In the overdue return of The Originals, we’ll visit three songs that became iconic in their interpretations from the 1960s, but had been standards since the early 1930s and, in one instance, 1940s. Blue Moon and At Last debuted in movies, while Dream A Little Dream Of Me, the oldest of the three songs, would end up lending its title to a 1989 flick (and an episode of Grey’s Anatomy). Speaking of At Last, I hear that Etta James is in very poor health. Don’t forget the index of The Originals to revisit older instalments in this series. By the way, the Blue Moon discussion here will be followed later this month by a 38-song swarm of the tune.
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Shirley Ross – The Bad In Every Man (1934).mp3
Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra – Blue Moon (1934).mp3
Connie Boswell – Blue Moon (1935).mp3
The Emanons – Blue Moon (1958).mp3
The Marcels – Blue Moon (1961).mp3
It took the great songwriters Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers four attempts to arrive at the version of the song most people will know from the versions by The Marcels, Elvis Presley, Mel Tormé (my favourite, from 1961) or from the film Grease.
Rodgers and Hart originally wrote the song, with different lyrics, for a 1933 MGM film titled Hollywood Party, to be sung by Jean Harlow. The song, going by the working title Prayer (Oh Lord, Make Me A Movie Star), was never recorded, nor did Harlow appear in the film.
The following year, the songwriters dug up the song when MGM needed a number for the film Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and William Powell. It was that movie, incidentally, which the bank robber John Dillinger watched before stepping out of the Chicago cinema to meet his death at the enthusiastic hands of law enforcement. With new lyrics, the song now was called It’s Just That Kind Of Play – and was cut from the movie. However, later in the production, a song was needed for a nightclub scene. Rogers decided that the melody was still good, and Hart wrote a third set of lyrics, under the title The Bad In Every Man. This one made it into the film, sung by Shirley Ross (pictured right), who would go on to work and sing with Bob Hope on film a few times before retiring in 1945.
By now, MGM had appreciated the commercial potential for the melody, but wanted more romantic lyrics. Enter Lorenz Hart again, reluctantly providing a fourth set of words — those we are now familiar with. But even then, an introductory verse was excised, which proved a good decision. Blue Moon was first recorded on 16 November 1934 by Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra (named after the hotel where they once had a standing engagement), with the band’s saxophonist Kenny Sargent on vocals. Four days later, Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra recorded it, and from there on in, a host of performers and orchestras committed the song to record. The biggest hit of these was the version by Connie Boswell with the Victor Young Orchestra, recorded on 15 January 1935 as the theme for the radio show Hollywood Hotel (Boswell changed her first name to Connee only in the 1940s).
After a flurry of versions (including by Benny Goodman, Django Reinhardt and Al Bowlly), Blue Moon was intermittently recorded and also appeared in several movies, including as part of a Harpo interlude in the Marx Brothers’ 1939 film At The Circus. In the 1940s and ’50s it was mainly a jazz number, as an instrumental or in vocal versions, by the likes of Mel Tormé (who first recorded it in 1949), Ella Fitzgerald and Jo Stafford. Arguably it was Elvis Presley’s sombre 1956 version thast appeared on his debut LP that returned Blue Moon to the world of popular music (the single of it was released between Hound Dog and Blue Suede Shoes). Sam Cooke released his version in 1958, as a b-side. It became a huge hit in the version by the multiracial doo wop band The Marcels, whose recording is probably the best known of the song.
As so often with popular covers that became huge hits, The Marcels recorded Blue Moon in 1961 as an afterthought. Producer Stu Phillips needed another song, one of the band members knew Blue Moon and taught it to the others, and in a matter of two takes the track had been laid down. The bom-bapa-bom intro came from a song the Marcels had in their live repertoire, which in turn was borrowed and sped up from The Collegians’ song Zoom Zoom Zoom. The Marcels were not the first to produce a doo wop version of Blue Moon, however: in 1956 The Emanons released a doo wop take on Josie Records.
The success of Blue Moon and follow-up single Heartaches (also a cover of a 1930s hit; they did a lot of that) led to extra touring for The Marcels. But in the South the band’s racial composition produced problems; those were the days when the dignified Nat ‘King’ Cole was prone to assault racists. Ultimately, the two white members of the quintet left the group.
When Rod Stewart recorded Blue Moon for his interminable series of American Songbook albums, he added something of as twist: a first verse in Rodgers and Hart’s original composition of Blue Moon which everybody else has ignored.
The Blue Moon Song Swarm planned for later this month will feature several of the versions mentioned above and listed below.
