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I Won’t Grow Up

I Won’t Grow Up

I didn’t get married until I was almost thirty. I had put it off for years, knowing I wasn’t ready to be a mature adult family man. I felt that, approaching thirty, it was past time for me to shake off the childish things, but the fact is, I still wasn’t ready. I was a musician, playing in bars, drinking too much, hoping for fame and acclaim as a singer-songwriter.

I was 31 when my first daughter was born, and still I was unsuited for parenting. I got a straight job but continued to play music in bars. My daughter made it through and is now thriving, but that first marriage didn’t survive. I’m trying to make up for that now, by being a late-blooming good grandpa. Still playing music, though.

Jonathan plays Dallas

Jonathan plays Dallas

“Leprechaun Rock and Roll” Jonathan Richman, right out of the box with his group The Modern Lovers, was a pre-punk sensation, an influence to the punk movement that grew up just after the debut album’s release. But by the time the punkers were seizing the Zeitgeist, Jonathan had moved on. His 1977 album Rock ‘n’ Roll with the Modern Lovers was a big step away from the punk ethos and sound. The songs were still simple and guitar-based, but the guitar was acoustic and the vocals, rather than raw and menacing, were naïve and playful. In addition to warbling his own songs, like “Ice Cream Man,” “Leprechaun Rock and Roll,” and “Dodge Veg-O-Matic,” Jonathan even covered “The Wheels on the Bus.” He is the quintessential arrested adolescent, has only become more so over time, and has maintained a loyal following of those who prize the naïve sense of wonder and the carefree spirit that come across in his songs.

One of the best shows I ever saw was Jonathan Richman’s performance, backed by his long-suffering sidekick, drummer Tommy Larkins, at a small Dallas club. The main reason this show stands out is undoubtedly that I attended with my oldest daughter, who was thirty years old at the time. See, I had played the Rock ‘n’ Roll with the Modern Lovers album for her and my youngest daughter when they were little, and the three of us sang and danced along with it. We had our moves and backup parts down, and still occasionally put on Jonathan and regress together.

So there was that history, even though Jonathan only played one song from the album at the show. But there was also this fascinating display of naivety as Richman strummed his nylon-string guitar, sang his fanciful lyrics, and riffed as things popped into his head. Tommy dutifully followed his bandleader’s fits and starts, slowdowns and speedups, and transitions into different keys or even completely different songs. Jonathan Richman really does seem free of any of the boundaries his performer peers operate inside. Is it all an act? I really don’t know. I don’t want to know. Let my daughter and me believe Jonathan Richman’s just a perpetual kid finding his way, musically, through the dangerous world.

 pop pop

“I Won’t Grow Up” This song was a standout from the 1954 musical adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It was written by Carolyn Leigh and Mark “Moose” Charlap (now there’s a nickname that he probably wanted to outgrow). Of course, it was a grown woman, Mary Martin—age 40, who played Peter and sang about refusing to become a man with a moustache. (Safe bet for Ms. Martin.)

A favorite version of the song is also by a grown woman, Rickie Lee Jones, on her charming covers album Pop Pop, which seems to be themed around a return to innocence, with its cover taken from a kiddie novelty.

Cannonball Adderley

Cannonball Adderley

“Dat Dere” Another playful song on RLJ’s Pop Pop is her take on the 1960 jazz tune by Bobby Timmons. Oscar Brown, Jr., wrote the baby-talk lyrics that Rickie Lee slides into so naturally. Timmons also wrote “Dis Here,” and both songs were a big part of Cannonball Adderley’s rise as a soul-jazz pioneer.

I marvel at the fluidity of “Dat Dere”: Its instrumental versions, especially Cannonball’s, are swaggery and hip. Add in Brown’s child’s-point-of-view lyrics (“And mommy, can I have dat big elep’ant ober dere?”), and the character of the song changes completely. And yet, I love it equally with and without the words.

beach b

“When I Grow Up” The mere fact that The Beach Boys have been saddled with their youthful moniker well into their dotage is noteworthy. They ditched the surfer shirts when they went through their hippie phase and never went back, but every audience member at their shows regresses several decades—a roomful of boys and girls who are on the AARP subscription list.

