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Thursday, February 25, 2016

2/25/1905: Billy Murray takes “Yankee Doodle Boy” to #1

image from allmusic.com


Billy Murray “Yankee Doodle Boy”


Writer(s): George M. Cohan (see lyrics here)

First charted: 2/25/1905

Peak: 18 US, 12 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --


Review: George M. Cohan “virtually invented musical comedy” LW-16 by pioneering the idea that a show could intersperse songs into a narrative structure. LW-16 He was “the dominant force on Broadway during its heyday,” LW-16 predating future musical theatre greats like Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers. Like Irving Berlin, his best work celebrated young immigrants and American patriotism.

He was born July 3, 1878, although to bolster his fiercely patriotic image, he claimed to be born on the fourth of July. He was born into a vaudevillian family and by the 1890’s was selling his music to performers. PS By the 1900’s, Cohan tried his hand at producing Broadway musicals. His first two attempts, 1901’s The Governor’s Son and 1903’s Running for Office, were failures, but his third attempt, 1904’s Little Johnny Jones, was a hit. PS

It was the first time Cohan wrote the complete book – and all the songs – for a show. It elevated Cohan “from merely a successful pop songwriter to the toast of the Great White Way.” SS-350 The show featured Cohan as an American jockey accused of cheating and then cleared. The show also birthed two of his most enduring hits – “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.” PS

Billy Murray, who became the unofficial interpreter of Cohan songs, took his 1905 recording to #1 and gave Victor, the record company, its biggest seller up to that point. SS-350 In 1942, James Cagney memorably performed the song in his Academy Award-winning portrayal of Cohan in the biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy. He reprised it in a dance in The Seven Little Foys. JA-219 The song charted again in 1943 when Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians took it to #21.


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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


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Sunday, February 14, 2016

2/14/1942: Woody Herman hits #1 with “Blues in the Night”

image from izlesene.com


Woody Herman “Blues in the Night (My Mama Done Tol’ Me)”


Writer(s): Johnny Mercer/ Harold Arlen (see lyrics here)

First charted: 12/6/1941

Peak: 11 US, 12 HP, 1 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --


Review: Composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Johnny Mercer were approached to write a song for a movie about a jazz quintet riding the rails in search of its big break. There was a scene in which the band members ended up in jail and needed to sing a blues song. Arlen wrote a melody after analyzing recordings of blues songs and then Mercer penned four pages of lyrics. Arlen rarely suggested changes to Mercer’s lyrics, but recommended that the line “my mama done tol’ me” be moved to the beginning. It became the song’s subtitle. SB

When they finished the song, Mercer called singer Margaret Whiting, who’d sung the pair’s songs “That Old Black Magic” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.” She told Mercer she had guests for dinner, but he and Arlen could come over later to share the song. When Mercer found out the guests included Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Mel Tormé, he announced, “My God, we’re coming right over.” After they played the song, Garland asked them to play it again and Rooney said, “That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.” SB

The producers of the movie were taken with the song as well – so much so that they changed the name of the movie from Hot Nocturne to Blues in the Night. TY-105 Jimmie Lunceford’s band introduced the song in the movie and took it to #4 on the charts. It charted six times in 1941 and 1942. Dinah Shore (#4) had her first million-seller with the song TY-105 and Cab Calloway (#8), Artie Shaw (#10), and Benny Goodman (#20) also had success with the song. In 1952, Rosemary Clooney charted with the song again (#17). Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald also recorded the song.

