gave birth to the genre of "mood music" and his first ten theme albums sold over a million copies each.

It being "Film Music February," it should be said that it was film that inspired Gleason to produce such albums. So impressed was he by the capacity of film scores to magnify emotions on screen, especially in romantic scenes, he once said: "If [Clark] Gable needs music, a guy in Brooklyn must be desperate." Let's not forget that Gleason himself was no slouch in the melody department; he was, after all, the composer of the themes to The Honeymooners ("You're My One and Only Love") and "The Jackie Gleason Show" ("Melancholy Serenade").

But his talent could have been stillborn if he did not battle his way out of poverty and parental abuse. His mother was an alcoholic, whose first son Clemence passed away from spinal meningitis at age 14. Determined to protect her second son, she tied young Jackie to a chair during the day while she imbibed in the bar downstairs. When he showed his fine skill at loosening knots, his mother nailed the windows shut. The only solace he had was to go with his father on weekends to see Vaudeville at Brooklyn's Halsey Theatre, and to soak up the comic antics of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the silent films of his childhood. He had decided that this is what he wanted to be when he grew up: an entertainer. He started school too late, because of his mother's paranoid antics; he attended Public School 73, and John Adams and Bushwick High Schools, but he was never to graduate with a high school diploma. His father abandoned the family in 1925, something for which Jackie always blamed himself, and ten years later, his mother succumbed to complications from alcoholism. He had to quit school, and fought loneliness, alienation, and the ever-empty wallet, by hustling pool halls to make money (experiences that served him well years later for a film role that netted him an Oscar nomination).

He was alienated and depressed and he self-medicated by overeating. Indeed, he spent his life battling the side effects of living large after living so small---smoking too much, drinking too much, eating too much. But those binges were not possible without the ability to earn a living. He quit school, and he began a quest to become an entertainer. His first efforts at fame were humiliating failures, whether attempting stand-up routines on stage or playing bit parts in early Warner Brothers comedies . At first, he was good at stealing the material of others, like Milton Berle, and making it his own. But he hung out with people across entertainment, including many jazz musicians. I suspect that it was the jazz bug that made Gleason's comedy so infectious, for it was at its best when it was improvisational. Lou Walters caught his show, and gave Gleason a chance to perform in a Broadway revue, "Hellzapoppin'." By the late 1940s, he got his big break, landing the role of Charles A. Riley for the first TV incarnation of "The Life of Riley," a show for which William Bendix was famous to the radio audience. He eventually was seen on the DuMont Network's "Cavalcade of Stars." Whereas Gleason was never really a stand-up comic, he was superior in an ensemble setting, where he played off of his co-stars with utterly perfect timing. He was notorioius for very little rehearsing and for hilarious ad-libbing.

Gleason's show capitalized on the great music scene in New York City; he brought in fine musicians, and even a Busby Berkeley-type dance troupe, the June Taylor Dancers, whose precision choreography was always a highlight of the show. But the show allowed him to nourish his strengths; he developed sketch comedy routines drawn from the real-life characters of his youth: Reginald Van Gleason III, the Poor Soul, and Joe the Bartender (with Frank Fontaine playing Crazy Guggenheim) among them.

Most importantly, though, Art Carney joined the cast of the "Cavalcade of Stars" in 1950, but his experiences acting with Gleason went far beyond single-sketch comedy. Indeed, the two starred together in a 1953 Studio One production, "The Laugh Maker," which showed audiences that Gleason's talents went beyond the comedic. He had some serious dramatic acting chops, as they say in the business. He portrayed the tortured comedian who sought compulsive laughs to hide his insecurities. By 1954, CBS gave him a contract larger than any in the history of television, offering him $100,000 a year for the next 15 years to appear exclusively on their network. Among his first changes to the CBS line-up were producing back-to-back filmed episodes recorded before a live audience of "Stage Show," which offered viewers a half hour of music that embraced everyone from Duke Ellington to Elvis Presley; and that was followed by a full 30-minute version of "The Honeymooners," as a self-contained situation comedy. So identified was he with the Every Man, with a dream of making it big that he was celebrated as an American icon. Years later, a life-size statue of Gleason, dressed in the bus driver uniform of Ralph Kramden, was placed outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.

Ultimately,it was the chemistry of Gleason and Carney that boosted the early "Honeymooners" sketches within the "Cavalcade of Stars," the highest rated show for the fledgling DuMont network. The show was subsequently sold to CBS in 1952 and, renamed "The Jackie Gleason Show." It was being watched by one third of the nation's television viewers by 1953.

"The Honeymooners" came to dominate "The Jackie Gleason Show." Early on, with Audrey Meadows replacing Pert Kelton as Alice and Joyce Randolph replacing Elaine Stritch as Trixie, the stage was set for a spin-off that led to 39 half-hour episodes that have become known as "The Classic 39," and it was in later years that those 39 were syndicated, permeating pop culture with a slew of scripted and unscripted sayings that became part of the American vernacular:

"A-Homina-Homina-Homina"

"You're a Riot, Alice, You're a regular Riot."

"I'm King of the Castle"

"Bang, Zoom, To the Moon"

"I Got a Big Mouth"

"She's a Blabbermouth!"

"One of these days, Alice, POW, right in the kisser!"

While the episodes that preceded these were preserved in kinescopes (the so-called "Lost Episodes"), "The Classic 39" were filmed with an advanced Electronicam system, as were all "Honeymooners" episodes that followed the 39 half-hour season. And for those who have not seen the post-39 "Lost Episodes," I recommend them highly: they were written for an hour-long "Jackie Gleason Show" slot, and included episodes that will have you laughing to the point of needing oxygen, and crying, for the remarkable poignancy shown in such episodes as "The Adoption" (a 1955 episode that was remade subsequently in 1966 as a musical version).

The Kramdens and the Nortons win a riotous trip through Europe: England, Spain, Paris, Rome, and even behind the Iron Curtain. And by this point, Gleason was already pioneering original musical numbers into the sketch comedy; this became a staple of the so-called "Color Honeymooners" when Gleason's show moved to Miami Beach, Florida (and Sheila McRae replaced Audrey Meadows as Alice and Jane Kean replaced Joyce Randolph as Trixie).

Though Gleason never received in life the awards and accolades he deserved, his ensemble players brought out the best in each other: Art Carney, after all, won six out of the dozen Emmy nominations he received, and of these six, four were for his work on "The Jackie Gleason Show" and one for his stint on the Classic 39 of "The Honeymooners." Carney, of course, went on to receive a "Best Actor" Oscar award for the 1974 film, "Harry and Tonto." And Audrey Meadows, nominated for four Emmys during this period, won a single statuette for her work on "The Jackie Gleason Show."

But let's grasp just who was the center of this universe. It was Gleason who was Every Man. He gave expression to every person's natural fears, desires, dreams, and disappointments, with comedic genius and with a simple flair for showing poignancy and empathy. When he goes on a television competition show, in search of "The $99,000 Answer," and [SPOILER ALERT!] loses on his very first guess, your laughter is covering a bit of sadness for every disappointment you've suffered in the hopes of getting that grand payoff that will make your day, or that will help every loved one you know. Even if he loses a "mere bag of shells," you can't help but feel for him.

One other thing stands out, however, in "The Honeymooners." In Pictures of Patriarchy, Batya Weinbaum tried to place the show under the rubric of typical patriarchy (South End Press, 1983, 119-20)). But let's not kid ourselves: This was not the idyllic picture of the 1950s: this wasn't "Father Knows Best" with the family unit living behind a white picket fence, graced by the wisdom of its Father Figure; this wasn't even "I Love Lucy," in which Ricky Ricardo gets to regularly remind his crazy red-headed wife Lucy that she needs to go see a "phys-i-kee-a-trist." And even if you were expecting a loudmouth "King of the Castle" who was always right, just how Ralph advertised himself, what you more often understood was that Alice Kramden was the only one playing with a full deck in this situation comedy. She was the smartest, most rational, most practical, and most loving wife on television, loving enough to forgive her husband the flaws of his endless foibles. [Ed: I found this essay, "Alice Kramden: The First TV Feminist," after posting my tribute and it's worth taking a look at!] I once co-edited a book called Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand; it would not surprise me if somebody suggested a book entitled Feminist Interpretations of "The Honeymooners"
(or, perhaps, "The Honeymooners" and Philosophy) because there are few women in 1950s television that could have rivaled Alice Kramden as a character both strong and loving and virtually always right. (Oh, and don't kid yourself, some scholar out there would contribute an essay based on the Eddie Murphy-inspired homoerotic idea, only this time filtered through the lens of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, that the real love affair here is between Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, since women, like Alice, are merely the mediating presence in a triangle between men who share a "romantic" bond that is unconsummated. Alice suggests as much on more than one occasion that the two of them act like a married couple!)

By 1959, David Merrick offered Gleason the chance to perform in "Take Me Along" on Broadway. For this role, Gleason won the only major award in his career, as Helen Hayes handed him the Tony Award for " Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical" He began his speech with, "I have always wanted to meet Helen Hayes, and it couldn't have been at a better occasion." He went back to television with a show called "You're in the Picture," which bombed and literally played for one week on the tube. The following week, he got on television and made such fun of how bad the show was, that he charmed the audience back to his good graces. He finished out his season with "The Jackie Gleason Show" reimagined as a talk show.; But in 1961, despite unpleasant memories of his early years in Hollywood, he returned to Hollywood, and received triumphant reviews for "The Hustler," losing his Oscar to the tidal wave that was "West Side Story." This was followed in 1962 with a Gleason-inspired story of a mute simpleton who falls in love with a prostitute and her daughter; it was Gene Kelly who directed "Gigot." And in that same year, he starred with Mickey Rooney and Anthony Quinn in "Requiem for a Heavyweight," the big screen adaptation of Rod Serling's small screen masterpiece. Quinn later lauded Gleason for his ability to get everything right in one take; he likened his artistry to the pure talent of Frank Sinatra in this regard. A year later, Gleason added another film credit to his growing filmography, and with it came the first hearing of the "catchphrase," "How Sweet It is!," from the film "Papa's Delicate Condition."

All was ready for his triumphant return to television, with band leader Sammy Spear, and the sketch comedy that made him famous. In 1964, however, Gleason decided to move the entire show to Miami Beach, Florida. CBS knew Gleason was difficult to work with, but he was irreplaceable. On August 1, 1965, the cast, the press, and a swinging Dixieland band boarded the Great Gleason Express, and thousands of tourists lined the parade route to Miami. But Gleason was dismayed that "The Honeymooners" in syndication was doing better than his current show; so he reinvented the show, with a reboot of the Honeymooners later dubbed "The Color Honyemooners" with Sheila McRae and Jayne Keene taking the roles of Alice and Trixie, respectively. He'd eventually end those episodes with another classic sign-off, "Miami Beach Audiences are the greatest audiences in the world!" (probably because most of their inhabitants had migrated from New York City!)

Eventually, CBS and Gleason went their separate ways as cultural mores seemed to change. But Gleason kept moving. He did "Smokey and the Bandit" and its two sequels with Burt Reynolds. He starred in "Izzy and Moe" with his old pal Carney; opposite Laurence Olivier in the two-man 1983 HBO special, "Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson," and with Tom Hanks in "Nothing in Common" (1986). He suffered through the filming of that movie, knowing that complications from colon cancer had metastasized to his liver. But he gave the performace of his lifetime, and when he passed away on June 24, 1987, his fans seemed to have uttered, in one united voice, "Baby, You're the Greatest." On the Centenary of his birth, he remains "The Great One."

Referenes: In addition to drawing from online sources such as Wikipedia, this article drew material from such video recordings as "Golden TV Classics: The Jackie Gleason American Scene," "A&E's Biography, Jackie Gleason: The Great One," and DVD collections of "The Honeymooners" including the "60th Anniversary Edition of "The Honeymooners" Lost Episodes: 1951-1957," "The Honeymooners: 'The Classic 39 Episodes' and several DVD editons of "The Color Honeymooners" and "Honeymooners" holiday specials aired in the 1970s.

Song of the Day #1330

Song of the Day: The Hustler ("Main Theme [Stop and Go]" and Various) [YouTube link], is a masterful soundtrack composed by Kenyon Hopkins in the kind of superb jazz idiom for which he is known. The main theme begins with the unmistakable sounds of jazz alto saxophonist Phil Woods. I can think of no better way to kick off a few days in celebration of the Jackie Gleason Centenary, than to start with the claustrophobic black and white 1961 film that netted him Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations as "Best Supporting Actor," in his role as the great pool player, Minnesota Fats (though there are questions about the authenticity of the story of Minnesota Fats). Authentic or not, there are no stunt doubles for Gleason: He plays pool authentically from beginning to end. As my Centenary tribute essay indicates, Gleason hung out in pool halls from the time he was a young teenager. Now, in some instances, there was a stunt double used for Paul Newman, who plays Fast Eddie Felson, who salivates at the prospect of competing against Fats. Newman earned an Oscar nomination too, but he's probably the only Oscar winner who received an Oscar for the same role in a sequel, entitled "The Color of Money" a 1986 film in which he co-starred with Tom Cruise (though I've always believed that the Academy awarded Newman the gold because the membership knew that he really deserved it for his shattering performance of a lifetime in "The Verdict"). Nevertheless, I'm going to echo the Gleasonian phrase here: "How Sweet it Is" with a twist; for in this movie, the tension makes you wonder "How Sweaty It Is" in the pool hall. ("How Sweet It Is" is the Welcoming Traffic Sign that graces the Brooklyn exit off the Verrazano Bridge; that's how much this man is celebrated as Brooklyn's son!)

Newman's tension rises because his respect and awe rise as he watches the artistry of his competitor. He marvels at the way Fats plays with cool confidence, with the grace of an Astaire and the grit of a Cagney. Though I highlight the Main Theme here, I've taken the liberty to add two other tracks from the score, illustrating Hopkins's terrific jazz sensibility. On the first additional track, you have entered the pool hall [YouTube link]; it sounds like a smoke-filled room, with immaculate pool tables, and the grit of a jazz score in the background just to keep the atmosphere a little naughty. And finally, the second additional track is the Suite [YouTube link], featuring some of the finest jazz players of the era, or any era, including Woods and trumpeter Doc Severinsen. In any event, take a look at this scene [YouTube link] in which Gleason doesn't just embody Fats because of the simple weight parallel. He becomes Fats, moving "like a dancer" and using a cue stick "like he's playing the violin," as Newman's Felson tells us.

February 25, 2016

Song of the Day #1329

Song of the Day: Madame X ("Main Title") [YouTube link] features music composed and adapted by Frank Skinner, who draws directly from the "Swedish Rhapsody" of the Austrian composer and conductor Willy Mattes (aka Charles Wildman). Sometimes referred to as the "Love Theme from Madame X," it has been covered in a variety of styles, including a jazz-influenced version by Sammy Kaye [YouTube link] and in a semi-classical mode by pianist George Greeley (born Georgio Guariglia, the Italian-American pianist, conductor, composer, and arranger), with the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra for the album "The World's Ten Greatest Popular Piano Concertos." Skinner adapted the theme through a variety of cues, textures, and emotions, including those that are a pure expression of the "Depths of Despair" [YouTube link]. And despair pervades the story of this 1966 film, which stars John Forsythe and Lana Turner as "Madame X." The 1908 stage play by French playwright Alexandre Bisson upon which this film was based has spawned about a dozen other adaptations from the silent era to today. Skinner, who brought us themes for "The Wolf Man" and "Son of Frankenstein," was able to swing effortlessly from horror monsters to horror romances [YouTube links]. And with scores composed for this film, and more than 200 others, including such Douglas Sirk-directed classics of the genre such as "All That Heaven Allows" and "Imitation of Life," Skinner received only five Oscar nominations in his lifetime, the gold statuette eluding his grasp.

February 24, 2016

Song of the Day #1328

Song of the Day: Back Street ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], was composed by Frank Skinner, whose music I highight for the next two days. I have visited Skinner's music before; it is familiar to horror fans the world over for many of those great Universal monster films, from "The Wolf Man" to "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." But he was also known for writing some of the lushest scores to some of Hollywood's famous romantic melodramas (and perhaps there are dialectical relationships between horror and romance that need to be investigated!). The lovely theme here was written for the 1961 film (based on the Fannie Hurst novel) starring Susan Hayward, and co-starring John Gavin and Vera Miles, who, just one year before this film, co-starred in Hitchcock's "Psycho."

February 23, 2016

Song of the Day #1327

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("Stairway Chase") [YouTube link], music by James Newton Howard, is one of those truly frenetic chase scenes captured perfectly in the way it is both edited and scored.This is a fine 1993 film reboot of the absolutely magnificent original 1960s television series, which starred David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, who brilliantly portrayed the painful loneliness, fear, and alienation of the innocent man on the run. For the series, composer Pete Rugolo created one of the most expressive scores, always infused with a jazz idiom, to have ever graced a television show. Howard is certainly up to the task, and someday, I'm going to reveal a few cues from the film that are homages to Rugolo's scoring. Whereas a multiyear television series provides us with an opportunity to truly develop its characters, the film provides us with a complex puzzle that must be solved if the fugitive is to find justice. All of this takes place amid a predatory chase between the hunter, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones,who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, as Lieutenant Sam Gerard (in the TV series, the character was played by Barry Morse and was named Philip Gerard, and the name change remains a mystery) and the hunted, well played by Harrison Ford, who maintains his innocence, despite being found guilty for killing his wife, and sentenced to execution by lethal injection. But, like the series, Kimble escapes and goes on a quest to find the one-armed man who murdered his wife. In the film, his search for this one-armed man takes place within the context of a larger conspiracy. I've chosen a cue that is used in a scene in which the unjustly convicted fugitive takes his chances by seeking out one potential suspect behind prison walls. Lietenant Gerard is hot on Kimble's trail and finds him at the prison. What results is a scorching chase scene, neither on motorcycles nor cars, but on foot, down a spiral staircase, through to the exit doors of the prison, with Gerard shooting to kill. It makes for rousing adventure and give us a lesson in how terrific Oscar-nominated scoring augments the excitement on screen (Howard was a casualty of another shattering John Williams score, the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List" soundtrack, which got a little help from the virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman; Williams, ironically, has only five Oscars, out of an amazing 50 nominations, second only to Walt Disney [pdf link]!). For a little entertainment, check out a YouTube video on the "Top Ten Movie Fugitives."

February 22, 2016

Song of the Day #1326

Song of the Day: The Great Escape ("The Chase") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is just a snippet of the music that captures an heroic and thrillingly suspenseful scene from this superb 1963 World War II epic, directed by John Sturges with an all-star cast. Bernstein captures the suspense perfectly as we watch Steve McQueen (who plays "Hilts," the so-called "Cooler King"), an escapee from a German POW camp, hijack a German motorcycle in an attempt to make it to freedom. We use the word "iconic" a lot, but it's unavoidable: this is one iconic scene and among the most memorable moments in cinema history. McQueen did virtually all the driving himself, except for the final jump. Check out the full scene (edited) on YouTube.

