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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

There's a Small Hotel

By Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart
1936


According to lyricist Lorenz Hart's autobiography, this song was inspired by a visit to the historic Stockton Inn in New Jersey. Hart reportedly hated he melody and enjoyed taunting Rodgers by ad-libbing raunchy verses for it. Nevertheless, it is a true Rodgers & Hart charmer, written originally for their musical Billy Rose's Jumbo, but used instead for On Your Toes. It was introduced by Ray Bolger and Doris Carson.

Lyrics:

There's a small hotel
With a wishing well...
I wish that we were there, together.

There's a bridal suite,
One room bright and neat...
Complete for us to share, together.

Looking through the window,
You can see that distant steeple.
Not a sign of people -- who wants people?

When the steeple bell says,
"Good night, sleep well,"
We'll thank the small hotel, together.

Recorded By:

Frank Sinatra
Ella Fitzgerald
Benny Goodman
Della Reese
Chet Baker

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Make Believe

By Jerome Kern
1927

A profoundly moving duet ballad from Kern's Show Boat, usually credited as the first modern Broadway musical. It was introduced on stage by Norma Terris and Howard Marsh (pictured), and also performed to great effect by Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson in the 1951 MGM musical adaptation. It's lyrics, expressed by two people suddenly and spontaneously realizing they are in love with each other, are among the most moving in the Great American Songbook.

Lyrics:

Only make believe I love you,
Only make believe that you love me.
Others find peace of mind in pretending,
Couldn't you?
Couldn't I?
Couldn't we?
Make believe our lips are blending
In a phantom kiss, or two, or three.
Might as well make believe I love you,
For to tell the truth I do

Your pardon I pray
'Twas too much to say
The words that betray my heart.

We only pretend
You do not offend
In playing a lover's part.
The game of just supposing
Is the sweetest game I know.
Our dreams are more romantic
Than the world we see.

And if the things we dream about
Don't happen to be so,
That's just an unimportant technicality.

Though the cold and brutal fact is
You and I have never met,
We need not mind convention's P's and Q's
If we put our thoughts in practice
We can banish all regret
Imagining most anything we choose.

Only make believe I love you,
Only make believe that you love me.
Others find peace of mind in pretending,
Couldn't you?
Couldn't I?
Couldn't we?
Make believe our lips are blending
In a phantom kiss, or two, or three.
Might as well make believe I love you,
For to tell the truth I do

Recorded By:

Frank Sinatra
Jo Stafford
Barbra Streisand
Peggy Lee & Patrice Munsel
Deanna Durbin

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Etta James 1938 - 2012

She was considered by many to be among the greatest rhythm and blues singers of all time. Her career was marked by dramatic highs and lows, with the latter largely the result of the heroin addiction that consumed years of her life. First achieving success as a teenager in 1954 with the bawdy song "The Wallflower (Dance with Me Henry)", Etta James went on to record a string of hits with Chess Records in the 1960s before disappearing from public view due to her drug problem.

She reemerged in the 1970s and recorded sporadically from then on, developing her style into a unique blend of straightforward blues, R&B and rock. The influence of gospel was also evident in her soulful delivery, and she was particularly noted for her ability to modulate with ease between soft, tender crooning and traditional blues shouting. Her work has been described as a bridge between blues and rock 'n' roll, and she has influenced such performers as The Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin.

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles--her mother Dorothy was only 14 years old at the time. The identity of her father is uncertain, although she occasionally speculated that he might have been the billiards legend Minnesota Fats. After her mother proved unable to care for her, James was raised by her landlady, Lula Rogers, in the South Central section of L.A. As was the case with many rhythm-and-blues performers, in her youth James sang gospel hymns in her local church choir. James was exceptional, however, performing on gospel radio broadcasts while only five years of age.

In the early 1950s, a teenage Jamesetta Hawkins--by then a self-described juvenile delinquent--joined two other girls to form a singing group called the Creolettes. In 1954 they came to the attention of influential R&B bandleader Johnny Otis, who took them on tour with him, changing the group's name to the Peaches and its lead singer's name to Etta James. Otis got them signed to Modern Records, and before the year was out they had recorded their first single. Written by James and Otis, with James on lead vocals, the song was originally entitled "Roll with Me, Henry". At the request of Modern Records, the title was toned down to "The Wallflower (Dance with Me Henry" despite the fact that the words in the original title remained in the song. The record was a success, reaching number two on the R&B chart.

James spent time in the late 1950s as an opening act at concerts and as a backup singer. She toured with Little Richard, and backup credits from this period include records by the likes of Marvin Gaye and Chuck Berry. She also met one of her idols, Billie Holiday, who prophetically warned her of the potentially self-destructive side of being an entertainer. "Maybe she saw the wildness in my eyes, maybe she saw all the trouble waiting for me," James speculated in a 1995 Jet magazine interview.