Brian Wilson was already twenty-two when he wrote this song of angst about entering adulthood. “Will I dig the same things that turned me on as a kid?” And now, in his seventies, he’s still like a child, a spacey child who gets lost in daydreams, who needs to be handled by a grownup.

tmbg

“Hope That I Get Old Before I Die” They Might Be Giants: even the name is defiantly juvenile. TMBG is two Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell, who met in high school. They recorded cassettes in the early-to-mid-eighties, along with songs for their popular “Dial-a-Song” service (call the number, get an original song).

These guys are like class clowns, recording their wacky songs like a cutup throws his jokes out there, hoping for a reaction. Some TMBG songs fall flat, just like some of the class clown’s gags always do, but like the jokes, the songs are short; if one doesn’t grab you, you move on to the next track. They pull off some jejunity: “We Want a Rock” is an obvious pun, but works; “The Mesopotamians” is a “Hey, hey, we’re The Monkees”-style band song for a band of, yes, Mesopotamians; “James K. Polk” is a cute history lesson with a theremin ride. A bonus track on the reissue of their first and second albums features a recording of a group of schoolkids singing “Particle Man.”

Great Song Titles: In addition to “Hope That I Get Old Before I Die,” their song titles include “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head,” “Rabid Child,” and “Hide Away, Folk Family.”

Hello Goodbye

Hello Goodbye

“You say goodbye…” Mary Hopkin is pretty much remembered today only for her 1969 #1 hit, “Those Were the Days.” Maybe I’m worn out on that song or maybe I’m just being difficult when I say that I prefer her follow-up, “Goodbye.” It was written expressly for her by Paul McCartney, whose song “Get Back” beat it out of the #1 spot on the UK charts. (Paul also, of course, wrote the song that gives this post its title.) Ms. Hopkins’ lovely voice gave both of her hit songs a kind of Old Country folk quality, but that verges on pastiche with “Those Were the Days,” I think. “Goodbye” makes me think of mead and moors and sheep dung. In a good way.

“…and I say hello.” “Hello Hello” was San Fran band Sopwith Camel’s only hit. It made it to #26 pop in The Summer of Love. It’s a retro-sounding trifle, but it’s memorable to me for a couple of reasons. First, it was one of the songs of the rock ‘n’ roll generation that Steve Allen lampooned on his variety show by reading the lyrics as profound poetry. He especially milked the delivery of the lines “Would you like some of my tangerines? You know I’ll never treat you mean.” And then there was Sopwith Camel’s appearance on my local music-scene show, Sump’n Else. Show host Ron Chapman kept getting distracted, while interviewing the Camel’s singer, by a plastic fly affixed to his glasses lens. Crazy hippies in Dallas, Texas!

My pick for the most gorgeous recording in jazz will probably always be the John Coltrane and Duke Ellington pairing on Duke’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” But right behind it is the magnificent and melancholy saxophone tour de force of Cannonball Adderley on his version of Gordon Jenkins’ ballad “Goodbye.” Adderley is justifiably remembered for his soul-jazz hits, but his way with a ballad is outstanding. People forget that Cannonball was alongside Coltrane and Miles on Kind of Blue. His “Goodbye” is a fine song made stellar. I’ve also heard a nice vocal arrangement of the song performed by the latest generation of Four Freshmen.

hya

“Hy’a Sue” is minor Duke Ellington, but any song by The Duke (and any song that uses the expression “hy’a”) is worthy of a few words. It was first recorded in 1947, a version I have on a 78 rpm record. In his book Duke’s Bones: Ellington’s Great Trombonists, Kurt Dietrich mentions this recording as a nice vehicle for one of Duke’s lesser ‘bones, Tyree Glenn. On the song, writes Dietrich, Glenn showcases his “outstanding ability with the plunger” and his solos “establish him as (Tricky Sam) Nanton’s worthy successor.”

dukes bones

Tricky Sam Nanton on the cover of Duke’s ‘Bones

“Bye Bye Love,” written by the Bryant couple, Felice and Boudleaux, was the Everly Brothers’ debut in 1957—a nice one, at that, going all the way to #2 pop. Webb Pierce made the top ten of the country charts with it the same year, but I don’t think I’ve ever even heard that recording. Versions of the pop/rock/country standard I own include Ray Charles’ swingy thing on his Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music album (1962), Simon and Garfunkel’s live version from Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970), and the Ditty Bops’ 2006 version on Moon Over the Freeway. (I also own the completely different “Bye Bye Love” the Cars recorded on their own debut in 1978.)

everlys again

The Everlys

Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello” is a high-point song from a high-point album—my favorite of his—Blood on the Tracks (1975). I’ve listened to the record countless times since it came out, and I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten tired of it; however, I can say that the songs I’ve gotten least tired of are “Tangled Up in Blue” and this one. Why haven’t more singers covered it?