February 21, 2016

Song of the Day #1325

Song of the Day: The Thing from Another World ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, opens this chilling 1951 sci-fi/horror film. There have been remakes [YouTube link], but there is just nothing like the original. In truth, I first saw this film at the Sommer Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, which, sadly, no longer exists. Today, it's a Walgreen's. When I was 5 years old, I went with my Uncle Sam and my sister Elizabeth to see this film in a double feature with the 1933 classic film, "King Kong." I'd never seen either film; it was just prior to their endless appearances on classic TV movie shows like Channel 2's (WCBS) "The Late, Late, Late Show," or, perhaps, Channel 7's (WABC) "The 4:30 Movie," or Channel 9's (WOR) "Million Dollar Movie" or, Channel 11's (WPIX) "Chiller Theatre." In any event, I attempted to see "King Kong" but "The Thing" was the first feature; then came Intermission (where, maybe, they'd show a cartoon or two). The theater was dark suddenly, and Kong was finally going to begin, but the crowd of kids was chanting with a single voice, rising in decibels with each passing second: "KONG! KONG! KONG! KONG!" Well, I didn't know what to expect when that curtain rose. And my uncle and sister definitely sensed that this 5-year old was getting a bit panicked. "Are you okay?," they asked. "Well," I explained, "it's a little noisy." I would not allow my apprehension to rise up to visible fear and I would not admit it to anybody, brave young 5-year old tough Brooklynite that I was. "Very loud," I said. "Well, maybe we should come back and see this some other time. It's okay," they both assured me. Relieved, to say the least, I said, "Okay. Sounds good." And we headed for the exits. So, though I later got to see the original Kong on the big screen, it was not to be on this day; but "The Thing" [full-length feature film link] was great '50s sci-fi, and Tiomkin's music provided just the right amount of rising tension throughout the film.

February 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1324

Song of the Day: Jurassic World ("As the Jurassic World Turns") [YouTube link], is composed by Michael Giacchino, as a theme that evolves, almost organically, out of the original "Jurassic Park" theme, composed by John Williams. It is a terrific musical homage, while standing on its own, and if you're wondering: Yes, I utterly loved the 2015 film, which clearly picked up every clue and cue of the original franchise to provide us with thrilling entertainment, eye-popping special effects, and a really exciting adventure story. The great power of film is that it can move us deeply, emotionally and intellectually, and it can entertain us, and there need be no dichotomy between the two. In this case, however, let's face it: it's time to get out the popcorn and enjoy yourself. You'll find yourself rooting for Blue the Raptor and the T-Rex in their battle against the Indominous Rex [YouTube link, with SPOILER ALERT]. I especially like the way that Blue strategically jumps from the T-Rex to the Indominous Rex during the fight to the finish!

February 19, 2016

Song of the Day #1323

Song of the Day: Sophie's Choice ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Marvin Hamlisch, is a soft, loving theme that cushions the blow of an utterly devastating film. I only saw this film about a year ago, and was deeply affected by the horrors it depicts during the years of the Nazi holocaust. Without referring to the "choice" that Sophie must make in the film, I can say that it reminded me of Ayn Rand's novel, We the Living, which depicts the horrors of Soviet communism, in one important sense: the insanity of totalitarian political systems that allow no choices except among forms of death and decay. It is all the more fitting to remember that nightmare on this day, which is a "day of remembrance" for those who were the subject of Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowing the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps within the United States during World War II. Ironically, it was film that first made me aware of those camps, when I first saw "Hell to Eternity," as a child, a 1960 movie with Jeffrey Hunter (who played Christ in the 1961 film, "King of Kings") and David Janssen (who was "The Fugitive" in that remarkable television series of the 1960s). Those camps certainly were not extermination camps, but they are a symbol of what happens during wartime, when individual rights are abrogated both at home and abroad. In any event, the 1982 film gave Meryl Streep a much-deserved Oscar award for Best Actress, and Hamlisch received a much-deserved nomination for Best Original Score, losing out to the iconic John Williams score for "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." It is difficult to find a moment of joy or laughter in films of this nature, but I will never forget Sophie's admiration of Stingo's seersucker jacket [YouTube link]. The film's house was situated in Brooklyn, New York, and it stands still on Rugby Road in Flatbush.

February 18, 2016

Song of the Day #1322

Song of the Day: The Thief of Baghdad ("Suite") [YouTube link] captures some of the textures of Miklos Rozsa's soundtrack to this 1940 fantasy film with Sabu. Rozsa's compositions for film and the concert stage remain among the finest symphonic work of any twentieth-century composer. It has been said that Rozsa went through five distinct periods in his illustrious scoring career: what he characterized as the "oriental" or "exotic" period (featuring work on fantasy films with exotic locations, of which "The Thief of Baghdad" is one of the best examples); the "psychological" period (exploring complex psychological portraits, e.g., his Oscar-winning score for Hitchcock's film, "Spellbound"); the film noir period (with films such as "Double Indemnity" and his Oscar-winning score to "A Double Life"); the Historico-Biblical period (of which "Ben-Hur" yesterday is his crowning achievement); and his sci-fi phase (which includes films such as "Time After Time"). This particular suite shows the breadth of his first period, and the lovely violin interlude gives us just a hint of what he provides for the concert hall). The charming British technicolor film was a spectacle for special effects in its day, marking the first major use of film bluescreening. Produced by Alexander Korda, it won Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction, Special Effects, and Rozsa's soundtrack was nominated for Best Original Score.

February 17, 2016

Song of the Day #1321

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Gratus' Entry To Jerusalem") [YouTube link] is a dark, imperial march composed by Miklos Rozsa that begins immediately after "Salute for Gratus" (included here as well) on a 5-disc edition of the score to my favorite film of all time: "Ben-Hur", the Best Picture of 1959, which set a winning record of 11 Oscars that has been tied, but never beaten. In a sprawling Oscar-winning soundtrack filled with grand and diverse themes, Rozsa provides a wide range of emotions, which capture the "soul" of this remarkable film. It is not without significance that the film has been called the first modern "intimate" epic, one that could stage grand-scale naval battles and real chariot races of widescreen scope without the help or need for CGI, while at the same time exploring the essential depth of its main characters and the intimacy and complexity of their relationships. Much of the credit goes to Oscar-winning director William Wyler, and the performances he elicited from his actors (two of whom brought home Oscar gold: Charlton Heston for "Best Actor" and Hugh Griffith for "Best Supporting Actor"). Rozsa's piece captures the coercive imposition of ancient Roman will on Judea, the oppressive character of imperial occupation on a section of the world that, till this day, remains in turmoil. In any event, it is in keeping with my annual practice of featuring something from "Ben-Hur" on the occasion of my birthday, which always coincides with Film Music February. So I've chosen this muscular piece from Rozsa's greatest, most triumphant symphonic film score, perhaps one of the greatest scores in cinema history.

February 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1320

Song of the Day: The Man in the Iron Mask ("Opening"; "A Boy") [TCM clip], composed by Lud Gluskin and Lucien Morawek, received an Oscar nomination for their score to the 1939 film loosely based on the last section of The Vicomte of Bragalonne: Ten Years Later, the third and final section of the third and final book of the "d'Artagnan Romances" (following : "The Three Musketeers" and "Twenty Years Later"). Even the story by Dumas is based on French legend, but this film is notable for several milestones: it was the first film to introduce us to actor Peter Cushing; it was directed by the great James Whale; and it stars Louis Hayward in a remarkable double role. Born to Louis XIII, the first son is seen as the legitimate heir of France, but a twin is born (Philippe) and the king is persuaded to send the second son to Gascony, to be raised by d'Artagnan (in this film, portrayed by Warren William). The first son grows up to be the hated monarch Louis XIV, imposing oppressive taxes and repressing the people of France. Through a series of dramatic twists, it is discovered that there is a twin, who is much more kind and compassionate, and Louis XIV imprisons him, placing an Iron Mask on his brother's face, so that no one shall ever discover his twin, hoping his brother will simply strangle as his beard crowds out the oxygen within the mask. The Three Musketeers and d'Artagnan come to the rescue, and when Philippe assumes the throne to right the wrongs of his brother, Louis XIV, he enunciates something about the laws of justice and retribution, something from which my mother always used to quote, any time news of some criminality, especially political criminality, hit the headlines: "There is one law in life, brother, that not even a king could escape: The law of retribution. The pendulum of the clock of life swings so far in one direction, then very surely swings back. The pendulum is swinging for you, brother," not so much for the injustices suffered by Philippe, but for all the injustices suffered by the people of France whose sacred trust the King had violated. This Philippe says before the Museketeers put the mask on the corrupt king. Mom didn't realize that she was providing a budding libertarian with a few maxims about the fight against tyranny! Mom is gone over twenty years, but her birthday is on February 20th, so I'm giving her a little tip of the Yankee cap (she was a Yankees fan, after all) a few days early.

February 15, 2016

Song of the Day #1319

Song of the Day: The Three Musketeers ("Themes") [TCM Trailer], music by Herbert Stothart (with some inspiration from the themes of Tchaikovsky), provides the rousing backdrop for what I believe is the best version of the Alexandre Dumas tale, starring Gene Kelly as d'Artagnan! Yes, the song and dance man had more than a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to choreographed sword play (indeed, the film's outstanding choreographed sword sequences have inspired a generation of contributors to the genre). The 1948 swashbuckling Technicolor film is just wonderful, action-packed entertainment with a score to match (and apparently almost impossible to find!). On the other hand, the Grammy Awards are easy to find on the dial. Enjoy!

February 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1318

Song of the Day: The Godfather ("I Have But One Heart") is a 1945 popular song, adapted from an 1893 Neapolitan theme "O Marenariello" (here, sung by Andrea Bocelli) with words by Gennaro Ottaviano and music by Salvatore Gambardella. The adapted English-language version features music by Johnny Farrow and lyrics by Marty Symes and was Vic Damone's debut single [YouTube link], rising to #7 on the Billboard chart. In 1972, in the film version of Mario Puzo's novel "The Godfather," it was given new life when it was sung by the character, Johnny Fontane (portrayed by Al Martino) [YouTube links to Martino's renditions in the film and on the soundtrack], at the wedding of Connie Corleone (portrayed by Talia Shire), daughter of Don Vito Corleone (portrayed by the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-winning Best Actor Marlon Brando). A long-time family friend, long-assisted by the Don at crucial points in his career, Fontane asks the Don if he could help get him a role in a film for which, he believes, he would be pertectly cast, but the producer Jack Woltz (played by John Marley), despises Fontane and won't give him the part. The Corleones approach Woltz, offering various deals and favors, but Woltz won't budge on this issue. . . until he's given an offer he can't refuse. But Valentine's Day is not the Day to be speaking of SPOILER ALERTS [YouTube link at your own risk!]; it is to be speaking of that "One Heart" you have for your Valentine. Pulling a song from "The Godfather" songbook today gives us an opportunity to note the passing of Abe Vigoda, who portrayed the character Salvatore Tessio in the first film of Francis Ford Coppola's gangster epic. So wipe that film's imagery from your Head, and think of Hearts instead!

February 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1317

Song of the Day: Stowaway ("Goodnight My Love"), music by Mack Gordon, lyrics by Harry Revel, is a truly memorable song, performed by both the young Shirley Temple [YouTube link] and Alice Faye [YouTube link] from this 20th Century Fox 1936 film. Temple also sang it as part of a medley in the 1938 film, "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." The song also got the royal treatment by two of the greatest vocalists in the jazz pantheon: the 1936 classic recording with Ella Fitzgerald and the Benny Goodman Orchestra (the 80th anniversary of its recording will be marked on November 5, 2016) and Sarah Vaughan.

February 12, 2016

Song of the Day #1316

Song of the Day: High Society ("Well, Did You Evah?"), written by Cole Porter for the soundtrack to the 1956 film, but originally written for the 1939 Broadway musical, "DuBarry Was a Lady," which starred Bert Lahr, Betty Grable, and Ethel Merman. Gene Kelly, Red Skelton, and Lucille Ball starred in a film version later that year that dispensed with much of Porter's score. But those songs enjoyed a resurrection in "High Society." This particular song is a witty duet in the 1956 musical comedy, featuring Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra at their best; their ad libs kept the song fresh, playfully referring to their generational and intergenerational appeal with a series of "wink-winks" to its audience. Going full circle, we conclude our mini-Bing tribute within our ongoing film music February. Check out two pros who had an innate ability to charm the camera [YouTube link].

February 11, 2016

Song of the Day #1315

Song of the Day: Going My Way ("Title Song"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke, was sung by Bing Crosby, Rise Stevens, and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir (one of several songs Crosby sang in this 1944 film, which won a Best Song Oscar, for "Swinging on a Star"). Overall, the fillm was nominated for ten Oscars, and was among the only films to nominate an actor, Barry Fitzgerald, for "Best Actor" and "Best Supporting Actor" for the same role, from the same film, in the same year. As it turned out Bing got the Best Actor Oscar, and Barry got the Supporting Actor Oscar (and, in 1945, Bing received another "Best Actor" nomination for the same character, Father Chuck O'Malley, for the film, "The Bells of St. Mary's"). Sounds like the makings of a Jeopardy "answer" ... Check out the title track here.

February 10, 2016

Song of the Day #1314

Song of the Day: Here Comes the Waves ("Ac-Cent-TchuAte the Positive"), music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, was written in 1944 and heard on the radio documentary, "Pop Chronicles." It was later featured in the 1944 film, "Here Comes the Waves," in a rendition by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters [YouTube link].

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, Denham 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 Fountainhead). 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 influence, 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.

December 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1297 (The Sinatra Finale)

Song of the Day: That's Life, words and music by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, is one of my absolute all-time favorite Sinatra recordings, an album title track that went to the Top Five (a #4 singles hit) on the Billboard pop chart, smack in the middle of the rock-dominated Beatles era. It also hit #1 on the Easy Listening chart for three weeks (December 1966 to January 1967). It had been previously recorded by others, including O. C. Smith [YouTube link]. But unlike Smith's slower, bluesier version, Sinatra swaggers through it and makes the song his own. He first performed the song on his television special, "A Man and His Music, Part II." The TV version, however, takes a backseat to the recorded version [both YouTube links], which was produced by Jimmy Bowen and conducted by Ernie Freeman.

Uplifting a glass, Francis Albert Sinatra offered this toast on more than one occasion: "May you live to be 100, and may the last voice you hear be mine." Sinatra passed away in 1998, at the age of 82. But if I were blessed to live to 100, the loveliness of his recorded performances gives me the opportunity to hear "The Voice" on my way to the Pearly Gates... or whetever warmer climates my Maker has in store for me. But today is not about obituaries; it is about births, rebirths, resurrections. For today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Albert Sinatra. We conclude with One Hundred toasts to a man who was indeed a poet, the so-called "poet laureate of loneliness," but no less a poet of joy. He was the recipient of Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys (and he has three stars on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame," commemorating his work in film, television, and recording, respectively). I've tried to provide this tribute with a widescreen version that encompasses all of his artistry, but ultimately, I have always returned to song, for it is here that his magic conjoins the supreme method actor to the supreme musician. He could introduce the Grammy Awards [1963 video], and haul home a wagon full of them. He was a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner (1965), a Grammy Trustees Award Winner (1979), and a Grammy Living Legend Award winner (1994; presented to him with style by U2's Bono) [Grammy video link]. He has five albums and eight singles inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Among his "Hall of Fame" albums are: "Come Fly with Me" (1958; inducted in 2004); "Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely" (1958; inducted 1999); "In the Wee Small Hours" (1955; inducted 1984); "September of My Years" (1965; inducted 1999); and "Songs for Swingin' Lovers!" (1956; inducted 2000). Among his "Hall of Fame" singles: "The House I Live In" (1946; inducted in 1998); "I'll Never Smile Again" (1940, with Tommy Dorsey and the Pied Pipers; inducted in 1982); "I've Got the World on a String" (1953; inducted in 2004); "I've Got You Under My Skin" (1956; inducted in 1998); "My Way" (1969; inducted in 2000); "One for My Baby" (1958; inducted in 2005); "Strangers in the Night" (1966; inducted 2008); and the "Theme from 'New York, New York'" (1980; inducted 2013). I've got links to each of them on "My Favorite Songs."

It took a bit of thought to come up with a musical finale best suited for the occasion. "My Way" could have played the part, but it is already among my ever-growing list, used thematically for a commercial by Hall-of-Fame-bound Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, to mark his retirement from professional baseball. Surely the lyrics, written by Paul Anka are even more appropriate for Francis Albert Sinatra, who retired several times along the way, only to come back to that music, which was hard-wired into his DNA. He sings of a life that's full, acknowledges the few regrets he's had along the way, and takes pride in the "charted course" he planned. He admits his doubts, his loves, his joy, his "share of losing." He concludes with the ultimate statement of individual integrity: "For what is a man, what has he got, if not himself, then he has naught to say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows, I took the blows. And did it My Way."

Alas, given my policy of never repeating a song, I can still appreciate its significance as one of Sinatra's signature pieces. But, for me, the very first words of the song provide an almost maudlin context. If this Centenary Sinatra Tribute has proven anything, it is that the end was not near, even when Sinatra passed away in 1998. When I think of Sinatra, so many themes come to mind, so many definitive renditions of songs from the Great American Songbook that were stamped by Sinatra in an almost autobiographical way. As appropriate a song as "My Way" was, for Sinatra, a statement of individual integrity, it is still sung when "the end was near." That end will never come as long as humans have ears to hear with and minds and hearts to think and feel with.

I conclude this tribute with one of those quintessential Sinatra recordings, which expresses the guts of the kick-ass "I-ain't-beaten-yet" genre that Sinatra championed. This is the Sinatra for whom the end is never near and it certainly resonates with me and so many others, expressing a universal motif for people who have faced life head on, and who won't give in to anything or anyone who "get[s] their kicks, stompin' on a dream." When you focus on these lyrics, it is as if Sinatra could have written the song himself. He is the prizefighter personified who gets knocked down, bruised, battered, bloodied . . . but still, somehow, gets back on his feet and stays in the ring. . . He stands up because, and only because, this is a life worth living and fighting for.

That's life (that's life) that's what all the people say. You're ridin' high in April, shot down in May. But I know I'm gonna change that tune, when I'm back on top, back on top in June.
I said that's life (that's life), and as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream. But I don't let it, let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around.
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king. I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing: Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.
That's life (that's life), I tell you, I can't deny it, I thought of quittin' baby, but my heart just ain't gonna buy it. And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly.
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king. I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing: Each time I find myself layin' flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race.
That's life (that's life), that's life, and I can't deny it, many times I thought of cuttin' out, but my heart won't buy it. But if there's nothing shakin' come this here July, I'm gonna roll myself up in a big ball a-and die.
My, my!

Sinatra could understand and communicate a remarkable range of human emotion, for he lived it: as an actor, a singer, a concert performer, he could embody everything from grief to ecstasy, from defeat to defiance. We complete our tribute and commemorate his birthday as one of the greatest artists to have ever graced this world. Bravo, Ol' Blue Eyes.