Also recorded by: Frankie Trumbauer & his Orchestra (1934), Benny Goodman with Helen Ward (1935), Ray Noble with Al Bowlly (1935), Django Reinhardt (1935), Belle Baker (1935), Greta Keller (1935), Coleman Hawkins (1935), Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra (1939), Gene Krupa (1939), Charlie and his Orchestra (1943), The Cozy Cole All Stars (1944), Vaughn Monroe (1945), Georgie Auld & his Orchestra (1946), Mel Tormé (1949), Billy Eckstine (1949), Billie Holiday (1952), Eri Chiemi (1952), Jo Stafford (1952), Dizzy Gillespie (1954), Oscar Peterson Trio (1954), Blossom Dearie (1955), Louis Armstrong (1955), Art Tatum (1955), Ella Fitzgerald (1956), Julie London (1958), Sam Cooke (1958), Russell Garcia & Roy Eldridge (1958), Mel Tormé (1960), Bert Kaempfert Orchester (1960), Billy Taylor (1960), Conway Twitty (1960), Frank Sinatra (1961), Art Blakey Jazz Messengers (1962), The Ventures (1961), Cliff Richard & The Shadows (1961), Bobby Vinton (1963), Dean Martin (1964), Liza Minnelli (1964), Amalia Rodrigues (1965), Thyfonerne (as Desert Walk, 1965), The Supremes (1967), Bob Dylan (1970), Lee Perry’s Upsetters (1971), Sha Na Na (1971), Tony Bennett & Ella Fitzgerald (1973), Showaddywaddy (1974), Mud (1974), Spooky & Sue (1975), Gene Summers (1975), Robert de Niro & Mary Kay (1977), Cornell Campbell (1979), César Camargo Mariano (1983), Elkie Brooks (1984), New Edition (1986), Cowboy Junkies (1988), Herb Ellis & Red Mitchell (1989), Mark Isham with by Tanita Tikaram (1990), Isabelle Aubret (1991), Daniel Ash (1991), Message (1993), Chris Isaak (1994), Bengt Hallberg (1994),Tommy Emmanuel (1995), Mina (1995), The Mavericks (1995), Estrada Brothers (1996), Less Than Jake (1996), Da Vinci’s Notebook (1997), The Huntingtons (1997), MxPx (1997), Vidal Brothers (as part of medley, 1997), Course of Empire (1998), Samantha Mumba (2002), John Alford (2002), Tommy Emmanuel CGP (2005), Rod Stewart featuring Eric Clapton (2004), My Morning Jacket (2006), Orange and Lemons (2006), Ann Hampton Callaway (2006), Helmut Lotti (2007), Joe Robinson (2007) a.o.
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Glenn Miller Orchestra – At Last (1942).mp3
Ray Anthony with Tom Mercer – At Last (1952).mp3
Nat ‘King’ Cole – At Last (1957).mp3
Etta James – At Last (1960).mp3
Stevie Wonder – At Last (1969).mp3
When Beyoncé Knowles was invited to sing At Last — Barack and Michelle’s special song — at one of the many Obama inauguration events in January 2009, Etta James was not best pleased. The veteran soul singer stated her dislike for the younger singer, who had portrayed Etta in the film about the Chess label, Cadillac Records. “That woman; singing my song, she gonna get her ass whupped,” James declared (she later relegated her outburst to the status of a “joke”).
It is her song, of course, certainly in the form covered so competently by Beyoncé. But many people recorded it before her, and it was a hit at least twice. The first incarnation came in the 1941 movie Orchestra Wives, in which it was performed by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, who also recorded the first version to be released on record on 20 May 1942. Doing vocal duties were Ray Eberle and Pat Friday. A month later, Miller fired Eberle for being late for a gig; the hapless singer had been stuck in traffic. Written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren (they also wrote Chattanooga Choo Choo, and Warren wrote hits such as That’s Amoré and I Only Have Eyes For You), At Last — with I’ve Got A Gal In Kalamazoo on the flip side (and, it seems, nominal A-side) — was a #9 hit for Miller.
At Last became a hit again ten years later, for Ray Anthony with Tom Mercer on vocals. This version is typical 1950s easy listening fare, done much better in 1957 by Nat ‘King’ Cole (who tended to do music much better than most people).
In 1960 Etta James recorded the song, with Phil and Leonard Chess producing with a view to accomplishing crossover success (the same year she contributed backing vocals on labelmate Chuck Berry’s Back In The USA). Her version, released on Chess subsidiary Argo, was a #2 R&B hit in 1961, but crossover success was limited, reaching only #47 in the pop charts. Over the years it did manage to cross over, being especially popular at weddings. As a result, it has been covered prodigiously, by soul singers (such as the wonderful Laura Lee and, in a gloriously upbeat version, Stevie Wonder), folk legends (Joni Mitchell) and difficult listening merchants (Céline Dion, Michael F. Bolton and Kenny G) alike.
