A few years ago, Tim English’s book Sounds Like Teen Spirit: Stolen Melodies, Ripped-off Riffs, inspired me to start a brief series called Copy, Borrow, Steal. Today Tim’s new book, Popology, forms the entire basis for this mix: a playlist of songs that were among John F Kennedy’s favourite songs (seeing as that 50th anniversary is approaching, it seems timely) — something that might have been JFK’s mix-tape for Jackie or for the car, if there had been cassette tapes then.
Popology looks at the music which four leading figures of the 1960s — JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, Bobby Kennedy and the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton — listened to, were exposed to or which formed part of the soundtrack to their lives and eras by way of metaphor. It’s a well-researched, fascinating book. Order it as paperback or e-book at www.popologythebook.com.
English identifies the song (The Gang That Sang) Heart Of My Heart as the Kennedy brothers’ theme song. They sang it in public on several occasions; poignantly Ted sang it on 25 November 1963, at John John’s birthday party on the night before JFK’s funeral. English doesn’t say which version of the 1929 song Jack, Bobby and Ted took inspiration from; I’ve picked the 1954 hit record by The Four Aces.
Two other songs provided the soundtrack to trauma in Kennedy’s life. The family was listening to Bing Crosby’s I’ll Be Seeing You in 1944 when news came that oldest brother Joe Jr had fallen in the war. Four years later, in 1948, JFK was playing the soundtrack of the Broadway show Finian’s Rainbow when he received news that sister Kathleen had died in a plane crash. Reportedly he played Ella Logan’s How Are Things in Glocca Morra, praised her voice and turned away to weep.
On a happier note, I Married An Angel was John and Jackie’s first dance at their wedding; JFK knew it from Larry Clinton’s 1938 hit. The similarly themed Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine) was another Kennedy sing-along favourite, as was Walter Huston’s September Song, which Billboard listed in 1960 as one of Kennedy’s two all-time favourite songs; English reports that JFK would often try to imitate Walter Huston’s voice (the other favourite was “Greensleeves”).
JFK was proud of his Irish heritage, and that was reflected in his music. Too-Ra Loo-La-Roo-Lal (That’s An Irish Lullaby) was a hit for Bing Crosby from his 1943 film Going My Way, so Kennedy likely knew that version the best. For the other Irish songs English does not specify a particular artist; I’ve picked versions by performers whom JFK liked. English reports that JFK sang The Wearing Of The Green with Gene Kelly at a party at LB Johnson’s Washington home (they also tap-danced to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”). I’ve picked a version by Judy Garland, whom Kennedy would phone for her to sing a few bars of “Over The Rainbow”.
According to his mistress Gunilla Von Post, Kennedy sang I Love Paris as they were touring the Swedish countryside. I don’t have the recording of the song from the original 1953 soundtrack of the musical Can-Can, so we’ll have to make do with Ella Fitzgerald’s wonderful 1956 interpretation. That is OK, since Ella was JFK’s favourite singer; he even played her music while he was drafting his acceptance speech for the 1960 Democratic Convention.
Kennedy was also a big fan of Noel Coward, whom he could impersonate well. English picks no particular song, so I’ve picked the most famous Coward track, Mad Dogs And Englishmen from 1932. Don’t be too alarmed by its age: to Kennedy in 1963 this song was as something from 1982 would be to us. And Coward sang it to him in 1961.
One song here, If Ever I Would Leave You, is listed by English as a Jackie favourite, but since we know that both she and JFK were huge fans of the musical Camelot, we can safely presume that Jack enjoyed it, too, even if his preferred track was Richard Burton’s reprise of the title track. Before Camelot, Kennedy listed My Fair Lady as his favourite musical, represented here by Julie Andrews’ Broadway version of I Could Have Danced All Night. Both were written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe; the former was a classmate of Kennedy’s at the Connecticut prep school Choate Rosemary Hall.
We know that JFK was no friend of that new-fangled rock & roll, but according to journalist Ben Bradlee, he instructed the band to play “more Chubby Checkers” [sic] on his 46th birthday in 1963. We’re not going to have the twist on this mix, but something from the year before, when Marilyn Monroe sang her breathy congratulations. After the same show, JFK met Miriam Makeba, who had performed the proper South African version of “the Lion Sleeps Tonight”, then a hit for The Tokens, Solomon Linda’s Mbube.
One may wonder whether JFK would have included Jimmy Dean’s P.T. 10 on his mix-tape; it was about his heroic rescue of crew members of his patrol boat in World War 2. Perhaps he might have picked it for Jackie, who played the song for guests and knew the lyrics.
So, here is JFK’s mix-tape. As always, it is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes home-elected covers. PW in comments.
1. Frank Sinatra – High Hopes With John Kennedy (1960)
2. Barbra Streisand – Happy Days Are Here Again (1963)
3. Ella Fitzgerald – Blue Skies (1958)
4. Julie Andrews & Philippa Bevans – I Could Have Danced All Night (1959)
5. Robert Goulet – If Ever I Would Leave You (1960)
6. The Four Aces – (The Gang That Sang) Heart Of My Heart (1953)
7. Bing Crosby – I’ll Be Seeing You (1944)
8. Walter Huston – September Song (1938)
9. Larry Clinton and his Orchestra feat. Bea Wain – I Married An Angel (1938)
10. Sammy Kaye – Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine) (1941)
11. The Andrews Sisters – Bei mir bist du schon (1937)
12. Mae West – I’m No Angel (1933)
13. Ray Noble and his Orchestra with Al Bowlly – The Very Thought Of You (1934)
14. Noel Coward – Mad Dogs And Englishmen (1932)
15. Nelson Eddy – Danny Boy (1940)
16. Bing Crosby – Too-Ra Loo-La-Roo-Lal (That’s An Irish Lullaby) (1945)
17. Judy Garland – The Wearing Of The Green (1940)
18. Harry James Orchestra feat. Frank Sinatra – All Or Nothing At All (1939)
19. Ella Fitzgerald – I Love Paris (1956)
20. Nat ‘King’ Cole – Autumn Leaves (1955)
21. Peggy Lee – I Believe In You (1962)
22. Miriam Makeba – Mbube (1961)
23. Bobby Darin – Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home (1959)
24. Jimmy Dean – P.T. 109 (1962)
25. Ella Logan – How Are Things In Glocca Morra (1947)
26. Marilyn Monroe – Happy Birthday Mr President (1962)