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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii

By Johnny Noble, Bill Cogswell and Tommy Harrison
1933

A classic example of the hapa haole song genre that combines American jazz style and Hawaiian instrumentation, this wonderful song epitomized the Hawaiian music and cultural craze that gripped America during much of the early 20th century. The original melody and lyrics were written by American transplants Cogswell and Harrison as a parody of the 1924 song, "Back in Hackensack, New Jersey", intended to be used for the Kona Independence Day celebration of 1933. Popular Hawaii-based bandleader Johnny Noble further adapted it to make it distinct from "Hackensack", and it became a runaway hit with tourists and natives alike. It was introduced on record by the Noelani Hawaiian Orchestra, but it was Ted Fio Rito's version that rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts for 14 week in early 1934. To this day, it can be heard in many movies and TV shows as an instant evocation of the beautiful 50th state.

Lyrics:

I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii
I want to be with all the kanes and wahines that I knew long ago
I can hear old guitars a playing, on the beach at Hoonaunau
I can hear the Hawaiians saying "Komomai no kaua ika hale welakahao"


It won't be long 'til my ship will be sailing back to Kona
A grand old place that's always fair to see
I'm just a little Hawaiian and a homeside Island boy
I want to go back to my fish and poi
I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii
Where the Humuhumu, Nukunuku a puaa goes swimming by
Where the Humuhumu, Nukunuku a puaa goes swimming by!


Recorded By:

Martin Denny
Les Paul and Mary Ford
Bing Crosby
Leon Redbone and Ringo Starr
Lisa Loeb

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Love Bug Will Bite You

By Pinky Tomlin
1937

A somewhat obscure chestnut of the late 1930s, it nonetheless enjoyed a brief moment in the sun soon after being written by musician and actor Pinky Tomlin (pictured), also responsible for the similarly infectious "The Object of My Affection". Introduced by the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra, it might best be remembered today for being included in the Little Rascals short "Our Gang Follies of 1938", in which it's sung by Darla Hood. In the 1990s, it was even adapted into Norwegian by the a cappella group Bjelleklang.

Lyrics:

The love bug will bite you if you don't watch out
If he ever bites you, then you'll sing and shout
You'll go (da-dee-da-dee-da-dee da and whoa dee doe dee doe)
That's what love is all about
You can't eat, you can't sleep, you'll go crazy
You'll just la dee da dee la all day
If someone wants to know why you're crazy 
You'll answer (da da da doo with a ho ho hay-hay)
The love bug will bite you if you don't watch out
If he ever bites you, then you'll sing and shout
You'll go (da-dee-da-dee-da-dee da and whoa dee doe dee doe)
That's what love is all about

Recorded By:

The Mills Brothers
Fats Waller
Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians
Teddy Hill
Vera Lynn

Monday, February 11, 2019

We're in the Money (The Gold Diggers' Song)

By Harry Warren and Al Dubin
1933

What became an anthem of the Great Depression was written as a song of hope by the legendary team of Warren & Dubin, signaling a wished-for end to the economic catastrophe, even though that was still years away. Written for the film Gold Diggers of 1933, in which it was introduced by Ginger Rogers, the song had its first commercial release simultaneously, in a recording by Art Kahn and his Orchestra. With a most recognizable and catchy tune, it soon started popping up everywhere, including a 1933 Warner Bros. cartoon of the same name.

Lyrics:

We're in the money, we're in the money;
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!
We're in the money, that sky is sunny,
Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.
We never see a headline about breadlines today.
And when we see the landlord we can look that guy right in the eye
We're in the money, come on, my honey,
Let's lend it, spend it, send it rolling along!

Recorded By:

Bing Crosby
Dick Powell
Connie Francis
Jessica Molaskey
Dick Hyman Trio

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

How Do You Keep the Music Playing?

By Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman and Marylin Bergman
1982

In honor of the recent passing of both composer Michel Legrand and vocalist (and songwriter) James Ingram, I'm spotlighting the most "recent" song ever featured on Standard of the Day so far. The song, composed by Legrand with lyrics by the Bergmans, was introduced by Ingram and Patti Austin for the soundtrack of the Burt Reynolds/Goldie Hawn romantic comedy Best Friends. The original recording became a hit on the Adult Contemporary and R&B charts in 1983, and soon became a modern-day standard when it was snatched up by many an old-school performer thanks to its gorgeous melody and wistful lyric. Among them was Sinatra, who recorded it for his 1984 album L.A. Is My Lady, and Tony Bennett, who continues to use it as a show-stopping number to this day.

