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A great melody first, then lyrics,(only) THEN 'vocals'

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    For Baby Boomers his age, James Layne Webb wrote so many unforgettable hit songs. (His Wiki entry is deservedly huge; more about that in a moment).

    What I never knew until a moment ago was – Jimmy Webb wrote Everybody Is Going To the Moon!

    French Connection, The Three Degrees, remember? Their fabulous harmonies on that song were part of our favorite scene, when Popeye Doyle says, “There is something wrong at that table. Who's the last of the big time spenders?”

    There is no mention of the song in his Wiki entry nor does it come up in Webb's terrific book for budding songwriters, TUNESMITH.

    This week I handed my copy to my very musical grandson Thomas who turns 22 February 7 and is writing songs. “Open at random and see if it speaks to you.” He couldn't put it down. And took it home. (I bought another copy delivered in just two days by Amazon yesterday.)

    Before THE THREE DEGREES performed this song famously in “The French Connection” it was introduced “for programming during Apollo 11” by (the aptly named) Thelma Houston. Her version is fabulous. Raise your hand if you heard her version before right this minute. Be honest.

    The original title: EVERYBODY GETS TO GO TO THE MOON. (The phrase, “Everybody's going to the moon” is part of the lyric however, and became its title for The Three Degrees.)

    Yes, what a delight to learn that the whole thing -- “Words & music” (plus) “produced & arranged” – is by Jimmy Webb. His gift to a singer he admired, Thelma Houston! Thanks to whom, we finally get to hear the brilliant lyric in its entirety, 50 years on! Listen to the words! The greats like Porter and Berlin would have loved this. The ending (with accents on kazoo) breaks down into a delightfully goofy take on the oldest of the 'moon songs' -- By The Light Of The Silvery Moon. Who but Jimmy Webb could have arranged this?
    The first two paragraphs of Jimmy's Wikipedia entry

    Jimmy Layne Webb (born August 15, 1946) is an American songwriter, composer, and singer. He has written numerous platinum-selling songs, including "Up, Up and Away", "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Wichita Lineman", "Galveston", "The Worst That Could Happen", "All I Know", and "MacArthur Park".[1] He has had successful collaborations with Glen Campbell, Michael Feinstein, Linda Ronstadt, The 5th Dimension, Art Garfunkel, and Richard Harris.[2]

    Webb was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1990. He received the National Academy of Songwriters Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, the Songwriters Hall of Fame Johnny Mercer Award in 2003, the ASCAP "Voice of Music" Award in 2006, and the Ivor Novello Special International Award in 2012. According to BMI, his song "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" was the third most performed song in the fifty years between 1940 and 1990.[3] Webb is the only artist ever to have received Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration . . .

    [Fans of the 'back story' and musical anecdotes will love these words from Jimmy's Wiki entry:]

    In 1961, at the age of 14, he bought his first record, "Turn Around, Look at Me" by Glen Campbell. Webb was drawn to the singer's distinctive voice.[5]

    In 1964, Webb and his family moved to Southern California, where he attended San Bernardino Valley College studying music. Following the death of his mother in 1965, his father made plans to return to Oklahoma. Webb decided to stay in California to continue his music studies and to pursue a career as a songwriter in Los Angeles. Webb would later recall his father warning him about his musical aspirations, saying, "This songwriting thing is going to break your heart." Seeing that his son was determined, however, he gave him $40, saying, "It's not much, but it's all I have."


    • First rule of songwriting: Study the masters -- Gene Lees

      A decade ago Carly Simon appeared with Jimmy Webb on daytime television. Carly and Jimmy – like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and very few others – wrote both words and music to all of their songs. The “very few others” includes, most notably, Frank (Guys & Dolls) Loesser. Significantly these two great songwriters agreed on one of Loesser's lesser-known, but no less beautiful ballads, SPRING WILL BE A LITTLE LATE THIS YEAR.


      • “I would like to play a song from the second act of an unsuccessful 'un-produced' musical . . . ”

        On this day at YouTube if you enter the words “Didn't We (almost make it this time)” first offering is Frank Sinatra's definitive recording (acknowledging the Don Costa arrangement” with 168 thousand views posted seven years ago). Just ahead of Barbra Streisand's beautiful version is the composer himself, still in his 20s, a live performance. His self-effacing introduction includes words of tribute to Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley as inspiration for this song. (I'm guessing he had their magnificent WHO CAN I TURN TO from Roar of the Greasepaint, 1965 in mind.)

        At the moment (2:50) when he soars aloft with more orchestral chords to the words, "This time we almost sang our song in tune . . . " I have goosebumps. Don't you? (Didn't we?)

