The Words

The Words

By Eric Roberts

 


coleThe present-day popular music is hard to understand. If the music has lyrics, you have to listen many times to figure out what is being said. The music is loud with drums and guitars and it is not easy to hear the words. The lyrics are often lost by the way the performers sing. They seem to be more interested in volume than in the words. The lyrics are often repetitive and without a story.

The older singers like Frank Sinatra sang with clarity. The words were important and there was no question about the meaning of the song. The song writers also liked the way Fred Astaire sang. Even though, his voice was not great, his lyrics were clear and his interpretations were ‘right on’ to the story. He introduced two of Sinatra’s big hits in the movies. “A Foggy day in London Town” and “One for the Road” where he plays a tipsy, broken-hearted lover who dances in a bar and on the BAR! He asked the bartender to “Set ‘em up Joe, I had a little drink about an hour ago.”

Some lyrics were created accidentally. The song “Three Coins in the Fountain” was written for a romantic film. The three stars throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome as they make a wish. Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne were asked to write a song to fit the movie, but they were unable to see the film or read the script! They completed the song in about an hour but they were stuck with the ending. The last line was: “What will the fountain bring?” It was getting late and they were in hurry and one of them in frustration said: “Let’s just repeat the last line.” The ending is: What will the Fountain Bring? What will the fountain Bring?

What will the Fountain Bring?

The next day, they produced a demonstration record with Frank Sinatra. In a rush to get the film going, Twentieth Century Fox neglected to sign a contract with the composers, allowing them to claim complete rights over the royalties. In 1954, “Three Coins in the Fountain” won the Academy Award for the best original song. Pretty good pay day for an hour’s work!

When they were making a movie starring Lisa Minnelli and Robert De Niro, there was a problem. It was a love story between a singer and a saxophone player who had just returned from World War II. The song writers (John Kander and Fred Ebb) had composed a title song. They liked their song as did the director and cast; except Robert De Niro, who hated the song. After a couple of days shooting, he threatened to quit the movie unless they changed the song. The director told the writers to see if they could come up with a new song. They did and if De Niro hadn’t bitched there wouldn’t be the song. “Start spreading the news; I’m leaving today. I want to be part of it …NEW YORK, NEW YORK!”

Cole Porter’s last musical Kiss Me Kate is a play within a play. This made it difficult for him. The play is a musical take off of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the other is a backstage story about the breakup of the two stars. The type of songs has to vary. In the “Kiss Me, Kate” play, they have to sound Shakespearian like “I’ve Come to Wed Wealthily in Padua.” The backstage story songs are up to date, e.g., “It’s too Damn Hot” and “Tom, Dick and Harry.”

The question is how does the wonderful song “Wunderbar” fit into the story? At one point, the backstage couple remembers the good old days when they were doing a Light Opera and for fun they hammed up “Wunderbar.” Kate’s sister in the play is “Bianca,” a tough name to rhyme. Her modern-day name is Bianca too and her boyfriend has to sing to her. Cole Porter had to dig deep for a rhyme for Bianca…SANKA!

Leonard Bernstein was an American conductor, author, composer and pianist. According to The New York Times, “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.” He was also popular for his series of fifty-three televised Young People Concerts. His score to the ballet Fancy Free, choreographed by Jerome Robbins, opened in New York in 1944 and this was later developed into the musical On the Town, with lyrics by Comden and Green that opened on Broadway in December 1944. In 1949, the choreographer Jerome Robbins suggested the idea for West Side Story to the writers Arthur Laurents and Leonard Bernstein. They worked on it intermittently but finally with the additions of Stephen Sondheim (famous for “Send in the Clowns”) to do the lyrics and with a lot of hard work they brought West Side Story to Broadway in 1957. Its tremendous success remained unequaled by his other compositions.

Yet with all the accolades for his body of work, he was missing something. One day he left his house to take a walk on a lovely spring day and he heard from across the street someone singing and whistling “MARIA, I’ve just met a girl named Maria.” It was the first time he heard his music being sung on the street. He then knew his music would last forever.

(Ed. Note: Point taken. They sure can’t write songs nearly as well as they once did!)

 

Ojo Del Lago
Latest posts by Ojo Del Lago (see all)

Leave a Reply