"More addictive than a goddam video game" - Balloon Juice

"One of my very favorite music blogs ever..." - Singer/Songwriter Emma Wallace

"Fascinating... really GREAT!!! You'll learn things about those tunes we all LOVE to play and blow on... SOD is required reading for my advanced students. It's fun, too!" - Nick Mondello of
AllAboutJazz.com

"I never let a day go by without checking it." - Bob Madison of Dinoship.com

"I had dinner the other night with some former WNEW staff members who spoke very highly of your work." - Joe Fay

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

By Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane
1944

One of the most popular and performed Christmas songs of all time, this beauty was written for Judy Garland to sing in the musical film Meet Me in St. Louis. The lyrics at the time were quite morose, but a 1957 version by Frank Sinatra modified the lyrics a bit, and these lyrics have been the more commonly heard ones to this day. A sad Christmas song, it was also composed during World War II, and so echoed the sentiments of many families who would be without certain members serving overseas during the holiday season. A touching, warm, and very real and human modern carol.

Lyrics:

(Original)

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light,
Next year all our troubles will be
out of sight,
So have yourself, a merry little Christmas time.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yule-tide gay
Next year all our troubles will be
miles away,
Have yourself a merry little Christmas Day.

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were near to us
Will be dear to us once more
Someday soon, we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

(Modern)

Have yourself a merry little christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little christmas,
Make the yule-tide gay,
From now on, our troubles will be miles away

[Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas lyrics on http://www.elyricsworld.com]

Here were are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Recorded By:

Jackie Gleason
Connie Francis
Ella Fitzgerald
The Carpenters
The Muppets

A very, very Merry Christmas from Standard of the Day...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Could Have Danced All Night

By Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe
1956

One of the signature songs from Lerner & Loewe's great musical, My Fair Lady. It was introduced on stage by Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, singing rapturously of her growing love for Prof. Higgins. It was reprised in the film version, with star Audrey Hepburn dubbed with the voice of vocalist Marni Nixon. A beautiful sampling of the type of material being put out during the golden age of the Hollywood musical.

Lyrics:

I could have danced all night!
I could have danced all night!
And still have begged for more.

I could have spread my wings,
And done a thousand things
I've never done before.

I'll never know what made it so exciting,
Why all at once my heart took flight.

I only know when he
Began to dance with me,
I could have danced, danced danced all night!

Recorded By:

Sylvia Syms
Dinah Shore
Frank Sinatra
Rosemary Clooney
Petula Clark

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stardust

By Hoagy Carmichael & Mitchell Parish
1927

In honor of my grandfather, who passed away on December 4, I give you the single most popular standard of all time, and one of his very favorite songs. Composed on an old upright piano at the Keuka Hotel on Keuka Lake in New York, this unusual melody was based by Carmichael on the idiosyncratic stylings of trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke. Carmichael himself was the first to record it, together with the Dorsey brothers. Parish joined Carmichael to come up with the lyrics two years later, making it "a love song about a love song," as Hoagy would characterize it. It was Isham Jones who turned it into a ballad in 1930, and from there it became one of the most recorded songs of all time. In fact, during the big band era, it was the most recorded pop songs, period--more than 1,500 versions are believed to exist.

With its gorgeous verse and a complex refrain, Stardust is the ultimate American standard, and I happily dedicate it to the memory of Anthony Salica.

Lyrics:

And now the purple dusk of twilight time steals across the meadows of my heart.
High up in the sky, the little stars climb, always reminding me that we're apart.
You wander down the lane and far away, leaving a smile that will not die.
Love is now the stardust of yesterday; the music of the years gone by...

Sometime I wonder why I spend the lonely night
Dreaming of a song.
The melody haunts my reverie,
And I am once again with you,
When our love was new, and each kiss an inspiration.
But that was long ago, and now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song.

Beside a garden wall where stars are bright,
You are in my arms.
The nightingale tells his fairytale,
Of paradise where roses bloom.
Though I dream in vain,
In my heart you will remain,
My stardust memory...the melody of love's refrain.

Recorded By:

Louis Armstrong
Nat King Cole
Artie Shaw
John Coltrane
Ella Fitzgerald

Friday, December 16, 2011

Remembering WNEW... and My Grandfather

About a month ago, I got to thinking a lot about WNEW-AM, the legendary New York radio station that in many ways spawned my love for the great American standards. This month marked 19 years that the station has been off the air, since being unceremoniously replaced by Bloomberg Radio right around the time I started college. I was largely exposed to it because of my grandfather, Tony Salica, who had listened to it pretty much every day of his life from when it first went on the air in 1934. And so I got to planning a tribute to WNEW for Standard of the Day.

Less than two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. Thus, what I had originally envisioned as an ode to a great radio station now becomes an ode to the man who shared it with me.

He was a man who rubbed shoulders with Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali. Who received toys from Babe Ruth as a kid. Who saw Billie Holiday in concert at the Apollo Theater. And speaking of Sinatra, my grandfather idolized the man, and his music will always remind me of him because of that. In fact, WNEW was known for years as the "station of Sinatra", which is a big part of why my grandfather loved it so much.

My grandfather's love of Sinatra was legendary within my family. He worshiped him with a level of adoration that's impossible to overstate--an admiration that bordered on filial love. And beyond Sinatra, he had a passion for his kind of music--the big bands of the '40s and the vocal pop that dominated "grown-up music" from the post-war era right up to the British Invasion. To say his love of that music rubbed off on me would be quite an understatement--it permeated my childhood, becoming a soothing background soundtrack to my life. I moved away from it as a teenager, gravitating toward alternative and classic rock, but came back to my roots as a mature adult.



