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Sunday, March 27, 2011

I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise

By George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin & B.G. De Slyva
1922

A boisterous, rollicking number from the Gershwins, with a little help from De Sylva, this tune was introduced in George White's Scandals of 1922, in which it was played the Paul Whiteman orchestra, conducted by future film music impresario Max Steiner. Whiteman made a recording of it soon after, helping turn the song into one of the most memorable jazz pieces of the era, as well as a Roaring '20s anthem. The song experienced new life recently thanks to its inclusion in the Martin Scorsese film, The Aviator.

Lyrics:

All you preachers
Who delight in panning the dancing teachers,
Let me tell you there are a lot of features
Of the dance that carry you through
The gates of Hea-ven.

It's madness
To be always sitting around in sadness,
When you could be learning the steps of gladness.
You'll be happy when you can do
Just six or seven;

Begin to day!
You'll find it nice,
The quickest way to paradise.
When you practise,
Here's the thing to know,
Simply say as you go...

I'll build a stairway to Paradise
With a new step ev'ry day !
I'm gonna get there at any price;
Stand aside, I'm on my way !
I've got the blues
And up above it's so fair.
Shoes ! Go on and carry me there !
I'll build a stairway to Paradise
With a new step ev'ry day.

Ev'ry new step
Helps a bit ; but any old kind of two step,
Does as well. It don't matter what step you step,
If you work it into your soul
You'll get to Heaven.
Get bu-sy ;
Dance with Maud the countess, or just plain Lizzy:
Dance until you're blue in the face and dizzy.
When you've learn'd to dance in your sleep
You're sure to win out.

In time you'll get Saint Vitus dance,
Which beats the latest thing from France.
Take no chances on this Paradise ;
Let me give you advice.

Recorded By:

Rufus Wainwright
Sarah Vaughan
Paul Whiteman
J.D. Sebastian & Dion
Corrine Devries

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Danny Stiles 1923-2011

There aren't many left working who are continuing the tradition of the Great American Songbook on the radio, especially in the New York market--once a haven for traditional pop music dating back to the days of WNEW-AM. One who immediately comes to mind is the great Jonathan Schwartz, still broadcasting proudly on New York's WNYC NPR affiliate, as well as Sirius-XM satellite radio. The other was Danny Stiles--and sadly, we lost Mr. Stiles early last week. With him went a national treasure--a 65-year radio tradition that spanned the post-World War II days right up to the 21st century, bringing us all the cherished hits from the golden age of American popular music.

Danny was 87 at the time of his death, and still broadcasting on New York's AM NPR affiliate, as well as streaming on the internet 24/7. The so-called Vicar of Vintage Vinyl, Danny Stiles on your radio dial, he was a comforting oasis of nostalgia and quality music in a sea of chaos and nonsense. He was one of those popular personalities that made the world a happier place simply by his existence--you always knew that no matter what was happening in the ever degrading world of recorded music, Danny Stiles was still on the air, and that was a good feeling. I'm sad to think that it will no longer be the case, ever again.

Stiles considered himself something of a curator of 20th century musical history, with a collection of more than a quarter of a million records, mostly in the categories of swing and traditional pop, from which he drew for his weekly radio program. By the end of his career, he had been relegated to a god-awful late Saturday night time slot--but at least he was still out there, doing his thing, playing the music of Basie, Sinatra, Ellington, Holiday, Crosby, Goodman and so any others.

As Schwartz and others have pointed out, Stiles stuck to his guns and stayed true to his musical convictions, despite the insidious incursion of radio program directors that continued to rot his industry--and the musical tastes of a nation--from the inside out over the decades following the war. For that, and for the music he joyously brought into our lives, Danny Stiles is to be commended. He was a rare gift, and we shall not see the like of him again.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Swingin' on a Star

By Jimmy Van Heusen & Johnny Burke
1944

An infectious classic composed specifically for Bing Crosby to sing in the 1944 film Going My Way, for which is won the Academy Award. The origin of the concept lay in a visit composer Van Heusen paid to Bing's house, during which the crooner rebuked his son comically for not wanting to go to school. Following Going My Way, Crosby would also have a huge hit with the song as a single recording. It would go on to become a truly beloved standard--specifically a favorite among children.

Lyrics:

Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
And be better off than you are?
Or would rather be a mule?

A mule is an animal with long, funny ears.
He kicks up at anything he hears.
His back is brawny, but his brain is weak,
He's just plain stupid, with a stubborn streak.
And by the way, if you hate to go to school,
You may grow up to be a mule!

Or would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
And be better off than you are?
Or would you rather be a pig?

A pig is an animal with dirt on his face.
His shoes are a terrible disgrace.
He has no manners when he eats his food,
He's fat and lazy, and extremely rude.
So if you don't care a feather or a fig,
You may grow up to be a pig.

Or would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
And be better off than you are?
Or would rather be a fish?

A fish won't do anything but swim in a brook,
He can't write his name or read a book.
To fool the people is his only thought,
And though he 's slippery, he still gets caught.
But then, if that sort of life is what you wish,
You may grow up to be a fish.

And all the monkeys aren't in the zoo--
Everyday you meet quite a few.
So you see, it's all up to you.
You could be better than you are--
You could be swingin' on a star.

Recorded By:

Frank Sinatra
Oscar Peterson
Burl Ives
Maria Muldaur
Tony Bennett

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