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."


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


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.


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:


"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.

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") [ 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 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.

February 10, 2013

Song of the Day #1102

Song of the Day: The Enforcer ("Rooftop Chase") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Jerry Fielding, boasts an absolutely sizzling big band arrangement that simultaneously reflects and drives this energized 1976 installment in the "Dirty Harry" film franchise, starring Clint Eastwood. Check out a film montage that features this cue.

February 09, 2013

Song of the Day #1101

Song of the Day: It's You or No One, words and music by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, can be heard in the 1948 movie, "Romance on the High Seas," sung by Doris Day in her first film role. Check out the scene in the film where Doris Day sings the song for Jack Carson. And check out nice versions by Bobby Darin and jazz guitarists Joe Giglio and Carl Barry (my bro!) and jazz bassist David Shaich, live at The West End, NYC.

February 08, 2013

Song of the Day #1100

Song of the Day: War of the Worlds ("The Intersection Scene") [YouTube link], composed by birthday boy John Williams, encapsulates all the sounds of doom from a good sci-fi flick (though the 1953 film version is still my favorite).

February 07, 2013

Song of the Day #1099

Song of the Day: Blues in Hoss' Flat, composed by musician Frank Foster, is one of those infectious perennial Count Basie numbers that does not owe its origins to the movies. But there is music that achieves eternal shelf life just from a cinematic association, as we have seen with "Cinderfella" Jerry Lewis. In this instance, it's "The Errand Boy," with the irrepressible Jerry Lewis once more.

February 06, 2013

Song of the Day #1098

Song of the Day: Hi Lili Hi Lo, music by Bronislau Kaper, lyrics by Helen Deutsch, was first recorded by Dinah Shore in 1952 (YouTube clip at that link), but the song was featured in the 1953 movie "Lili," starring Leslie Caron, who performed a duet with Mel Ferrer in the film [YouTube link]. Kaper, who wrote one of my all-time favorite film songs ("Invitation"), won the Oscar for this film's soundtrack for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture." But by far, my all-time favorite instrumental of this sweet song is that performed by the trailblazing pianist Bill Evans and stupendous bassist Eddie Gomez on their incomparable duet album, "Intuition" [check out that version at this YouTube link]. That album, a Desert Island Disc if ever there were one, also features the duo's equally incomparable version of Kaper's "Invitation" [YouTube clip at that link].

February 05, 2013

Song of the Day #1097

Song of the Day: The Sugarland Express ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link] marked the first of many fruitful collaborations between composer John Williams and director Steven Spielberg. This was Spielberg's first feature film. The main theme for this 1974 film, starring Goldie Hawn, features the superb harmonica work of the stupendous Toots Thielemans. Check out a suite from the soundtrack on YouTube.

February 04, 2013

Song of the Day #1096

Song of the Day: My Week with Marilyn ("Marilyn's Theme"), composed by Alexandre Desplat, is performed brilliantly on solo piano by Lang Lang on the wonderful soundtrack (with music by Desplat and Conrad Pope) to the 2011 film. The melancholy theme is restated on the tracks "Marilyn Alone" and "Remembering Marilyn" (YouTube clips at each link). It has a mournful quality to it, but also one of innocence and depth, all qualities captured by Marilyn Monroe, played well by Michelle Williams. The former Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, gave this film a fine review on his "Mayor at the Movies," so it is only fitting to give that late Mayor a fine review for his colorful years at the helm of his beloved city. Today, he is laid to rest at Trinity Cemetery, having passed away on Friday, February 1, 2013.

February 03, 2013

Song of the Day #1095

Song of the Day: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Frank Skinner, captures both the chills and the laughs of the classic film that drops the immortal comedic duo into the horrors of the Universal monster franchise. Skinner's wonderful score for this 1948 film was given a Halloween tribute by conductor Wlliam Stromberg and the Golden State Pops Orchestra [YouTube link].

February 02, 2013

Song of the Day #1094

Song of the Day: North By Northwest ("The Station"), music by the great Bernard Herrmann, is from my favorite Hitchcock film of all time. This particular cue is on the soundtrack album (listen to it here) for a scene in which Cary Grant tries to elude the authorities and his would-be killers by escaping on the 20th Century Limited at Grand Central Station. That Station opened its doors at midnight on February 2, 1913, and is, today, celebrating its centennial. In this scene from the 1959 cinematic gem, Grant approaches the ticket window at the fabled station, shading his eyes with dark glasses. The ticket clerk, played by Ned Glass, knows he is dealing with a fugitive and asks Grant: "Is there something wrong with your eyes?" "Yes," Grant says, visibly irritated, "they're sensitive to questions." Check out the scene on YouTube, which features our Centennial Station in all its glory.

February 01, 2013

Song of the Day #1093

Song of the Day: Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head, words and music by Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, won the Oscar for Best Original Song from the Oscar-winning Best Original Score for the fun 1969 film, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. At the time, I was pissed that this song beat out one of my favorites of all time ("What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?"). But this was a #1Billboard hit by B. J. Thomas, and it's a great way to start off my annual tribute to my favorite movie music. Check out the track on YouTube.

December 30, 2012

Song of the Day #1090

Song of the Day: A Christmas Carol (aka "Scrooge"; "Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Richard Addinsell, who mixes the sounds of a traditional carol ("Hark! The Herald Angels Sing") with a grim theme of beckoning menace, foreshadowing the fate-altering tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, played in this 1951 film by the utterly superb Alastair Sim (of all the cinematic treatments of this timeless Charles Dickens tale, this one is my favorite). Addinsell wrote one of my all-time favorite popular concertos ("Warsaw Concerto"). And he's in fine form here too. There are one or two neat videos on YouTube that provide an entertaining side-by-side comparison of the various Scrooges portrayed in film over the past century or so. This concludes my mini-tribute to music from Christmas-oriented films, "in keeping with the situation" of this holiday season.

December 29, 2012

Song of the Day #1089

Song of the Day: It's a Wonderful Life ("Main Title") composed by Dmitri Tiomkin, is one of the most recognizable themes of all holiday movies. Though initially released to lukewarm reception, this 1946 Frank Capra film became a classic over the years as it was shown again and again on television especially around the holidays. It is one of my all-time favorite movies with a stupendous cast, led by Jimmy Stewart, whose character learns, through the lightness and darkness of his experiences, that his actions (like the actions of every individual) have ever-widening ripple effects on the people with whom he comes into contact (and even some people he'll never meet). And I love the Tiomkin score. You can watch the movie online on YouTube; check out the opening theme in the first minute or so.

December 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1088

Song of the Day: The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima ("Main Title" / "Miracle of the Sun"), composed by Max Steiner, opens the 1952 film, which tells the story of Lucia dos Santos, who claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917, in Portugal. Check out the film on YouTube, especially the opening minutes, where Steiner's main title is heard, and the "Miracle of the Sun" (starting around 1:35 on...). The legendary composer's score received an Academy Award nomination.

December 27, 2012

Song of the Day #1087

Song of the Day: The Song of Bernadette ("Prelude"), composed by Alfred Newman, opens the reverential 1943 film, starring Jennifer Jones, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Bernadette Soubirous, who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France. The opening theme has hints of Newman's later theme for "The Robe." Check out the film on YouTube, especially the opening minute or so, where this lovely theme is first heard. Newman won the Oscar for Best Original Score for this soundtrack.

December 26, 2012

Song of the Day #1086

Song of the Day: Miracle on 34th Street ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Cyril J. Mockridge, opens the joyous 1947 film of the same name, starring an absolutely magical Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. Gwenn won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and the film won Oscars for Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, as well. Check out a suite from the film on YouTube!

December 25, 2012

Song of the Day #1085

Song of the Day: Rise, Ye Shepherds, music by Franz Waxman, lyrics by Mack David, is a wonderfully melodic carol original to the score for the 1962 film, "Taras Bulba," starring Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis. The entire film is on YouTube here; this rare selection is at 26:17. Merry Christmas to All (on that "Norad Tracks Santa" link, check out, especially, the U.S. Air Force of Liberty's jazzy rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" when Santa hits the Northeast)!