The entire series of essays, songs, and Facebook announcements have been collected and edited into a single essay, which can be found on my website: "The Frank Sinatra Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon."

December 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1295

Song of the Day: Strangers in the Night features the English lyrics of Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder,and the music of Bert Kaemfert, who actually composed the instrumental as part of the score for the 1966 film, "A Man Could Get Killed." The Sinatra recording is the title track of his 1966 album (also featured on Disc 4 of "Ultimate Sinatra"), and was one of only two singles of his in the rock era to go to #1. It reached #1 on both the Hot 100 and the Easy Listening charts. The album became Sinatra's most commercially successful release among the many he released throughout his career. And in 1967, though he won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for "A Man and His Music," he received two additional Grammys recognizing this song: Record of the Year (his first win in this category, despite seven former nominations) and Best Male Vocal Performance. Over the years, this was never one of my all-time Sinatra favorites (and it is said that it wasn't one of Sinatra's own all-time favorites either). It was akin to the case of Stevie Wonder, an artist who has given us such brilliant albums as "Innervisions" and "Songs in the Key of Life,"and an array of wonderful compositions, from "Superstition" to "All in Love is Fair" to "Another Star." And then he receives an Oscar for Best Original Song and a matching Golden Globe for "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (from the 1984 film, "The Woman in Red"). Like Sinatra's "Strangers," Wonder's tune became his most commercially successful single, going to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot R&B, and Adult Contemporary charts. As I said, Wonder's song was really never one of my favorites (and the critics were not kind to it either). But then, it grew on me. And that was primarily due to the fact that I watched the 1999 Kennedy Center Honors, where Stevie was one of the honorees. One tribute segment featured jazz pianist Herbie Hancock accompanying jazz vocalist Diane Schurr, who spoke authentically about how she, as a blind woman, had received such inspiration from Wonder. What followed was a completely altered jazz-infused rendition of the song; if you have never seen or heard it, check out this musical magic on YouTube, and you'll find out why it eventually became an entry on "My Favorite Songs." But "Strangers" is another matter entirely. It was difficult to like, and became increasingly difficult to embrace as the culture grabbed onto it, satirized it, and butchered it countless times to the point of sacrilege. It was even the title of a gay porn film (and the lyrics lend themselves to the chance meetings of people in forbidden places) and then came a Teddy and Darell 1966 gay parody [YouTube link] that is now considered part of Queer Music History 101. In any event, I gave in because something in that song just grew on me over time, particularly because of its fade out, when we hear that utterly famous Sinatra-ism. All together now: "Do-Be-Do-Be-Do." It became one of those phrases that have been eternally incorporated into the American Zeitgeist from Sinatra's repertoire (another being "Ring-a-Ding-Ding!", the title track from Sinatra's 1961 album). It just endears the song to me on another level entirely. In the 1970s, I used to wear a T-Shirt that said, on successive lines: "To Be is To Do" - Socrates; "To Do is to Be" - Sartre; "Do Be Do Be Do" - Sinatra. A Centenary Tribute to Sinatra without this would just not be complete. Listen to the original #1 Hit by Frank Sinatra on YouTube. Stay tuned for a Double "Song of the Day" today!

November 24, 2015

The Frank Sinatra Centenary: Celebrating an American Icon

A "Song of the Day" Sinatra Tribute Begins "From This Moment On"

Today, Tuesday, November 24, 2015, I begin a tribute to Francis Albert Sinatra, which will culminate on Saturday, December 12, 2015, the day on which we will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth. Yes, he was The Voice for seven decades of the twentieth-century, from the mid-1930s to the early 1990s. But his enormous artistic gifts have been preserved forever in film, vocal recordings, and concert performances, allowing future generations a glimpse of the ever-lasting impact he made on American culture, art, and music.

When Sinatra first entered the scene, he was this scrawny kid from humble Hoboken, New Jersey in search of a stage. But this was a proud Italian American, whose father emigrated from Sicily and whose mother came from Genoa. As a first-generation American son of immigrant parents, he was open to the musically diverse American palette. At first, he absorbed much from the crooner school of Bing Crosby, and, like Bing, he was deeply influenced by one of the most distinctly American musical idioms: Jazz. Sinatra's schooling in jazz came from a diverse array of artists, starting with sizzling hot trumpeter Harry James with whom he first sang. James would routinely throw him an improvised musical curveball, which Sinatra would learn to field vocally, so-to-speak. He submerged himself in the New York club scene, and learned much watching the live performances of English-born cabaret singer, Mabel Mercer and, especially, of Billie Holiday. But it was his tenure in the Big Band of trombonist Tommy Dorsey that taught him more about singing than any vocal teacher could possibly offer him. He always said that he learned more about breath control by watching Dorsey's trombone solos, played with such seamlessness that one could barely detect the jazzman's breathing. Before too long, his talent brought him front and center on the stage, as he captured the excitement of the bobby-soxer generation. The kids simply went wild. But he did not become The Voice, Ol' Blue Eyes, or the Chairman of the Board overnight. He didn't simply collect Grammy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, and Oscar statuettes; in the early years, he battled his self-destructive tendencies, and it would take years for him to truly find himself, reinvent himself, giving new meaning to the Koehler lyric, "I've got the world on a string, sittin' on a rainbow, got the string around my finger. What a world! What a life!" What a life, indeed.

Eventually, it was Sinatra's self-reinvention that earned him Golden Globe and Oscar Awards for his film work, Grammy Awards for his singing, including the Grammy Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement and Legend Awards. In fact, he received recognition for Lifetime Achievement from so many of the industry's associations, that a brief summary doesn't do him justice. The accolades came from such institutions as the Screen Actors Guild; the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame; the Kennedy Center; the American Music Award of Merit; the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Moreover, he was a two-time winner of the critics' Downbeat poll for Male Singer of the Year, while the Downbeat readers named him Male Singer of the Year for sixteen years and Personality of the Year for six years.

A Deplorable Excess of Personality?

In the 1993 film version of "Jurassic Park," John Hammond, the creator of the park, played by Richard Attenborough, characterizes Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) as a person who suffers from a "deplorable excess of personality." Some might have said the same about Sinatra, whose excesses often undercut his early successes. So before we go on singing the praises of this Patron Saint of Song, it's best that we put some issues to rest, for they are not unimportant. I know that there are many people out there who find it impossible to separate the art from the artist. In some respects, it would be horrifically ahistorical and acontextal; grasping the artist's cultural or personal context might go a long way toward understanding and appreciating his accomplishments. But it is also true that many great artists throughout history have created magnificent works of art that either gave expression to the demons within, or provided a cathartic means by which to exorcize them. The point here is that it would be a mistake to dismiss the greatness of art because the artist suffers from character flaws. One thing that Sinatra accomplished, however, is that he emerged from these early years a better singer and a superior artist. As he says it in one of his signature tunes: "The record shows, I took the blows and did it My Way." By acknowledging his excesses and failures, Sinatra, in his vocals, became ever more expressive of a raw honesty, which came through whether he was singing of lost love, or of the joyous possibilities of life.

But the maturity of his art could not have emerged without his very public ups and downs. His critics viewed him as a thug, made all the worse because he was an Italian American with all the bigotry that this fact of ethnicity implied, especially in an era that gave us both the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Gangsta rappers have nothing on Ol' Blue Eyes. We've seen and heard it all: from his mug shot, to his tumultuous affair with and marriage to Ava Gardner and his subsequent attempts at suicide; and, later, his rowdy days and nights in Las Vegas with the Rat Pack, which fueled rumors of rampant womanizing and alleged Mafia ties.

And then there were emergent political problems he had to face. Having been declared 4F for service in the military, he and actor Orson Welles campaigned fiercely for FDR. His ability to entertain on the home front, and to film such extravaganzas as the 1945 musical comedy, "Anchors Away" (in which he worked like a "prizefighter" behind the scenes to keep up with the gifted choreographer, dancer, singer, and actor Gene Kelly), made him a bona fide star, and uplifted many spirits in a world consumed by war. But his liberal FDR-friendly politics, his embrace of a 'progressive' New Deal agenda, and his public stances against racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry at the end of World War II (as expressed in the 1945 short film "The House I Live In," which won an Honorary Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Good Will), provided fodder for his tabloid critics. Many branded him a "red," a "leftist," and an out-and-out commie, to which Sinatra is reported to have replied: "Bullshit." There is a touch of irony in all of this red-baiting: despite being a virtual cheerleader of "High Hopes" [YouTube link], the very song Sinatra adapted for the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign, the singer was marginalized by JFK, given his connections to mobster Sam Giancana and others. Sinatra's political journey went from supervising JFK's inaugural party to supervising the presidential gala of Republican Ronald Reagan, for whom he had become a vocal supporter, and from whom he received the "Medal of Freedom."

In the years after filming "The House I Live In," the McCarthy era press became increasingly suspicious and hostile toward anyone suspected of left-wing views. This was the era of the Cold War, which turned increasingly hot in places like Korea. He was advised by actor Humphrey Bogart to ignore the tabloids, because he could never win any battles against a hostile press. Sinatra being Sinatra, of course, ignored Bogie's sound advice. On April 8, 1947, he went to see Peggy Lee's opening night at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip; behind him, he overheard the voice of his chief newspaper nemesis, the columnist, Lee Mortimer, who questioned Sinatra's patriotism in print, and who, on this night, referred to Sinatra as a "dago" and "guinea bastard." This was overheard by an overheated Sinatra, who recalls: "I tapped him on the shoulder, and I hit him so fucking hard I broke the whole front of his face, and he banged his head." Mortimer said he was going to destroy Sinatra, but ultimately, the issue was settled with Sinatra paying damages. He never forgot Mortimer, though; any time their paths crossed, Sinatra would spit at him. (These priceless stories are from the terrific HBO two-part documentary, "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All," from which I've drawn quite a bit for this essay.)

There is no doubt that this period in Sinatra's life took its toll; his excesses, his losses, his alcohol abuse, led him to a catastrophic collapse in his recording and acting career. His record company axed his contract and few film offers came his way. Even before the Ava Gardner-related suicide attempts in the early 1950s, Modern Television and Radio magazine was asking plainly in December 1948: "Is Sinatra Finished?"

If Sinatra's career had simply ended right then and there, we would barely be talking about the centenary of his birth. For indeed, the melodrama of his life dredges up the old debate about whether one can appreciate art apart from the artist, who might very well be a suicidal (or homicidal) maniac. Before discussing how Sinatra turned his life around, it's important to talk about this issue, for it has been raised so many times before with regard to other artists and their art.

For example, let's just say for a moment that every last accusation against Michael Jackson were true (with regard to the sexual abuse of minors, something for which he was acquitted in the only case to make it to trial). For me, it would not in any way, shape, or form, diminish my love and admiration of Jackson's talents as a musician, composer, and dancer. Jackson provided me with the soundtrack of my youth, and I cannot for a moment imagine a world without the songs I danced to, or laughed to, or cried to. I cannot for a single moment imagine a world where I'd never had the opportunity to see and hear him live, on stage, in a series of utterly brilliant concert performances. He was the quintessential "song-and-dance" man of my generation who touched the lives of millions of fans worldwide, which explains how deeply shattered we were by his own tragic death in 2009. So, whether he was a drug addict or a pedophile or a nutjob of the first order would have made no difference with regard to this fan's love of his art; and so it is with everyone from jazz guitar legend Joe Pass (who emerged from Synanon), or rock legends Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or even to those classical philosophers, composers, musicians, painters, scultptors, writers, artists, etc., of whose flaws many of us are perenially unaware. Rest assured, if there was a tabloid press during the days of Classical Greece or Ancient Rome or the Renaissance, I can't imagine the stories that would have come to light about some of our philosophical and artistic heroes! It probably would have made the Robert Graves work, I, Claudius, look tame by comparison.

Loving a work of the creative imagination does not provide an apologia for the alleged or real sins or political views of its creator. In any event, our aesthetic responses are not generally guided by conscious reflection or articulated moral judgments about those who create. They are emotional responses that often emerge from the deepest and most complex corners of our soul. And here's the irony: a tortured artist (and there are plenty of them throughout history) might create a work of sublime beauty that speaks to those aspects of his own soul, crying out for objectification. And as responders, we may openly embrace that creation. Or perhaps, that same artist's tortured soul and life experiences might fully inhabit a work of art in its depiction of unimaginable sadness. But whatever our response, it is not necessarily a psychological confession concerning the depravity of our sense of life. It might simply speak to our own life experiences of loss, regret, and unfathomable grief. And we respond accordingly.

It is no accident that Sinatra was a consummate story-teller, for the way he delivered a lyric of heartbreak elicited responses from his fans, who, as part of the human family, had suffered through feelings of similar grief, loss, and regret. In "Angel Eyes" [YouTube link], there's that image of Frank sitting by himself in a bar, contemplating lost love. He tells us, conversationally, painfully, "Try to think that love's not around, but it's uncomfortably near. My old heart ain't gaining no ground, because my angel eyes ain't here." The listener feels every syllable of loss with his impeccable diction in the delivery of the lyric. He's an actor telling a story, yes; but he's connecting that story to the real losses he has experienced in his own life. The grief is palpable. It's as if he had adopted the technique of "method acting" to the very art of song. It helps one to understand just why he was referred to as "the poet laureate of loneliness."

A Life Worth Living: The Sinatra Revolution

One thing is clear about Frank Sinatra, perhaps best expressed in one of my all-time favorite recordings of his; when he hit bottom, he was determined to turn it around. "That's Life" [YouTube link, and here too], after all, "as funny as it may seem, some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream. But I don't let it, let it get me down, 'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around." He sings with defiance: "I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race. . . . I can't deny it; I thought of quitting, baby, put my heart just ain't gonna buy it. And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly."

But the vehicle for his comeback was neither a bird nor a song; it was a film. And a legendary Fedora (or shall we call it a Cavanaugh?).

It was with his reading of the 1951 James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity, that he became convinced that he would be perfect for the role of Private Angelo Maggio, for the upcoming 1953 film adaptation. He secured the role (most likely with the help of Ava Gardner, not Don Vito Corleone, and subsequently won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Film wasn't the only medium to conquer; Sinatra, after all, was a consummate stylist. He was no longer the scrawny looking kid from Hoboken; now, with a cocked Fedora atop his head, he seemed to define the very essence of cool, of attitude, of self-assuredness. And he influenced a whole generation of men on the sexiness of hats. My own Dad wore one of those hats till the day he died. Nevertheless, despite the Fedora, film was the central vehicle driving the Sinatra revolution to the next phase of his creativity.

Over the years, his very presence on the screen commanded your attention. He could move you to dance (in the 1955 film of "Guys and Dolls"), to laugh (in the 1960 heist film starring all of his Rat Pack cohorts, "Ocean's Eleven"), to cry (playing a heroin addict, with chilling film noir scenes of detox, in the 1955 film, "The Man with the Golden Arm"), to take notice, when his character depicted intense realism (in the 1962 film, "The Manchurian Candidate," and the 1968 film, "The Detective") and, finally, to suffer profound grief just when you thought you were on the precipice of glory (the 1965 World War II POW film, "Von Ryan's Express").

I actually saw "Von Ryan's Express" in 1965 when it first came out, at the age of 5 years old. The memory of it is so vivid, so engrained in my psyche because it was a night of trauma for me. The family took the drive out to Long Island to see the film at the Sunrise Drive-In Theater in Valley Stream, New York. Being at a Drive-In was a big thrill back then, and at the age of five, it was an overwhelming experience for me. I mean, you could go and get popcorn, and never miss any part of the movie. The thing about drive-ins though, is that they are built so that cars can be perched at an upward tilt, on mini-gravel hills. Well, when I went with my sister to get the requisite popcorn, I was running up one of those mini-gravel hills (which appeared closer to the size of Mount Everest to me). Somehow, I got tangled in my sneaker-laces, and went flying downside when I reached the apex of Everest. Naturally, like every other 5-year old boy, I ripped open my right knee for the umpteenth time of my youth. I had previously ripped it open getting caught in the metal of a fence, while I climbed it. And then there was the Becky Incident. Becky was the dog of my best friend's family, and she gave birth to my first dog: Timmy. In any event, I so wanted to walk Becky the Beagle, so, as a precaution, my best friend's mom tied Becky's leash to my wrist so that she would not run away, while I walked her. The stage was set for catastrophe. When the dog saw my friend up the block, she got very excited, and proceeded to run full-speed ahead along the sidewalk of Highlawn Avenue. The leash was still attached to my wrist. In hindsight, I figured this is what it must have felt like to be Messala, in "Ben-Hur," holding on to the reins, but being dragged to my death by horses galloping with a fallen chariot.

The gash scars from the Drive-In movie, and other sporting events, are still quite visible, even now, at the age of 55. But being a 5-year old at the Drive-In, I couldn't fight back the tears, from the pain, and from witnessing the blood pouring out of my wound. Mom and sister cleaned me up, and we returned to the car, to watch the epic climax of Sinatra's war film. He played the role of Colonel Joseph Ryan, leading a POW escape to Switzerland, across Nazi-occupied Italy. And [SPOILER ALERT!], in the final scenes, as the prisoner train is just about to cross into Switzerland, Ryan is running frantically behind that last train car, trying desperately to escape the Waffen-SS troops in pursuit. He is shot by machine gun rounds. Tragically, he falls dead.

Well, this was just too much for my traumatic night. I got hysterical crying, and it took lots of assurances from my mother and sister that Frankie was still alive; it was only a movie. Come to think of it, the last Drive-In theater experience I had also featured a tragedy; it was in April 1998, virtually one month to the day before Ol' Blue Eyes passed away. We were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona, and went to the De Anza Drive-In, where, fortunately, I did not rip open my knee, but I do admit to crying again, as I watched the last heartbreaking moments of the sinking "Titanic" on a huge 70mm screen!

The Essence of Sinatra's Vocal Revolution

Having conquered the film world and the style world, there was nothing left to conquer but that which Sinatra was born to be: The Voice. To say he was musically triumphant in the 1950s and 1960s would be an understatement. He retains the distinction of being among the very first artists to bring into the market the idea of "the concept album." Sinatra would go on to sell more than 150 million albums throughout his prolific recording career. Among the classic "concept albums," one finds such gems as "Songs for Young Lovers," "In the Wee Small Hours," "Come Fly with Me," "Nice 'n Easy," and "September of My Years. But we can't forget some of those magnificent live concert recordings such as "Sinatra at the Sands" (with Count Basie), and those utterly remarkable sessions with artists who transcended global boundaries and eras, men such as Duke Ellington and Antonio Carlos Jobim (check out this brilliant clip with Jobim and Sinatra, from the third installment of his TV specials, "A Man and His Music").

