183 FRIDAY 26 DECEMBER 2014
Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive – Johnny Mercer
Here’s another song from the “Your Hit Parade” series. I’ve always liked the attention-grabber solo trumpet at the start of the song. It asks you to listen carefully to the advice they’re about to impart. It has a very church-parable type of narrative. It is one of the few songs from that era that I’m sure would still resonate with younger generations.
I first heard Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive on “Bugsy”, the 1991 film directed by American University alumni Barry Levinson. The film starred Warren Beatty as Benjamin Siegel, the notorious American gangster who basically created Las Vegas. The song is used within the first minutes of the movie to establish Bugsy’s first days in Los Angeles. It was an effective way to introduce Siegel’s positive attitude in life, even if he only applied it to his criminal life.
“Bugsy” is one of my favourite movies from that era, by the way. I believe it led the way for the style Hollywood would use to approach period films in years to come. What always fascinated me was the cinematography by Allen Daviau, it marked a radical change in the way natural light was used in movies.
Song Title: Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive – 1944 Genre: Pop Artist: Johnny Mercer Composer: Harold Arlen Lyricist: Johnny Mercer Album: Your Hit Parade – 1945
Favourite Lyrics: To illustrate his last remark / Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark / What did they do / Just when everything looked so dark
Runner Ups: I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You) • I’ll Be Seeing You • It Had To Be You • Straighten Up And Fly Right • Swinging On A Star • On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe • Rum and Coca-Cola • It’s Been a Long, Long Time • Candy • Gotta Be This or That • I’m Beginning to See the Light • Laura • Sentimental Journey • Mr Sandman • Secret Love
184 SATURDAY 27 DECEMBER 2014
My Red-Letter Day – Bob Walton, Jim Walton, Karen Ziemba
I believe in 97 or 98 I read “Gypsy: A Memoir”, the autobiography of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous American burlesque entertainer who inspired the Broadway musical, “Gypsy”. It was one of the best reads I’d done in years. The way Gypsy Rose Lee described her days in vaudeville, her transition into burlesque, and then into a well-respected performer was very detailed and fascinating.
One of my favourite chapters of her memoir is the part where she talks about her days performing in the “Ziegfeld Follies of 1936” touring company. Although not on the original Broadway cast, Gypsy Rose Lee joined the show when it went on the road, replacing Josephine Baker. While on tour, she used to share a suite with no other than Fanny Brice, the queen of vaudeville, whom Gypsy Rose Lee had admired since she was a little girl performing on the vaudeville circuit. When she was a sidekick in her sister June’s Act (June Havock), she had the rare opportunity to share the stage with Fanny Brice. A kid was needed to feed Fanny some lines for a particular punch line or something like that. So, for Gypsy Rose Lee to have her name on the same billing as Fanny Brice, after many years, was a very humbling experience. She was in awe of this woman, and a significant part of this memoir’s chapter centres around all the conversations they had in their hotel suite’s drawing room. They developed a very sweet relationship, exchanging stories from vaudeville’s yesteryears and giving each other professional and personal advice.
Not long after I finished reading the memoir, I bought an original Playbill of the show on eBay. The seller was intrigued by my interest in the item, I guess nobody else had shown interest in it. I told him that it was kind of rare to have the programme of the only show where both the Queen of Vaudeville and the Queen of Burlesque, worked together. I considered briefly giving Sigourney Weaver the Playbill but decided against it. No, you didn’t misread, Sigourney Weaver, the actress; I worked with her a few years back. I may tell you that story later.
The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 was a part of the series of revues staged on Broadway, originally by Florenz Ziegfeld, since the turn of the 20th century. This one, in particular, had big names associated with it. Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke created the score. Vincente Minnelli designed the sets and costumes. Bob Hope, Fanny Brice and Eve Arden highlighted the marquee.
In 1999, The New York City Center Encores Series presented a concert version of the Follies and made a record of it, which is where My Red-Letter Day comes from. For years, I didn’t know what a ‘red letter day’ meant. Thanks to Wikipedia, I recently learned that it means a special day or holiday in the calendar which is always marked with red instead of black.