December 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1084

Song of the Day: The Dirty Dozen ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Frank De Vol, is the percussive-heavy military theme to the memorable all-star 1967 film. Today is the last repeating date [12-12-12 12:12] of this century, and the cleanest of the 'dirty dozens' that we will see for a millennium.

October 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1079

Song of the Day: Scattin' the Blues was performed by The Divine One, Sarah Vaughan, on so many of her live concert dates. One version of it can be found in a performance with Bill Mays on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums, live at the 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival [YouTube link]. But my all-time favorite version, by far, made its television debut on the New York-area PBS affiliate, WNET-TV, on this very date in 1974, "In Performance at Wolf Trap" [mp3 link]. When I was 14 years old, I actually recorded this performance right off my television with an old Panasonic portable cassette recorder, but it is preserved in high quality audio by the absolutely indispensable Archival Television Audio, which presents the whole magnificent PBS show from Wolf Trap, starring drummer Buddy Rich and his great band doing a hard-swinging medley from "West Side Story" [check out an alternative take on YouTube, introduced by Frank Sinatra], and Sarah Vaughan, with a great trio featuring a blazing Carl Schroeder on piano (no relation to that Schroeder), a terrific bow-solo by fine bassist Frank DeLaRosa, and the combustive Jimmy Cobb on drums. For me, Sassy's pyrotechnic scatting on this performance is as good as it gets.

October 05, 2012

Song of the Day #1077

Song of the Day: Goldfinger ("Dawn Raid on Fort Knox") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by John Barry, expresses all the urgency of a classic James Bond score, from my all-time favorite 007 film, "Goldfinger." On this date, in 1962, the very first James Bond franchise flick made its debut: "Dr. No". On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Bond phenomenon, long live 007!

September 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1076

Song of the Day: Empire State of Mind features the words and music of Alexander Shuckburgh, Angela Hunte and Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic, Bert Keyes and Sylvia Robinson (a sample from their "Love on a Two-Way Street"), Alicia Keys and Shawn Corey Carter, otherwise known as Jay-Z, both of whom perform on the recording. Tonight, Jay-Z opens up eight concert dates at Brooklyn's new entertainment arena: the Barclays Center, where Jay-Z's basketball team, the newly named Brooklyn Nets, will open their season in October. Professional sports will return to Brooklyn for the first time since Dem Bums left. This is a paean to the city where Jay-Z was born. And any song with a shout out to Sinatra gets Two Thumbs Up in my book, any day. Tonight, Brooklyn gives the Empire State another jewel in its crown. Check out the official video.

September 26, 2012

Song of the Day #1075

Song of the Day: Bad, words and music by Michael Jackson, is the title track to MJ's "Bad" album, which, on this date twenty-five years ago, debuted atop the Billboard 200 album chart. The video, directed by Martin Scorsese, features choreography that is a paean to the great musical, "West Side Story." The 25th aniversary of the album's release (officially, on 31 August 1987) is being commemorated this year by "Bad 25", a special remix 3-CD re-release package, and a Spike Lee-directed documentary, which premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. The original music video was filmed at the Brooklyn subway station at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. And the track includes a hot solo by one of my all-time favorite jazz organ players, Jimmy Smith. Check out the full music video version, the short-form music video, the Kids version, the 12" remix, the David Guetta remix, the Electro Mix by Ballistic, the new Afrojack remix, featuring Pitbull and DJ Buddha, and cover versions by country artist Ray Stevens, "Weird Al" Yankovic (a "Fat" parody), the Chipmunks, Sammy Davis, Jr., and the cast from "Glee".

September 23, 2012

Song of the Day #1074

Song of the Day: Smash ("Let Me Be Your Star"), words and music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, is the central melodic motif of the NBC show, "Smash." I truly enjoyed Season One (its songs and soundtrack too) and look forward to the next season. This song was heard throughout the series, but was performed in a smashing duet in the pilot episode by Megan Hilty (as character Ivy Lynn) and Katharine McPhee (as character Karen Cartwright). Check out the single from the "Smash" cast album and a version performed by Megan Hilty on New Year's Eve with Carson Daly. The show has already received a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Best Choreography (beating another of my favorite shows: "So You Think You Can Dance") and this song is nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Music and Lyrics. Tonight is a night full of stars on the Primetime Emmy Awards.

September 22, 2012

Song of the Day #1073

Song of the Day: Smash ("Touch Me"), words and music by Ryan Tedder and Brent Kutzle (of OneRepublic), Bonnie McKee and Noel Zancanella, graced "The Coup," one of the episodes from NBC's fine musical series, "Smash." This song, sung by "American Idol" alumnus Katharine McPhee, is a really good dance track. Check out the full song, the Jody Den Broeder Radio Edit, Jump Smokers Extended Mix, and the version seen on the show.

September 21, 2012

Song of the Day #1072

Song of the Day: National Geographic ("Fanfare") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the immortal Elmer Bernstein, is one of those themes that is heard a few times before getting eternally embedded in one's brain. Da da da daaaaaaaaaaaaa da... It was once voted by Fast Company Magazine [YouTube clip at that link] as one of the most addictive sounds in all the world. Check out the abbreviated version of memory [YouTube link] that opened every "National Geographic" special of my youth (and I still get the Society's magazine).

September 20, 2012

Song of the Day #1071

Song of the Day: The 4:30 Movie ("Moving Pictures") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Joe Raposo, opened up one of the most memorable New York tri-state area film shows of the 1960s and 1970s, when local networks actually showed movies instead of talk shows during the day. I remember it when it was a 90-minute show on WABC-TV, and it would typically devote a whole week to the airing of classic genres or actors, or classic films, such as "Ben-Hur." The theme music still brings a big smile to my face.

September 19, 2012

Song of the Day #1070

Song of the Day: Chiller Theatre ("Horror Upon Horror") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Wilfred Josephs, was the opening theme music for the Saturday night WPIX-TV classic horror movie show. The theme made the hair of many New York tri-state area kids of the 1960s stand on end (including this one). The show was hosted early on by the great Zacherley before switching to the film montage of memory, with clips from such films as "Plan 9 from Outer Space," "The Cyclops," and "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman." There were other memorable "Chiller Theatre" openings, but this one was the real ... chiller.

September 18, 2012

Song of the Day #1069

Song of the Day: The World at War ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Carl Davis, opened every episode of one of my favorite TV documentary film series. The series was narrated by the great Laurence Olivier, and this music captures the sadness and struggle of war. In honor of the upcoming Emmy Awards, I begin my mini-tribute to music on television.

July 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1067

Song of the Day: McHale's Navy ("Main Theme"), composed by Axel Stordhal, is featured in the opening credits to the popular television series that ran from 1962 through 1966. The series was actually a spin-off from a one-hour episode of "ALCOA Premiere," entitled "Seven Against the Sea." I watched the hilarious series regularly in my youth. It served as my first exposure to Ernest Borgnine, who passed away at the age of 95 on 8 July 2012, a few days after the passing of another TV icon, Andy Griffith. Borgnine was one of the greatest character actors of his generation, an Oscar-winner for his role in "Marty, and a recognizable presence in such films as "From Here to Eternity," "Demetrius and the Gladiators," "Willard," "The Poseidon Adventure," and 11'09"1 September 11. Check out the opening credits to the series and tip your hat to one of the greats.