Lyrics:

How do you keep the music playing?
How do you make it last?
How do you keep the song from fading
Too fast?
How do you lose yourself to someone
And never lose your way?
How do you not run out of new things
To say?
And since you know we're always changing
How can it be the same?
And tell me how year after year
You're sure your heart won't fall apart
Each time you hear his name?
I know the way I feel for you is now or never
The more I love, the more that I'm afraid
That in your eyes I may not see forever, forever
If we can be the best of lovers
Yet be the best of friends
If we can try with every day to make it better as it grows
With any luck than I suppose
The music never ends

Recorded By:

Andy Williams
George Benson and Count Basie
Shirley Bassey
Johnny Mathis
Barbra Streisand

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Someone to Watch Over Me

By George and Ira Gershwin
1926

For this, the momentous 500th post here at Standard of the Day, let's fondly recall one of the absolutely unparalleled gems of the Great American Songbook, from the incomparable brothers Gershwin. George originally envisioned the melody as uptempo, but after playing around with it, he thankfully realized it would work much better as a ballad (to say the least!) Ira's lyric is an anthem of longing and fragility, traditionally associated with a female voice ever since being introduced by Gertrude Lawrence in the Broadway musical, Oh, Kay!

Lyrics:


There's a saying old, says that love is blind
Still we're often told, seek and ye shall find
So I'm going to seek a certain lad I've had in mind
Looking everywhere, haven't found him yet
He's the big affair I cannot forget
Only man I ever think of with regret
I'd like to add his initial to my monogram
Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb
There's a somebody I'm longin' to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone who'll watch over me
I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one who'll watch over me
Although he may not be the man
Some girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key
Won't you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over me.

Recorded By:
Frank Sinatra
Chris Connor
Sarah Vaughan
Sammy Davis Jr.
Ray Coniff

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Windmills of Your Mind

By Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
1968

In honor of the great composer Michel Legrand, who passed away last Saturday at the age of 86, I'm spotlighting the song that was perhaps rivaled only by "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" as his greatest hit. Written for the soundtrack of the Steve McQueen heist film The Thomas Crown Affair at the request of director Norman Jewison, it began life as a French song with lyrics by Eddy Marnay. Husband-wife lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman were brought in, and handpicked the haunting, circular melody from among Legrand's numerous compositions, adding lyrics meant to reflect the mental turmoil of the film's main character. Introduced in the movie by Noel Harrison, it won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and was performed by Sting for the 1999 Thomas Crown Affair remake.

Lyrics:

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind!

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind!

Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly, was it something that you said?
Lovers walking along a shore and leave their footprints in the sand
Is the sound of distant drumming just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song
Half remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over you were suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning to the color of her hair!

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find 
In the windmills of your mind!
Recorded By:
Jose Feliciano
Dusty Springfield
Vic Damone
Jack Jones
Petula Clark

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine

By Ballard MacDonald and Harry Carroll
1913

Having now seen the excellent Stan and Ollie for the second time, I'm in a Laurel and Hardy frame of mind, which brings me to this old chestnut identified closely with the boys thanks to the unforgettable performance of it in their 1937 classic Way Out West. By that point, however, the tune was already an oldie, having been inspired by the 1908 novel of the same name. The favorite song of poet Gertrude Stein, it was first recorded by Albert Campbell and Henry Burr. Thanks to an upsurge in Laurel and Hardy popularity in Britain during the 1970s, Stan and Ollie's version rocketed all the way to the #2 position on the UK singles chart in 1975.

Lyrics:

On a mountain in Virginia stands a lonesome pine
Just below is the cabin home of a little girl of mine
Her name is June and very, very soon she'll belong to me
For I know she's waiting there for me neath that lone pine tree.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
On the trail of the lonesome pine
In the pale moonshine our hearts entwine
Where you carved your name and I carved mine.