My grandfather was a man who loved his family more than anything in the world. There was nothing that brought him greater delight than watching my sister and I grow up, and later his great-grandchildren Layla and Jack, who quite literally meant the world to him. For me, he was like a second father. He taught me how to be a man, and making him proud is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. Today, I cherish the sounds that he passed on to me, and happily pass them on to my own children.

The main conduit my grandfather had for his kind of music was, of course, WNEW. From 1934, it was the New York City radio station, listened to on a daily basis by him and the rest of the Depression/World War II generation. It remained the dominant station in the city for a good 30 years, until the youth culture of the 1960s changed the course of popular music, forcing WNEW to become a "nostalgia" station, catering more and more to a niche listenership of aging New Yorkers.

My grandparents happened to be among those aging New Yorkers, and not a day went by that they didn't listen to WNEW in their car, or on the little transistor radio my grandfather carried around with him everywhere. As kids, my sister and I would ride around with them on regular weekend excursions, meaning we were exposed to the sounds of WNEW all the time.

I look back fondly on those trips now, as a formative part of my life. We'd usually head over the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island, visiting our Aunt Stella, the Staten Island Mall, Richmondtown Restoration (which we called "The Birds and the Bees"), or a combination of the three. And as we did so, WNEW would be heard in the background, the thrilling voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme and so many others accompanying us as my grandfather got inevitably lost driving around those idyllic suburban Staten Island backroads.



There was the Make-Believe Ballroom, hosted by William B. Williams. Also, my grandfather's personal favorite show, hosted by the great Jonathan Schwartz. My grandfather loved listening to him talk, even if he didn't always understand what the hell he was talking about. And who could forget that classic station jingle... "Double-You..En-Ee-Double-You...Eleven-Three-Oh in New Yooork..."

But most of all there was Sinatra. His warm, cello-like voice filling that Persian blue 1976 Buick Century like a cool, refreshing breeze. My grandfather would revel in the Sinatra A-Z, a days-long celebration playing every single recording the man ever made. He had this uncanny ability to name a Sinatra song within the first couple notes of the arrangement, and he always knew every word.

Like Sinatra, I think we all just thought he would live forever. That’s why Sunday night, December 4 was still a shock, even though we knew he was very sick with ALS. He had been unconscious for a few hours when my mom called me to come down and see him. And ten minutes after I got there, he passed gently and quietly in his sleep. I can’t help but think he was waiting for me. As he lay there peacefully, I put my cellphone on his pillow and played Sinatra's "Put Your Dreams Away" on YouTube. I know he would've considered that the perfect sendoff, even if he never quite understood why I carried that stupid thing around with me all the time.

Through it all, the music was still intertwined with my grandfather, in death as in life. When the funeral parlor asked me to select some songs to use for a DVD montage of my grandfather's old photographs, let's just say I had no trouble at all. I wish he could watch that DVD with me, just like I wish he could've seen his great-granddaughter sing "Pennies from Heaven" at his service--verse and all. I suppose, however, that he's still been watching us after all, as is evidenced by the pennies we've been finding everywhere for the past couple of weeks.

My grandfather left me with a great many things, but most pertinent to this website, and to what I'm writing about today, he left me with a rich, deep love for the greatest American music ever made. It was the only type of music he ever took seriously, and although I try to be a bit more broad-minded in my own tastes, I will confess to a healthy dose of the musical snobbery he proudly engendered in me.

I can remember his profound sense of loss when WNEW-AM went off the air on December 11, 1992, after many years of dwindling ratings (ironically, the very years during which I was discovering the station.) Much of the staff and management immediately started up their own independent station, 1560 WQEW, but it only lasted for six years, going under mere months after Sinatra's own death--a telling sign of the times if ever there was one. It was the end of an era, and these days the sounds of the great American songbook are no longer heard on New York City airwaves.



My grandfather lived long enough to see his music get shifted into the "Easy Listening" bin and moved aside to make way for the amateur screeches and flimsy compositions of angry young boys in their parents' garages. He watched it fade, just as I watched him fade over the past few years. And now, my grandfather, like WNEW, is gone. But also like WNEW, it is only his physical presence that is truly gone, as the memories of both are kept alive in my heart, in my memories, and in Standard of the Day.

Because without Tony Salica and WNEW, this website would not exist. I never got the chance to show it to him, but I'm sure he would've loved my own little "Make-Believe Ballroom"...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Where Are You?

By Jimmy McHugh & Harold Adamson
1936


A delightfully moving composition from the McHugh/Adamson team that also gave us such songs as "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" and "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening". A favorite of the early Depression years, it was introduced by Gertrude Niesen (pictured) in 1937, and shortly followed by a slew of other artists. Its lilting melody and plaintive lyrics are typical of the era, and the song was admired so much by Frank Sinatra that in 1957 it became the only standard song to ever title one of his albums.

Lyrics:

Where are you
Where have you gone without me
I thought you cared about me
Where are you

Where's my heart
Where is the dream we started
I can't believe we're parted
Where are you

When we said good-bye love
What had we to gain
When I gave you my love
Was it all in vain

All life through
Must I go on pretending
Where is my happy ending
Where are you

Recorded By:

Aretha Franklin
Johnny Mathis
Jack Teagarden
Sonny Rollins
Dinah Washington

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