July 04, 2012

Song of the Day #1066

Song of the Day: The Andy Griffith Show ("The Fishin' Hole") features the music of Earle Hagen (who whistled the theme in the opening credits) and Herbert W. Spencer and the lyrics of Everett Sloane. Just as "The Andy Griffith Show" was a spin-off of an episode of "The Danny Thomas Show," so too did it give birth to spin-offs, including "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," "Mayberry, R.F.D.," and the TV-reunion movie, "Return to Mayberry." Andy Griffith exuded an effortless warmth in his TV performances, from his self-titled show to "Matlock." And he had terrific acting chops (check out his remarkably jarring performance in "A Face in the Crowd"). He passed away yesterday at the age of 86. This theme and the famous TV show for which it was written have become part of Americana, something all the more noteworthy on this Day of Independence. Check out the main theme on YouTube and Andy himself singing it.

June 30, 2012

Song of the Day #1065

Song of the Day: New York City Blues, words and music by Quincy Jones and Peggy Lee, first appeared on Lee's album, "Blues Cross Country." The song, with Jones' swinging arrangement, can also be found on the TV soundtrack to the short-lived series, "Pan Am." Today, one of the great NYC landmarks is celebrating its 85th birthday with 25-cent rides (though it actually opened on June 26, 1927): the rickety wooden Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island that I will never set foot on. Definitely not on my bucket list. Check out Peggy Lee's fabulous track on YouTube. Happy birthday to this Grand Roller Coaster!

June 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1061

Song of the Day: Everything's Coming Up Roses, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is from the Broadway musical, "Gypsy: A Musical Fable," based on the memoirs of American burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee. The 1959 musical featured the choreography of Jerome Robbins, and was nominated for 7 Tony Awards, winning none (the year of this tie!). But the Tony-nominated powerhouse, Ethel Merman, starred as Mama Rose, Gypsy's mom; she sings this song famously at the close of Act I. The role was played big by Rosalind Russell in the fine 1962 movie version, Angela Lansbury in a 1974 Broadway revival, Tyne Daly in a 1989 Broadway revival, Bernadette Peters in a 2003 Broadway revival, and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film for Bette Midler in the 1993 TV version. I saw the 2008 revival with an absolutely stupendous Patti LuPone as Rose; she won the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for the role. Tonight is the Tony Awards, for which everything will be coming up roses, at least for the winners! Check out versions by Ethel, Rosalind, Angela, Tyne, Bernadette, Bette, and Patti, and enjoy the show!

June 03, 2012

Song of the Day #1060

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is the title track from the 1959 Broadway musical and the 1965 Oscar-winning Best Picture. Ranked as #10 in the AFI Top 100 Songs in American Cinema, this memorable theme was performed by Mary Martin in the first Broadway production, Rebecca Luker in the Broadway revival, and Julie Andrews in the film version [YouTube links]. Check out Mary Martin's acceptance speech, upon winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. I wasn't around when the Broadway production debuted, but I did see the wonderful 1998 Broadway revival (and a terrific off-Broadway production too). And the film remains one of my all-time favorite musicals (featuring at least two other favorite songs). Amazingly, the original production is the only musical to have ever won in a tie (with "Fiorello!") for the "Best Musical" Tony category.

June 02, 2012

Song of the Day #1059

Song of the Day: Whatever Lola Wants, music by Richard Adler, lyrics by Jerry Ross, is from the 1955 Tony Award-winning "Best Musical" on Broadway: "Damn Yankees." Performed by Gwen Verdon in the musical, with the choreography of Bob Fosse, the song is the ultimate seduction by the Devil's assistant, and a musical highlight. In tribute to that other New York baseball team, the New York Mets, Three Cheers to Johan Santana, for throwing, last night, the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise, in its 50th anniversary year! Hard to believe that for a team that has had 13 pitchers who have thrown no-hitters . . . once they left the team (including such All-Stars as Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and David Cone), it took 8,020 games into the history of the franchise to finally get one No-No all for themselves! And this is coming from a Damn Yankees fan! Bravo!!! The Mets finally Got What they Wanted! Just like Lola! Check out Gwen Verdon from the 1958 film version and two classic jazz-infused versions: Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

June 01, 2012

Song of the Day #1058

Song of the Day: I'm the Greatest Star, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, is a highlight from the classic 1964 Broadway musical, "Funny Girl," which starred a young Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice. Though nominated for eight Tony Awards, the musical won none, facing a tough competitor in "Hello, Dolly!" Streisand would win an Oscar for the role in the 1968 film version. Check out the Broadway musical version, the film version, and Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel in a "Glee" cast version [YouTube links]. Today begins our tribute to songs from Broadway, in anticipation of the Tony Awards, on Sunday, June 10th.

May 24, 2012

Song of the Day #1054

Song of the Day: MacArthur Park, composed by Jimmy Webb, has been performed by many artists through the years, including one by an actor who first took it, in 1968, to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart: Richard Harris (whose endearing performance as Albus Dumbledore in the first two "Harry Potter" films is captured in that tribute clip). Check out these other renditions: Waylon Jennings; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Stan Kenton; Woody Herman; Maynard Ferguson (my favorite jazz instrumental version); "Weird Al" Yankovic (spoofed as "Jurassic Park"); and Carrie Underwood on "American Idol" in 2005 (see 4:03-4:36), who famously quipped that she hadn't the faintest idea what the lyrics were all about! [YouTube links]. And then there's the seminal dance version by Donna Summer, recorded initially as part of a nearly 18-minute disco epic: "MacArthur Park Suite" [YouTube link] and released in 1978 as a stand-alone #1 Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Dance Club Play single [YouTube link]. I used to chuckle when she let out that Snoopy-like cry, which kicked off the thumping disco beat (at 01:49 here), but her version will always rock my dance floor.

May 23, 2012

Song of the Day #1053

Song of the Day: On the Radio, music by Giorgio Moroder, lyrics by Donna Summer, was recorded in 1979 by the singer for the soundtrack to the film, "Foxes." It is also featured in two versions on the singer's third consecutive #1 double-album, "On the Radio: Greatest Hits, Volumes I & II" (1979). Check out the single version, the longer "Greatest Hits" version, the extended 12" version, and a really nice compilation of the theme as it is heard throughout the 1980 film.

May 04, 2012

Song of the Day #1046

Song of the Day: Cute, composed by Neil Hefti, is one of those familiar tracks that has been heard everywhere, thanks to the famous chart Hefti wrote for the Count Basie Orchestra, featuring the fabulous fills of drummer Sonny Payne, who was born on this date in 1926. The most memorable cinematic treatment of this tune, where one can see Music as Comedy and Comedy as Music, can be found in "Cinderfella"; watch how Jerry Lewis Does the Dishes.

April 18, 2012

Song of the Day #1043

Song of the Day: Forget Me Nots, words and music by Terri McFaddin, bassist Freddy Washington, and singer and pianist Patrice Rushen, received a Grammy nomination for "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance." This pop, R&B and dance hit from Rushen's album, "Straight from the Heart," includes a nice sax solo by Gerald Albright. The song has been covered and sampled by several artists (most famously, Will Smith for "Men in Black" [YouTube link]), but Patrice's version is tops for pure finger-poppin' pleasure. Check out her music video, the album version, the 12" dance mix, and a really jazzy live 2009 performance with guitarist Lee Ritenour at North Sea Jazz [YouTube links]. On a day when we lost "America's oldest teenager," at 82 years of age, we pause to celebrate the life of the irreplaceable Dick Clark, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who helped us embrace the promise of every new year with his New Year's Rockin' Eve specials, and who gave us countless productions and television shows, including the trailblazing "American Bandstand," on which Patrice Rushen performed this song (Season 25, Episode 29, airdate: 29 May 1982). We forget you not ... ever!

April 17, 2012

Song of the Day #1042

Song of the Day: Twilight Zone / Twilight Tone features the music of Bernard Herrmann (whose immortal "Twilight Zone" theme is used to great effect) and the words and additional music of Jay Graydon and Alan Paul, a member of The Manhattan Transfer, which scored a disco hit for this jazz-influenced vocal group. The song appears on their album, "Extensions," which includes the jazz-vocalese gem, "Birdland." Check out the original promo 12" mix and the Disconet Mix [YouTube links].