Also recorded by: Connie Haines (1942), Geraldo and his Orchestra (1942), Miles Davis (1953), Chet Baker (1953), The Four Freshmen (1960), Baby Face Willette (1961), Lloyd Price (1961), Urbie Green (1961), Ben E. King (1962), Shirley Scott (1962), Brenda Lee (1963), Judy Garland (1964), Mary Wells (1964), Doris Day (1965), Baby Washington (1968), Stevie Wonder (1969), Laura Lee (1972), Randy Crawford (1977), The Fatback Band (1978), Ella Fitzgerald (1983), Lou Rawls & Dianne Reeves (1989), Phoebe Snow (1991), Diane Schuur & B.B. King (1994), Michelle Willson (1994), Stevie Nicks (1999), Günther Neefs (1999), Joni Mitchell (2000), Eva Cassidy (2000), Monica Mancini (2000), David McLeod (2000), Mary Coughlan (2002), Celine Dion (2002), Mary Coughlan (2002), Julia DeMato (2003), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Christina Aguilera (2003), Lavelle White (2003), Julia DeMato (2003), Michael Bolton (2004), The Frank Collett Trio (2005), Kenny G. feat Arturo Sandoval (2005), Michael Feinstein & George Shearing (2005), Raul Malo (2006), Aretha Franklin (2007), Ida Sand (2007), Beyoncé (2008), Kevin Michael (2009), Jaimee Paul (2009), Lynda Carter (2009), Daphne Loves Derby (2009), Stephanie Lapointe (2009), Stacey Solomon (2010), Liza Minnelli (2010), Brandy (2010), Paloma Faith (2010), a.o
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Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra – Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1931).mp3
Doris Day – Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1957).mp3
Mama Cass – Dream A Little Dream Of Me (1968).mp3
The Beautiful South – Les Yeux Ouverts (1995).mp3
Dream A Little Dream Of Me is one of those songs where one cannot pinpoint a definitive performance or hit version. To some, it’s Mama Cass’ song. Others will remember it as Frankie Laine’s or Ella Fitzgerald’s song. Sign me up to the former group.
Written by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt — there are claims that one Milton Adolphus wrote it —with lyrics by Gus Kahn (whose My Baby Just Cares For Me we encountered in The Originals Vol. 24), it was first recorded on 16 February 1931 by Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra, with Ozzie on vocals and Jack Teagarden on trombone, beating Wayne King’s orchestra by two days. Ozzie, who had a radio and then TV show with his wife Harriet Hilliard and two sons — the late rock & roll singer Ricky Nelson and the TV producer David, who died in January — got his break in 1930 when as an unknown he won a popularity poll by the New York Daily News. Realising that kiosk vendors claimed for unsold newspapers with only the torn-off front page, Ozzie and pals picked up the discarded newspapers and filled in the poll forms in their favour. The ruse worked, and throughout the 1930s, Ozzie and his orchestra enjoyed a fine run of success — even if their version of Dream A Little Dream Of Me was not a hit.
The song seems to have maintained a presence in many concert repertoires. Kate Smith is said to have used the song, which she recorded in 1931, as a signature tune. But it made a big comeback with the versions by Laine and Fitzgerald only in 1950. It made the rounds in the jazz and easy listening circles, but it required the death of one of its co-writers to cross over into pop.
Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas grew up knowing Fabian André as a family friend. When he died in 1967, after falling down an elevator shaft, she (or possibly Cass Elliott) proposed that the band record the song Michelle remembered from her childhood. A decision was made that Cass should sing it solo, and when the song was released as a single, it was credited in the US to Mama Cass with the Mamas and the Papas (elsewhere just to Mama Cass). A re-recorded version also appeared on Cass’ debut album, not coincidentally titled Dream A Little Dream. Do check out Doris Day’s version; aside from Cass’ gorgeous interpretation it is my favourite.
Also recorded by: Wayne King and his Orchestra (1931), Kate Smith (1931), Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio (ca 1948), Ella Fitzgerald (1950), Frankie Laine (1950), Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald With Sy Oliver and His Orchestra (1950), Jack Owens (1950), Joe Newman Octet (1955), Doris Day (1957), Bing Crosby (1957), Dean Martin (1959), Tony Martin (1960), Joni James (1962), Enoch Light (1967), Tony Mottola with The Groovies (1968), Anita Harris (1968), Sylvie Vartan (as Nostalgy and Les Yeux Ouverts, 1969), Henry Mancini (1969), Mills Brothers (1969), Mickey Thomas & Mel Tormé (1989), Enzo Enzo (as Les yeux ouverts, 1990), Laura Fygi (1991), Micky Dolenz (1991), Maria Muldaur and Friends (1992), Gerry Mulligan Quartet (1994), The Beautiful South (two versions in 1995), Terry Hall & Salad (1995), Chicago (1995), Sharon, Lois & Bram (1995), Flying Pickets (1996), Candye Kane (1998), Denny Doherty (1999), Ephemera (2000), Gene Nery (2000), Tony Bennett & k.d. lang (2002), Molly Ryan (2002), Rozz Williams (2003), My Morning Jacket (2004), Anne Murray (2004), Béraud and the Birds (2004), Bucky Pizzarelli & Frank Vignola (2005), Dala (2005), Arielle Dombasle (2006), Diana Krall (2007), Blind Guardian (2007), Claw Boys Claw (2008), Jimmy Demers (2008), Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester (2008), Helen Schneider (2008), Mark Weber (2008), Matthieu Boré (2009), Nicole Atkins (2009), Erasure (2009), Michael Bublé (2010), OC Times (2010), Glee (sung by Arti, 2010) a.o.