Oh, June - like the mountains, I'm blue
Like the pine - I am lonesome for you
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
On the trail of the lonesome pine.
Recorded By:
Manuel Romain
Edna Brown and James F. Harrison
The Dinning Sisters
Rex Allen
The Diamonds

Friday, January 25, 2019

Top Hat, White Tie and Tails

By Irving Berlin
1935

For the fifth time here at Standard of the Day, I'm spotlighting a song from Irving Berlin's Top Hat--and if that's not a testament to the film's greatness, I don't know what is. This time it's the movie's title number, performed with gusto by Fred Astaire, as so many Berlin gems were. With its internal rhyme and clever wordplay, the lyric is one of Berlin's most memorable, and became an iconic theme for the legendary Astaire, greatest of the on-screen dancers and the man who wore the attire better than anybody.

Lyrics:

I just got an invitation through the mails
"Your presence requested this evening
It's formal, a top hat, a white tie and tails"
Nothing now could take the wind out of my sails
Because I'm invited to step out this evening
With top hat and white tie and tails.
I'm puttin' on my top hat
Tyin' up my white tie
Brushin' off my tails
I'm dudin' up my shirt front
Puttin' in the shirt studs
Polishin' my nails
I'm steppin' out, my dear
To breathe an atmosphere 
That simply reeks with class
And I trust that you'll excuse my dust
When I step on the gas
For I'll be there
Puttin' down my top hat
Mussin' up my white tie
Dancin' in my tails!
Recorded By:
Louis Armstrong
Tony Bennett
Ella Fitzgerald
Mel Torme
The Boswell Sisters

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me

By Sammy Fain, Irving Kahal and Pierre Norman
1930

Iconic Frenchman Maurice Chevalier was one of the leading film heartthrobs of the Depression era, and this song was one of the reasons why. Introduced by him in the romantic comedy The Big Pond, in which he sung it to the beautiful Claudette Colbert, the song is an ebullient love anthem, with a Kahal lyric that extols the virtues of the beloved in the manner of a Shakespearean sonnet. Chevalier's recording was a major hit, and was famously lampooned the following year by the Marx Brothers in Monkey Business, which features a scene in which the boys try to pass themselves off as the crooner to get through customs.

Lyrics:

If the nightingales could sing like you
They'd sing much sweeter than they do
For you brought a new kind of love to me
And if the sandman brought me dreams of you
I'd want to sleep my whole life through
You brought a new love to me
I know that I'm the slave, you're the queen
Still you can understand that underneath it all
You're a maid and I am only a man

I would work and slave the whole day through
If I could hurry home to you
You brought a new kind of love to me
Recorded By:
Frank Sinatra
Doris Day
Benny Goodman
Peggy Lee 
Vera Lynn

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I Wanna Be Loved By You

By Herbert Stothart, Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar
1928

An iconic number for the original "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" girl Helen Kane, who first performed it in the Broadway musical Good Boy, this infectiously cute number was the product of the legendary Ruby/Kalmar team (pictured) that had written for the Marx Brothers, among many others. Kane's rendition propelled her to superstardom, and was copied many times since, including by Betty Boop, the cartoon character she inspired, and by Marilyn Monroe, who memorably performed it in Billy Wilder's classic comedy Some Like It Hot. A young Debbie Reynolds, portraying Helen Kane in the 1950 Ruby/Kalmar biopic Three Little Words, also took a crack at this late Roaring '20s anthem.

Lyrics:
I wanna be loved by you,
just you and nobody else but you
I wanna be loved by you
alone--Boop Boop a Doop!
I wanna be kissed by you
just you, nobody else but you
I wanna be loved by you
alone

I couldn't aspire
To anything higher
Then to fill a desire
to make you my own

I wanna be loved by you,
just you and nobody else but you
I wanna be loved by you
alone

I couldn't aspire
To anything higher
Then to fill a desire
to make you my own
tada tada ta tada

I wanna be loved by you
just you, nobody else but you
I wanna be loved by you
Alone
Boop Boop a Doop!
Recorded By:
Annette Hanshaw
Sinead O'Connor
Frank Sinatra
Barry Manilow
Tina Louise

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Yes! We Have No Bananas

By Frank Silver and Irving Cohn
1923

On January 1, for the first time in 20 years, a motherlode of intellectual property entered the public domain--books, songs, movies, etc. from 1923 are now available to use for free. Among them is this charming novelty song that was number one on the charts for five weeks in its original recording by Billy West. Interestingly, the melody has been identified by some as a combination of Handel's Hallelujah chorus, "My Bonnie", and a few other tunes. The lyric supposedly was written by Cohn as a tribute to a Greek fruit seller he knew who began every statement with, "Yes!" Despite not really being recorded much in the past 50 years, the song remains a part of popular culture, and has been referenced in The Simpsons, The Muppet Show, The English Patient and Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It ("Yes! We have Nosferatu. We have Nosferatu today!")