April 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1040

Song of the Day: Raise the Titanic ("Suite") [YouTube clip at that link; Nic Raine, conductor], composed by the great John Barry for the 1980 film, "Raise the Titanic," gives us a kaleidoscope of the majestic, the poignant, and the reverent. On this date, at 2:20 a.m. UTC-3 ship's time, the Titanic sunk, having struck an iceberg, en route to New York harbor. Its survivors, aboard the Carpathia, would arrive at that harbor by 18 April 1912, greeted by tens of thousands of New Yorkers (check out an interesting 1929 flick: Titanic, Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube). They may never "Raise the Titanic," but this act of "raising," of "resurrecting," is appropriately noted on a day that Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter with the phrase "Christos Anesti" ("Christ is Risen"). We raise the spirit by keeping the memory of Titanic, resurrecting its history and meaning, even in song. And so ends our 6-day tribute on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its sinking.

April 14, 2012

Song of the Day #1039

Song of the Day: Titanic: A New Musical ("In Every Age"), words and music by Maury Yeston, opened on Broadway in 1997 and went on to receive five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Check out the Broadway cast album version [YouTube link]. My favorite version of this song, however, is a jazz interpretation by guitarist Frank DiBussolo. It can be found on his really nice 1998 album, "Titanic: A New Musical" [the link provides a small sample of the piece]. So many other Titanic music projects are available and worthy of attention: "Disasters! The Disaster Movie Music Album" and "Titanic: The Ultimate Collection," both of which offer selections from several Titanic-inspired films; the lovely Alberto Iglesias soundtrack to "La Camarera del Titanic"; and a stupendous 4-disc set, "Titanic: Collector's Anniversary Edition," featuring James Horner's magnificent Oscar-winning score to the Cameron-directed film, which includes remastered versions of the two previous "Titanic" soundtrack albums, and 2 extra discs of music from the period (not to mention great liner notes and Titanic-White Star replica luggage tickets). Tonight, ABC presents the first part of a new miniseries, "Titanic," written by Julian Fellowes, co-creator of "Downton Abbey." Another 12-part BBC miniseries is forthcoming: "Titanic: Blood and Steel." It was on this date, at 11:40 pm, UTC-3 ship's time, that Titanic struck an iceberg. In a little more than 2 hours, it would sink.

April 13, 2012

Song of the Day #1038

Song of the Day: The Unsinkable Molly Brown ("I Ain't Down Yet"), words and music by Meredith Wilson, is featured in the 1960 Broadway musical, in which the lead character was played by Tammy Grimes, who won the 1961 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress. The 1964 cinematic adaptation garnered six Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Debbie Reynolds who became the feisty Molly Brown on screen. Born Margaret, though her friends called her Maggie, she is known to history as Molly. A traveler on the Titanic, she was the quintessential strong woman and suffragist who, in Lifeboat No. 6, exhorted the crew to return to the waters of death, in search of survivors. On screen, so many have portrayed her, including: the independent, playful, and feisty Kathy Bates in the 1997 Cameron blockbuster; the ever-effervescent Thelma Ritter, who is named "Maude Young" but is clearly Molly, in the 1953 film, "Titanic"; and Cloris Leachman played her twice: as Maggie Brown in a 1950s dramatization for "Television Time" [YouTube link to that episode], and in the television movie, "S.O.S. Titanic". Molly Brown survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic. No wonder the character sings this song as a celebration of The Unsinkable. No better day to note it than on Friday the 13th, which happens to be both Good Friday for the Eastern Orthodox and Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Check out Tammy Grimes in the Broadway cast version [ sample] and, my favorite, Debbie Reynolds from the film version and (watch her inspire Titanic lifeboat survivors) [YouTube links]. You'll be singing: "Told Ya So! Told Ya So! Told Ya, Told Ya, Told Ya So!"

April 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1087

Song of the Day: Titanic ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Lennie Niehaus, opens the 1996 4-hour CBS miniseries, starring Peter Gallagher, George C. Scott, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Eva Marie Saint. The theme manages to capture the grandiosity of the ship, while allowing us to reflect upon the ominous events yet to come.

April 11, 2012

Song of the Day #1086

Song of the Day: Titanic ("Main Title") [YouTube link to the film trailer], composed by Sol Kaplan (under the musical direction of Lionel Newman), is from the 1953 American film drama starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. The film won a single Oscar, for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. On April 11, 1912, one hundred years ago today, Titanic stopped in Queenstown, Ireland before embarking on its fateful voyage to America. This fine movie begins on YouTube here, and the "Main Title" is contained therein.

April 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1085

Song of the Day: A Night to Remember ("Main Title") [not that one], composed by William Alwyn, opens the very fine 1958 British film adaptation of Walter Lord's famous book of the same name (some of the film is available on YouTube). This particular cinematic take on one of the most definitive 20th century catastrophes stars Kenneth More, who, for me, is best remembered for his role as Young Jolyon in the great BBC series, "The Forsyte Saga" (1967). One hundred years ago on this date, Titanic began its journey, leaving Southampton in England and stopping in Cherbourg Harbor, France. Today begins our own six-day tribute to the fateful maiden voyage of Titanic. Among the multitude of provocative books on the subject is one written by my colleague and very dear friend, Stephen Cox, entitled The Titanic Story: Hard Choices, Dangerous Decisions (1999). So much music and so many films have also been inspired by this tragic event, starting with a 1912 newsreel [YouTube link], featuring its own poignant piano accompaniment. Cinematic presentations by filmmakers the world over have been presented throughout this past century: even the Nazis produced a movie, portraying the disaster as the inexorable result of sinister British capitalist greed (that 1943 German "Titanic" is actually pretty good as a film; some of its frames may have been used, without credit, in the 1958 British film highlighted here). As film scores go, I will never forget the great James Horner score to my favorite "Titanic" film of all time, directed by James Cameron. The 11-Oscar Award-winning "Best Picture" has now been re-released to theaters in 3D to mark the centennial occasion. Today, however, we turn to the majestic opening of "A Night to Remember" on YouTube, as we begin our own voyage into history, film, and music.

April 03, 2012

Song of the Day #1078

Song of the Day: Days Go By, words and music by Victoria Horn and Steve Smith, is the Dirty Vegas recording that received the 2002 Grammy Award for "Best Dance Recording." The infectious track is best known for its use in a famous Mitsubishi commercial; also check out this hot mix, the Paul Oakenfold remix, the Mimosa remix, and the Jimmy Fallon MTV commercial parody [YouTube links].

April 02, 2012

Song of the Day #1077

Song of the Day: Unison, words and music by Andy Goldmark and Bruce Roberts, was first recorded in 1983 by Junior for the Tom Cruise film, "All the Right Moves." Laura Branigan and Lory Bianco also recorded versions before the song became the title track from the English-language debut album of Celine Dion. That album was released on this date in 1990. It is one of my favorite uptempo Celine Dion songs. Check out the various renditions: Junior [YouTube link], Laura Branigan [ sample], Lory Bianco, and the Celine album track, the Celine dance version (my favorite), and the Kevin Unger remix, featuring rapper Frankie Fudge [YouTube links].

March 25, 2012

Song of the Day #1069

Song of the Day: I Didn't Mean to Turn You On, words and music by Jimmy Jam (James Samuel Harris III) and Terry Lewis, was a 1984 Top Ten R&B hit by Cherrelle. The music video features an homage to the 1933 blockbuster, "King Kong" [YouTube link]. A year later, Robert Palmer recorded his own version (following a trajectory similar to "You Are in My System"). The track appears on his album, "Riptide," and in a video featuring The Girls, prominent in other Palmer solo hit videos. Check out the Palmer music video and the extended video, as well as a live "American Music Awards" performance [YouTube links]. Mariah Carey also did a version of the song for the film "Glitter" that was faithful to the original Cherrelle arrangement. The soundtrack was released on September 11, 2001 (not a good sign, apparently). Check out this "Glitter" film excerpt and the soundtrack version [YouTube links]. But I still love the original full-length version that appears on Cherrelle's self-titled album [YouTube link].