Not all of Sinatra's work with Jobim was first released when it was recorded; Sinatra was a perfectionist, and some of it just didn't feel right. The "Complete Reprise Recordings" of their work together wasn't issued until 2010. The liner notes are absolutely priceless, as they tell the story of the meeting of two giants from different parts of the world, who had vastly different personalities: Sinatra, a veritable "fearless" Lion in the studio or on the stage; Jobim, the quiet, reserved genius of Brazilian music, and one of the creators of that lyrical fusion of samba and jazz known as the bossa nova. The writer of the notes, Stan "Underwood" Cornyn, who just passed away in May 2015, tells us a story that by its very nature teaches us something about the universality of music. One thing that the two artists worked on, over and over again, was to find just the right balance between the louder instruments and percussive sounds and the quiet, tender melodies that required near silence. Cornyn writes:

Seemed like the whole idea was to out-hush each other. Decibels treated like daggers. The arranger tiptoeing about, eliminating some percussion here, ticks there, ridding every song of click, bings, bips, all things sharp. Doing it with the fervor matched only by Her Majesty's Silkworms. But when someone asks if the piano part (played by Sinatra's personal accompanist Bill Miller) didn't come off just a little jarring, Sinatra counters with, "Him percussive? He's got fingers made out of jello." Henceforth, Miller plays jello-keys. And Sinatra makes a joke about all this. "I haven't sung so soft since I had the laryngitis." But while singing soft, making no joke about it. Singing so soft, if he sang any softer he'd have to be lying on his back.

The resulting sessions are, in my view, among the most sublime music ever created by two masters of their craft.

In this essay, we have learned that few entertainers could top the tabloid adventures of Francis Albert Sinatra. However, even fewer performers could barely touch Sinatra's accomplishments as an exquisite interpreter of the Great American Songbook. He could deliver a ballad with graceful diction, and break your heart. He could swagger his way through the swinging orchestrations of some of the best arrangers and conductors in the business, from Nelson Riddle to Billy May to Quincy Jones, incorporating the American jazz idiom with a fluidity that enabled him to sing above and behind the beat. He may not have been a scat-singer, but his whole conception has led even some of the greatest jazz instrumentalists of the era to characterize him as a bona fide jazz vocalist; many of these same jazz artists had learned much from him, from his phrasing, his pacing, and his interpretive, improvised ways with both the lyric and the melody.

Citing Variety, CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow characterized Sinatra's re-emergence from the ashes as one of the greatest comebacks in entertainment history. Sinatra went from the generation of the bobby-soxers to a cultural phenomenon. He and his Rat Pack, with guys like Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, single-handedly turned around the struggling casino town of Las Vegas, making it a tourist attraction that offered some of the greatest musical and comedic entertainers in the business (one of those comedians, Don Rickles, had a ball roasting Sinatra, Davis, and even Ronald Reagan; and check out Sinatra and Rickles on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show"). In these unparalleled live performances, Sinatra rarely delivered songs exactly like his classic studio recordings. He sang the hits that the crowd worshipped and adored, but he often played with both the lyrics and the audience. The Rat Pack went on to star in films together in the early 1960s, including box office hits, such as "Ocean's 11" (1960) and "Robin and the 7 Hoods" (1964). Sinatra was emerging as the "King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, A Number One," as the lyric tells us in "New York, New York." In short, he had become a genuine cultural icon.

Today, however, we live in an age where the overuse of the word "icon" has had an effect no different than the flooding of any market; its overuse makes everything iconic, and therefore, nothing. You know you've reached a stage of cultural bankruptcy when, in today's culture, Sinatra is still recognized as one of America's icons, but that he'd share that iconic status with Kim Kardashian. Not. Unlike the Kardashians who are "famous for being famous," as Barbara Walters once put it, Sinatra is an icon precisely because he was a person who was revered or idolized for his accomplishments. He is an artist whose influence spreads into genres as diverse as jazz (he was selected in a 1956 poll of jazz musicians, with affirmative votes from Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor, and Carmen McRae, among others, as "the greatest-ever male vocalist") and rap; it is felt in the work of contemporary popular artists as diverse as Alicia Keys, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, John Mayer, Josh Grobin, Gavin DeGraw, and Ne-Yo. It stretches from the jazz stylings of Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Buble, to the cabaret of Ron Hawking and Michael Feinstein ("The Sinatra Project") [YouTube link], and the rap of Jay Z (who is a master of rapping above and behind the beat). In some respects, however, Sinatra's influence isn't felt enough, and this is to the detriment of the musical world in which we live. As jazz vocalist Cassandara Wilson put it: "I wish Frank Sinatra influenced more singers today. He comes from a time when it [was] about the phrasing of a piece, the emotional content of a piece. He descended from Billie Holiday and singers who placed more emphasis on the lyrical content of the song."

Here at "Notablog," on the list called "My Favorite Songs," I have always revered and idolized Sinatra. One would think that after featuring audio clips and full-length YouTube renditions by Sinatra on over 60 songs in my ever-growing list, that we would have exhausted our supply. By some estimates, however, the Chairman of the Board (a name given to him by New York's WNEW-AM radio personality, the beloved William B. Williams) recorded over 1,200 tracks, but this includes various recordings of the same song delivered with different arrangements. Clearly, the guy spent a lot of time in the studio, when he wasn't going on global concert tours or filming another hit movie.

Given the number of Sinatra performances highlighted in "My Favorite Songs," he is, perhaps, the artist cited more than any other on my list. So, before listening to the next 19 days of songs that I will post over the coming weeks, I invite folks to check out the ones already listed: "All of Me," "All or Nothing at All," "All the Things You Are," "Angel Eyes," "Autumn in New York," "The Best is Yet to Come," "Brooklyn Bridge," "Call Me," "Call Me Irresponsible," "Change Partners," "Cheek to Cheek," "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)," "Come Fly with Me," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Don't Take Your Love From Me," "Everything Happens To Me," "Falling in Love with Love," "The First Noel," "Fly Me To the Moon," "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)," "How About You?," "How Insensitive," "I Concentrate on You," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "If You Go Away," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "I'll Never Smile Again," "I'm a Fool to Want You," "I Should Care," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I've Got a Crush On You," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Just Friends," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing," "Luck Be a Lady," "Me and My Shadow," "Meditation," "Moonlight in Vermont," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "My Buddy," "My Kind of Town," "My One and Only Love," "My Shining Hour," "My Way," "The Nearness of You," "New York, New York," "One for My Baby," "Pennies from Heaven," "Pocketful of Miracles," "Poor Butterfly," "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)," "Someone to Light Up My Life," "The Song is You," "Spring is Here," "Summer Me, Winter Me," "Swinging on a Star," "That Old Black Magic," "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," "Too Marvelous For Words," "Triste," "The Way You Look Tonight," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Wives and Lovers," "Yesterdays," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," "You'll Never Know," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "You Make Me Feel So Young," and "You're Gonna Hear From Me."

Some of these songs are so closely tied to their definitive Sinatra recordings, that it is hard to listen to them coming from the voices of other singers, no matter how wonderful other renditions might be. I mean, can anyone of us honestly think of such songs as "The Best is Yet to Come," "Come Fly with Me," "Fly Me to the Moon," and "It Was a Very Good Year," without thinking of Sinatra? Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who knew one or two things about 3- and 4-hour epics, once said that every single song that Sinatra ever sang was the equivalent of a 4-minute movie, so good was he at telling a story. Sinatra sang the standards, but his own renditions of so many of these standards became the standard by which to measure other renditions. For other artists who sang these songs, the best route to success was to completely change the interpretation and arrangement. For example, I can't think of anybody but Michael Jackson performing "Billie Jean," and yet several other successful renditions have been recorded only because the interpretation of the song was dramatically altered. Chris Cornell's version, in my view, is the most successful because it is dramatically different from the original. Check it all out here.

Clearly, I have always celebrated the talents of Sinatra, the self-confessed "saloon singer," who became the epitome of cool, the essence of musical class, and, as Bono once suggested, perhaps the only Italian Francis (with apologies to the Italian man from Assisi and the humble Argentinian Pope of Italian immigrants) to provide genuine proof that God is a Catholic ([YouTube link; I'm paraphrasing Bono's introduction of Sinatra at the 1994 Grammy Awards, where The Voice was recognized as a Grammy "Living Legend").

Nearly all of the selections that will be featured in this tribute can be found on "Ultimate Sinatra," a 4-CD Centennial Edition of 101 recordings, drawn from every label under which Sinatra recorded, including Columbia Records, Capitol Records, and his own Reprise label.

I was asked by a few people if I could possibly select a Top Ten List of Sinatra Favorites, and I find it virtually impossible to rank, but I'll try a knee-jerk Top Ten, literally off-the-top of my head, in alphabetical order, rather than a ranking: "The Best is Yet to Come," "Come Fly with Me," "Fly Me to the Moon," "I Concentrate on You," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It Was a Very Good Year," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "One for My Baby," "New York, New York" (heard at the end of every home game played by my New York Yankees), and "That's Life." But if I think about this for any more than five minutes, I'll give you a whole other list of Top Ten... so let's keep it at that!

Today's "Song of the Day" is "From This Moment On" (on Disc 2 of "Ultimate Sinatra"). Indeed, from this moment on, prepare to be entertained through December 12th. We will feature a song each day (with one tip of the Fedora in the middle of our tribute to two other artists with links to Sinatra). As I have noted, not one of these songs has ever appeared on the illustrious list assembled above, which, in itself, is a testament to the breadth and the depth of this man's magnificent artistic legacy.

November 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1275

Song of the Day: Paris Was Made for Lovers, with music by Michel Legrand, lyrics by Hal Shaper, is the title track from the 1972 British comedy-drama film, known alternatively as "A Time for Loving." My favorite version of this song was a live Legrand performance from an early 1970s Monsanto special (see link below). Of course, today, there is every reason in the world to remember one lyric from Legrand's song: "Paris Was Made for Lovers... Why Else Would Paris Even Be There?" I've never been to Paris, but my heart has visited its residents since Friday the 13th of November, and it aches because they, who have known the horrific wars of the twentieth-century, conquered by the Nazis, liberated by the Allies, have now been introduced to a war of the twenty-first century, one that I know only too well because it showed its ugly face in my city, my home, on September 11, 2001. We can debate the reasons for this bloodshed from here to eternity, but there is simply no doubt about the utter savagery of those who have the self-righteous audacity to claim that they kill in the name of their God. These premodern jihadists have brought back all the premodern means of murder; they've sawed off heads and crucified "heretics." But they use modern technology to assist them in their coordination of terror. We've heard of the "Stolen Concept Fallacy," where one requires the truth of that which one is simultaneously trying to disprove; maybe we can call this one the "Stolen Technology Fallacy," where one requires all the technological gifts of a civilized society, including social media and satellite technology, while in the process of trying to destroy the very civilization that has made such gifts possible. If I lived in Paris, I'd want to deny such murderers the capacity to use anything that wasn't invented prior to the seventh century. And I'd introduce them to one more premodern innovation as a reward for their brutality: The Guillotine. Paris Was Made for Lovers, Not Haters. Listen to the godly Legrand sing of the love of his city [.mp3 link]. And may God bless the people of Paris as they mourn the lives that have been taken from them.

October 14, 2015

Song of the Day #1274

Song of the Day: 'Round Midnight, music by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, with lyrics later provided by Bernie Hanighen (though others further embellished the tune over time), was published in 1944, but it is thought that Monk had written the song in the mid-1930s. In keeping with the theme of this list, "My Favorite Songs," this one is not just my favorite Monk song, but, perhaps, one of my all-time favorites in the history of jazz. There are so many recorded performances of this wonderful jazz standard (perhaps the most recorded song written specifically by a jazz composer): the first version ever recorded, by Trumpeter and Big Band leader Cootie Williams (with a youthful Bud Powell on piano), the original rendering by Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald (with Oscar Peterson on piano), and Carmen McRae (of course) [YouTube links]. Among other performances: from the Oscar-winning soundtrack of the 1986 film with Best Actor-nominee, saxman Dexter Gordon, "Round Midnight", featuring Bobby McFerrin's "instrumental" vocal and Herbie Hancock's impeccable piano [YouTube link], the Miles Davis-John Coltrane masterpiece [YouTube link] from the 1957 Davis album ("'Round About Midnight"), and an utterly brilliant acoustic jazz guitar solo performance by the incomparable Joe Pass [YouTube link]. The list goes on and on, but I should note that among my favorite versions, there are two that stand out: the first, by the "Divine" jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan, recorded live from her "In Performance at Wolf Trap" (presented on PBS TV on 28 October 1974) [mp3 link; her "Scattin' the Blues" is from the same concert, and don't forget another one of her live versions of "'Round Midnight", in which Sassy scatted, alongside be-bop trumpeter extraordinaire Dizzy Gillespie in 1987 [YouTube link]), and the second, by the often overlooked, but never underappreciated, trailblazing jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne, whose rendition appears on his classic 1963 album "Tapestry" [mp3 link]. Chuck was a family friend, and his style of "consecutive-alternate picking" had a deep impact on my own brother, Carl Barry, who is, of course, my all-time favorite guitarist. Chuck even played at my brother's wedding to Joanne, my sister-in-law, who just so happens to be one of the best jazz singers on earth. Chuck's version of this Monk classic is probably my favorite instrumental interpretation. We are two years away from the Monk Centenary; I'm glad to have brought more attention to his work in this mini-tribute on the occasion of the 98th anniversary of his birth. Long live Monk!

September 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1268

Song of the Day: This Could Be the Start of Something Big, written by Steve Allen, originated as the theme song to a 1954 TV musical production of "The Bachelor" not to be confused with the current "reality show"). It eventually opened up the show for which Allen was the first host: "The Tonight Show." Check out classic renditions by Ella, Steve and Eydie, Jack Jones, Bobby Darin, and a blazing big band instrumental treatment by the Count of Basie. What better way to celebrate television than with this swinging track. Tonight, check out the 67th Annual Emmy Awards on Fox.

July 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1263

Song of the Day: You're a Grand Old Flag features the music and lyrics of George M. Cohan. It was actually written for his 1906 stage musical, "George Washington Jr." All I know is that I came from an era when we were taught songs such as this in elementary school, and they made an indelible mark on my educational upbringing. I know the words backwards and forwards, and no matter how many Yahoos love it, there is a humble quality inherent in its lyric, for no matter how deeply it tributes the "free and the brave," it is "never a boast or a brag." Check out the wonderful version performed by James Cagney, the iconic gangster who won an Academy Award for Best Actor, playing one of the great song and dance men of all time, in the 1942 bio flick, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" on YouTube. And a Happy Independence Day. May the revolution that made every heart beat true for the "red, white, and blue" live forever!

June 24, 2015

Song of the Day #1260

Song of the Day: Apollo 13 ("Re-Entry and Splashdown") [YouTube link], music by James Horner, is an appropriate way to honor the brilliant composer who passed away tragically on 22 June 2015 in a plane crash. The 1995 film, directed by Ron Howard, and starring Tom Hanks, is a tribute to the rational human spirit,which triumphs against all odds. This particular cue gives us a glimpse of Horner's manner of exhibiting the central theme of a film score through a prism of variations that both reflect and propel the action on screen. He did this through over 150 soundtracks, from "Aliens" to "Titanic," an unforgettable legacy to the art of the score.

June 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1259

Song of the Day: Horror of Dracula ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by James Bernard, captures all the genuine horror of the Hammer Studio's 1958 red-blooded color reboot of the classic Bram Stoker tale. The film starred the late, great Christopher Lee in the title role, with Peter Cushing playing his classic nemesis, Dr.Van Helsing, in this and a few vampire sequels (though the two starred in 22 films together, ranging from "Hamlet" to Hammer Horror). Lee passed away this week but left a stupendous legacy of chills and thrills for his legion of fans in the horror, fantasy, and sci-fi genres (indeed, who can forget his classic duel as Count Dooku with Yoda in "Star Wars, Episode Two: Attack of the Clones" [YouTube link]. He will be missed.

June 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1258

Song of the Day: The King and I ("Shall We Dance?"), music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, was featured in the original 1951 production, which won the Tony for Best Musical, based on the Margaret Landon novel, "Anna and the King of Siam," which was made into a 1946 film drama, starring Rex Harrison as the King and Irene Dunne as Anna. Tonight, it's up for Best Revival of a Musical. On the stage and in the 1956 film, the role of the King of Siam was played by Yul Brynner (who, that same year, portrayed Ramesses, the Pharaoh, in DeMille's classic epic, "The Ten Commandments"). Brynner won the Tony and the Oscar for the role of the King of Siam, etc. etc. etc. In the film, Brynner played opposite Oscar-nominated Deborah Kerr (whose singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon), and in the original musical, he played opposite Tony Award winner Gertrude Lawrence. Check out the original Broadway version and the scene from the 1956 film. In any event, it seems so apropos that I highlight a musical that stars an actor who played a King and a Pharaoh both in the same year, for yesterday, American Pharoah (yes, that's the spelling) became King of the World. So before ending this year's mini-tribute to the music that has graced the Broadway stage, I am just delighted that my "Song of the Day" yesterday hit the nail on the head, so-to-speak; congratulations to American Pharoah for taking the first Triple Crown in 37 years, the 4th in my lifetime and only the 12th thoroughbred to achieve this since its nineteenth-century inception. Though, for me, nothing comes close to Secretariat, who ended a 25-year drought in Triple Crown winners extending back in time to Citation in 1948, for it was Secretariat who set records for the fastest run in all three legs of the Triple Crown (1:59 2/5 in the Kentucky Derby; 1:53 seconds in the Preakness Stakes; and a scorching 2:24 seconds flat to run the 1.5 miles of that grueling third leg in the Belmont Stakes (after all, "if you can make here, you can make it anywhere"). Moreover, Secretariat achieved his third victory by 31 lengths over the second-place finisher. None of this takes away from yesterday's winner. I'm glad I witnessed Seatle Slew and Affirmed take the last two trips to the Triple Crown in 1977 and 1978, respectively, but I was beginning to doubt we'd ever see another winner, considering that we're waiting 37 years in annual disappointment. So three cheers for American Pharoah. I'm so happy, well, I could just ask the next person I see: "Shall We Dance?" (Julie Andrews and Ben Vereen cover). And three cheers for those productions that are honored in tonight's Tony Awards. And so ends our annual mini-Broaday tribute, even if it was interspersed with a little sports history.
[Ed.: It looks like I picked two winners: "The King and I" won "Best Revival" and American Pharoah revived the Triple Crown!]

June 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1257

Song of the Day: Guys and Dolls ("Luck Be a Lady"), music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, was among those songs to grace this 1950 Broadway musical that won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It is also an appropriate song for the day; like in the musical, the action takes place in New York, and nothing is needed more than Luck, for today, American Pharoah races for The Triple Crown at Belmont Park. Check out the original Broadway version sung by Robert Alda (as the character "Sky Masterson") and the 1955 film version delivered by Marlon Brando. Check out other wonderful treatments of the song by Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. And Go American Pharoah!.

June 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1256

Song of the Day: I Wish You Love was a French popular song from the 1940s, with music by Leo Chauliac and Charles Trenet, who also composed the lyrics (the song's original title is "Que reste-t-il no amours?"). It was rendered into English by Albert A. Beach. And it was one of the most famous moments in a 1967 one-woman show at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre given by Marlene Dietrich. In the show, Marlene was backed by Burt Bacharach and his huge orchestra, featuring a song list that included this famous tune, later immortalized in a television concert special, "An Evening with Marlene Dietrich." Check out Marlene's version and Keely Smith's version, which became her signature tune.