Lyrics:
There's a fruit store on our street
It's run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers "no".
He just "yes"es you to death, and as he takes your dough
He tells you
"Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.
We've string beans, and onions
Cabbageses, and scallions,
And all sorts of fruit and say
We have an old fashioned to-mah-to
A Long Island po-tah-to
But yes, we have no bananas.
We have no bananas today."
Business got so good for him that he wrote home today,
"Send me Pete and Nick and Jim; I need help right away."
When he got them in the store, there was fun, you bet.
Someone asked for "sparrow grass" and then the whole quartet
All answered
"Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.
Just try those coconuts
Those walnuts and doughnuts
There ain't many nuts like they.
We'll sell you two kinds of red herring,
Dark brown, and ball-bearing.
But yes, we have no bananas
We have no bananas today."
Yes, we are very sorry to inform you
That we are entirely out of the fruit in question
The afore-mentioned vegetable
Bearing the cognomen "Banana".
We might induce you to accept a substitute less desirable,
But that is not the policy at this internationally famous green 
grocery.
I should say not. No no no no no no no.
But may we suggest that you sample our five o'clock tea
Which we feel certain will tempt your pallet?
However we regret that after a diligent search 
Of the premises
By our entire staff
We can positively affirm without fear of contradiction
That our raspberries are delicious; really delicious
Very delicious
But we have no bananas today.
Yes, we gotta no banana
No banana
We gotta no banana today.
I sella you no banana.
Hey, Marianna, you gotta no banana?
Why this man, he no believe-a what I say.
Now whatta you want mister?
You wanna buy twelve for a quarter?
No? well, just a oneofadozen?
I'm-a gonna calla my daughter.
Hey, Marianna
You gotta piana
Yes, banana, no
No, yes, no bananas today
We gotta no bananas.
Yes, we gotta no bananas today.
Recorded By:
Eddie Cantor
Louis Prima
Benny Goodman
Spike Jones
Anthony Newley



Thursday, January 3, 2019

Killing Me Softly With His Song

By Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel
1971

With the death late last month of Norman Gimbel, prominent lyricist of the 1950s-1970s, let's take a look at one of his most successful and controversial creations. The generation of "Killing Me Softly", one of the '70s most hypnotic and poignant ballads, is fraught with conflict: Singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman recorded the original version, claiming to have based it on a poem she wrote after being moved by a concert performance by Don McLean, which she then brought to Fox and Gimbel to turn into a song. Fox and Gimbel would later claim to have written the song with little input from Lieberman, and that McLean had nothing to do with it. This heated debate continued right up to Gimbel's death, with McLean recently reporting that he received a cease and desist letter from the lyricist regarding McLean's claims that the song was inspired by him. McLean maintains his version of the story to this day. Meanwhile, the most successful version would be recorded in 1973 by Roberta Flack, who took it all the way to number one for over a month.

Lyrics:
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style
And so I came to see him, to listen for a while
And there he was, this young boy, a stranger to my eyes
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
I felt all flushed with fever, embarrassed by the crowd
I felt he'd found my letters and read each one out loud
I prayed that he would finish, but he just kept right on
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Recorded By:
Johnny Mathis
Perry Como
The Fugees
Anne Murray
Shirley Bassey

Friday, December 28, 2018

Frosty the Snowman

By Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson
1950

If you'll indulge me with a belated Christmas standard, I'd like to place the (not-too-hot) spotlight on "Frosty the Snowman", mainly due to my two-year-old son's current obsession with both the song and the 1969 Rankin-Bass animated special narrated by Jimmy Durante. Introduced by the great singing cowboy Gene Autry, Frosty was a follow-up to Autry's mega-hit of the previous Christmas, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". In addition to the song, which has become a modern Christmas classic, the snowman's popularity has endured due to a series of animated cartoons based on him, most notably the aforementioned 1969 chestnut, as well as a beloved Little Golden Book edition of the story, also published in 1950. The lyrics supposedly takes place in Armonk, New York, a town which has an annual parade in Frosty's honor to this day.