March 16, 2012

Song of the Day #1060

Song of the Day: The Typewriter, composed by Leroy Anderson, is one of those twentieth-century orchestral pieces that brings a smile to one's face. Today, it's posted in honor of the birthday of a comedic genius, Jerry Lewis, who was born on this date in 1926. If part of comedy is timing, then here is Exhibit A on the wonder of exquisite timing: Jerry Lewis performing this piece, from the 1963 film "Who's Minding the Store?" and also on the Colgate Comedy Hour. Happy Birthday to one of the greats!

March 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1059

Song of the Day: Che La Luna Mezzo Mare is an Italian folksong composed, it is said, by Paolo Citorello, but infinite variations of the song have been heard throughout the years. Growing up in the Sciabarra household, we heard the bouncy Louis Prima-Keely Smith version [YouTube link], with its funny double entendres sung in both Italian and English. Other memorable versions have been performed by Rudy Vallee, Lou Monte and Dean Martin [YouTube links]. But the most memorable cinematic take is at the wedding of the daughter of Don Vito Corleone (played by Oscar-winner, Marlon Brando) in the original Mafia Family Values Movie: "The Godfather," the Oscar-winning Best Picture, my all-time favorite gangster film, an epic crime drama directed brilliantly by Francis Ford Coppola. At the wedding, Mama Corleone (played by Morgana King) is invited to the stage to begin the verses of the classic song; an old man, not unlike many I've seen at countless Italian weddings that I've attended since childhood, gets up, and completes the verses with the kind of hilariously perverse body language that the song inspires. How appropriate to note this song today, for 40 years ago, on this date, on the Ides of March in 1972, "The Godfather" had its U.S. debut. Yes, it has a haunting Nino Rota soundtrack. But it also has a "Che La Luna" wedding scene [YouTube link].

February 29, 2012

Song of the Day #1044

Song of the Day: As Time Goes By was written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931 for the Broadway musical, "Everybody's Welcome." But it is eternally enshrined in the minds of cinema fans worldwide for its appearance in the 1942 film, "Casablanca," starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Dooley Wilson, "Sam" in the movie, plays it, and plays it again (even if "Play it Again, Sam" is never actually uttered by Bogie). Speaking of "time," this is officially Leap Year Day, when, every four years, we add a day to our calendar. And it's also the end of Film Music February, our month-long tribute to film music. Take a look at two Dooley Wilson YouTube moments here and here. And check out instrumental versions by jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and classical guitarist John Williams. Here's lookin' at you, kid.

February 28, 2012

Song of the Day #1043

Song of the Day: Planet of the Apes ("Main Title" / Various) [excellent YouTube soundtrack montage at that link] features the futuristic sounds of Jerry Goldsmith, who provides the perfect musical complement to one of the most remarkable sci-fi films, with one of the most chilling, twisted endings, in cinema history.  I loved this movie when I first saw it in 1968, and it has been a favorite ever since. And when I was 13, I remember going to the Sommer Highway Theater in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and seeing all five "ape" movies in a 1973 marathon upon the release of the fifth and final film in the original series: Planet of the..., Beneath the Planet of the..., Escape from the Planet of the..., Conquest of the Planet of the..., and Battle for the Planet of the... Apes). On that day, the Planet of the Apes franchise gave us 5 films for the price of 1. "Young man, in my day, we saw those films in a theater that was not a multiplex." God, do I sound old. One more thing about Jerry Goldsmith: he studied with Miklos Rozsa at USC. In his teens, Goldsmith recollects that it was "Spellbound" in 1945 that put him upon his life's path. That film featured two things with which he fell in love: Rozsa's Oscar-winning score and the great actress Ingrid Bergman. From that point on, he sought a career in film score composition and sought to marry Ingrid. As he put it in later years: 'One out of two wasn't bad.'

February 27, 2012

Song of the Day #1042

Song of the Day: I Fall in Love Too Easily, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, is from the 1945 film, "Anchors Away," where it was introduced by Frank Sinatra [YouTube link]. The musical director Georgie Stoll received an Oscar for the Scoring of a Musical Picture, and this song received an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Song" (losing out to Rodgers and Hammerstein's gem, "It Might As Well Be Spring"). Check out versions by Keith Jarrett and Anita O'Day. One of my favorite versions of this standard can be found on "Cloud 7" [YouTube clip at that link], an early Tony Bennett album, featuring the trailblazing jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne, who was born on this date in 1923, and served as Bennett's musical director and accompanist from 1954-1957. The trumpet solo here is by Charles Panely. (And three cheers to host Billy Crystal for some truly hilarious moments at the 84th Annual Academy Awards last night; to Meryl Streep for finally getting Oscar #3, after nearly 30 magnificent acting years since Oscar #2; and to Zach Galifianakis for the Best Zinger of the Night in presenting the Oscar for "Best Original Song," today's highlighted category.)

February 26, 2012

Song of the Day #1041

Song of the Day: Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (with CinemaScope Extension) [YouTube clip at that link] is one of the most recognizable, robust, and regal fanfares in all of cinema and it was written by the immortal Alfred Newman. There's no better way to provide a drum roll for tonight's 84th Academy Awards, hosted by the guy who has been my favorite host throughout the years: Billy Crystal. (Our Movie Music Month continues until Leap Year Day.)

February 25, 2012

Song of the Day #1040

Song of the Day: The War of the Worlds ("Main Title" / Various) [excellent YouTube soundtrack montage at that link] features a dramatic score by Leith Stevens. The movie is without a doubt my all-time favorite aliens-invading-earth film from the 1950s. This George Pal production, which was released in February 1953, was directed by Byron Haskin, and starred Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, who provided cameos as Tom Cruise's in-laws in the Steven Spielberg version of the H. G. Wells story. Dramatizations of this classic story started with the phenomenal 1938 "Mercury Theatre on the Air" radio broadcast of Orson Welles and have continued up till the present day. Nominated for three Academy Awards, the sci-fi classic won a well-deserved Oscar for special visual effects.

February 24, 2012

Song of the Day #1039

Song of the Day: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms ("Monster Does Manhattan") [sample clip at that link], composed by David Buttolph for the 1953 film, is one of the defining and most influential film soundtracks for the whole sub-genre of "Monster Movies," which feature giant monsters stomping on contemporary cities (everything from King-sized giant apes and Atomic Age-reawakened dinosaurs to mutant ants and tarantulas). This particular film's plot has a fabulous London counterpart, released in 1959: "The Giant Behemoth," with special effects by Willis O'Brien, who was a mentor to Ray Harryhausen, the special effects wizard for Beast. After the Beast wreaks havoc in Manhattan, it decides to visit Brooklyn. Fuhgeddaboudit! It comes to a violent end at the Cyclone roller coaster, in Coney Island Amusement Park. Still, a little too close for comfort, if you ask this Brooklynite.

February 23, 2012

Song of the Day #1038

Song of the Day: The Wolf Man ("Main Title" / Various) [YouTube clip at that link] features an uncredited soundtrack, which included contributions from Frank Skinner, Hans J. Salter, and Charles Previn (great-uncle of Andre). Skinner has written some of my favorite scores in this genre, which will make their way to this list before too long. The 1941 film stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot, who becomes the Wolf Man, having been bitten by the werewolf, Bela. The actor playing that role was actually named Bela: Bela Lugosi! Benicio del Toro took on the Talbot role in the 2010 remake. For an extra thrill, check out Moscow Symphony Orchestra versions of the 1941 Main Title [YouTube] and The Kill [mp3].

February 22, 2012

Song of the Day #1037

Song of the Day: The Bride of Frankenstein ("Main Title") is featured in the definitive score composed by Franz Waxman. This 1935 movie is the first and the best of the sequels to "Frankenstein." Directed by James Whale, it is one of the finest films in the Universal Monster Movie catalogue. Listen to the classic opening theme here [mp3 link].