June 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1255

Song of the Day: Godspell ("Day by Day"), music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (with a little help from Episcopal hymnals), offers a contemporary take on the Gospel of Matthew (with a few parables taken from the Gospel of Luke). This particular song is an uplifting track from the musical that reached #13 on the Billboard pop singles chart. The musical debuted Off Broadway in 1971, though it made it to Broadway in a 2011 revival. There was also a 1973 film version. Here is a recording from the original Off Broadway cast album [YouTube].

June 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1254

Song of the Day: Love For Sale, composed by the great Cole Porter, made its debut on the Broadway stage in the 1930 musical, "The New Yorkers," which starred Jimmy Durante. Kathryn Crawford first sang the scandalous song from the perspective of those in the world's oldest profession, but the song was banned from radio play, and eventually given to an African American woman to sing, Elisabeth Welch [YouTube link], making it more acceptable in some circles. One of the classic jazz standards, it has been recorded by so many great singers and instrumentalists; check out versions by Stan Kenton, Johnny Smith, Harry Connick, Jr., Billie Holiday (with pianist Oscar Peterson), Jack Teagarden, Anita O'Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis, Mel Torme, and his son, James Torme (who also does an interesting take on MJ's "Rock with You"), Dinah Washington, and a guitar duet with Joe Pass and Herb Ellis [all YouTube links].

June 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1252

Song of the Day: Gypsy ("Let Me Entertain You"), music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is the perfect way to start off our mini-tribute to Broadway musicals, as we approach the Tony Awards, which will air live Sunday, June 7th, on CBS. In the original Jerome Robbins-directed and choreographed 1959 production, which did not win in any of the eight categories for which it was nominated, this tune was performed by Sandra Church [YouTube link], who plays the celebrated striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. It was also performed in the 1962 film version by Natalie Wood [YouTube link].

May 16, 2015

Song of the Day #1249

Song of the Day: Let the Good Times Roll, words and music by New Orleans-blues singer Sam Theard and his wife Fleecie Moore, was first recorded by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five [YouTube link] for the 1947 film, "Reet, Petite, and Gone." The song has been recorded by so many different artists from so many different genres. But yesterday, the King of the Blues passed away [clip of Eric Clapton's eulogy]. And so today, I give you three Monarchs, and maybe One in waiting: Tony Bennett, joining B. B. King on vocals (who always played a mean blues guitar), from the Bennett album "Playin' with My Friends." And check out the live Bobby Bland and B. B. King version as well [YouTube link]. This King knew had to live; his discography will let the good times roll as long as human beings have the capacity to hear. Long live the King. Tonight, you can check out more blues royalty, a biopic of the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, played by Queen Latifah in "Bessie." (And let's not forget Ben E.King.) And here's to what I hope will be a Monarch-in-Waiting: American Pharoah, winner of the Kentucky Derby, has just won the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes, the second victory on the way to the Belmont and the Triple Crown.

April 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1245

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("The Pieta"/"The Sepulcher"/"Resurrection") [YouTube link], composed by the great Miklos Rozsa for the 1961 film of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, marks the moment of his death, burial, and resurrection, which today is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians. The film, directed by Nicholas Ray, who was known for his work in "Rebel without a Cause" (starring James Dean), acts as a prelude to the tumultuous 1960s. In that decade, revolutionaries of many faiths forged a civil rights movement by means both violent and nonviolent. Indeed, change "by any means necessary," a Sartrean phrase extolled by Malcolm X, echoes Ray's characterization of the Judean rebel Barabbas (played by Harry Guardino) who opposed Roman aggression with violence. The character says he wants "freedom," but he differs from Jesus only in the means by which to achieve it. By contrast, Jesus is portrayed by Ray as a nonviolent revolutionary, echoing the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., a rebel with cause who died violently as the Christ he worshipped. To all of my friends and family who are celebrating today (my maternal grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos was, after all, the founder of the first Greek Orthoodox Church in Brooklyn, the Three Hierarchs Church on Avenue P and East 18th Street), I say: Christos Anesti! It comes at a time that for believers and pagans alike is a season of rebirth: Hope Springs Eternal.

April 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1244

Song of the Day: What a Little Moonlight Can Do, words and music by Harry M. Woods, appears as the first track on "The Centennial Collection," marking, today, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, whose repertoire ran from swing to blues, and whose voice captured the depth of struggles both personal and societal. A life cut short by the long-term tragic effects of substance abuse, she was a trailblazer for so many singers who followed, from Frank Sinatra (whose centennial we celebrate later this year) to Janis Joplin to Cassandra Wilson (who issues a tribute album of her own this week). And for those who haven't seen the underappreciated, heart-wrenching 1972 bio-pic, "Lady Sings the Blues," do check out the Oscar-nominated performance of Diana Ross. I picked this tune (first performed by Violet Loraine in the 1934 film, "Road House"), for, despite her personal agony, Holiday could swing through the sadness. Listen to her on YouTube [music link] in 1935 with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra, in a recording that also features the King of Swing, Benny Goodman. Long Live Lady Day!

April 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1242

Song of the Day: The Fool on the Hill, credited to Lennon and McCartney (though written by Paul alone), was recorded in 1967 and included on The Beatles's "Magical Mystery Tour" album and film. It's a great song for an April Fool's Day; check out the original version by the Beatles, and also a really nice bossa-tinged rendition recorded by Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66 [YouTube links].

March 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1240

Song of the Day: The Godfather ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Nino Rota, is the central musical motif of one of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed, directed by the incomparable Francis Ford Coppola, who won an Oscar as co-writer of the adapted screenplay, with the author of the original novel, Mario Puzo. It starred Best Actor-winning Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, and a terrific supporting cast, including Al Pacino, who went on to film two sequels to this Oscar-winning Best Picture. Rota received a Grammy for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or TV Special, but was ruled ineligible for the Oscars; that travesty was corrected when he won (with Carmine Coppola) for his brilliant score to The Godfather Part II. It's the Ides of March; but instead of commemorating Julius Caesar on the famous day of his assassination, I recommend this film about a few modern-day "Caesars" in the criminal pantheon.

March 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1238

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("So Long, Farewell"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is heard a couple of times in the 1965 Best Picture. It's a lovely ensemble piece. We get to relish it, and each of the children's characters, at a Von Trapp party gathering. Later, it is performed as the finale to the Salzburg Festival, providing the family the means by which to escape from the Nazis, who are waiting in the wings to force Captain Von Trapp into naval service for the hated Third Reich. The film sequences leading up to the family's tense escape from the Nazis gives us just one more indication of the film's depth. It encapsulates moments of love, hope, betrayal, and suspense against the backdrop of one of the ugliest periods of twentieth-century history. In the end, of course, as I conclude my mini-celebration of the Golden Anniversary of this cinematic triumph, we are reminded that it is the liberating sound of music that symbolically vanquishes the forces of evil. Check out the version at the party and the reprise featured in the concert finale [YouTube links].

March 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1237

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Edelweiss"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is the one song in this splended film that sounds as if it is a genuine folk song. It is sung by Captain von Trapp toward the close of the film, near the end of a concert sequence that unites the audience through Austrian cultural solidarity, in the ominous shadows of the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria. The Captain is to be forcibly enlisted into the naval ranks of the Third Reich. So this song is performed by actor Christopher Plummer with both poignance and defiance. He nearly loses his voice as he chokes back tears, but the Von Trapp Family Singers join him, for they are planning to escape to freedom at the conclusion of the Salzburg Festival talent competition. Still, this song, named after the white flower found in the Austrian Alps, has all the sound of a folk culture that the Nazis must crush. At the young age of five years old, I initially resisted seeing this movie that everybody was talking about. Who wants to go see some silly musical event with a mob? Even then, I was exhibiting an individualistic interest in history and politics, rather than Broadway show tunes! But I went to the Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, grudgingly, and the songs and performances slowly carressed me. Entertainment morphed into an historical narrative of the growing Nazi threat, on the precipice of World War II. I was hooked. I've been in love with this film, and this song, ever since. Check it out on YouTube.

March 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1236

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Something Good"), is one of two songs written exclusively for the 1965 film by Richard Rodgers, whose collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II, passed away in 1960. The song provides a sweet romantic moment between Maria (played by Julie Andrews) and the Captain (played by Christopher Plummer). Having left the abbey, Maria has opened herself up to explore a new world, rich with love and possibility. Listen to it on YouTube.

March 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1235

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Do-Re-Mi"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, truly "start[s] at the very beginning," as Maria teaches the basic building blocks of music to the Von Trapp kids in the wonderful 1965 film. Check out the full version of this delightful song from the beloved film on YouTube.

March 02, 2015

Song of the Day #1234

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("I Have Confidence"), music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers, was written exclusively for the 1965 Best Picture Oscar winner, "The Sound of Music," a film that was released 50 years ago on this date. Oscar Hammerstein II had provided the lyrics for the original 1959 Broadway musical (it was the final Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration), which tied with Fiorello! for Best Musical at the 14th Annual Tony Awards. Hammerstein had passed away in 1960, five years before the debut of the celebrated film version. Many songs from this musical have become part of the Great American Songbook, and I have already included several in "My Favorite Songs," the classic "My FavoriteThings" (especially this terrific jazz version by my brother Carl Barry, a superb jazz guitarist, with my scorching sister-in-law, vocalist Joanne Barry), the inspirational" Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and the title song. Three songs from the Broadway production: "An Ordinary Couple" (featuring the Tony Award-winning Leading Actress of that year Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel), "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It" were cut from the film version, while two were added, including this wonderful song, delivered by the incomparable Julie Andrews as she makes her way to the Von Trapp household from the convent, where her desire to be a nun is still-born, once she falls in love with Captain Von Trapp, played in the film by Christopher Plummer. The audience gave a much-deserved standing ovation to Lady Gaga's tribute to the Golden Anniversary of "The Sound of Music" on this year's Oscar telecast, as did Andrews, who was brought on stage by Gaga. Over the next few days, I'll be featuring songs from the film, one of my favorite musicals of all time. Check out the song from the soundtrack album.

February 27, 2015

Song of the Day #1233

Song of the Day: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Leonard Rosenman who was nominated for Best Original Score for this 1986 film. This theme takes its first cue from the original television theme, as provided by composer Alexander Courage, and then takes us back to old civilizations (1980s America) in search of the extinct species of humpback whales, whose calls will reply to an alien signal that threatens life as we know it. I don't think there is a more joyous, more enduring "Star Trek" film in the whole film franchise, and some of the credit rests on the great shoulders of Leonard Nimoy, whose Mr. Spock has become an institution of Americana. Sadly, Nimoy passed away today, but Spock will go on and on: Live Long and Prosper, indeed.

February 22, 2015

Song of the Day #1232

Song of the Day: Sunday in New York ("Taxi") [YouTube link], composed by Peter Nero, is another jazzy cue from the 1963 film, from whose soundtrack we began this year's February Film Music Tribute. We close this year's film music salute, and look forward to seeing this evening who will join the ranks of winners in Oscar music history. So on this "Sunday in New York," our eyes (and ears) turn toward Hollywood. Till next year...

February 21, 2015

Song of the Day #1231

Song of the Day: The Charge of the Light Brigade ("The Charge") [Screen Archives Entertainment mp3 link], written by the legendary Golden Age film score composer Max Steiner, captures the excitement of the climactic scene in this 1936 film, starring the swashbuckling Errol Flynn. This is one of the great Oscar-nominated soundtracks in cinema history. Check it out as well on YouTube (as conducted by William Stromberg).

February 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1230

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ("Mischief Managed!") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is a grand suite from the 2004 third installment of the eight films that make up the most successful film franchise in cinema history.

February 19, 2015

Song of the Day #1229

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ("Harry's Wondrous World") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is a truly wondrous exploration of the main themes that are heard in this 2002 film, second in the brilliant fantasy series based on the books of J. K. Rowling.

February 18, 2015

Song of the Day #1228

Song of the Day: Dante's Peak ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by James Newton Howard, opens this exciting 1997 Man versus Nature film. The film stars Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton and some truly explosive special effects. And any film that carries the name "Dante" (the name of our cat) has something special indeed.

February 17, 2015

Song of the Day #1227

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Overture") [YouTube link] composed by Master Maestro Miklos Rozsa, encapsulates all the main thematic content of my favorite soundtrack (and film) of all time. It's become a tradition on my birthday to pick a cue from this 11-Academy Award-winning 1959 film (a total equaled by "Titanic" and the third installment of "Lord of the Rings," but never surpassed, and neither of those films received Oscars in any of the acting categories). For TCM fans, the film airs tonight from 8 pm to midnight (EST, followed by "Psycho"). Coincidence? Divine inspiration? All I know is that I turn 55 today; my loving Dad passed away in 1972, three months short of his 56th birthday. So I figure if I beat that, I'm good for another 55. Right now, I count my blessings that my eyes open every morning. I count my blessings for the passion of my work and for the love and support of my family and my friends. Cheers to a life worth living. For that reason alone, indeed, I shall "row well, and live." Even if I do get a little "Psycho" now and then; it keeps life interesting!

February 16, 2015

Song of the Day #1226

Song of the Day: Some Like It Hot ("I'm Through with Love") is a 1931 gem with music by Matty Malnek (a long-time family friend back in the day) and Joseph "Fud" Livingston, lyrics by Gus Kahn, but it was popularized by Marilyn Monroe, who was terrific in this Billy Wilder 1959 classic comedy. The film featured Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon running around in drag, to escape the Mob, for having witnessed the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre (speaking of Valentine's Day!). The mobster, "Spats" Colombo, is played to the hilt by George Raft. It is just one of the funniest comedies to have ever been committed to celluloid (#1 on the AFI list). This song is delivered with memorable heartbreak by Marilyn [YouTube film link].

February 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1225

Song of the Day: Help! ("Ticket to Ride"), music and lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was recorded 50 years ago on this date. It was released in April of that year, and is actually the first single from the Beatles's comic odyssey, "Help!." The Golden Anniversary of the film and the music in it gives us an opportunity to celebrate, once again, the impact of the Beatles on pop music. Check out the #1 Billboard hit on YouTube (and check out a live version of the title track from the film). I know the wonderful "A Hard Day's Night" (1964), is considered the greater artistic achievement, but "Help!" was, in my view, just a more fun film to watch (with little nods to the cultural phenomena of the day, including Bond, James Bond).

February 14, 2015

Song of the Day #1224

Song of the Day: The Caddy ("That's Amore"), music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Jack Brooks, is the Oscar-nominated song from this 1953 Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy. The song is a Dean Martin signature tune. Here is the scene from the film and the classic Dean Martin recording [YouTube links]. And what better way to say "Happy Valentine's Day," than with "That's Amore."

February 13, 2015

Song of the Day #1223

Song of the Day: Random Harvest ("Opening Title") [Screen Archives Entertainment link], composed by Herbert Stothart, opens a gorgeously romantic love story, perfect on the eve of Valentine's Day. The 1942 film starred Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. Stothart won an Oscar for his Original Score for "The Wizard of Oz," and received an Oscar nomination for this score. If the ending of this film doesn't leave you with a lump in your throat, you've lost that lovin' feelin'.

February 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1222

Song of the Day: Hello, Frisco, Hello ("You'll Never Know"), music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon, was introduced in the 1943 film by Alice Faye, but it has had many memorable renditions, including those of Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, Rosemary Clooney with the great trumpeter Harry James, Shirley Bassey, and was the first song ever recorded by Babs [YouTube links]. This standard from the Great American SongbName

February 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1221

Song of the Day: The Best Years of Our Lives ("Main Title") [YouTube link] is featured in the Oscar-winning Score (of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) composed by Hugo Friedhofer. The 1946 "Best Picture" showed us some of the horrific, lingering physical and psychological effects of war (even so-called "good wars") on those who survive it. Best Director William Wyler took home one of seven competitive gold statuettes won by this superb film (the producer, Samuel Goldwyn, also won the Irving Thalberg award and another individual also received an honorary award---more on that in a moment). A deserved Oscar went to Best Actor Frederic March (though Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, and Teresa Wright are all equally wonderful in their roles). The Best Supporting Actor, Harold Russell, also received an honorary award for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." Russell had lost both hands in World War II, and got along just fine with two hooks. One philosopher from whose work I have learned much, apparently despised this film and "It's a Wonderful Life" (for shame!), because it had subliminal pink propaganda (like references to bankers "with a heart," etc.). I could write a few articles about how far she missed the mark (like I did for "A Christmas Carol" and "Ben-Hur"), but, suffice it to say, sometimes you can appreciate works of art on many different levels, even if some mixed premises ooze into the script. This film came out a year after the end of the most horrific war in human history, one that this particular philosopher opposed. But there's a reason the American public responded to the film. The struggles of its survivng veterans were palpable and resonated with its war weary audience. One of the aspects of this film that got well deserved recognition was Friedhofer's soundtrack. And for that, Bravo, Maestro!

February 10, 2015

Song of the Day #1220

Song of the Day: Notorious ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Roy Webb, opens this 1946 suspense film with a lovely romantic theme with ominous undertones. This was the second collaboration of two cinematic giants: Director Alfred Hitchcock and Actor Cary Grant, who share the distinction of never having won an Oscar in a competitive category. They did receive honorary Oscars at the end of their careers (for which Hitchcock said at the podium, "Thank you"). It is said that Grant swore never to make another film with Hitchcock after "Suspicion" (1941), but this second collaboration, which co-starred the wonderful Ingrid Bergman, is a classic stomach churner. Bergman starred previously in Hitchcock's "Spellbound" (1945) and with her other "Notorious" co-star, Claude Rains, in "Casablanca" back in 1942. Like "Casablanca," this film has its share of villainous Nazis. Grant and Hitchcock would go on to make two additional films together: "To Catch a Thief," and my favorite one of all: "North by Northwest." "Charade" could be mistaken for a Grant-Hitchcock collaboration, but alas, it wasn't (though it's often referenced as "the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made").

February 09, 2015

Song of the Day #1219

Song of the Day: Anatomy of a Murder ("Flirtibird") [YouTube link], composed by jazz legend Duke Ellington, captures the salacious, scandalous themes explored in this superb 1959 courtroom drama, starring a wonderful cast that included Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and George C. Scott. Seductive and sexually charged, this track was also recorded by the great Duke, featuring his cornet player Ray Nance (who could also play a mean jazz violin). Check it out on YouTube.