However, Woody Herman had the most successful recording of the song. He started as a sideman and singer with Isham Jones’ orchestra from 1934-36. He later fronted his own band and became, in the words of writer Will Friedwald, “the most successful…talent scout in the history of jazz.” SS-604 His initial plan was to record “Blues in the Night” as an instrumental but in a cab ride to the recording session, Mercer taught him the lyrics. SS-604 Mercer and Arlen sat in on the session and reported satisfaction with his performance. SS-604


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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

2/10/1906: “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie” hits #1 – for the first time

image from Wikipedia.org


Byron G. Harlan “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie”


Writer(s): Andrew B. Sterling/ Harry Von Tilzer (see lyrics here)

First charted: 2/3/1906

Peak: 19 US, 13 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 (sheet music sales)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --


Review: Harry Von Tilzer, born Harry Gumm in Detroit in 1872, was one of the few successful songwriters of his era, serving as inspiration to other composers such as Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. TR-321 He wrote thousands of songs in his lifetime, of which more than two thousand were published. TR-321 Von Tilzer fell in love with show business at an early age and at age 14 ran away to join the circus. By the next year he was touring with a repertory company playing piano and composing songs. His big break came when his song “My Old New Hampshire Home,” with lyrics by Andrew B. Sterling and William C. Dunn, was published in 1898 and sold more than two million copies. PS

He and Sterling worked together again on this Tin Pan Alley landmark song. One legend says the pair were inspired to write this when they were sitting in a hotel lobby and overheard a groom tell his bride, “Just wait ‘til the sun shines, Nellie.” TR-321 A variation of that tale had just Sterling hear a man utter the phrase to his wife when they had to postpone a trip to Coney Island. RCG Another account says Von Tilzer read a newspaper article about down-on-its-luck family in which the reporter declared, “the sun would once again shine for them after the storm.” PS

“Nellie” was originally written for an unsuccessful Broadway show called The Kissing Girl. Tilzer’s original tune was “a slow and deliberate march” RCG but in later years became a jazz favorite in a faster version. RCG Winona Winter introduced the song in vaudeville and then it became popular via versions by Byron Harlan and Harry Talley. They each took the song to #1 while Prince’s Orchestra recording from the same year also went top 5.

Mary Martin and Bing Crosby dueted on the song for the 1941 film The Birth of the Blues. In 1942, Gale Storm sang it in Rhythm on Parade and the song served as the title for a 1952 film. It has become “a staple of ensembles and barbershop quartets or for sing alongs in schools and homes”. PS

Download song here


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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


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Friday, February 5, 2016

2/5/1927: “Someone to Watch Over Me” hits the charts

image from youtube.com


Gertrude Lawrence “Someone to Watch Over Me”


Writer(s): George Gershwin/ Ira Gershwin (see lyrics here)

First charted: 2/5/1927

Peak: 2 US, 5 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --


Review: A rag doll which George Gershwin found in a toy store ended up as a featured prop during 1926’s Oh, Kay! It stayed in the show for the entire run of 246 performances – the longest-running Gershwin musical up to that point. British star Gertrude Lawrence appeared alone on the stage in the second act, touchingly singing “Someone to Watch Over Me” to the doll. SS-468

The “plaintive Gerswhin love song” MM-182 was initially conceived by George as a “fast and assertive” melody, but he wasn’t satisfied with it until he slowed down the tempo. Then he gave it to his brother Ira, who penned lyrics around “contradictory proverbs, sayings, and clichés.” TY-37 Deena Rosenberg wrote that it is “a song of wanting and seeking” SS-468 and that “the yearning for someone to watch over us changes from childhood…[to] old age, but it is always there.” SS-468

Lawrence would introduce the commercial recording as well, peaking at #2 on the charts in 1927. That year also saw charted versions from George Olsen (#3) and George Gershwin himself (#17) PM-269, 342 “as one of his few piano solos.” JA-178 Lawrence would also perform it in the 1942 film Young at Heart, the first of many screen appearances for this Gerswhin classic. It was also featured in the 1945 Gershwin biopic Rhapsody in Blue. JA-178

The song has “become a cabaret favorite and one of Gershwin’s most often performed songs.” JA-178 with versions from such diverse artists as Barbara Carroll, Dennis DeYoung, Willie Nelson, Sinead O’Connor, Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Rod Stewart, Sting, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughn, Brian Wilson, and Amy Winehouse.


Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


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