February 21, 2012

Song of the Day #1036

Song of the Day: Frankenstein ("Main Title" / Various) [YouTube clip at that link], music by Giuseppe Becce and Bernhard Kaun, is from the soundtrack to the James Whale-directed 1931 classic Universal monster movie, starring Boris Karloff as the Monster. Today, I begin a mini-tribute within a tribute: a brief foray into my favorite "Monster Movie" soundtracks. I grew up on "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and was a regular Saturday night fan of "Chiller Theatre" and Zacherley on WPIX-TV in New York. So it's only natural to start off with one of the grand-daddies in the unnatural Universal catalogue!

February 20, 2012

Song of the Day #1035

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Main Title" / "Love Theme") features the music of John Keating and the lyrics of Richard Quine, who was the director of the 1967 film, "Hotel." The Keating soundtrack earned a Grammy Original Score nomination; on the album, the great jazz singer, Carmen McRae (YouTube clip at that link), who stars in the film, sings the love theme. The instrumental version can be heard in its entirety here; also, check out one of my all-time favorite renditions by Nancy Wilson (MySpace full-length clip at that link); it's from the 1968 album "Welcome to My Love," which was also one of my Mom's favorite albums; today, she would have been 93.

February 19, 2012

Song of the Day #1034

Song of the Day: The Children of Sanchez ("Overture"), words, music, film score written and performed by Chuck Mangione, comes from the Latin- and jazz-infused score that has a musical integrity quite apart from the fact that it's from a 1979 film, starring Anthony Quinn, that I've still yet to see! Mangione won a much-deserved Grammy Award for this album for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Listen to the 14+ minute overture on YouTube.

February 18, 2012

Song of the Day #1033

Song of the Day: Mommie Dearest ("Main Theme") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the perennially melodious Henry Mancini, is one of the great unheralded themes from his remarkable corpus of cinematic scores. It evokes gentility and pain, a feeling of promise, and of the ominous. And the 1981 film, entertaining as ever, features one of those eminently quotable lines in film history, uttered by Faye Dunaway, playing Joan Crawford, as she speaks before the Pepsi Cola Company Board of Trustees, which tries to dispense with her upon the death of her husband, Albert Steele, who had been Chairman of the Board: "Don't fuck with me fellahs. This ain't my first time at the rodeo." The Mancini soundtrack remains among this film's hidden gems.

February 17, 2012

Song of the Day #1032

Song of the Day: Ben Hur ("The Burning Desert") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the one and only Miklos Rozsa, is from my all-time favorite film, the 1959 epic known for its colossal naval battles and chariot races, but also for its intimacy and intelligence. It's been a tradition around these parts to feature a selection from this grandest of symphonic cinematic scores every February 17th. This past year, life has sometimes felt like a struggle across a burning desert; just knowing that the sounds of redemption echo on the next horizon, that the cup of human kindness awaits in the hands of my truly blessed family and loyal friends, is enough to inspire the continuing trek across the many burning deserts to come. Happy 52nd Birthday to Me (born on the day that made me "Wednesday's Child, Full of Woe") and Three Cheers to Rozsa!

February 16, 2012

Song of the Day #1031

Song of the Day: The Robe ("Caligula's Arrival") [YouTube clip at that link] is from the stupendous Alfred Newman score to the first CinemaScope film in movie history (the last was "In Like Flint"). I remember when I first wrote 20th Century Fox many years ago: having been used to the flat-screen version shown on TV, I finally had a chance to see the "letterbox" version that was released on DVD and I was appalled at the differences. Whoever answered me from the studio insisted that it was only a difference between a "pan-and-scan" edit shown on TV and the actual CinemaScope released to theaters. No way, I protested! This wasn't a mere difference in the angle of the lens; the acting, the inflections of the words, etc., were completely different! I was vindicated when I found out later that this sprawling Biblical epic, one of my all-time favorites, was actually filmed twice: in Widescreen and in Standard "Flat" Screen versions. As far as I'm concerned, however, the best acted version remains the standard flat-screen one, which has yet to be given a glorious Blu-Ray transfer (only a side-by-side comparison can be found as a "bonus" on the Blu-Ray). In any event, this particular track, "Caligula's Arrival," captures the might of ancient Rome, if not the seeds of insanity, in the not-yet-Emperor Caligula, played with memorable flamboyance and furiosity by Jay Robinson. When I was a kid of 9 or 10 years old, so impressed was I by Robinson's portrayal (the film was played regularly on The 4:30 Movie), that I'd don an emperor's robe (usually a larger-than-life blanket), and recite, word-for-word, the character Caligula's speech at the trial of Tribune Marcellus Gallio (played by an Oscar-nominated Richard Burton). If that wasn't a sure sign of my, uh, inner, uh, Caligula, I don't know what could have been more telling! "Senators, Romans, there exists today in our Empire, and even in Rome itself, a secret party of seditionists, who call themselves Christians..." Don't get me started... I still know that speech by heart. Which is why I knew there were differences between widescreen and flat-screen versions; Robinson's inflections differ considerably in the standard version I grew to love, a version that, unfortunately, can't be found anywhere online. (I have my own copy recorded from cable many years ago, when AMC didn't have commercial interruptions!) The actual theme ("Caligula's Arrival"), highlighted today, is stated again at 01:55:43, when the trial sequence gets under way.

February 15, 2012

Song of the Day #1030

Song of the Day: The Sand Pebbles ("Jake and Shirley"), composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is featured on the evocative soundtrack to this 1966 film, one of my favorite films. Check out the lovely theme with clips of Steve McQueen and Candice Bergen and pianist Mark Northam's version as well. Back in 1969, all of 9 years old, I went to see "Che!" but "The Sand Pebbles" was the first film on a double-feature bill; so deeply affected were we by the Robert Wise-directed epic that we never stayed for the main feature. This theme was later gifted with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse ("And We Were Lovers"); it has been recorded by countless artists, all indexed with full track presentations at this phenomenal page (of particular note on that page: a tender vocal version by Jack Jones and a lovely instrumental treatment by the late, great Bud Shank). And check out The Sand Pebbles Motion Picture Website in all its glory.

February 14, 2012

Song of the Day #1029

Song of the Day: On Green Dolphin Street, lyrics by Ned Washington, music by Bronislaw Kaper, can be heard on the soundtrack to the 1947 film, "Green Dolphin Street." The song has become a jazz standard; check out these classic versions by Miles Davis (in the rare "'58 Miles," with the "Kind of Blue" sextet, featuring pianist Bill Evans and saxophonists Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane), Bill Evans and a live Evans version with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, the Gary Burton Quartet, with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Chuck Israels, and drummer Larry Bunker, Anita O'Day, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Vince Guaraldi, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, and George Benson, live at the Newport Jazz Festival with the Count Basie Orchestra. Any song that celebrates "love" and the "heart" and "nights beyond forgetting," deserves to shine on this day: Happy Valentine's Day!

February 13, 2012

Song of the Day #1028

Song of the Day: In the Heat of the Night, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, music by the multitalented composer, conductor, arranger, and producer Quincy Jones, is featured in the 1967 film, starring Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier ("They call me Mister Tibbs!"). The Quincy Jones soundtrack received a Grammy nomination for "Best Original Score from a Motion Picture or Television Show." It's a great title song, sung by the great Ray Charles (YouTube clip at that link). Check out other notable versions as well: Bill Champlin (who sang it for the TV series) and the very jazzy Nancy Wilson (from her 1968 album, "Welcome to My Love"). The Bergmans, Jones, Champlin, Charles, Wilson, even Poitier! ... all Grammy winners in their lifetimes. Last night's memorable Grammy telecast (even Betty White won a Grammy!), with its moving memorials to Whitney Houston, Etta James, and others, reminds us to celebrate the healing power of music.