Original Dylan, from Blood on the Tracks album cover

Original Dylan, from Blood on the Tracks album cover

What do The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” have in common? Well, they both got to number one. But The Beatle song is divine, while the Steam song is a throwaway, a goof. But both songs had catchy sing-along codas that were standbys at parties of my high school choir gang. Steam’s ending was the “lite” variant of “Hey Jude”’s. On a bus trip across the desert, someone started singing the Steam song, and by the second time around we were all singing. We drove our bus driver mad as we continued, mile after mile, giddy and unable to stop. I don’t recall exactly how it came to an end, but I think it put us all to sleep (except the irritated driver, thank God). It is my most vivid memory of high school choir, all these years later.

prine

One music faux pas I committed involved the John Prine gem “Hello in There.” I’d performed the song many times and decided to do it when my turn came around in a jam circle I was new to. I played it on that occasion in a slightly faster tempo than the original version, and in a reggae beat. I saw another jammer’s jaw drop and a look of horror come across his face. I later found out that he was a John Prine fanatic and felt I’d committed blasphemy with my irreverent rendition. Oh well. I think the emotional depth of the song’s tragic story can survive a treatment that is not funereal. I still engage in John Prine heresy now and then.

The best song to close this post is one that says hello but means goodbye. It’s actually a song within a song, “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby for the 1930 Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers. “Hello, I Must Be Going” is quintessential Groucho absurdity. He sings “I’ll stay a week or two / I’ll stay the summer through / But now I’m telling you, I must be going.” “Hello, I must be going” is such a great line that it’s been used for album titles, movie titles, weekly column titles, and Groucho’s autobiography.

And now, to close a blog post: Hello, I must be going.

Get Happy

Get Happy

We got sad last time. Now, let’s get happy!

Louis Armstrong was the happiest performer in all of American pop music. (On stage and on record, anyway.) In 1929, his version of “When You’re Smiling” helped cheer the country through the Great Depression. If Satchmo couldn’t do it, then who could? In 1930, “Get Happy,” “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” were all big hits. Music was put to use to make life tolerable, to give people a little optimism. It’s hard to imagine living through the Great Depression. My parents both did, in Oklahoma, no less. They never talked about it.

louis 2

Music has always served the function of bringing a little happiness to all the poor saps trying to make it through each day, whether in the Great Depression, in a not-so-great-depression, or just in a yen to shake a tailfeather.

It’s unfortunate that Bobby McFerrin is always remembered as the guy who did “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’s great that he had a big hit, and the song is a nice bit of fluff (and made Mr. McFerrin quite happy, monetarily). Bobby McFerrin, though, has written and performed some other works that are very impressive, very ambitious—magnum opuses compared to the “Don’t Worry” trifle. Vocabularies is probably his most ambitious work so far, but my personal favorite is the album CircleSongs, in which Mr. McF assembles eight great vocalists, male and female, for some hypnotic vocalized-but-wordless musical adventures. Each one is a different style of music but they all fit together as a package. It’s what Bobby McFerrin should be remembered for. And as works involving the community, cooperation, and dependence of a choral group, the songs are pure happiness.

bobbo

Nancy Wilson was at her most adventurous on the 1962 album Nancy Wilson/ Cannonball Adderley. Cannon and company propelled Ms. Wilson into some new, jazzier territory, bringing out (but never crowding out) her fine, flexible voice. An unlikely choice to cover was “Happy Talk,” the ditty from the 1949 musical South Pacific. Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day also covered the song, but played it pretty straight. Nancy Wilson, with the help of Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Joe Zawinul, and the band, transformed the trifle into something swingin’ and engaging. Happy music! For balance, they also include “Little Unhappy Boy” in the album’s line-up.

Cannonball Adderley

Cannonball Adderley

The last five of the twelve songs on the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley CD (or side two of the LP) are instrumentals—no Nancy. I’m not sure why she took a rest. As much as I enjoy listening to the Adderley bands in all their instrumental incarnations, I could’ve used a little more of this pairing with Nancy Wilson.

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson

Ms. Wilson recorded another great song of happiness, “How Glad I Am,” the following year and won a Grammy for it.

I will never stop pushing Paolo Conte on my friends, even though he sings in Italian 90% of the time (and most of the rest is in French). It doesn’t matter that we don’t understand what he’s saying; it’s the music, the feel of the rhythms and the musicians that’s the draw. Pretend it’s instrumental. Conte’s lyrics are pretty impressionistic anyway—he’s going for a feeling.

His song “Happy Feet” does have an English title and chorus: “Happy feet, ta-dah-tah / Happy feet, ta-dah-tah / Happy feet, oh, oh, I love it.” (See, you wouldn’t be missing much if it was in Italian.) The song’s sub-title is “musica per i vostri piedi, madame” (“Music for Your Feet, Madame”). It is a very happy song, as many of Paolo’s up-tempo numbers are. It first appeared on an album from 1990 called Parole d’amore scritte a machina. It means Words of love written by a machine.

parole

The Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over” got me in a bit of trouble in elementary school. A couple of friends and I, during an indoor recess period, got a little too happy. We began singing the then-current DC5 hit and mimicking the essential drum punctuation with our feet: “And I’m feelin’ (stomp-stomp) glad all over / Yes, I’m (stomp-stomp) glad all over…” We were so carried away—so happy—that we were completely surprised by our exasperated teacher, who’d been unsuccessfully trying to get our attention. She made the three of us stand in front of our lockers while our classmates paraded past us for lunch.

Honorable Mention: One could not discuss happy songs without including the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams song “Happy.” It’s a catchy song, but is quickly becoming a “quota song” (heard enough for a lifetime). Many other folks have already reached their quota with it. I saw a sign on a business’s employee bulletin board recently. It read, “No one has played ‘Happy’ in this building for: ____ days. Keep the dream alive!” They were up to 23 days.

An earlier song called “Happy” should also be mentioned. The Stones let Keith sing it, and it became a hit—at #22 pop in 1972.

I also should note two sixties pop-rock songs, The Who’s “Happy Jack” and its frolicking bass-and-guitar riffs (and another Keith having a ball on the tom-toms), and the feel-good “Happy Together” by The Turtles.

Songs I Like to Sing: Whenever I play gigs for seniors, “You Are My Sunshine,” the ‘30s standard credited to Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis (who apparently bought the song rights from true writer Paul Rice), residents always sing along, filled with joyful abandon. It is the oddest of popular songs. Its chorus is so bright and cheerful. And then come the verses, which also sound joyous, musically—but the lyrics are anything but. “The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms / When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken / So I hung my head and I cried.” They sound like they ought to be matched with mournful, minor-key chords, instead of bouncing along in a C-to-G-to-D frolic. “If you leave me for another, you will always regret that day,” we all sing, with bright expressions on our faces, and then right back into “Oh, you are my sunshine, my only sunshine!” C’mon, everybody!

Great Song Title: There was at least one occasion that a record’s title was the only reason I bought it: “Happy Being Fat.” I had to hear what that 45 sounded like—and it was in a three-for-a-dollar bin at Woolworth’s, so it wasn’t much of a gamble, even for a kid on an allowance. The 1963 record was by Big Dee Irwin. I hadn’t heard of him, but later found out he’d had a minor hit with a cover of “Swingin’ on a Star” with Little “Locomotion” Eva. I also learned that Big Dee had changed his name from DiFosco T. Ervin, which sounds to me like the name of a Li’l Abner character.

 

What happy songs brighten your day? Any happy songs that make you mad?

Time Loves a Hero

Time Loves a Hero

I’ve never been much of a superhero kind of guy. And by that, I’m not referring to my lack of super-powers. I just never read comics and never watched the superhero shows growing up—except for Batman, which I appreciated as kitsch even as a child. The stars, terse Adam West as Batman and excitable Burt Ward as his sidekick Robin, struck just the right tone of self-parody, and the theme, by Neal Hefti, was always a favorite TV theme. I have owned, for almost 50 years now, The Ventures Play the Batman Theme, from 1966. “Batman Theme” composer Neal Hefti could be in my Hall of Honor for his TV themes alone—he also composed The Odd Couple’s theme—but he did a stint as a composer and arranger for the great Count Basie, most notably of the song “Cute,” which is about as perfect a musical representation of the word as I can imagine. (And without itself being too cute.)

ventures

hefti

Another superhero theme/jazz composer connection involves Spiderman. I never watched the show, and only reluctantly saw the first movie, dragged to the theater by a kid. But the show’s theme song was familiar to me and everyone else. It certainly must’ve sounded familiar to Charles Mingus, whose 1959 song “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” bears much more than a passing resemblance to the later TV theme. I don’t know of any plagiarism lawsuit, but it would’ve been a slam-dunk for Mingus. “Boogie Stop Shuffle” is just one gem among the flawless line-up that is the 1959 album Mingus, Ah-Um. Mingus was at his peak here, and two of the selections, “Good-bye, Porkpie Hat” and “Better Get It in Your Soul,” are bona fide jazz classics.

ah um

Everybody loves the superhero Mighty Mouse. Not everybody loves Andy Kaufman, but one of his best bits capitalized on the appeal of the little mouse that could. His Mighty Mouse sketch is firmly in the Andy Kaufman camp camp, but is fun for all ages. When he opens his portable record player, starts up the Mighty Mouse theme, and exuberantly lip-syncs “Here I come to save the day!”, it’s like Our Gang’s Alfalfa serenading cute little Darla with all he’s got. And then you wait for it to come around again, as impatient as Andy. Simple and brilliant.

Cannonball's Big Man

Cannonball’s Big Man

Hero of American folklore John Henry may have been a real guy, a guy who drilled a railroad tunnel with his bare hands, whuppin’ a steam-powered machine—and then up ‘n’ died. John and son Alan Lomax collected 23 verses of the song “John Henry,” and also published a modest five-verse variant, in their American Ballads and Folk Songs compilation of 1934. A hundred years after the legendary event, jazz artist Cannonball Adderley revisited the John Henry story in an ambitious, hour-long musical work called Big Man. Cannonball’s four-year effort to create Big Man may have hastened his death, a couple of years after its completion, much like John Henry’s efforts killed him. Alas, Big Man was not a success and not the crowning achievement in his career that Adderley may have hoped it would be.

My favorite movie soundtracks are mostly by Bernard Herrmann (Fahrenheit 451, Taxi Driver, and those of Hitchcock’s fifties classics) and Nino Rota’s Fellini soundtracks. One exception, from 1972, is the soundtrack for Super Fly. Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack for the popular movie that featured a black antihero, a ghetto icon, netted him two top-ten hits, both jewels: “Freddie’s Dead” and the title track. The whole album is fantastic, a delight to listen to forty years after the last time I saw the movie.

super fly

The funhouse-carnival conglomeration that is “Heroes and Villains” now fits comfortably in the Smile assemblage and in the Beach Boys canon, but it baffled some pop-music lovers when it came out. Ron Chapman, a powerful Dallas radio and TV host who channeled hit radio to the area for decades, pronounced it one of the worst singles he’d ever heard. Beach Boy Mike Love scorned it as another example of Brian Wilson’s lyricist partner Van Dyke Parks’ “acid alliteration.” It could’ve been a mess, mixing tempos and rhythms, barbershop harmonies and rock chords, and inserting “dum-da-dooby-doo-wah” parts, accompanied by a slide whistle. But it’s an aural adventure that makes perfect sense in its proper context.

Honorable Mention: I also must mention David Bowie’s song “Heroes,” from the 1977 album of the same name. “We could be heroes / Just for one day.”

Quota Song: I tended to prefer Jim Croce’s ballads to his jivey up-tempo songs about badasses. Plus, they were definitely overplayed back in the day. But that first one had a nice chorus: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape / You don’t spit into the wind / You don’t pull the mask off that ol’ Lone Ranger / And you don’t mess around with Jim.” Yep, he’s a badass.

tiny tim

Amazing Jimmy (“No such thing as a bad song”) Nominee: I sometimes go out on a limb to stand up for Herbert “Tiny Tim” Khaury. Like the TV Batman, his shtick was kitsch, and I found it to be pretty dang entertaining. I pulled out Tiny Tim’s Second Album (1968) recently, because it has a nutty cover of “Great Balls of Fire,” and I’ve just finished reading Rick Bragg’s terrific new bio Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. “My Hero,” the penultimate song on the album, tries too hard, though, and is over the top even for Mr. Tim. He sings a duet with himself, as a male and female pair, with overkill strings all around.

Nonmusical Note: And now, my own closest encounter with a hero. In the mid- and late-seventies, I played in a band that toured a circuit of clubs, performing Tuesday through Saturday night in one city for a month and then moving on to the next one. The clubs were usually located in suburbs and the motels we stayed in were usually suburban chains, like Motel 6 or, if we were lucky, La Quinta. In Phoenix, for a reason I can’t recall or explain, we were booked to stay in a huge old hotel downtown, despite the fact that, as usual, the club was nowhere near downtown. The Westward Ho was a 16-story landmark, the tallest building in Phoenix until 1960. It was converted into senior housing in 1980.

Most days of our month there, guitar player Wildcat and I headed up the street to run and work out at the Downtown Phoenix YMCA. One day after a run, I sat in the sauna with three older men. The extremely hairy guy next to me, who identified himself as a priest, tapped my shoulder and gestured to a fit black man on the opposite bench. “Do you know who that is?” the priest asked. “That’s Jesse Owens!” He didn’t have to elaborate. I knew all about the great runner who showed Adolph Hitler up at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I had devoured a Jesse Owens biography (the orange hardback bios that every library used to stock) as a kid.

“Jesse Owens?” I spluttered. I rose, clutching my towel around me, to shake his hand. “You’re one of my heroes!” He was gracious, and we all sat together in the sauna for a few more minutes. I could not believe I was sweating alongside one of the truly great Americans, forty years after his Olympic accomplishments. My greatest brush with greatness.

Autumn Almanac

Autumn Almanac

I like to announce, over softly picked minor chords, that my group is about to sing a beautiful song for all the lovers out there called (and I over-exaggerate bad French) “‘Luh fweel mohrt,’ or, in English, ‘The Dead Leaves.’”

Yes, that’s the direct translation of the French name of the standard we know as “Autumn Leaves.” It is an international song. Hungarian Joseph Kosma composed “Les feuilles mortes” in 1946 for a French film. Frenchman Jacques Prevert wrote French lyrics for it. Then in 1951, along came American Johnny Mercer, who wrote English lyrics and got his most profitable song ever out of the deal. Our group does the Mercer lyrics, not the Prevert, and after the slow intro, we ramp up the tempo in a Latin-beat. Maybe we need Spanish lyrics.

The biggest hit version was sans lyrics: Roger Williams’ EZ-listening piano treatment, full of cascades representing all those falling leaves that drift by the window. It is the epitome of elevator music, and reached number 1 in 1955. Five other artists had a hit with “Autumn Leaves” in ’55. Rog had another stab at it ten years later, as “Autumn Leaves—1965.” That time he only got to #92 on the chart.

cannon

My favorite version is an instrumental featuring the saxophone of Cannonball Adderley. It’s on Cannon’s 1958 album Somethin’ Else, which like most Cannonball Adderley, is somethin’ else. Miles Davis joins Adderley on the album, which preceded their collaboration on Kind of Blue. Hank Jones contributes fine piano work.

There are not nearly as many autumn songs as there are winter, spring, or, especially, summer songs. But there is another great standard of autumn, Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York.” It continues, a year later, the theme Duke started with “April in Paris” in 1933. Frank Sinatra was the first singer I heard do the song. His 1949 hit lodged it in the American popular songbook, after it had languished for fifteen years, but the version I had was recorded by Frank ten years after that, for the album Come Fly with Me. It’s masterfully sung, of course. Billie Holiday is among the many fine vocalists who followed Sinatra’s lead and recorded the song. (Sinatra also recorded a nice “Autumn Leaves.”)

sinatra fly

Above all recordings of the song, I like the 1957 session in which Ella Fitzgerald meets up with Louis Armstrong. We get Ella first, singing through it with her pure voice. Louis is up next, and I am reminded of just how effective he could be singing sensitive ballads. (“That Lucky Old Sun,” anyone?) Louis follows his vocalized verses with some trumpet, and then we hear Ella again, this time backed by some subtle asides from Louis. It’s a real treat to hear these two together.

And, in honor of singer-actress Polly Bergen, who recently died, I should point out that she also recorded a nice, smooth version of “Autumn in New York.”

Sinatra did another great autumnal song, “Indian Summer,” fronting Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra. It’s nicely done, but an instrumental version featuring the wonderful clarinet of Sidney Bechet is my preferred version; in fact, Bechet’s “Indian Summer” is probably only topped by his take on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

Sidney Bechet Autobiography

Sidney Bechet Autobiography

Years ago, using The Jazz and Blues Lovers’ Guide to the U.S., my wife and I located the childhood home of Bechet in New Orleans’ 7th Ward. We pulled up in front and I got out to take a picture. I was instantly surrounded by a group of boys on bicycles demanding payment from me, saying they knew I was from some magazine. I got back in the car, drove around the neighborhood a few times and then swooped back by and got the shot from my car window. That historic house has since been demolished by the city as part of the post-Katrina clean-up.

The Kinks’ “Autumn Almanac” made it to #3 in the UK in 1967, but it didn’t even dent the charts here in the U.S. Silly Americans! It’s a whirlwind of a little pop number, maybe too much for American radio. It has a steady, up-tempo beat. It has sing-along parts—some “la-la-la” sections and a rousing “Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac!” chorus. It’s got verses sung by Ray Davies in his sweet, old English gentleman voice. “Tea and toasted, buttered currants can’t compensate for lack of sun / Because the summer’s all gone.” And it’s got a fade-out in 6/4 that’s yet another sing-along section. Shoulda been a stateside hit, too!

"Autumn Almanac" is one of The Kink Kronikles

“Autumn Almanac” is one of The Kink Kronikles

Neil Young’s 1992 song “Harvest Moon” figures into one of my dearest performing memories. It was the favorite song of a good friend’s bride-to-be. As a proposal setting, my friend arranged with another friend to get the cavernous Union Station Ballroom for an hour or so one early evening. A wedding had taken place earlier in the day, and there were deflated balloons, empty plastic flute glasses, and confetti everywhere. In a little nook in a far corner of the room, my friend had placed a small table and two chairs, and an ice bucket containing a chilling bottle of wine.

He instructed me to wait, hidden behind a column, at the top of the grand marble stairway that led up to the ballroom. When I saw Friend and Lady-Friend enter, I started playing and singing “Harvest Moon,” as instructed. The pair ascended the stairs and walked arm-in-arm through the remains of the earlier celebration to the table set-up, with their troubadour following, strumming and singing. It was quite a magic moment.

She accepted, and they’re still married, fifteen years later.

An earlier song of the harvest moon was written by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth. “Shine On, Harvest Moon” has endured as a great sing-along for more than 100 years. When I do it at the senior centers, everyone always knows all of the words. I let the audience sing “since January, February, June, or July” without me. Since the last words of the song are “For me and my gal,” I slide right into the song of that name, another sing-along standard just under the century mark. It was written by Edgar Leslie, Ray Goetz, and George W. Meyer for the musical Here and There. Judy Garland and Gene Kelly sang it together on film in the movie For Me and My Gal, in 1942. It was Gene’s film debut and was directed by Busby Berkeley. “Everybody’s been knowing, to a wedding we’re going.”

smiley

Honorable Mention: “Fall Breaks and Back to Winter” (also known as “The Woody Woodpecker Symphony”) is an oddity even among its off-the-wall companions on The Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile. It has a Volga-boatmen quality to it, or maybe of the entrance song of the Winged Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.

Dream Jukebox: After listening again to The Kinks’ “Autumn Almanac,” I know it deserves a place on the Dream Box, aside “Sunny Afternoon,” “Waterloo Sunset,” and “Dead End Street.”

 

Any songs of autumn help you make the seasonal transition?

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