        Aren't we lucky to live in an era when a magical musical moment-in-time from several decades ago is here, at our fingertips to enjoy in the here and now. The novelty will never wear off!

        Among the "comments" on this video at YouTube: " . . . A musical genius! you know you've made it when Sinatra does one of your works of art!"


        • The moment that means the most to you as a songwriter

          Just watching the follow up on YouTube this day -- Jimmy singing BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX (with the chords he had in mind when composing the song). I was moved to tears. Then I read a posted "comment" from "Jerry Murphy" a kindred spirit!


          "I had the privilege of seeing Jimmy Webb last year in a small,intimate show here in Oklahoma City. I am a 52 year old died in the wool rock and roller. It took me years to come to appreciate the art of this kind of songwriting. This man has written some of the greatest songs...ever. He played around an hour and then left the small stage. We got him back for an encore and of course he played personal fave. I actually started crying and when he left the stage and walked by me he saw me. He kind of grabbed my arm and said something like 'That's what that song is supposed to do!' Man that was a great night. Thanks Jimmy."


          • That blooming of emotion -- that's what a hit is

            As a retired journalist (the first half of my 44 years of working life) I really appreciate an interview like this one, with Jimmy Webb, by an Australian magazine writer, Roger Norris.

            The final paragraph links back to an earlier one about the virtue of growing up in the Midwest (here in Manitoba we think of it as 'Big Sky Country'). I've long held that I 'breath easier' under the blue dome of cloudless skies (our default weather setting, winter or summer). A sort of 'headroom' that results in people who are less convoluted, more open personalities. [Last paragraph first -- Mr. Norris writes:]


            The week before we met (summer 2017) I attended ‘A Celebration of Jimmy Webb’ – a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall for Alzheimers and the I’ll Be Me Foundation. The breadth of his appeal was apparent from the all-star cast: Judy Collins opened with “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress”, Johnny Rivers performed “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, Dwight Yoakam did a rocking “Wichita Lineman”. The last song of the night was Amy Grant singing “Adios”. It’s also the bittersweet title song of Glen Campbell’s new, and final, album. When she first came on stage, Grant looked over and said, “There are so many goodbyes in your songs, Jimmy.” It was a deeply true observation, though I felt it was true as much because Jimmy Webb has always been leaving in search of “that sense of boundlessness, where the spirit is finally free.”

            [a reference to an earlier paragraph which speaks in a special way to Mid-westerners!]

            I ask Jimmy if the sense of space in his songs comes from growing up in Oklahoma and Texas. He agrees: “I’m almost claustrophobic. I start feeling hemmed in very quickly. To me, the ocean strikes the same chord in my mind as the high plains of Oklahoma, which are basically flat. The old timers up there say ‘You stand up on this little hill right here. You can see for fifty miles over into New Mexico.’ Well, it’s probably true. You can see a hell of a long way out there.”

            “That feeling of boundlessness, I get chills a little bit thinking about it. I think it’s always divided people into two groups. Those that go upon the sea and those that stay on the shore. People don’t go to sea because it’s comfortable. There’s a whole list of reasons not to go. So why do people go? I think it’s for that sense of boundlessness. The spirit is finally free.”

            Can songs do that too? “Songs have that power to open things up and one of the secrets is when you’re writing a song and you feel that sudden, ah, this is it. That blooming of emotion. That feeling is transferrable. That’s what a hit is. A hit has an instant viral effect.”
            Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 02-03-2019, 05:16 PM.


            • Young at Heart (the back story not found at Wikipedia)
              As I type this Siriusly Sinatra is playing Willie Nelson's recent take on YOUNG AT HEART. A countrified (steel guitar accents) version that sounds so nice delivered as only he can, by the greatest living country singer/songwriter. Just checked the Wikipedia entry and sure enough it says who had a first hit with it, but not one of my favorite anecdotes, shared with her friends by my favorite female lyricist (Frank's too?) Carolyn Leigh.

              "I goofed," were Nat King Cole's first words upon being introduced to Carolyn. So why didn't he record it? "I thought it was for the geriatric set" (not his audience). Wiki can take it from here:


              "Young at Heart" is a pop standard, a ballad with music by Johnny Richards and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh.[1] The song was written and published in 1953, with Leigh contributing the lyrics to what was originally a Richards instrumental called "Moonbeam". Frank Sinatra was the first performer to record the song, which became a million-selling hit in 1953 (and spilling over with popularity into 1954) where it reached the No. 2 spot in the Billboard charts.[2] The song was such a hit that a movie that Sinatra was filming at the same time with Doris Day was renamed to the song title, and the song was included in the opening and closing credits of the movie, which was released as Young at Heart. The song has also been used on the soundtracks of other films, including It Could Happen to You, The Front, Sweet Dreams, Space Cowboys (in a rendition by Willie Nelson), and a Rio Olympics featurette from Gatorade.

              Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 02-04-2019, 04:06 PM.


              • I'll Be Around
                And drop a line to say . . . you're feeling fine

                Frank's good friend, composer/arranger and musical historian, Alec Wilder would, I believe have loved to have seen this recording -- filmed in studio -- of Willie singing one of Alec's best songs, I'll Be Around. He makes it his own around the two minute mark --- "and drop a line to say . . . you're feelin' fine." His tasteful arpeggios on 'Trigger' -- his acoustic nylon string life-long instrument are a reminder of what fine guitarist he is too!

                Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 02-04-2019, 04:10 PM.


                • BLUE MOON

                  Just for us Richard Rodgers fans Siriusly Sinatra is playing BLUE MOON – Willie Nelson's recent rendition of a song which was written for a movie musical then cut from the film. Rodgers kept the melody on file and Larry Hart kept writing alternate lyrics. I believe it had five different lyrics, intended for different movie musicals before the version we hear today. Ironically it is arguably Richard Rodgers most recorded popular song! Not surprisingly the Wiki entry for this one is huge, and since I last checked on it, someone has added specific info on its various attempted lyrics. (More about that in a moment. First . . . Willie's recent terrific take. My second favorite version.



                  Rodgers and Hart were contracted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in May 1933. They were soon commissioned to write the songs for Hollywood Party, a film that was to star many of the studio's top artists. Rodgers recalled, "One of our ideas was to include a scene in which Jean Harlow is shown as an innocent young girl saying—or rather singing—her prayers. How the sequence fitted into the movie I haven't the foggiest notion, but the purpose was to express Harlow's overwhelming ambition to become a movie star ('Oh Lord, if you're not busy up there,/I ask for help with a prayer/So please don't give me the air ...')." The song was not recorded (nor was the movie released[5]) and MGM Song No. 225 "Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star)" dated June 14, 1933, was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.[6]

                  Hart wrote new lyrics for the tune to create a title song for the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama: "Act One:/You gulp your coffee and run;/Into the subway you crowd./Don't breathe, it isn't allowed".[7] The song, which was also titled "It's Just That Kind of Play", was cut from the film before release, and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934. The studio then asked for a nightclub number for the film. Rodgers still liked the melody so Hart wrote a third lyric: "The Bad in Every Man" ("Oh, Lord ... /I could be good to a lover,/But then I always discover/The bad in ev'ry man"[7]), which was sung by Shirley Ross. The song, which was also released as sheet music, was not a hit.[6]

                  After the film was released by MGM, Jack Robbins—the head of the studio's publishing company[8]—decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. Hart was initially reluctant to write yet another lyric but he was persuaded.[6] They produced the song that had been submitted by Roman in 1931, claiming it as their own.[4]

                  There is an introductory verse that comes before the first refrain of the song. Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart used it in their 2004 version of the song (Stardust: The Great American Songbook, Volume III). The last line of this extra verse is: "Life was a bitter cup for the saddest of all men."[9]

                  Robbins licensed the song to Hollywood Hotel, a radio program that used it as the theme. On January 15, 1935, Connee Boswell recorded it for Brunswick Records. It subsequently was featured in at least seven MGM films, including the Marx Brothers' At the Circus (1939) and Viva Las Vegas (1964).


                  Oh yes – as to the 'best version ever recorded'? From my favorite uptempo swing album by our favorite singer. How could anyone improve on this? [For those who appreciate black vinyl renditions played on expensive turntables the poster took the time to make a 50 second opening sequence you will love!]



                  • I HAVE DREAMED
                    Carly Simon once shared a childhood recollection about her family returning from a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical – The King and I (1951) I believe – and how her musical family went straight to the piano to “pick out the notes” of the memorable tunes. Richard Rodgers' melodies were so strong, (as I like to say) You need only hear it once, and (if you're musical) you could recall the melody years later.

                    Siriusly Sinatra today played Sammy Davis Jr.'s version of I HAVE DREAMED -- many Sinatra fans' favorite track on (my favorite Sinatra CD) “The Concert Sinatra” album. Incredibly, the song almost didn't make it into the Broadway show – and was dropped from the movie version of THE KING AND I.

                    Sammy's up tempo version features a really witty orchestration (wonder who the arranger was?) at Youtube with a picture of Sammy looking up at the sign headlining his appearance at The Sands.