February 12, 2012

Song of the Day #1027

Song of the Day: I'm Every Woman, words and music by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, was a huge hit in 1978 for Chaka Khan. A #1 R&B track, the record peaked at #21 on the pop chart. It was reprised by Whitney Houston, who performed it in the 1992 film, "The Bodyguard," in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner. The song went to #4 on the pop chart and was a #1 Dance Club Hit. The soundtrack album won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, sporting Whitney's cover of "I Will Always Love You," which went on to win "Record of the Year," while Whitney herself captured the "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female." Check out Chaka's original version here, a terrific remix from her 1989 album, "Life is a Dance," and, finally, Whitney Houston's remake, in which she gives a shout-out to Chaka as the song fades out. Tonight, tune in and see who the new winners are at the 54th Grammy Awards. And remember multiple-Grammy Award-winning singer, Whitney Houston, who passed away yesterday at the age of 48.

February 11, 2012

Song of the Day #1026

Song of the Day: Airport ("Love Theme") features the last soundtrack composed by Alfred Newman, who passed away less than a month before the film's release (and a month before his 70th St. Patrick's Day birthday in 1970). Nominated for 10 Oscars (only Helen Hayes walked away with a statuette, for "Best Supporting Actress"), the movie is credited as having initiated the 1970s "disaster film" genre, which reached its height, so-to-speak, in 1974, with "The Towering Inferno." The Oscar-nominated Newman score is highlighted by this lush love theme (YouTube link). (This particular take on the love theme is from "As You Remember Them," a Time-Life collection on vinyl that I've always treasured.)

February 10, 2012

Song of the Day #1025

Song of the Day: In Like Flint ("Where the Bad Guys Are Gals"), composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is featured in the whimsical 1967 sequel to "Our Man Flint" (1966). This was the last movie ever made in CinemaScope. This composition (which, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, became "Your Zowie Face"; listen to a sample here) has the kind of infectious melody heard throughout the film that once heard never seems to leave the psyche (and, yes, it has a similarity to another one of my favorites: "Call Me"). Check it out on YouTube here and here (along with a piece on "Spy Vogue") and in a Nelson Riddle arrangement too! And check out "The Musician's Magician" (YouTube link), a mini-"In Like Flint"-tribute to the great composer, who was born on this date in 1929.

February 09, 2012

Song of the Day #1024

Song of the Day: The Towering Inferno ("Something for Susan") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by John Williams, is an encore to our 80th birthday notice. It is a reminder that before he was John Williams, he was "Johnny Williams," a jazz pianist working in clubs around New York City. His early jazz sensibility is still evident in this intimate cue from the blockbuster 1974 Irwin Allen disaster flick. Check out YouTube to see the romantic scene between Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway, caressed by the sweet music of the Maestro.

February 07, 2012

Song of the Day #1022

Song of the Day: Jurassic Park ("Journey to the Island"), composed by the living legend that is John Williams, contains some of the most majestic themes in the corpus of this great composer, who, tomorrow, turns 80 years old. The composer earned Oscar nominations for two of his scores this year; he now surpasses the mighty Alfred Newman for the all-time most music nominations (47 and counting...) in the history of the Academy Awards. This dino-mite 1993 film is one of my all-time favorite "monster movies" centering on the unintended consequences of human action. And it was another in a string of terrific collaborations between Williams and director Steven Spielberg. Check out this YouTube moment.

February 06, 2012

Song of the Day #1021

Song of the Day: The Verdict ("The Bottom") [sample clip at that link], composed by Johnny Mandel, captures perfectly the mind-set of Frank Galvin, a seemingly washed-up attorney, who has one last chance to take on a big case, one last chance for personal redemption. The character is played by the Oscar-nominated Paul Newman, in what was, arguably, his greatest performance as an actor. The acclaimed director Sidney Lumet, who passed away in April 2011, said this of Newman's work in the 1982 film: "The slightest gesture, the slightest look, deep riches pour out." Amen. (Oh, and This Verdict Is In and It's Not 'The Bottom' but the Very Top!: The New York Giants Win the Super Bowl!! Bravo!!!)

February 05, 2012

Song of the Day #1020

Song of the Day: Heaven Can Wait features the Oscar-nominated score of composer Dave Grusin. It's one of my favorite cinema comedies (actually an adaptation of Harry Segall's 1938 play of the same name, and a remake of the 1941 film, "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"). But it's also a movie whose final sequences take place at the Super Bowl. And that's where the New York Giants are today, facing off with their arch football rivals, the New England Patriots, whom Big Blue beat at the 2007 Super Bowl. (Okay, okay, I'll give handsome Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady 1/2 of 1 point, just for admitting to a "man-crush" on New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.) But I say: One Mo' Time! Go Eli Manning! Go Giants! And Go Grusin for capturing so many moods in his kaleidoscopic main theme from this 1978 film (YouTube clip at that link).

February 04, 2012

Song of the Day #1019

Song of the Day: Goldfinger ("Into Miami") [YouTube clip at that link] is the sexy, jazzy second track from the stupendous John Barry score to my absolutely all-time favorite 007 flick, starring the one and only Sean Connery as James Bond.

February 03, 2012

Song of the Day #1018

Song of the Day: It's Just Begun, words and music by Jimmy Castor, Johnny L. Pruitt, and Gerry Thomas, is one of the most famous tracks recorded by The Jimmy Castor Bunch. It is featured during a sizzling breakdance sequence (YouTube link) in the 1983 smash hit film "Flashdance." This entertaining movie sported a robust soundtrack of hit singles. And yet, this track never appeared on the soundtrack album! The track actually predates the movie; it first appeared in 1972 as the title track to the second album released by The Jimmy Castor Bunch. Castor passed away in January 2012. But his music lives on; this song, in particular, has been sampled countless times by hip hop artists. Check out the gloriously funky original on YouTube.

February 02, 2012

Song of the Day #1017

Song of the Day: Horror Hotel (in the U.K., known as "The City of the Dead") features the music of two composers: Douglas Gamley, who wrote the spooky themes, and Kenneth V. Jones, who composed the jazz music heard throughout. This 1960 film stars a superb Christopher Lee and a terrifically terrifying Patricia Jessel, who plays the witch, Elizabeth Selwyn, burned at the stake in Whitewood, Massachusetts on March 3, 1692 (coincident with the Salem Witch Hunts), but still living as Mrs. Newless (a play on Selwyn, spoken backwards), the owner of the Raven's Inn. It's one of my all-time favorite horror movies. Some have compared it to "Psycho," in terms of structure, but the films were released months apart (Hotel actually started shooting in 1959, a month before filming began on "Psycho"), and this Hotel is no derivative. The version released in the U.S. is slightly shorter than the U.K. original; the U.S. edit can be viewed here. The creepy Main Title by Gamley can be heard at 00:01-01:24; some of the best Jones jazz can be heard at 31:21-33:04 (my favorite at 32:49). The first human sacrifice in the movie takes place on Candlemas Eve: at the hour of "13" (the stroke of midnight, when February 1st becomes February 2nd), the bells in the churchyard ring 13 times. At which point, poor Nan Barlow (played by Venetia Stevenson) is ritually slaughtered. That makes today, uh, gulp, "Candlemas"; I say: Happy Groundhog Day (a big shout out to Staten Island Chuck and Punxsutawney Phil)!

February 01, 2012

Song of the Day #1016

Song of the Day: All About Eve ("Main Title") [sample at that link] opens composer Alfred Newman's Oscar-nominated score for the iconic 1950 film, which was nominated for a then-record 14 Academy Awards (tied in 1997 by "Titanic"). The film won a total of 6 Oscars, including Best Picture. It boasts an outstanding cast, led by the incomparable (and Oscar-nominated Best Actress) Bette Davis, who utters that famous line: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night" (#9 on the list of the American Film Institute's all-time movie quotations). And a special nod to Oscar-nominated Supporting Actress Thelma Ritter, who, as Birdie, just can't believe the life story being spun by Eve (Oscar-nominated Supporting Actress Anne Baxter): "Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." (And check out the Live Lux Radio Theater version of the story!) Today begins my Annual Tribute to Cinema Songs, Scores and Other Compositions featured in film, a traditional Film Music February en route to the 84th Academy Awards.