At the end of the 1950s, James struck out on her own, moving to Chicago and signing a contract with the blues record label Chess. This period saw the artistic high point of James' output. Between 1960 and 1963 she accumulated 10 charted hits for Chess Records, including her iconic, bluesy rendition of "At Last", which reached number two on the R&B chart in 1961. Several of James' Chess singles from this period were nominated for Grammys, including "All I Could Do Was Cry" in 1960 and "Fool That I Am" in 1961.



Despite her impressive streak, however, James was unable to cross over from the R&B to the pop charts. This was ironic, given the fact that many mainstream vocalists, such as Diana Ross, had adapted elements of her style. Also ironic was that James' addiction to heroin began in 1959, just at the time her career was starting to take off at Chess Records. Her habit worsened through the 1960s, and her initial attempts to cure herself through methadone treatment only made matters worse. In the early 1970s, she sought rehabilitation, checking into a hospital. There she made great strides toward recovery, and finally returned to her music in 1973.

James 1970s comeback faltered slightly with the demise of Chess Records due to bankruptcy. One highpoint, however, included an invitation to appear as an opening act for The Rolling Stones on their 1978 American tour. She had been asked to appear by Stones guitarist Keith Richards, a devoted admirer.

She was artistically silent for much of the 1980s, but the crucial contribution she made to rock 'n' roll music, particularly in its earliest days, was recognized in 1993 with an induction to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. James published her autobiography, Rage to Survive, two years later, not long after finally winning her first Grammy, for the album Mystery Lady: The Songs of Billie Holiday. In recent years, her experiences at Chess were dramatized in the 2008 movie Cadillac Records, in which she was portrayed to great effect by contemporary R&B belter Beyonce Knowles.

Etta James lived out the final years of her life in Riverside, California with her husband Artis Mills. After battling leukemia, she died on Friday at a Riverside hospital in the arms of her 43-year-old son Donto. She was 73.









Monday, January 9, 2012

Keepin' Out of Mischief Now

By Fats Waller & Andy Razaf
1932

One of the signature tunes of Thomas "Fats" Waller, although this one was actually introduced by Louis Armstrong. It was later recorded by Waller himself, most notably as an instrumental-only piano piece, and associated so much with the performer that it was included decades later in the stage revue of his work, Ain't Misbehavin'. A fine example of the melodic delights produced by the irrepressible Mr. Waller.

Lyrics:

Keepin' out of mischief now,
I really am in love and how.
I'm through playin' with fire,
It's you whom I desire

All the world can plainly see,
You're the only one for me.
I have told them in advance,
They can't break up our romance.

Livin' up to all my vows,
'Cause I'm keepin' out mischief now.

Recorded By:

Lee Wiley
Dinah Washington
Barbra Streisand
Dick Hyman
Louis Armstrong

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

That's Entertainment

By Arthur Schwartz & Howard Dietz
1952

Along with "Hooray for Hollywood" and "There's No Business Like Show Business," this nostalgic classic has become a true anthem for the entire moviemaking business, particularly the golden age of the 1930-1950s. A large reason for this is its usage as the title and theme song of the unforgettable 1974 compilation tribute to MGM musicals, followed by sequels in 1976 and 1994. Originally, it was written by Schwartz & Dietz for the MGM musical The Band Wagon, in which it was performed by Fred Astaire, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant and India Adams (singing for Cyd Charisse).

Lyrics:

Everything that happens in life
Can happen in a show
You can make 'em laugh
You can make 'em cry
Anything
Anything can go....

The clown with his pants falling down
Or the dance that's a dream of romance
Or the scene where the villain is mean
That's entertainment!

The lights on the lady in tights
Or the bride with the guy on the side
Or the ball where she gives him her all
That's entertainment!

The plot and the hot simply teeming with sex
A gay divorcee who is after her ex
It could be Oedipus Rex
Where a chap kills his father
And causes a lot of bother

The clerk who is thrown out of work
By the boss who is thrown for a loss
By the skirt who is doing him dirt
The world is a stage,
The stage is a world of entertainment.
That's entertainment!
That's entertainment!

The doubt while the jury is out
Or the thrill when they're reading the will
Or the chase for the man with the face
That's entertainment!

The dame who is known as the flame
Of the king of an underworld ring
He's an ape
Who won't let her escape
That's entertainment!

It might be a fight like you see on the screen
A swain getting slain for the love of a queen
Some great Shakespearean scene
Where a ghost and a prince meet
And everyone ends in mincemeat.

The gag may be waving the flag
That began with a mystical hand
Hip hooray!
The American way
The world is a stage,
The stage is a world of entertainment.

Recorded By:

Judy Garland
Rufus Wainwright
Liza Minnelli
Fred Astaire
Bing Crosby

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