                    What a voice. As one fan commented: “Oh, Sammy, how we miss your great talent. Only Sammy Davis could take this song 'up tempo' and get away with it so wonderfully."


                    The Wiki entry includes this note:

                    "I Have Dreamed" was added to the score of The King and I during its out-of-town tryout run. The song was recorded for the soundtrack of the 1956 film version of The King and I but ultimately no footage was shot to feature "I Have Dreamed," with the song being featured in the film only in the incidental music prior to the "We Kiss in a Shadow" sequence. However "I Have Dreamed" is featured on the movie soundtrack album.
                    Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 02-06-2019, 03:29 PM.


                    • Your looks are laughable, un-photographable . . .

                      A friend of my wife's speaking of MY FUNNY VALENTINE said, “I hate that song!” Why? “Well, what a thing to say to a woman?” You're right, I said – “It was written, actually, to be sung BY a woman to a man!” That gave her pause. And somehow made sense! (She'd heard Rod Stewart's version, I think Or Sting's?)

                      When I wasn't looking Sirius Radio today played Barbara Cook's recording. Maybe not her earliest version from 1959. A sudden reminder that a beautiful woman could say, early in a relationship with a man of plain appearance: “Your looks are laughable! Un-photographable!” Especially when it's someone other men might look at (with envy) and say, What does she see in him?

                      Wiki confirms that this was another great Rodgers & Hart song from a not so great musical:

                      Babes in Arms opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway, in New York City on April 14, 1937 and ran for 289 performances.[2] In the original play, a character named Billie Smith (played by Mitzi Green) sings the song to Valentine "Val" LaMar (played by Ray Heatherton).[3] In the song, Billie pokes fun at some of Valentine's characteristics, but ultimately affirms that he makes her smile and that she doesn't want him to change (the song is often sung by a man to a woman, though to say that a woman's looks are "laughable" is anomalous).[4]
                      The song first hit the charts in 1945, performed by Ruth Gaylor.[5] It only appeared for one week and hit #16

                      Yes, Barbara Cook (who played Marian the Librarian in the original MUSIC MAN on Broadway) in 1959. She left us two summers ago, age 89.



                      • Before he worked with Richard Rodgers . . .

                        I was a teenager (16) who'd just taken up guitar. I played for my Mom a track from a new album by Charlie Byrd: THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL. “I love this melody,” I said. “It has a wonderful lyric,” said Mom, before singing it for me in her lovely pitch perfect voice. She remembered every word of it and said, “That's by Oscar Hammerstein.” Her favorite lyricist – for this as well as for her favorite song, (Dad's favorite song and mine too) ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE. Also written by Hammerstein to a melody by Jerome Kern.

                        Before she died in 2002, I sent Mom a cassette (remember those) that included this version of “FOLKS” – Peggy with the Nelson Riddle orchestra, conducted by . . . guess who? Yes our favorite singer wielding the baton. Played earlier this hour on Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio.

                        Also in the last hour I see several Richard Rodgers melodies, most with lyrics by Larry Hart Where or When by Pinky Winters (back to back with) Louis Armstrong's Have You Met Miss Jones, Tony Bennett's Blue Moon and Margaret Whiting (Dad's favorite female singer) with Something Wonderful.

                        Peggy and Nelson and Frank now. Oh, please note the change in the lyric from “Darby and Joan” (Kern intended the song for a West End London theatre audience) to the much more American “Baby and Joe.” Peggy was a great lyricist: All the great stanzas she wrote for Fever she never took credit for so the author of the original meager bluesy lyric got all the royalties. Decades late, Disney corporation paid her a million or two in back royalties for all the wonderful songs she wrote for LADY & THE TRAMP.

                        Back to Peggy and Frank and The Folks Who live on the Hill



                        • This Happy Life by Norman Gimbel

                          For those of us who still care to ask, 'Who wrote that song?' -- Norman Gimbel left us on December 19. We didn't know his name but he endeared himself to Canadians with one of his biggest hits of the 50's, Canadian Sunset. But a series of events in the past few minutes made me look him up at Wikipedia. His death didn't make the news. But you know a lot of his song lyrics. Wiki notes in the first paragraph of a good-sized entry for Norm,

                          Norman Gimbel (November 16, 1927 – December 19, 2018) was an American lyricist of popular songs, television and movie themes whose writing career includes such titles as "Sway", "Canadian Sunset", "Summer Samba", "The Girl from Ipanema", "Killing Me Softly with His Song", "Meditation", and "I Will Wait for You", along with an Oscar for "It Goes Like It Goes" - from the film Norma Rae. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984.