February 08, 2015

Song of the Day #1218

Song of the Day: Rocky ("Gonna Fly Now") was composed by Bill Conti, with lyrics by Carol Collins and Ayn Robbins, and was performed on the soundtrack album with vocalists DeEtta Little and Nelson Pigford. The song defined a series of films tracing the boxing adventures of Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) and in American popular culture, it has become a song celebrating the champion character of the underdog. Indeed, it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 2, 1977, a virtual theme signifying the victory of the American underdog against the British Empire, which culminated in a Declaration of Independence on July 4th (Stallone himself was born on July 6th). Indeed, "Rocky" became the little "underdog" picture that could: It was 1977's Best Picture of the Year, though Conti lost in the Best Original Song Oscar category (he also lost in the Scoring ctegory to "Star Wars" composer John Williams, at the 20th Annual Grammy Awards). Check out the Grammy Awards tonight, and check out the Conti single [YouTube link] as well as a terrific rendition by the big band of Maynard Ferguson [YouTube link], a trumpeter whose high notes have sometimes challenged the superior hearing of dogs. But this human thinks the Rocky track Rocks!

February 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1217

Song of the Day: My Cousin Vinny ("Bible Belt") was written and performed by Travis Tritt over the end credits to this utterly hilarious 1992 film, with wonderful performances by Joe Pesci, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner MarisaTomei, who nailed it perfectly: she is the quintessential cinematic cuginette. Maybe only genuine Brooklynites can truly appreciate all the in-jokes and hilarity of the Brooklynese on display in this comedic classic. The original version of this song appeared on Tritt's 1991 album, "It's All About to Change," with different lyrics; check out the original here (featuring Little Feat) [YouTube link]. But Tritt actually re-wrote the lyrics specifically for this film and those lyrics fully encapsulate the film's plot and theme. Check it out on YouTube.

February 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1216

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Jeanne and Pete") [YouTube link], composed by Johnny Keating, is a lush trombone-led instrumental ballad from one of the finest jazz-influenced scores of the 1960s (I've already highlighted two other tunes in previous years from the 1967 film).

February 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1215

Song of the Day: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ("It's On Again") was composed by Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar, with a little help from Pharrell Williams, all in collaboration with Hans Zimmer, who scored this second film, released in 2014, in the Andrew Garfield reboot of one of my favorite superheroes. I mean he's not from Gotham City or Metropolis, pale copies of the real New York! He's from Forest Hills, Queens! Check it out on YouTube.

February 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1214

Song of the Day: Blues in the Night ("Blues in the Night"), music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, earned its place in the Great American Songbook. The title track of the 1941 film (the film's working title was actually "Hot Nocturne"), it was nominated for a Best Song Oscar, but lost to "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (from "Lady Be Good"). The song was delivered on film by William Gillespie (YouTube link), but there have been so many superb versions of this trailblazing American song; check out renditions by Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Jimmie Lunceford, Artie Shaw (with Hot Lips Page on vocals), Rosemary Clooney, Jo Stafford, Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, an ambitious Mel Torme-Buddy Rich collaboration, Quincy Jones (whose version is heard in the 2001 film version of "Ocean's Eleven"), and there's even a take on the song by jazz-rock fusion band Chicago [all YouTube links]. Talk about a cross-generational impact. This one's a keeper.

February 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1213

Song of the Day: Erin Brockovich ("Useless") [YouTube link] is a composition by Thomas Newman of the very famous Newman Dynasty. He is the youngest son of the immortal Alfred Newman, one of the greatest film score composers from the Golden Age of Hollywood. That dynasty also ncludes brrother David, uncles Lionel and Emil, cousin Randy, and nephew Joey. Despite 12 Oscar nominations, Thomas Newman has yet to win a golden statuette; but his minimalist score for the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich" is one of his best. The film features a superb Best Actress Oscar-winning performance by the irrepressible Julia Roberts in the title role.
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February 02, 2015

Song of the Day #1212

Song of the Day: Ocean's Eleven ("Title Sequence") [YouTube link], composed by Nelson Riddle and designed by Saul Bass, is a swinging affair for the chicest of chic Rat Pack films, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, and so many other wonderful performers who hit the Vegas Strip for the ultimate scam. But the real question is if those Groundhogs are scamming us, because it looks like it's going to be a long winter up here in the Northern hemisphere. Thank goodness we're kept warm by this hot and fiery Nelson Riddle chart from the original (and best) 1960 version of the film.

February 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1211

Song of the Day: Sunday in New York ("On Frantic Fifth") [YouTube link], music by the very jazzy Brooklyn-born Peter Nero, gets Our Annual Film Music February Off To A Flying Start. Nero even appears in the 1963 film showing off his piano chops. This cue captures some of the frenzy one might find even on a beautiful "Sunday in New York." I featured the title track to this film back in 2005, the year I kicked off my tribute to cinema music (though not with a link to the Mel Torme-performed song that can be heard in the opening credits or Joe Pass on 12-string guitar [YouTube links]). So stay with us right up to 22 February 2015, the night that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards achievement in scoring and song. And if you're anywhere near the greatest city on earth, enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday in New York.

September 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1206

Song of the Day: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work ("Opening Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Paul Brill with Amber Rubarth, opens the 2010 documentary about the life and career of a great comedian,author, and Red Carpet fashion critic. Over the last several weeks, I feel as if celebrities have been dropping like flies: Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, Don Pardo, Richard Attenborough, and now, fellow Brooklynite, Joan Rivers, who died today at the age of 81. The music is spacey and haunting with snippets of the star's comic lines. Those lines were sometimes so over the top that only a big band could match the volume of the laughter she created. I last saw her critiquing the fashions at the VMAs and the Emmys, just last week. And ultimately, it was the melody of that laughter that endures; check out some of her greatest TV moments and an E! celebration of her work. Cultural icon, outrageous, and irreverent, she was the consummate entertainer. Few people have made me laugh harder; I will miss her. Oh, grow up!

August 30, 2014

Song of the Day #1205

Song of the Day: Jurassic Park ("T-Rex Rescue and Finale";), composed by John Williams, is one great way to celebrate Richard Attenborough, who played the film's visionary John Hammond in this classic Spielberg dinosaur flick, "unintended consequences" gone wild. Attenborough passed away at the age of 90 on August 24th; he was a fine actor who graced such films as "The Great Escape", and who showed his Oscar-winning directorial chops on the sprawling epic that was "Gandhi". Check out this tense moment in music that brought us to the film's finale [YouTube link].

August 25, 2014

Song of the Day #1200

Song of the Day: 24 ("Theme"), composed by Sean Callery, captures all the urgency and tension of this remarkable series, for which Callery has won multiple Emmy Awards. This summer's reboot ("Live Another Day") was one of my all-time favorite seasons of this suspenseful morality tale, starring the intense Kiefer Sutherland as the tortured Jack Bauer. Check out the television version and the Full Orchestra Version. And so ends our annual mini-tribute to TV Themes. And watch the Emmy Awards tonight!

August 24, 2014

Song of the Day #1199

Song of the Day: Mickey Mouse Club ("The Mickey Mouse Club March") was composed by the original Disney variety show's primary adult host Jimmie Dodd. Among the original Mouseketeers were such kids as Annette Funicello and Sharon Baird. The show aired intermittently from 1955 to 1996. Check out the original march on YouTube and its 1990s update, which featured young kids named Britney (Spears), JC (Chasez) (later of NSYNC), Keri (Russell), Christina (Aguilera), and Justin (Timberlake), a few of whom went on to appear and/or win a statuette on the MTV Video Music Awards, a show that happens to be airing on TV tonight.

August 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1198

Song of the Day: Winky Dink and You ("Theme Song"), composed by John Marion Garth and John Redmond, was one of the most memorable TV shows of my youth. The CBS children's show was in syndicated revival by the time I was watching it. Hosted by Jack Barry (who joined Mae Questel on vocals), it is credited by Bill Gates as the first "interactive" TV show. It invited you to draw on the television screen (with protective covering, of course, though sometimes crayon marks seemed to make it onto the screen anyway). Check out the adorable track on YouTube.

August 22, 2014

Song of the Day #1197

Song of the Day: F-Troop ("Main Theme"), music and lyrics by William Lava, Irving Taylor and Frank Comstack, was a regular theme heard around my house in the mid-1960s, when I watched this show religiously. Check out the Season One Intro (with lyrics) and the Season Two Intro (without).

August 21, 2014

Song of the Day #1196

Song of the Day: Queer As Folk ("Dive in the Pool"), composed and performed by Barry Harris, featuring Pepper Mashay, is a signature track from the first season of this path-breaking Showtime series, based on its British counterpart. With its "Let's Get Soak and Wet" motif, it practically defined the series. Check out the original mix on YouTube.

August 20, 2014

Song of the Day #1195

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, offers us an alternative to the haunting main theme from the 1967 film. The ABC prime time drama was inspired by the same 1965 Arthur Hailey novel. Still, this theme is Pure Mancini, which means Pure Magic.

August 19, 2014

Song of the Day #1194

Song of the Day: Saturday Night Live ("Theme") [YouTube link], composed by the legendary Howard Shore and performed by the SNL Band, opens one of the longest running comedy shows on American television. And tonight, the voice of its 96-year old announcer, TV Hall of Famer Don Pardo, who has held the job for 38 seasons, has been silenced. His sad passing doesn't take away any of the joy that he brought to one of the funniest gigs on TV. In tribute to Pardo, and kicking off my annual tribute to TV themes in anticipation of the Emmy Awards (to be broadcast on August 25th), enjoy the music!! [YouTube link].

August 13, 2014

Song of the Day #1193

Song of the Day: To Have and Have Not ("How Little We Know") features the words and music of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, who is the pianist accompanying Lauren Bacall in her smoldering 1944 screen debut in this film, loosely based on Ernest Hemingway's famous work. (It is "Lauren" who is mentioned among the smoldering celebrities rapped about by Madonna in her terrific dance single, "Vogue" [YouTube link].) Check out Lauren's performance of this song on YouTube. Still, Bacall's most famous words in the film had little to do with music, even if it was lyrically melodic to the ears of her co-star, and future husband, Humphrey Bogart. She tells him: "You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow" [YouTube link]. It left him whistling, indeed. Sadly, the accompished actress passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

August 12, 2014

Song of the Day #1192

Song of the Day: We Are Family, music and lyrics by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers, was a Number One 1979 R&B Hit for the group Sister Sledge. But it is eternally wedded to the hilarious 1996 comedy, "The Birdcage," which starred Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, who died yesterday from an apparent suicide. The Oscar-winning Williams was one of the most manic comedic geniuses I've ever seen in stand-up or on screen, and the grace with which he shared his talent with this world will be deeply missed. I loved him in this film, one of my favorite comedies. A remake of the 1978 film, "La Cage aux Folles," it also features great comedic turns by Gene Hackman and Hank Azaria. RIP, Robin Williams. Check out the Sister Sledge single, the 1979 Extended Dance Remix, and the scene in which it is used in the 1996 film.

July 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1191

Song of the Day: The Great Escape ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Elmer Bernstein, is one of my all-time favorite themes from one of my all-time favorite POW adventures. And this 1963 film is full of adventure and suspense, with an all-star cast that included Steve McQueen in a sizzling iconic cinematic moment on a motorcycle trying to escape the Nazis. The film also featured the always affable, down-to-earth gentlemanly actor, James Garner, who passed away on 19 July 2014.

July 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1189

Song of the Day: Always, words and music by Irving Berlin, is a 1925 gem that Berlin wrote as a wedding gift for his wife. The song has been recorded so many times by artists from Frank Sinatra to Patsy Cline and Billie Holiday, who gives it a swing feel [YouTube links]. But its most memorable spin, for me, can be heard in the greatest sports film of all time, in my view, the 1942 Lou Gehrig biopic, "The Pride of the Yankees." Check out one scene from the film [YouTube link], featuring singer Bettye Avery, with Gary Cooper playing the immortal Gehrig and Teresa Wright, his wife Eleanor (Cooper and Wright received Best Actor and Actress nominations, respectively; only Wright walked away with the gold statuette, but for her Best Supporting Actress role in the Best Picture of that year, "Mrs. Miniver"). Seventy-five years ago today, Gehrig gave one of the most remarkable speeches in all of Americana, saying goodbye to 60,000+ Yankee faithful in attendance at a 1939 Indepedence Day ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Check out the speech as given by Gehrig, as emulated by Major League Baseball, and also as immortalized in celluloid history by the wonderful Cooper [YouTube links] (and that's the real Babe Ruth appearing in the film). Gehrig later passed away from ALS, a disease known to many as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." Gehrig was one of the Yankees' most memorable team captains; today's Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, in his final career season, recently tied Gehrig's franchise record for lifetime doubles. For Yankees fans, for fans of America's game, Gehrig will always be the Iron Horse; on this Independence Day, we say Happy Birthday, America, and we celebrate Gehrig and the national passtime with a song written by one of America's most celebrated songwriters.

June 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1186

Song of the Day: The Love You Save, music and lyrics by The Corporation, Motown's Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Alphonzo Mizell, and Deke Richards, went to Number One, the third of four straight number one singles released by the Jackson 5, which held that position on the Billboard chart for two weeks, 27 June through 4 July 1970. But Casey Kasem, who passed away yesterday, was always one week ahead of the curve, giving us a weekend countdown that reflected the chart of the following week's Tuesday release of Billboard. So the song had actually dropped to the number two position on the 4th of July debut show of Kasem's classic, "American Top 40 (AT40)." I can't help but credit Kasem with stoking my love of pop music as I grew up listening to his show on the radio, whether it was in the dead of winter or on the hot sands of Manhattan Beach through Brooklyn's steamiest summers. This song was one of my favorite early Jackson 5 songs, made all the more poignant because its lead singer is no longer with us either. Check out the original single here, and while you're listening, save a little love too for screen and stage actress Ruby Dee, who passed away on June 11th, the great and endearing Don Zimmer, who passed away on June 4th, and the ultimate gentle man of baseball, Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres Hall of Famer, who sadly passed away today, at the young age of 54. All of them gone too soon.

June 13, 2014

Song of the Day #1185

Song of the Day: Friday the 13th ("Opening Theme") [YouTube link], composed by jazzman Henry Manfredini, clearly exhibits the composer's Bernard Herrmann "Psycho" lineage. What better way to mark a rare full-moon Friday the 13th on a rainy and grim New York June day. ("I love New York in June, How About You?"... but this one's been too rainy and it feels like March!). Nevertheless, a few thunderstorms will add to the atmosphere of watching this film. Manfredini actually composed for the whole "Friday the 13th" franchise, but the original 1980 Jason was the best (especially in that famed Hockey mask, so appropriate on a weekend in which the New York Rangers are struggling for the Stanley Cup, right now having won only 1 frightening game to the LA Kings, who are one game away from winning that horror series). The first two John Carpenter produced-"Halloween" films are, in my view, better examples of the post-1960s evil slasher genre, all of which owes its spirit to Hitchcock's utterly brilliant "Psycho." In any event, Friday the 13ths have been typically "good luck" days for me, having signed contracts for books on those days, in fact, but it's always fun revisiting a horror film from the vault.

June 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1183

Song of the Day: Wicked ("For Good"), music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, is from one of the finest Broadway musicals I've ever seen. If ever there were a musical showing us a kind of "transvaluation of values" in such an entertaining way, I don't know of one. But it was terrific, precisely because of its clever inversions, twists and turns, fabulous music, and stirring performances (in the original run that I saw ten years ago, with standouts, Tony-nominated Kristin Chenowith and Adele Dazeem). Oops, I mean, Idina Menzel, who won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. The show endures. And so does Dazeem! This past week, the 68th Annual Tony Awards celebrated the tenth anniversary year of this charming musical, which actually opened on Broadway in October of 2003, with a performance of this song, one of the best. Check it out in its Chenowith-Menzel incarnation on YouTube.

May 06, 2014

Song of the Day #1182

Song of the Day: That's Jazz [YouTube link], an impromptu tune put together by Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald at the Grammy Awards, broadcast in February 1976. Sadly, Mel and Ella are no longer with us; but we are living in an era where jazz is almost never mentioned (or featured) as a category during the Grammy broadcast, so seeing something like this is like the discovery of a rare gem from some sort of paleolithic era in television history. Enjoy!

March 02, 2014

Song of the Day #1181

Song of the Day: Despicable Me 2 ("Happy"), words and music by Pharrell Williams, is one of 2013's Oscar-nominated songs in the "Best Original Song" category. It's a #1 Billboard Hot 100 song that channels some wonderful R&B influences, from Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Check out the official music video and one that uses "Despicable Me" characters to showcase the lyrics. Watch the Oscar telecast tonight to see if it wins its category. Dare I say it: This song really makes me feel happy. And that's the way I'd like to conclude this year's tribute to film music.

March 01, 2014

Song of the Day #1180

Song of the Day: The Third Man (Theme) [YouTube link] is a famous theme composed by Anton Karas through extensive use of the zither, a 40-string Middle European cousin to the guitar. This 1949 film noir classic, directed by Carol Reed, stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten (of "Love Letters" fame, a 1945 film whose screenplay was written by Ayn Rand), and Alida Valli (of "We the Living" fame, the Italian 1942 film version of the Rand novel, later restored by Duncan Scott and re-released with English subtitles in 1986).

February 28, 2014

Song of the Day #1179

Song of the Day: With a Song in My Heart (title track), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, is sung in the 1952 film by Jane Froman, who is played by Golden Globe winner and Oscar-nominated Best Actress Susan Hayward. This biopic tells the story of Froman, who was crippled in an airplane crash on 22 February 1943, and who went on to entertain the troops in World War II, despite her serious injuries, which required nearly 40 surgical procedures in the years thereafter. The legendary Alfred Newman won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and the film also received nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), Best Costume Design, Best Color, and Best Sound Recording (Thomas T. Moulton). The title track [heard in this great overture, with Froman's vocals], of course, originated in the 1929 Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical, "Spring is Here", which, itself, is a great song. The title track in this film has also been featured in other films, including: the 1948 film, "Words and Music," where it gets a classic Perry Como treatment [YouTube link] and the terrific "Young Man with a Horn" (1950), featuring a loving performance by Doris Day and trumpeter Harry James [YouTube link]. Other definitive recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and The Supremes [YouTube links] illustrate just how deeply this standard has become a part of the Great American Songbook.

February 27, 2014

Song of the Day #1178

Song of the Day: BUtterfield 8 ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Bronislau Kaper, has that lush quality that Kaper brings to anything he touches with his musical sensibility and jazz inflections (take a listen to Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez on "Invitation" or
Kaper himself [YouTube link]). This theme opens the 1960 film that brought Elizabeth Taylor her first Oscar for Best Actress. On this date, in 1932, Taylor was born.

February 26, 2014

Song of the Day #1177

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ("Showdown") [YouTube link], composed by Alexandre Desplat, encompasses all the passion of the ultimate film of the great series of feature films dramatizing the ultimate showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. A truly terrific piece from a truly terrific scene, illustrating the art, and the power, of a great score. (If you ask me, the people who give out Oscars truly missed the boat, so-to-speak, in virtually ignoring all the films of this series.)

February 25, 2014

Song of the Day #1176

Song of the Day: Flight ("Opening") [theost excerpt], composed by Alan Silvestri, is the pensive opening theme for the 2012 film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, and starring Denzel Washington, who gives a superb Oscar-nominated performance. The film provides hair-raising moments of suspense and poignant moments of raw honesty.