Song Title: My Red-Letter Day – 1936 Genre: Musical Artist: Bob Walton, Jim Walton, Karen Ziemba Composer: Vernon Duke Lyricist: Ira Gershwin Album: Ziegfeld Follies Of 1936
Favourite Lyrics: Don’t need rose-colored glasses / Getting ready for shoes and rice / I’ve just been given passes / To the gates of paradise
Runners Up: I’m A Big Girl Now • This Is The Army, Mr. Jones • It’s Been A Long, Long Time • I’ll Be Seeing You• Waitin’ For The Train To Come In• American Patrol • Overture • Island In The West Indies • Island In The West Indies (Dance) • The Economic Situation • Maharanee • I Can’t Get Started • The Sunny Side of the Street • That Old Black Magic • Istanbul (Not Constantinople) • Rosalie • Girl Of My Dreams • South America, Take It Away
185 SUNDAY 28 DECEMBER 2014
Overture To “Pretty Lady”/With Plenty Of Money And You – Kate Levering (Dance) and Men
I saw the revival of 42nd Street on Broadway in the Spring of 2001. I had seen the movie many times, and I had also seen a road show of the original 1980 show. I was looking forward to seeing it, the show had been revived on the vast stage of the Ford Center For Performing Arts on the actual 42nd Street in Times Square. With a large cast of dancers, it promised to be a real dancing feast.
However, it wasn’t the impressive tap opening number or the almost perfect featured title number that blew me away. It was this simple number (Overture To “Pretty Lady”/With Plenty Of Money And You) with Peggy, the chorine who takes over the starring role, and eight dancing men what caught my imagination. Although, the old man sitting next to me that day may have something to do with it.
Right before the curtain went up, a young couple and an older man sat next to me. I immediately assumed he was the woman’s father, perhaps from a small town in the Midwest and recently widowed. He had come for the weekend to visit the young married couple in the big city. Clearly, the hard-working couple had saved enough money to treat themselves to a matinee on Broadway show. I overheard him thanking them profusely for the gesture; I don’t think he had ever been to a Broadway show. The curtain went up, and musical number after musical number, I could hear the old man gasping in delight when he recognised each one of the songs. This man knew very well the Harry Warren and Al Dubin catalogue.
For those unfamiliar with the musical, “42nd Street” is based on the 1933 movie of the same name. Just as in the film, it tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, a girl pulled out of the chorus line on opening night to play the lead in “Pretty Lady”, the show within the show. The score is made up with most of the Warren/Dubin songs from the era, including With Plenty Of Money And You, which was only added to the show for the 2001 revival. Story wise, the number was added as a way to introduce Peggy Sawyer’s strength as a dancer before the big finale, the “42nd Street Ballet”.
As soon as the man sitting next to me recognised With Plenty Of Money And You, he clapped and started tapping his foot. He turned to his daughter and told her how much he liked this song. He may have also mentioned her mother had loved it too, but I think I added that later to my memory to make it more poignant. I just loved being part of that man’s unique experience at the theatre, I had never seen, or since, someone enjoying a musical so much.
Every time I hear this song, I think of that old man and wonder if he did see any other show while visiting his daughter, whether or not that was the case.
Song Title: Overture To “Pretty Lady”/With Plenty Of Money And You – 1937 Genre: Soundtrack Artist: Kate Levering (Dance) and Men Composer: Harry Warren Lyricist: Al Dubin Album: 42nd Street (2001)
Favourite Lyrics: It’s the root of all evil / Of strife and upheaval / But I’m certain, honey, that life would be sunny / With plenty of money and you
Runner Ups: I Baby, It’s Cold Outside • I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You) • I Love Lucy • Juana la Cubana • Almost like being in love • The 20th Century Fox Mambo • Overture • Audition • Go Into Your Dance • Dames • Keep Young And Beautiful • Dames (Reprise) • We’re In The Money • Shuffle Off To Buffalo • 42nd Street • Finale Ultimo
186 MONDAY 29 DECEMBER 2014
Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra: II. Adagio – Pepe Romero, Barry Davis, Academy of St. Martin In the Fields & Sir Neville Marriner
It was Herb Alpert’s 1979 trumpet version that introduced me to Concierto de Aranjuez. I have nothing much to say about it, so, just sit, relax and enjoy the sounds of Spain in 1939.
Song Title: Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra: II. Adagio – 1939 Genre: Classic Artist: Pepe Romero, Barry Davis, Academy of St. Martin In the Fields & Sir Neville Marriner Composer: Joaquín Rodrigo Album: The 50 Greatest Performances of Classical Music
Runners Up: Rinaldo, HWV 7, Act 2: “Lascia ch’io pianga” • Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos and Strings, RV 531: I. Allegro • Etude No. 3 in E Major, Op. 10, “Tristesse”: Lento ma non troppo
187 TUESDAY 30 DECEMBER 2014
Praeludium and Allegro in the Style of Pugnani – Henryk Szeryng & Charles Reiner
This will probably end up being the only song that after only one play came on the list, actually I spoke too soon. One of next week’s songs also came on the list after just one play. In any case, there’s something so mysterious and captivating about this piece that enthralled me the first time it came through my ear buds.