                          The Wiki entry doesn't mention Samba de Orpheu. Which Norm turned into THIS HAPPY LIFE. First Peggy's version which prompted me to look up "who wrote that lyric?" And the first video offered up this day is of guitarist Charlie Byrd and another finger-style giant LUIZ BONFA -- two of my heroes -- playing Bonfa's melody for Happy Life -- Samba de Orpheu. Seeing how I just mentioned Charlie Byrd and his introducing me as a teenager to THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL I just have to say . . . What a coincidence!

                          Did I mention that I'll have Siriusly Sinatra playing while I fly in the latest incarnation of Flight Simulator (Steam edition of FSX) and this very day I'm midway between L.A. and Santa Catalina island -- precisely where the opening shot of the red plane is flying. Is someone trying to tell me something? Check this out! Peggy first, then the Charlie Byrd instrumental:


                          Now Charlie Byrd late-in-life live performance of one he helped introduce instrumentally in the late 60s. Yes, I think I played his version for Mom. But this is where I came in . . .


                          p.s. What a lyric -- so perfectly mated, after-the-fact to a great melody.

                          My wish for you, sweet happy life
                          May all the days of the year that you live, be laughing days
                          With all my heart, sweet happy life
                          And may the night times that follow the day be dancing nights!


                          • WHERE OR WHEN

                            At this moment Sirius Radio is playing Barbra's version of WHERE OR WHEN. Streisand always had a soft spot for the Rodgers & Hart songbook, often including this one in live concert appearances. The singer recalled her early days of success in NYC and how she lived in an apartment "once owned by Larry Hart" back when he and Dick Rodgers were writing their best songs -- including this one: best song ever written about Deja Vu. Love Barbra's including the seldom-heard opening verse.



                            • All that I want, in all of this world is . . .YOU!
                              If you google this day the words “ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE” the very first offering is a video (below) -- Ella's rendition of the song most admired by jazz virtuosos. From the same songwriters who gave the World War II generation THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL, THE SONG IS YOU and OLD MAN RIVER – composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.

                              A family favorite. I'm 71 and remember sitting at the table after dinner with my Mom – when she was this same age – and her asking me, “What's your favorite song?” When I replied “All The Things You Are” – her face lit up: “Mine too!” she said. “And your father's!” Overhearing us at the piano Dad broke into the lesser-known opening verse. Dad always said the lyric “described your Mom to a T.”


                              Written for a terrible Broadway show that died after just a few performances, composer Jerry Kern thought it was “too complicated” a melody ever to be popular. It's true – it's instantly memorable and easy to hum or whistle, but a riot of modulations (ending up back in the same key) – a song that in the hands of a Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson could be played 'every note a chord.' The reason every jazz virtuoso eventually masters the melody.


                              At the end of a long recovery from a stroke (and reduced to six word sentences) my father performed this in public – about five minutes of variations; he must have made a mistake but I didn't spot it. He died two weeks later.

                              I have heard so many versions of this, my favorite song, but until a moment ago I had somehow managed to miss this most beautiful, swinging take by Ella. Yes – play this one at my funeral, please. Or over drinks at the wake.

                              Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 02-07-2019, 06:51 PM.


                              • 'Hide-and-Seek' – counting to ten -- oh! to play there once again!
                                Bet you never heard of PLAYGROUND -- the song.

                                A Bill Evans' tune that Tony Bennett felt deserved a lyric – by his friends, multiple Best Song Academy Award winners Marilyn & Alan Bergman. (Before they were married they wrote “Nice 'N' Easy” for Frank. And in the decades since, Tony has recorded most all of their wonderful songs.)

                                After studying the obscure melody by his late pianist friend, Tony asked the pair if they could imagine a lyric for “Playground.” Bill Evans' mutual friend, Canadian-born lyricist Gene Lees had earlier composed words for one of Bill's best-known compositions, “Waltz For Debby.” Tony was certain The Bergmans could do the same with this melody.

                                The tune is a series of steps that wouldn't ordinarily lend itself to accompanying words. But (like the un-stumpable Sammy Cahn) The Bergmans vindicated Tony's trust in their skills. With this result.

                                Note the counterpoint melody provided by a children's chorus around the 1:30 mark (“I love to play in the playground! . . . Ev'ry time I go, I know that I'll find some friends!”). There's a lovely reprise of these counter melodies and words over words around 2:40.

                                Really, raise your hand if you ever heard this song before right this minute.

                                Last edited by Mark Blackburn; 02-08-2019, 03:59 PM.