February 24, 2014

Song of the Day #1175

Song of the Day: Never Say Never Again ("Main Title") is the title track to the one "unofficial" James Bond film not produced by Albert Broccoli and company; it's a 1983 remake of "Thunderball" with a theme song that featured the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the music of Michel Legrand (who celebrates his 82nd birthday today! Joyeux Anniversaire, Michel!!!), and the vocals of Lani Hall, who performed with Brasil 66. With a cluster of talent like that, the song still doesn't hold a candle to the original "Thunderball," but I still think it's a mini-miracle that, with lawsuits hanging over the film, Legrand was still able to draw from his jazz roots and come up with a score fully consistent with the 007 musical canon. Listen to the title track on YouTube.

February 23, 2014

Song of the Day #1174

Song of the Day: Samson and Delilah ("Main Title")[YouTube link], music by the legendary Golden Age film score composer, Victor Young, is the perfect main theme for this DeMille directed 1949 film; it captures the grandeur, the flaws, the love, and the devastation to come. Starring Victor Mature as Samson and Hedy Lamar as Delilah, it is one of those memorable Hollywood Biblical epics. And here's a point of trivia: it is the film's title that is on the marquis of the movie theater where the townspeople have gathered in the George Pal-produced 1953 sci-fi classic "War of the Worlds," as they witness the first of many "meteors" falling in the Los Angeles area, as part of an invasion from Mars.

February 22, 2014

Song of the Day #1173

Song of the Day: Demetrius and the Gladiators ("Prelude") [YouTube link] features a score composed by Franz Waxman, who had two tough acts to follow: the stupendously successful film for which this one stood as a sequel, and its equally stupendous soundtrack, written by one of the Golden Era's Greats. This 1954 film was a "sword and sandal" sequel to the 1953 epic, "The Robe," which was actually filmed twice: once in the typical "flat screen" process of the day, and a second time in the revolutionary widescreen format of "CinemaScope," for which 20th Century Fox got an honorary Oscar (though, as a sidenote, for me, the performances in the "flat screen" version of "The Robe" are far better than its widescreen sibling). The sequel picks up where "The Robe" leaves off.  Waxman wisely kept reverential musical references to certain heartfelt themes composed by Alfred Newman for this film's predecessor. Listen up to 2:30 in the first YouTube link above to see how well Waxman incorporates the Newman motifs, while providing us with a strong score that stands on its own merits.

February 21, 2014

Song of the Day #1173

Song of the Day: Sleuth ("Theme") [YouTube link], composed by John Addison, opens up the 1972 mystery, the last film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, a dangerous game of daring wits played to perfection by strong Oscar-nominated performances for Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine (both of whom lost to Marlon Brando, who played Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather"). The theme almost sounds circus-like, but it is precisely a circus we watch, albeit the kind that includes the thrilling task of walking a tightrope without a net.

February 20, 2014

Song of the Day #1172

Song of the Day: North By Northwest ("Crash of the Cropduster") [YouTube link], composed by Bernard Herrmann for this 1959 cinematic Hitchcock gem, is as much about what music is not heard as much as it is about what is heard. This scene is the ultimate in Hitchcock iconography; Cary Grant is alone, with vast empty plains stretching for miles in every direction, as he awaits the arrival of the nonexistent George Kaplan. Suddenly, he is being chased by a cropdusting plane with a trigger-happy pilot. The whole scene is without accompanying music at first, as Cary runs from the plane, finding cover in crops until the cropduster flushes him out to re-target him. But as Cary flags down a huge fuel truck, the plane unavoidably crashes into the truck and disintegrates into flames. The suspenseful music begins with the crash. When Hitchcock and Herrmann were in sync, they knew when to let the action speak for itself, and when to let the music enhance the scene. Herrmann's non-score to this truly iconic scene is as effective as Rozsa's non-score during the chariot race in "Ben-Hur," also a 1959 film: we have a "Parade of the Charioteers" before the race and music announcing victory in its aftermath. But during the scene, we are assaulted by the deafening noise of the crowd, the horses and chariots, the tramplings, the sound and fury of a race to the death. (A similar pattern is used in the film "Independence Day," where at the Zero Hour, all of America's key monuments and cities are destroyed, the music not engaging us until the very end of that apocalyptic series of events.) In any event, the cropduster scene is one of my favorite scenes in one of my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. In honor of my mother, who was born on this date in 1919, I post it; she passed away in 1995, but seeing her Cary was among the few things that could perk her up even in illness. The film is often thought of as the first "Bond" film, before 007 made his cinematic 1962 debut, and it is not difficult to see why.

February 19, 2014

Song of the Day #1171

Song of the Day: Valley of the Dolls ("Theme") was composed by Andre Previn and Dory Previn for the 1967 film version of the Jacqueline Susann novel (Mr. Spock in "Star Trek: The Voyage Home" clearly understood "The Greats" of the twentieth century). The original recording of the song was to be sung by Judy Garland, who had been fired from the film. It was sung by Dionne Warwick. There is a John Williams arrangement of the song in the film; his arrangements were noted by the Academy, and became the first of his 49-to-date Oscar nominations, this one for "Best Score Adaptation." And then there is the single version from Warwick's album [YouTube link]). Listen to the Dory Previn version as well [YouTube link]. For all its kitsch and camp, the film depicts tragedy, and there are so many tragedies that go beyond the film; one need only remember that Sharon Tate was one of its stars.

February 18, 2014

Song of the Day #1170

Song of the Day: Pressure Point ("Main Title") [excerpt therein], composed by Ernest Gold, is a jazz-infused theme from the 1962 film. It has elements of its time, even its "West Side Story"-like moments.

February 17, 2014

Song of the Day #1169

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Salute for Messala") [audio clip at that link] is a 10-second cue composed by the legendary Miklos Rozsa, which is heard in the 1959 MGM epic upon the arrival of Judah Ben-Hur's childhood friend, Messala, who has returned to Jerusalem, a tribune of Rome, ready to assume command of the Roman garrison. To me, despite the flaws and corruptions that have engulfed the soul of the man who becomes Ben-Hur's nemesis, this particular cue, designed to express the requisite regality, also expresses strength of character and certainty of purpose. And it was a cue that never showed up on the umpteen versions of this film's soundtracks that had been released since the film's 1959 debut. That was rectified in 2013 by FSM Golden Age Classics, with the release of an utterly definitive 5-CD collection illustrating the complete brilliance of Rozsa's Oscar-winning score, one of the 11 Oscars that remains an Academy Award record (tied, but never bested by "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"). Since the beginning of Notablog, I've highlighted many cues from this soundtrack. Of this, one can be certain: On February 17th of any year, you'll find a "Ben-Hur" selection: in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and the tradition continues today. It's my 54th birthday, after all, and it allows me to offer an annual salute to my all-time favorite movie and my all-time favorite score.

February 16, 2014

Song of the Day #1168

Song of the Day: The Deer Hunter ("Cavatina") [YouTube link] is a piece composed by Stanley Myers, and was first heard in the 1970 film "The Walking Stick." Singer Cleo Lane added her own lyrics to the piece, and recorded it as "He Was Beautiful" [YouTube link], accompanied by classical guitarist John Williams. But it was that guitarist's version of the composition that is best remembered as the theme to one of the most shattering antiwar films ever made: "The Deer Hunter" (1978), starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, John Cazale, and Meryl Streep.

February 15, 2014

Song of the Day #1167

Song of the Day: Second Hand Rose, music by James F. Hanley, lyrics by Grant Clarke, was introduced with comic musicality by Fanny Brice in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921. In 1968, it was featured in the Brice biopic, sung to comic perfection by "Funny Girl" Barbra Streisand, who shared her Oscar that year in a rare tie with another actress, Katharine Hepburn, for her strong performance in The Lion in Winter. (The tie was announced on the Oscar broadcast by yet another great Oscar-winning actress: Ingrid Bergman [YouTube link]. Hepburn [YouTube link] appeared on only one Oscar broadcast: on 2 April 1974, the year of the streaker, to present the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.)

February 12, 2014

Song of the Day #1164

Song of the Day: The Little Colonel ("Stair Dance") [YouTube link] created a magical moment in cinematic history, pairing the great tap dancer, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and the late great Shirley Temple. In later years, she became a diplomat, and added the surname of her husband, becoming "Shirley Temple Black." But it was not the added surname "Black" that broke the color barrier; it was Shirley's joyous appearances in films like this 1935 gem that did more to mow down racial stereotypes by showcasing great and precious talent. Shirley Temple will always be remembered as that endearing little girl in so many wonderful movies from the 1930s; but it was roles like these that truly showed what a trailblazer she was (check out "The Littlest Rebel" as well). She passed away 10 February 2014 at the age of 85 ... RIP Shirley.

February 11, 2014

Song of the Day #1163

Song of the Day: The American President (Main Theme) [YouTube link], composed by Marc Shaiman, is a stately theme that opens the 1995 film, starring Michael Douglas as widowed President Andrew Shepherd, who falls for Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, an environmentalist lobbyist. The film has many of the trappings of contemporary liberalism in terms of its politics and its cast of characters, and it served as an inspiration to writer Aaron Sorkin, who launched the equally idealistic liberalism of the brilliant TV series "The West Wing," which began in 1997. But it is not the politics that interest me here. This is a film with a lot of heart, plenty of laughs, and much poignancy. In anticipation of President's Day, I highly recommend the Shaiman soundtrack.

February 10, 2014

Song of the Day #1162

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Key Case") [YouTube link], written by Scottish big band composer and arranger Johnny Keating, is a grooving classy jazz track. It's a real throwback to the cool 1960s jazz sound, and is featured in the 1967 film.

February 09, 2014

Song of the Day #1161

Song of the Day: All My Loving, written by Paul McCartney (but credited to both McCartney and John Lennon), was the song that opened up the set that The Beatles performed in their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," 50 years ago this very day. It was the ultimate symbol of the "British Invasion" appearing on one of the most popular variety shows of its day; indeed, 73 million people are estimated to have seen The Beatles that Sunday night, and I was among them. A sample of this song also made it into the 1964 film, "A Hard Day's Night," a black and white classic of the comedy-musical genre. Beatlemania had begun, and popular music would never be the same. Check out the single version, an excerpt from the "Ed Sullivan" performance on 9 February 1964, and its sample in "A Hard Day's Night" [YouTube links].

February 08, 2014

Song of the Day #1160

Song of the Day: Deep Impact ("A Distant Discovery") [YouTube link], composed by James Horner, is the central theme of the 1998 film, which had an all-star cast, echoing the approach of many of the "disaster films" of the 1970s.

February 07, 2014

Song of the Day #1159

Song of the Day: Pinocchio ("I've Got No Strings"), music by Leigh Harline, lyrics by Ned Washington, is heard in the Walt Disney animated film that made its debut on this date in 1940. In the film, the song is sung by Dickie Jones, the voice of Pinocchio [YouTube link here]. My favorite version is the jazzy, swinging recording of Barbra Streisand for her utterly superb album, "My Name Is Barbra" [YouTube link].

February 06, 2014

Song of the Day #1158

Song of the Day: Funny Lady ("Isn't This Better?"), words and music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, is a sweet song from "Funny Lady," the 1975 sequel to "Funny Girl" The film continues the (highly fictionalized) story of Fanny Brice, centering on her relationship with songrwriter Billy Rose, played by James Caan. Check out Streisand's lovely rendition here on YouTube.

February 05, 2014

Song of the Day #1157

Song of the Day: Peter Pan ("You Can Fly!"), words by Sammy Cahn, music by Sammy Fain, is one of the highlights of one of my favorite childhood Walt Disney Films, released on this date in 1953. The vocals in the original Disney cartoon are provided by Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, The Jud Conlon Chorus, and The Mellomen. One of the really enchanting things about my childhood is that my mother used to read me bedtime stories all the time, and so many of them came from "Walt Disney's Story Land". So I knew this lovely story before having seen the Disney clasic.  Check out this joyous tune in a scene from the film on YouTube here.

February 04, 2014

Song of the Day #1156

Song of the Day: Suspicion ("Main Title") [Amazon.com excerpt], music by Franz Waxman, is the first collaboration between the absolutely debonair Cary Grant and the master director, Alfred Hitchcock. This 1941 film also starred Joan Fontaine, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The estranged sister of Olivia de Havilland, the two of them are the only siblings to have won lead Oscar awards. Amazingly, she is also the only actor to win an Oscar under Hitchcock's direction. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 96 on 15 December 2013. She is survived by sister Olivia. The Waxman score is not the only one that the famed composer did with Hitchcock; he also composed the soundtracks to the 1940 film, "Rebecca," and the 1954 film "Rear Window."

February 03, 2014

Song of the Day #1155

Song of the Day: Capote ("Out There") [YouTube link], composed by Mychael Danna, is a simple theme that holds within it the complexity of the person at the center of the 2005 film, Truman Capote, and the complexity of the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won a Best Actor Oscar for the role. Sadly, this 46-year old actor passed away yesterday; death need not be tragic, since it is an organic part of life, but when it comes so young to an actor with so much talent and promise, I can find few other words to describe it. RIP PSH.

February 02, 2014

Song of the Day #1154

Song of the Day: Judgment at Nuremberg ("Overture") [YouTube link], composed by Ernest Gold, offers a kaleidoscope of themes from the magnificent film starring among others the great Spencer Tracy (who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar), Burt Lancaster, and Oscar-winner Maximilian Schell, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83. The film is a morality tale about those who executed the orders of the Third Reich in perpetuating one of the greatest mass murders in human history.  Playing the attorney Hans Rolfe, Schell had the difficult task of representing the reprehensible defendants, and he does so with dignity and integrity, and won a well-deserved Academy Award. (Other shattering performances are offered by Judy Garland and Montgomery Cliff, each of whom was nominated in their supporting categories). Directed by Stanley Kramer, it is one of my all-time favorite films. RIP Maximilian Schell.

February 01, 2014

Song of the Day #1153

Song of the Day: The Hawaiians ("Main Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, opens the 1970 film I saw (a sequel of sorts to "Hawaii," covering the later chapters of James Michener's book) at the Somer Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, where its star Charlton Heston made an appearance to promote the film. I was awestruck; I could not believe the redness of his hair or all the freckles. Just the previous year, I'd seen "Ben-Hur" for the first time, at the Palace Theatre, and here he was in Brooklyn: Judah Ben-Hur, Michelangelo, Moses in the flesh. Anyway, today begins my annual film music tribute, now beginning its ninth consecutive year, leading up to the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

November 13, 2013

Song of the Day #1144

Song of the Day: Minor Swing, music composed by Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, was performed memorably by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, featuring Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli [YouTube link]. But there are also wonderful versions by David Grisman and Stephane Grappelli (also featuring monster bassist Eddie Gomez) [MySpace link] and the version adapted by Rachel Portman [YouTube link] as one of the standout themes from the Oscar-nominated score for the wonderful 2000 cinema morality tale, "Chocolat," which starred Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Today is a standout day for chocolate, or, at the very least, one of the classic chocolate-coated cookies: Mallomars are officially 100 years old today! Happy birthday to one of my favorite seasonal cookies.

October 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1142

Song of the Day: You'll Never Walk Alone, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is one of the standout songs from the great 1945 Broadway musical, "Carousel." It has been performed by everyone from Christine Johnson (in the original Broadway musical), Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Shirley Jones and Claramae Turner in the 1956 film version (and finale) to Tom Jones, Barbra Streisand, and Jerry Lewis, who sang this song religiously at the conclusion of every Labor Day telethon he hosted from 1964 to 2010 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (all YouTube links). (Thanks to Michelle Kamhi and Louis Torres, my friends, who sent me the Tom Jones link.) There are few songs that sum up my own feelings of appreciation to those members of the FDNY who saved our apartment and our lives, as they battled a fire in my room, which, if it had had one more minute to breathe, could have consumed the rest of our home. My deepest thanks as well to all those who have offered their support as we recover from that fire, which occurred a week ago today. I had just received copies of the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and it was my honor to inscribe the very first shrink-wrapped copy "To the company" of the FDNY, our heroes, "with love and admiration always . . ." for their bravery and courage. Though we have lost much, we count our blessings, which are more; we are thankful that we are alive to contemplate both losses and blessings. Part of the reason that a song such as this remains legendary is, of course, due to its lyrics. As David Hinckley wrote in his review of "Oscar Hammerstein II: Out of My Dreams" (a PBS biography): "You gotta have some powerful cards to even get into the discussion of the 20th century's great lyricists, and it's a tribute to Oscar Hammerstein II that no one even needs to look at his ID. Just think 'Oklahoma!', 'South Pacific', 'The Sound of Music' and 'The King and I'---you know, shows like that. He could be prickly to work with, but the results were worth whatever it cost, and this show wisely sticks to what mattered most, the songs that will be sung as long as humans have working lips" (see here; but this statement appeared in the Sunday New York Daily News "New York Vue" section for the week starting 4 March 2012).

September 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1141

Song of the Day: All in the Family ("Those Were The Days") [YouTube link], music and lyrics by Charles Strouse, is recognized as one of the Top Fifty Television Themes of All Time. Its iconic status in the history of TV themes is only eclipsed by the iconic status of this remarkably daring show, which simultaneously made us collapse with laughter and confront the social prejudices that are as relevant today as they were when Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin introduced this show on the CBS Television Network. Part of what made the show work was the real chemistry between its two prime players; no less than Lucy and Ricky, Alice and Ralph, Edith and Archie have become part of the culture of television excellence. And this year, it is especially poignant to end our mini-tribute to TV themes with the song that introduced the world to Lear's comedy, and to the brilliance of Emmy-winning actress, Jean Stapleton, who passed away on 31 May 2013. Tonight, when they do that Emmy Awards "In Memoriam" tribute section to people who have passed away, expect an ovation for this wonderful actress. And take a listen to that opening theme once more. So comes the end of our mini-tribute to television music.

September 21, 2013

Song of the Day #1140

Song of the Day: The Meow Mix Theme, music by Thomas G. McFaul, lyrics by Ron Travisano, was a hit for Ralston-Purina cat food, and it has undergone a few transformations. How could a tribute to TV (and earlier radio) music not bow its head to the creativity that has been unleashed within the advertising community? This one, from the 1970s initially, is part of "The Jingle Hall of Fame." Check out a few variations on the theme: here, here, a 1920s spoof, the Cee Lo Meow Mix Remix and opera singer Richard Troxell's take on Jimmy Fallon.