Song Title: Praeludium and Allegro in the Style of Pugnani – 1910 Genre: Classic Artist: Henryk Szeryng & Charles Reiner Composer: Fritz Kreisler Album: The 50 Greatest Performances of Classical Music
Runners Up: Ellen’s Chants, D. 839, Op. 56: Ave Maria • Concerto No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 129: III. Adagio – Allegro • Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1004: V. Chaconne • L’estro armonico, Op. 3, Concerto No. 8 in A Minor for Two Violins and Strings, RV 522: I. Allegro
188 WEDNESDAY 31 DECEMBER 2014
El Año Víejo – Tony Camargo
Besides a few songs that I have left for WEEK 52, El Año Víejo (The Old Year) is the only song that I pre-selected for the list. Today was New Year’s Eve, and this is a very popular song in Venezuela and parts of Latin America. As the old year eats through its last hours, the song looks at the balance of the year that is about to end.
This is one of my mother’s favourite songs. When I was a kid, the first thing my mum would do on New Year’s Eve was to get out her 45 rpm record from the back of the family room closet and played it almost non-stop for the entire day. I can still see her around the house, dancing on her own, while preparing for the night festivities. Every year, she would organise a big dinner party for all the family, relatives, and close friends. My parents didn’t throw too many parties, but when they did, they were epic.
From 8:00 PM onwards there would be a non-stop parade of people coming through our house doors. First, a few neighbours would briefly stop before going to other parties, then friends on their way to other celebrations, and finally the immediate family would arrive. There was always plenty of drinks and food. Throughout the night, whenever the trumpets of El Año Víejo would come through the stereo speakers my mother would grab whoever were next to her and dance a few steps.
As midnight would approach, the sounds of fireworks would start to fill the air. My younger cousins would be running around the front yard with sparklers, the older cousins would light a series of rockets, missiles, volcanos, and everything they could find at the corner’s fireworks stand.
Around five to midnight, my mother would play El Año Víejo once more, and again she’d dance a few steps with anyone nearby. At midnight, we’d give each other a hug and wish for happiness in the New Year. Within 15 minutes, a full traditional dinner would be served, the party would go one for another couple of hours. More visitors would arrive and El Año Víejo would be played a few more times during that time. Later in the day my mother would put the 45 rpm record back in its case and store it again in the back of the family room closet. The disc would sit there for another 365 days waiting to be played again.
Song Title: El Año Víejo (The Old Year) – 1953 Genre: Latin Artist: Tony Camargo Composer: Crescencio Salcedo Lyricist: Crescencio Salcedo Album: RCA 100 Años de Música: Tony Camargo
Favourite Lyrics: Yo no olvido el año viejo / porque me ha dejao cosas muy buenas / me dejo una chiva / una burra negra / una yegua blanca / y una buena suegra
I don’t forget the old year / because it left me with very good things / it left me with a goat / a black jenny / a white mare / and a good mother-in-love
189 THURSDAY 1 JANUARY 2015
Boom Ditty Boom – 70, Girls, 70 1991 Original London Cast
From the geniuses of Kander and Ebb, this is the silliest song I could have picked for the list. All I know about this song is that it comes from their 1971 show “70, Girls, 70”. A group of old folks steal furs to resell them and raise funds to buy the retirement hotel where they live in New York. I’m not sure what the song is about and context it is used in; I just think it is fun to listen to.
Song Title: Boom Ditty Boom – 1971 Genre: Musical Artist: 70, Girls, 70 1991 Original London Cast Composer: John Kander Lyricist: Fred Ebb Album: 70, Girls, 70 (Remastered)
Favourite Lyrics: Boom ditty boom ditty boom ditty ditty ditty / Boom ditty boom ditty boom ditty ditty boom
Runners Up: Theme From ”Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” • Love Theme From ”Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” • Theme From “Bugsy” • Old FolksHome • Coffee in a Cardboard Cup • Hit It, Lorraine • Go Visit • 70, Girls, 70 • The Elephant Song • Yes •Finale • Do We? • Broadway My Street