Saturday, April 21, 2001

50 years ago: Les Paul & Mary Ford hit #1 with “How High the Moon”

How High the Moon

Les Paul & Mary Ford

Writer(s): Morgan Lewis/Nancy Hamilton (see lyrics here)

First Charted: March 31, 1951

Peak: 19 US, 3 HP, 12 CB, 10 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 1.5 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Hamilton and Lewis wrote the Broadway revues One for the Money, Two for the Show, Three to Get Ready, and New Faces. They also collaborated on the Oscar-winning documentary film, Helen Keller – Her Life. Without question, though, their most noable accomplishment was “How High the Moon.”

Lewis was known for witty songs which lacked social significance, but when Two for the Show needed a romantic ballad, he adjusted. SB Alfred Drake and Frances Comstock sang it in the 1940 revue and it went on to be a chart hit for Benny Goodman and His Orchestra with Helen Forrest on vocal (#6). It was also a hit for Mitchell Ayres (#18, 1940) and Stan Kenton (#20, 1948) and was covered by Count Basie, Nat “King” Cole, Duke Ellington, Anita O’Day, Billy Taylor, and Mel Tormé.

The most noted version, however, was by guitarist Les Paul and his singing wife Mary Ford. They developed a reputation in the pre-rock era for “pretty, perky renditions of classic pop tunes.” TM “How High the Moon” was originally “a slow fox-trot, a song of longing where the moon is just a distant prop for melancholy.” TM However, Paul sped it up and infused it with guitar power chords which established a template for rock and roll. TM Bill Haley borrowed the song’s opening descending chord pattern for “Rock Around the Clock.” TM The Beatles’ Paul McCartney said, “We used to start our gigs with the opening riffs from ‘How High the Moon.’” TM

He also, without the benefit of audiotape, merged 21 different tracks of vocal and guitar parts – and no drums SA – into “a bubbly blast of pop immortality.” TM His pioneering over-dubbing and multi-tracking techniques are still used today. NRR The result was a #1 hit which became “a jazz and nightclub favorite” JA and “the bebop national anthem.” SA


  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Les Paul
  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Mary Ford
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 79.
  • NRR National Recording Registry
  • SA David Sadowski (1999). Haven’t Named It Yet: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Prehistory, 1926-55.
  • SB
  • TM Time magazine (10/24/2011). “All Time 100 Songs

Last updated 8/16/2022.

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