Lyrics:
Frosty the Snowman
Was a jolly happy soul
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And his eyes made out of coal
Frosty the Snowman
Made the children laugh and play
And were they surprised when
Before their eyes
He came to life that day
There must have been some magic
In that old silk hat they found
For when they placed it on his head
He began to dance around
Frosty the Snowman
Was alive as he could be
And the children say
He could laugh and play
Just the same as you and me
Frosty the Snowman
Knew the sun was hot that day
So he said let's run
And we'll have fun
Now before I melt away
So down to the village
With a broomstick in his hand
Running here and there all around the square
Saying catch me if you can
He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop
And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler stop
Frosty the Snowman
Had to hurry on his way
But he waved goodbye
Saying don't you cry
I'll be back again some day
Thumpety thump thump
Thumpety thump thump
Look at Frosty go
Thumpety thump thump
Thumpety thump thump
Over the hills of snow

Recorded By:
Nat King Cole
Perry Como
Guy Lombardo
Jimmy Durante
The Ronettes

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Nancy Wilson 1937-2018

The world of popular standards has lost one of the last major vocalists to come along at the tail end of the "golden age" of American vocal pop, the mid 20th century. Nancy Wilson, who often referred to herself as a "song stylist", straddled many different genres over the course of her nearly 60-year career, including R&B (she won her first Grammy in 1965 for Best R&B Recording, with "How Glad I Am"), jazz (her last two Grammys came in 2005 and 2007 for Best Jazz Vocal Album), and even more contemporary forms of pop, funk and soul during the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Coming along just as American popular music was undergoing a drastic sea change in the 1960s, Wilson was something of a throwback to the singers who inspired her as a child, including Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstine.

Born February 20, 1937 in Chillicothe, Ohio, she was already steeped in the Great American Songbook by the time she was a teenager, and won a talent competition at the age of 15 that led to semi-regular television appearances and club tours before she had even graduated high school. Some advice from jazz legend Cannonball Adderley (with whom she would later collaborate on a titanic 1962 album), led to her relocating to New York City, then a hub of the recording world. By the age of 22, she had released her first album for Dot Records, entitled Like in Love. Soon, she would be signed to Capitol Records and releasing multiple albums per year throughout the 1960s, including The Swingin's Mutual (1961) with George Shearing; The Nancy Wilson Show (1965), a collection of recordings from her Emmy-winning variety show; and the timeless But Beautiful (1969).

With a voice that seemed a blend of Dinah Washington and Lena Horne, Wilson was a bit of an anomaly at a time when rock n' roll and Motown sounds were taking over the airwaves. She scored four top 10 albums during the 1960s, and had a huge single hit with "Tell Me the Truth", which led to an acclaimed engagement at the Coconut Grove. Nevertheless, after the 1960s, she struggled to keep the hits coming amidst the changing musical landscape. She tried her hand at some more contemporary genres, sometimes to the frustration of her older fans, including the 1978 album, Life, Love and Harmony. She remained a fixture in small clubs all over the world, and by the 1980s was recording her albums in Japan, where live in-studio recording--the preferred method for Wilson and many other jazz artists--had not yet been totally supplanted by the more compartmentalized and over-produced methods prevalent in the States during the rock era.

A fixture at jazz festivals throughout the 1990s and even into the 21st century, she was also the host of NPR's music series Jazz Profiles. She continued recording for smaller prestige jazz labels like MCG Jazz, releasing her final album, Turned to Blue, in 2006. Just five years later, she performed live for the last time, at Ohio University, not far from the place of her birth. She was hospitalized for lung complications in 2008, and had been battling a long illness when she passed away on Thursday, December 13, 2018 at the age of 81 at her home in Pioneertown, California. She leaves behind three children and five grandchildren. Her husband, the Reverend Wiley Burton, died in 2008 of renal cancer.

The inheritor of a proud tradition of interpreters of popular song which thrived throughout most of the 20th century, Nancy Wilson was an unforgettable performer and a link to a time when melody, lyrics and phrasing still mattered in mainstream American pop. She kept the torch burning well past the time that her kind of music had vanished from the charts. Her loss will be keenly felt, but we still have the music to remember her by.



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