September 19, 2013

Song of the Day #1138

Song of the Day: Monsanto Legrand Jazz Interlude [mp3 link] is a composition (whose name I just made up) by the incomparable Michel Legrand, and the only time I have ever heard it is on a television show broadcast on our local Channel 5 (now a Fox affiliate) back in 1972ish, as part of the occasional series, "Monsanto Presents." The cassette tape that I made of that special night of music was done by placing a primitive microphone right up to the television set and hitting the record button. I have never been able to find this track anywhere, I have never been able to track down the show in searches popular and obscure, but if there were ever a great example of the artistic heights to which television can take us, it is this burning jazz track that features the greatest musicians "that love can buy," as Michel puts it. The soloists (in order) are jazz giants: tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, trombonist J. J. Johnson, trumpeter Pete Candoli, pianist Dave Grusin, drummer Shelly Manne, bassist Ray Brown, and on organ, Michel himself. The only proof, apparently, that the show was ever broadcast (except for my cassette recording of it) is this photo featuring, ironically, the all-star line-up of this very track. The show also featured great performances by Lena Horne, Jack Jones, and Michel himself (doing utterly heartbreaking renditions of such songs as "The Summer Knows" (from "Summer of '42") and "What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" Because this recording was made with an old home cassette recorder, without a direct line to an audio line-in, it turns out that the truly best soloist of the bunch can be found only on my recording of it: it is my brother's beautiful (and long-departed) Irish setter, Shannon, who can be heard doing his version of jazz interplay over solos by Manne and Brown. It's the best jazz interplay between dog and man ever recorded. And I am proud to be able to present what appears to be the only existing recording of what has come to be a timeless classic in my own TV memory book.

September 18, 2013

Song of the Day #1137

Song of the Day: The Dick Van Dyke Show ("Theme") [YouTube link], music by Earle Hagen, rare lyrics by Morey Amsterdam, is heard at the beginning of one of the most iconic television shows of its era. Check out YouTube also for this precious moment on "The Rachel Ray Show," with Dick Van Dyke singing the rare lyrics, with Mary Tyler Moore looking on.

September 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1136

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("A New Love"),composed by Peter Rugolo, captures the alienation of the central character, Dr. Richard Kimble, played with subtle brilliance by the great David Janssen, as he searches, week after week, for the One-Armed Man who killed his wife. Dr. Kimble would have been executed had he not been "reprieved by fate" in a train wreck that freed him en route to "the death house" (as told to us with characteristic authority by the narrator William Conrad). Each week viewers saw a man torn between his struggle to survive in pursuit of the justice he deserves, while encountering characters who either need him (and the strength of character he provides) or who test his integrity. Through it all, he proves as unshakeable as Lieutenant Philip Gerard (played with relentless obsessiveness by Barry Morse), whose concern is not the justice of the verdict, but in apprehending the convicted killer and carrying out the sentence the law requires. There are so many magnificent episodes in the four-year series (which I watched over the past year on DVD), including such gems as "The Girl from Little Egypt" (season 1), "Angels Travel on Lonely Roads" (a two-parter from season 1) and "The Breaking of the Habit" (season 4) (all three episodes of which provide us with a terrific star turn by the great Oscar-winning actress Eileen Heckart), and, of course, the final two-parter episodes of the series, "The Judgment," Parts 1 and 2, in which both Kimble---and Gerard---finally confront the One-Armed Man. Those episodes remain among the most-watched finales in the history of television (a 50.7 rating and a 73.2 audience share). This show was a morality tale for sure, with an obvious debt to Hugo's "Les Miserables." Its cast and guest stars were consistently splendid and its first three seasons were as close to classic film noir for television as has ever been seen (it went "in color" in the final fourth season). Fifty years ago today, the show debuted on the ABC television network. I can agree with Stephen King who understood how the series turned everything on its head, questioning the justice of 'the system'. As he put it in the Introduction to The Fugitive Recaptured by Ed Robertson, it was "absolutely the best series done on American television." After seeing the show for the umpteenth time, I confess to "A New Love" for it and its wonderful soundtrack by the great Peter Rugolo. Happy Fiftieth!!!

September 16, 2013

Song of the Day #1135

Song of the Day: Blue Bloods ("Reagan's Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Rob Simonsen (on a show to which composer Mark Snow, of "X-Files" fame also contributes), is a wonderful theme for a show whose passion is not drawn so much from the danger and violence of New York City police life, but from the trials, tribulations, and poignant bonds of love among
the individuals of a family working in various areas of law enforcement. It often moves me emotionally, as does the theme every time I hear it. It stars, among others, a strong Tom Selleck and combustive Donnie Wahlberg.

September 15, 2013

Song of the Day #1134

Song of the Day: The Syncopated Clock, composed by Leroy Anderson, was the theme song (as recorded by Percy Faith) for "The Late Show," a late-night ritual for generations of New York tri-state TV watchers, which presented terrific movies nightly on WCBS television. Listen to the classic theme here in full and the shorter opening used for the TV incarnations.

September 14, 2013

Song of the Day #1133

Song of the Day: One Life to Live ("Brand New Start") [YouTube at that link], composed and recorded by Iza, featuring Snoop Lion, is the new theme song used for an old soap favorite that ended its run on ABC television after 43 years on January 13, 2012. But the show was reborn online and can be accessed at hulu.com and other venues; this is a nice slick theme, recorded by one of the show's biggest fans (who has made a few cameos on the show as well): Snoop Dogg (Lion now).

September 13, 2013

Song of the Day #1132

Song of the Day: The Adventures of Superman ("Superman March")" [YouTube link], composed by Leon Klatzkin, opened one of my favorite childhood superhero shows. Considering that the Superman character is celebrating his 75th anniversary this year, I can think of no better way to kick off my annual mini-tribute to television themes, in honor of the upcoming broadcast of the Emmy Awards. The series ran from 1952 to 1958, and starred George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman.

July 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1130

Song of the Day: Captain America ("Theme Song"), composer mysteriously unknown, was the classic theme song to the 1960s Marvel Super Heroes cartoon. It's a favorite from my childhood, and while there have been lots of takes on Captain America, this one still holds a special place in my heart. Take a look at the animated opening theme [YouTube link], and have a safe and happy Independence Day!

June 09, 2013

Song of the Day #1129

Song of the Day: West Side Story ("A Boy Like That" / "I Have a Love"), music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is heard in one of the greatest musicals ever to grace the Broadway stage, made into a huge hit 1961 film. In the musical, the song is a duet between Anita (played by Chita Rivera) and Maria (played by Carol Lawrence). Check out the original soundtrack recording on YouTube here (set to "West Side Pony"), and the wonderful film adaptation here, in which Anita is played by Rita Moreno (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) and Maria is played by Natalie Wood (the voices heard on the film recording are actually those of Betty Wand and Marni Nixon, respectively. Tonight, enjoy the Tony Awards.

June 08, 2013

Song of the Day #1128

Song of the Day: Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In, lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Galt MacDermot, is a medley of two songs from "Hair," the Broadway hit that was nominated for a 1969 Tony Award for Best Musical. The track was the first medley to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, performed with an R&B-jazzy groove by The 5th Dimension. As a 9-year old Aquarian, I fell in love with the recording the first time I heard it. In 1969, the Score scored a Grammy for what is now called "Best Musical Theater Album." And this particular medley won a 1970 Grammy for Record of the Year. Check out The 5th Dimension recording on YouTube and each song performed separately by the original Broadway cast: The Age of Aquarius and The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In). Tomorrow, the Tony Awards will be broadcast on CBS.

May 07, 2013

Song of the Day #1127

Song of the Day: Jason and the Argonauts ("Skeletons"), composed by Bernard Herrmann, provides the atmospheric musical motif for one of the greatest special effects achievements in the storied history of legend Ray Harryhausen, who passed away today at age 92. Check out this iconic scene from the fun 1963 fantasy film on YouTube.

May 05, 2013

Song of the Day #1126

Song of the Day: Jesus of Nazereth ("Jesus of Nazareth") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the stupendous Maurice Jarre, is a loving overture heard throughout the epic television miniseries, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, probably the best story of Christ I've ever seen in any medium. The film features a sensitive performance by Robert Powell in the title role, and memorable appearances by Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Anthony Quinn, Ernest Borgnine, James Farentino, Anne Bancroft, Christopher Plummer, Rod Steiger, Olivia Hussey, and so many others. A Happy Easter to all of my Eastern Orthodox compadres!

April 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1124

Song of the Day: Return of the Jedi ("Return of the Jedi") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is from the third entry in the "Star Wars" film franchise (officially "Episode VI" of the series). Roger Ebert, who passed away today, famously defended the series on "Nightline" (clip at that link) back in 1983; he and the late Gene Siskel brought us years of entertaining film critique in their "At the Movies."

February 28, 2013

Song of the Day #1120

Song of the Day: Runnin' Wild, music by A. Harrington Gibbs, lyrics by Joe Gray and Leo Wood, is a 1922 tune that epitomizes the Roaring Twenties. It has been recorded by so many artists, including the great Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his masterful jazz violinist partner Stephane Grappelli and their Quintet of the Hot Club of France [YouTube music clip]. And then there's a swinging version with Ella Fitzgerald [YouTube music clip]. But the most memorable cinematic take on this tune remains the one performed by Marilyn Monroe in the uproarious 1959 Billy Wilder comedic romp, "Some Like It Hot." The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one for "Best Costume Design, Black and White," but it got swept aside in the 1959 "Ben-Hur" onslaught. The film starred Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon donning their best drag to join an all-girl band, in an attempt to escape incognito from "Spats" Columbo (played by George Raft) and the Chicago mob, seeking to silence them for having stumbled upon the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. There are so many classic moments to this incredible film including a memorable turn by Joe E. Brown. This film earned its rightful place at the top of AFI's 100 Years, 100 Laughs and is among my all-time favorite comedies. Check out this wonderful "Runnin' Wild" YouTube moment from the film. And so ends our Annual Tribute to Film Music.

February 27, 2013

Song of the Day #1119

Song of the Day: Where Love Has Gone ("Main Title"), words and music by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, is the title track to the 1964 soaper, which starred Susan Hayward, Bette Davis, and Mike Connors (who went on to TV detective fame as "Mannix"). Walter Scharf composed the score, but this Cahn-Van Heusen song is performed over the opening credits by the great Jack Jones [YouTube link].

February 26, 2013

Song of the Day #1118

Song of the Day: 55 Days at Peking ("So Little Time [The Peking Theme]"), lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, music by Dimitri Tiomkin, is heard on the soundtrack to the 1963 historical epic, starring Charlton Heston, David Niven, and Ava Gardner. Tiomkin received Academy Award nominations for both this song and the film's score. The soundtrack features the performance of Andy Williams, who passed away on 25 September 2012 and left us memorable recordings of everything from classic melodic movie themes to classic Christmas perennials. On this date, we also remember those for whom there was "so little time," who died, twenty years ago, in the first attack on the World Trade Center. Check out Andy Williams on YouTube.

February 25, 2013

Song of the Day #1117

Song of the Day: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ("George Smiley") [YouTube link], composed by Alberto Iglesias, is the jazz-influenced main title to the 2011 film starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley. This is a pensive, chill track from the Oscar-nominated Iglesias score. Last night was anything but chill, though; Seth McFarlane had a hilarious debut as Oscar host, and the show featured wonderful tributes to movie music, including a lovely ode to Marvin Hamlisch by Barbra Streisand, a show-stopping performance of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey during a 007 celebration, and a performance by Adele, who took home a gold statuette for the newest Bond theme, "Skyfall." The 2013 Oscars are now history, but Film Music February continues till month's end.

February 24, 2013

Song of the Day #1116

Song of the Day: Skyfall ("Main Title"), words and music by Paul Epworth and Adele Adkins, who performs the song at the opening of this 2012 film, one of the best Bond songs in one of the best Bond films ever. It boasts a fine Oscar-nominated score by Thomas Newman. It has all those sexy, ominous Bond chord changes underlying its melody. And while Daniel Craig is no Sean Connery, he still is Daniel Craig, and, as 007, he faces off with a classic Bond villain in Javier Bardem. And Judi Dench is still wonderful as M and we even have a new Q in Ben Whishaw and a Moneypenny and an Aston Martin. This is a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise, which has its share of Oscar nominations. This song is also nominated in the Best Original Song category. Enjoy the Oscars. And enjoy the song [YouTube link].

February 23, 2013

Song of the Day #1115

Song of the Day: The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, music and lyrics by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, was recorded in 1967 by Georgie Fame [YouTube music link]. The tune is not heard in the 1967 film, "Bonnie and Clyde," which starred Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker and Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, the notorious Depression-era bank robbers. But the song was inspired by the film. The film score was written by Charles Strouse; the movie won Oscars for Estelle Parsons (Best Supporting Actress) and Burnett Guffey (Best Cinematography).

February 22, 2013

Song of the Day #1114

Song of the Day: This is My Affair ("I Hum a Waltz") [MySpace clip at that link], lyrics by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, is introduced in this thoroughly entertaining 1937 susupense film by the amazingly talented Barbara Stanwyck, who co-starred with Robert Taylor. The movie also starred Victor McLaglen, Brian Donlevy, Frank Conroy as President William McKinley and Sidney Blackmer as President Theodore Roosevelt. I have to admit that this is the first, and may be the last, film I've ever seen in which President McKinley figures in an undercover government operation to foil bank robbers. I saw this rare gem (which has been screened with at least five different titles) on TCM not too long ago and was astounded that I hadn't seen it before. I loved it, and also found myself humming this tune for days. Check out the film here; the melody of this charming song is used in the "Main Title" at 00:38 and Stanwyck's turn can be heard at 01:36:44, and the theme rises again at the film's conclusion at 01:38:55.

February 21, 2013

Song of the Day #1113

Song of the Day: Portrait of Jennie, music by J. Russel Robinson, lyrics by Gordon Burdge, is not heard in the film of the same name, but it was a hit for the unmistakable Nat King Cole. The 1948 film is a classic fantasy starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten (who were paired in several other films, including the 1945 classic, "Love Letters," with a screenplay by Ayn Rand). This film also includes memorable turns by Ethel Barrymore and Cecil Kellaway. Check out the Nat King Cole version and a sweet trumpet turn by jazz musician Blue Mitchell, with Junior Cook on tenor sax and Harold Mabern on piano.

February 20, 2013

Song of the Day #1112

Song of the Day: The Pink Panther ("It Had Better Be Tonight"/"Meglio Stasera"), composed by Henry Mancini, is one of my all-time favorite Mancini tunes (along with the original Pink Panther theme too). It is also known as "Meglio Stasera," with Italian lyrics by Franco Migliacci and English lyrics by the one and only Johnny Mercer. It is featured in the original 1963 "Pink Panther" flick, which starred Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, David Niven, Robert Wagner, Claudia Cardinale, and our mischievous Pink cat. Check out the original instrumental theme, the Fran Jeffries version from the film, an Ennio Morricone version with vocalist Miranda Martino, and wonderful vocal versions by Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Buddy Greco, Donna Summer and the swinging Michael Buble [YouTube links]. As far as instrumental versions, here's one great big shout out for the 12-string guitar rendition by the great jazz musician Joe Pass.

February 19, 2013

Song of the Day #1111

Song of the Day: Patton ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, is easily identifiable from those very first reverberating brass tones. It can be heard at the opening of the terrific 1970 film, in which George C. Scott gave an Oscar-winning Best Actor performance as the famous U.S. general, even if he declined to accept the gold statuette. The Oscar-nominated score is one of the best of the genre and this is one of my favorite war films.

February 18, 2013

Song of the Day #1110

Song of the Day: Where the Boys Are ("Dialectic Jazz") [YouTube film clip at that link], composed by the marvelous Pete Rugolo, is featured in the 1960 film. The film includes a score by George E. Stoll (check him out playing a Venuti-like "cross-bow" jazz violin solo along with a few other innovations!) and pop music from Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, with a hit title track sung by Connie Francis, who was the star of the movie. There's even a tune ("Have You Met Miss Fandango?") by Victor Young and Stella Unger. Rugolo composed music that was utterly sublime for one of my favorite television shows of all time, one whose 50th anniversary I will celebrate later this year: "The Fugitive." This music, however, is played to the hilarious hilt by Frank Gorshin's "Dialectic Jazz Band" in the film. (Gorshin was one great Riddler on the campy 60s "Batman" TV show.) With a title such as "Dialectic Jazz," just how on God's good earth could I possibly resist?

February 17, 2013

Song of the Day #1109

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Arrius' Party") [YouTube link], composed by the great Miklos Rozsa, is a sedate but celebratory theme, from my all-time favorite film, the 1959 epic, "Ben-Hur." Each year, on this date, since I inaugurated "My Favorite Songs," and since February has traditionally been that time of year spent in tribute to film music, I have featured a selection from this, the greatest of movie soundtracks. I saw the film again last night, as part of TCM's "31 Days of Oscar," and it remains the greatest "intimate epic" of all time, in my view. Listening to the 5-CD "Complete Soundtrack Collection" released as a part of FSM Golden Age Classics, I will forever be in love with this music. Happy 53rd birthday to me!

February 16, 2013

Song of the Day #1108

Song of the Day: Aliens ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by James Horner, opens "Aliens," the best of the sequels to the iconic 1979 film. This action-packed 1986 film was directed by James Cameron, and starred, once again, Sigourney Weaver as a kick-ass Ripley. Cameron-Horner is as distinctive a collaboration as Hitchcock-Herrmann and Spielberg-Williams. This track is from one of the best scores (and one of the best films) in the sci-fi/horror genre.

February 15, 2013

Song of the Day #1107

Song of the Day: Alien ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is one of those unforgettable science fiction-horror themes that conjures up images of an entire film and the franchise to which it gave birth. "In space, no one can hear you scream," went the advertisement. But screams were aplenty in this 1979 iconic film, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. This is one of my all-time favorite films of the genre, with a creepy score to match.

February 14, 2013

Song of the Day #1106

Song of the Day: I Love You (Je t'aime), lyrics by Harlan Thompson, music by Harry Archer, is the 1923 chestnut from the Broadway musical, "Little Jessie James." It was featured prominently in the great Billy Wilder-directed 1953 World War II POW flick, "Stalag 17" (which boasts a soundtrack by Franz Waxman). You can check out the scene, where the song can be heard for around five minutes, starting at 4:20 at this YouTube clip. At 6:08 begins an unmistakably sweet solo by the legendary jazz violinist Joe Venuti. The guy singing in the scene is Ross Bagdasarian, who, under the name David Seville, created Alvin and the Chipmunks. The song is reprised as the film scene continues here, where "Animal" finally gets to dance with "Betty Grable". "Stalag 17" is one of my all-time favorite war flicks; William Holden received a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor. What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than with these Three Little Words?

February 13, 2013

Song of the Day #1105

Song of the Day: The Bishop's Wife ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Hugo Friedhofer, is a lovely theme to match an even lovelier movie. The 1947 tale, starring Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young, is one of my all-time favorites.

February 12, 2013

Song of the Day #1104

Song of the Day: What's New Pussycat ("Main Title"), words by Hal David, lyrics by Burt Bacharach, was the delightful theme to the 1965 comedy starring Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole, and Woody Allen, in his film debut. The Academy Award title song has been covered by many artists, but my favorite remains the rendition provided by Tom Jones for the soundtrack [YouTube link].

February 11, 2013

Song of the Day #1103

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ("Dragon Flight"), composed by Alexandre Desplat, is one of the most exhilarating musical moments of the fantastic 2011 final film in the Harry Potter film franchise. Check this out on YouTube. Though Desplat's wonderful soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media" in 2012, it lost to "The King's Speech," composed by Alexandre Desplat! Last night's Grammy's had just as many surprises.