November 03, 2011

Song of the Day #1009

Song of the Day: See The USA in Your Chevrolet, words and music by Leon Corday and Leon Carr, is one of the most memorable commercial jingles, highlighted today on the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet, a classic American car. Check out the equally classic Dinah Shore commercial!

October 18, 2011

Song of the Day #1007

Song of the Day: West Side Story ("Dance at the Gym"), music by the incomparable Leonard Bernstein, can be heard in the score to the Oscar-wnning blockbuster film adaptation of the great Broadway musical. The film was released to theaters 50 years ago today. This particular composition was a highlight from a stupendous New York Philharmonic performance of the grand soundtrack in sync with the grand film, which took place at Avery Fisher Hall last month. What a poetically appropriate tribute, since the movie's opening sequence was filmed on the streets where Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts now stands, and Bernstein himself was the Philharmonic's long-time music director. The film soundtrack, boasting Bernstein's music and the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, spent 54 weeks at #1. Enjoy this YouTube moment of this classic dance sequence, Latin rhythms and instrumentation conjoined to the steamy choreography of the great Jerome Robbins.

September 18, 2011

Song of the Day #1004

Song of the Day: I Am A Paleontologist, words and music by Danny Weinkauf of the Brooklyn-based band, They Might Be Giants, is my nod to current TV commercial fare, which hasn't lost its knack for using catchy tunes. The original full-length track can be found on the band's album, Here Comes Science, but it has gotten its biggest airplay, I suspect, from this TV commercial for Payless Shoesource (clip at that link). The original music video, with its animated dinosaur bones, is a lot of fun. I don't know if Payless is a sponsor of tonight's Primetime Emmy Awards, but they get Thumbs (Halluces?) Up as our annual mini-TV-oriented-music tribute draws to a close.

September 17, 2011

Song of the Day #1003

Song of the Day: ILGWU (Look for the Union Label) (YouTube link), music by Malcolm Dodds, lyrics by Paula Green, gave us the best television commercial song from an American labor union, in my humble opinion, even if it was parodied occasionally. My enjoyment of the song was most likely colored by the fact that my mom worked in the garment industry her whole life; it appeals to the proletarian in all of us.

September 16, 2011

Song of the Day #1002

Song of the Day: Chock Full o'Nuts gave us a classic commercial jingle, one based on "That Heavenly Feeling," by Bernie Wayne and Bruce Silbert. The original lyrics to the jingle boasted: "Better coffee a Rockefeller's money can't buy," but when then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller took offense, the lyrics were changed to: "Better coffee a millionaire's money can't buy" (YouTube link). Today, however, inflation has taken its toll, and the lyrics have been adjusted accordingly: "Better coffee a billionaire's money can't buy" (two contemporary versions at the "jingle" link). The original version was sung by Page Black, wife of Chock Full o'Nuts founder, William Black.

September 15, 2011

Song of the Day #1001

Song of the Day: Nestle's Quik, aside from being one of my favorite childhood powdered ingredients for great (cold or hot) chocolate milk, inspired one of the classic television commercial jingles, featuring ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson, puppet Danny O'Day and Farfel, the utterly adorable hound dog.  As we gear up for this year's 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards, now is a good time to salute some of my favorite TV commercial jingles. This one was big in the 1950s and 1960s: N-E-S-T-L-E-S, with Farfel and this updating too.

August 11, 2011

Melanie, You Can Dance

I'm a great fan of "So You Think You Can Dance," and am absolutely elated to see that Melanie Moore has been named "America's Favorite Dancer."

She was my favorite too! From the start of the season! Brava! (And three cheers to the show's creator, executive producer, and regular judge, Nigel Lythgoe, for telling some of these folks where to go!)

July 04, 2011

Song of the Day #987

Song of the Day: The Yankee Doodle Boy (also known as Yankee Doodle Dandy), composed by George M. Cohan, made its first splash in the 1904 Broadway musical, Little Johnny Jones. For me, nobody performs it like the magnificent James Cagney (who won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Cohan) from the great 1942 Hollywood musical, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Take a look at YouTube, and Have a Great Independence Day!

June 29, 2011

Song of the Day #986

Song of the Day: The Day the Earth Stood Still ("Prelude") [YouTube clip of opening credits at that link] was composed by the immortal New York-born Bernard Herrmann, the centenary of whose birth we celebrate today. The score for this classic science fiction film was remarkable for its revolutionary use of the theremin. Viva Herrmann!

June 27, 2011

Song of the Day #984

Song of the Day: Perry Mason ("Park Avenue Beat") [YouTube clip at that link] was composed by Fred Steiner, who passed away on 23 June 2011. This was the iconic theme song for the famous television series, featuring Raymond Burr in the title role.

June 26, 2011

Song of the Day #983

Song of the Day: Pocketful of Miracles ("Title Song"), music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, received a "Best Original Song" Academy Award nomination in 1961. The song was featured in the utterly hilarious 1961 film, starring the great Bette Davis, Glenn Ford, and the magnificent Peter Falk (who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his hyper-comedic turn as Joy Boy). Whatever role he played (including the classic Lieutenant Columbo), Falk entertained as if it were "Christmas Every Day." Sadly, he passed away on 23 June 2011. Take a look at the opening credits choral version of this song (YouTube video at that link) and one by Francis Albert Sinatra (another YouTube link), who, it is said, was originally slated to play Dave the Dude, prior to the casting of Glenn Ford.

March 23, 2011

Song of the Day #979

Song of the Day: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ("Main Title") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by the great Alex North, opens the 1966 film featuring tour de force performances from each of its actors: Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner), and Elizabeth Taylor, who won a much-deserved Best Actress Oscar, and who passed away today at the age of 79.

February 27, 2011

Song of the Day #977

Song of the Day: The Social Network ("In Motion") [YouTube link] is a dark ambient track composed by Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and Atticus Ross. It can be heard on the Golden Globe-winning soundtrack for this provocative 2010 film. The soundtrack has also been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score. Check out the 83rd Annual Academy Awards tonight to see all the winners. And so concludes this year's tribute to Movie Music!

February 20, 2011

Song of the Day #976

Song of the Day: Spartacus ("Hopeful Preparations"/"Vesuvius Camp") [audio clip at that link] is featured in the Alex North soundtrack masterpiece from the inspiring and thrilling 1960 film, starring Kirk Douglas in the title role. This particular track is part of a new and absolutely stupendous deluxe CD soundtrack released by Varese Sarabande, in centenary celebration of North (who was born on 4 December 1910). The deluxe set also includes a poignant CD featuring timeless interpretations of the classic love theme, with artists as diverse as Bill Evans and Carlos Santana.

February 18, 2011

Song of the Day #975

Song of the Day: Ride 'Em Cowboy ("I'll Remember April"), music by Gene de Paul, lyrics by Patricia Johnston and Don Raye, was first heard in the hilarious 1942 Abbott and Costello film, "Ride 'Em Cowboy," where it was performed by Dick Foran (YouTube film clip at that link). Other classic renditions have been performed by the very Sassy Swinging Scatting Sarah Vaughan (YouTube link) and the late, great pianist George Shearing (YouTube link), who just passed away on Valentine's Day. (And while I could have posted this in, uh, April, this great song makes my list in Movie Music February, with temperatures reaching the very April-ish 60s in snow-weary New York City!)

February 17, 2011

Song of the Day #974

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Roman March" or "Marcia Romana") [YouTube clip at that link], composed by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the master's grandest marches from the grandest of all epics. Continuing Movie Music Month, this one's for me (on my 51st birthday)!

February 14, 2011

Song of the Day #973

Song of the Day: