Posts Tagged ‘Dionne Warwick’

The much-acclaimed 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis spins the tale of a St. Louis family from summer 1903 to spring 1904. A posh production helmed by Vincente Minnelli, it’s at once nostalgic and not, dreamy and dour, with most of the songs dating to the early 1900s or before. However, the film is spiced by a handful of new tunes by songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine: “The Boy Next Door,” the Oscar-nominated “The Trolley Song” and a song that’s since become a seasonal classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

This NPR/Fresh Air page delves into the song’s history; this Wikipedia page does, too. But if you choose not to click through, what you really should know is this: Martin’s and Blaine’s first version was rejected by Judy Garland, co-star Tom Drake and Minnelli. As Martin explained to Fresh Air host Terri Gross in 2006, “The original version was so lugubrious that Judy Garland refused to sing it. She said, ‘If I sing that, little Margaret will cry and they’ll think I’m a monster.’ So I was young then and kind of arrogant, and I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry you don’t like it, Judy, but that’s the way it is, and I don’t really want to write a new lyric.’ But Tom Drake, who played the boy next door, took me aside and said, ‘Hugh, you’ve got to finish it. It’s really a great song potentially, and I think you’ll be sorry if you don’t do it.’ So I went home and I wrote the version that’s in the movie.”

Garland’s rendition was released as a single and, though it only rose to No. 27 on the pop charts, became a hit with U.S. service members fighting in World War II. It’s easy to hear why; she captures the nuances of the lyrics, which are simultaneously hopeful and yearning, cherishing the days that used to be while wishing to forge similar memories again: “Someday soon we all will be together/If the fates allow/Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow/So have yourself a merry little Christmas now….”

Here she is performing it on the radio in 1944:

In 1957, Frank Sinatra – who first covered it in 1948 – asked Martin to change the line “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to something a tad more upbeat, as he wanted to re-record it for his A Jolly Christmas LP and found that line depressing. As a result, it became “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” It zaps some of the song’s strength, I think.

In the years since, it has joined the Great American Songbook and been performed by hundreds upon hundreds of artists; SecondHandSongs lists 1575 recorded renditions, for example, and that’s likely an undercount. Simply put, it tugs at the heartstrings like few others; and, in some respects, could well be the theme song for Christmas 2020. In any event, here’s a Song Roundup of renditions that have captured my ear through the years and also this morning…

Ella Fitzgerald sings it from her 1960 Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas LP. Note that she sticks with the “muddle through” line…

…while Lena Horne, on her 1966 album titled Merry From Lena, does not.  

The a cappella jazz vocal ensemble Singers Unlimited perform the “highest bough” version song on their 1972 Christmas LP.

In 1987, Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders deliver a stirring rendition of the Sinatra version for the A Very Special Christmas CD compilation. (Interesting to note, but it was after this record that the song’s popularity jumped into hyperdrive.)

In 1992, the Stylistics put their soulful spin on it and make it sound brand new, though they, too, sing the “highest bough” line.

Linda Ronstadt also “hangs a shining star” on her 2000 A Merry Little Christmas album. 

In 2004, Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight joined together for this moving rendition, which appeared on Warwick’s My Favorite Time of Year album; they actually make me not mind when they sing “highest bough” line. 

Also in 2004, Chris Isaak channels his inner Sinatra for this version from his Christmas album, but sings the original “muddle through” line.

In 2011, She & Him (aka Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward) covered the Sinatra version for their A Very She & Him Christmas set.

First Aid Kit shared their beautiful version, which they performed on BBC Radio 2, in 2017. They, too, “muddle through.” 

Finally, the rendition that ignited this journey: Malin Pettersen and Darling West, who shared their cover a few weeks back. As I said at the time, it’s a hauntingly beautiful rendition of a haunting beautiful song. (And, note, that they also sing the original “muddle through” line.)

Life flows like a stream rushing and cutting down a mountainside and through a valley, its path seemingly pre-ordained but, in reality, routinely diverted by manmade and natural obstacles, dams and debris. The water takes the path of least resistance, forever jutting one way only to jut another, powered by gravity and the melting snowpack atop the mountain.

Samantha Sang’s “Emotion,” a song I likely haven’t heard since 1978, blasted from my trusty THX-certified Logitech computer speakers moments ago, followed by the catchy “Then Came You” by Dionne Warwick and the Spinners. Olivia Newton-John’s “Make a Move on Me,” which hit No. 5 on the pop charts in 1982, was next up. Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man,” Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree” and Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” roll on in this particular stream, followed by Terrence Trent D’Arby’s “Wishing Well.”

It’s not Pandora, but KDRI, aka The Drive, which is a new independent radio station in Tucson. For those in the Arizona city, it can be listened to via 830 AM or 101.7 FM; for the rest of us, it can be streamed at its website, https://thedrivetucson.com. Geared to older Gen Xers and younger baby boomers (aka ages 45 to 64), the playlist features songs from the late ‘60s through the mid-‘90s. I tuned in a few hours back, and have yet to tune out – which says something. 

“Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image, a No. 4 hit in 1970, followed Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do,” a No. 2 smash from 1994, with Smokey Robinson’s 1987 hit “Just to See Her” closing the unlikely block. And then? Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” from 1972. It’s a mishmash of songs that have contributed to the soundtracks of many lives, in other words, whether we first heard them when they hit the charts, via the oldies stations of our youths, or our own turntables. The ‘80s were represented this morning, too, with Thompson Twins “Lay Your Hands on Me” followed by the only Cars song I like, “Drive.” 

At the macro level, one thing I like best about oldies stations is that they replicate, to a degree, the Top 40 stations of yore, when genre was an afterthought. Pop, rock, R&B and disco, even country, blasted from the speakers simply because the song was a Hot Hit. At the micro level, one of the things I like about KDRI is that many of the songs aren’t the normal nostalgia fodder. (10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday”?!) If you’re of a certain vintage, and stuck at a desk during your workday, the KDRI experience is a good alternative to the same-old, same-old.

1) Samantha Song – “Emotion.” Written by Barry and Robin Gibb, and featuring Barry on backing vocals, this Bee Gees-like tune reached No. 3 on the pop charts in 1978. It was later covered by the Bee Gees and Destiny’s Child.

2) Dionne Warwick and the Spinners – “Then Came You.” Here’s some trivia: Despite her many classic sides in the ’60s, this 1974 collaboration with the Spinners was Dionne Warwick’s first No. 1 pop hit.

3) Phoebe Snow – “Poetry Man.” Released in late 1974, the debut single from singer-songwriter Snow would peak at No. 5 on the pop charts in 1975 (and hit No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts).

4) “All I Wanna Do” – Sheryl Crow. From Crow’s 1993 Tuesday Night Music Club debut album, “All I Wanna Do” was released as a single in April and went on to hit No. 2 – and nab Record of the Year honors at the 1995 Grammy Awards.

5) Marmalade – “Reflections of My Life.” The Glasgow band eked into the U.S. Top 10 in 1970 with this introspective tune, their only Top 40 success across the pond. They enjoyed more success in the U.K., where the song hit No. 3. (They also topped the U.K. charts with a cover of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” in 1968 and scored a few additional Top 10 hits.)

As I mentioned in Friday’s countdown, “This Guy’s in Love With You” may well have been lost to time if not for Herb Alpert reaching out to Burt Bacharach and asking if he had any old tunes lying around that had never been recorded. Bacharach offered him “This Guy.” Alpert liked the melody, that there was a break where he could insert a trumpet solo, and that it didn’t require vocal gymnastics on his part. He was a horn player, after all, not a singer.

That clip comes from Alpert’s TV special The Beat of the Brass, which aired on CBS on April 22, 1968. The 45 was released the same month, and flew up the charts, eventually spending four weeks at No. 1 and becoming the year’s seventh most popular single.

The song’s soothing, sweet melody can’t be denied; it lingers with you long after the song is over. Lyrically speaking, it’s the declaration of a head-over-heels guy (or gal) laying it on the line to his dream gal (or guy). It works equally well no matter the gender of the singer, or who they’re singing to. Love is love, after all.

Anyway, it quickly became one of those songs every vocalist of note wanted to sing, and I thought it might be fun to spotlight some of those other versions here. Dusty Springfield, for example, recorded it for her Dusty…Definitely LP, released on November 22, 1968 – not that folks in the U.S. heard it (except via import). Dusty was on different record labels in the U.S. and the U.K., and Atlantic – her American home – decided not to release the album. It wouldn’t become available in the States until 1972, when it was included on the A Tribute to Burt Bacharach compilation LP. (It’s since been included on a handful of best-of/rarities collections, including Dusty in London.)

Here’s the audio of her singing it on the All Kinds of Music TV special, which was broadcast in the UK on Christmas Day 1968:

That same November, the Temptations and the Supremes released their own version on Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations LP.

Before both of them, however, Petula Clark included her rendition of it on her 1968 Petula LP, which was released in the U.S. in September 1968.

Dionne Warwick, a frequent collaborator with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, also recorded it for her Promises, Promises album, which was also released in November 1968. It would become one of her greatest hits when it was released as a single the following year; it rose to No. 7 in the charts.

Also in 1969, Ella Fitzgerald covered it on her Sunshine of Your Love album. Here she is on TV performing it…

Sammy Davis Jr. also laid down a jazzy rendition of it on The Goin’s Great the same year. Here he is in Germany:

In early 1970, Aretha Franklin released her This Girl’s in Love With You album, though the song wasn’t issued as a single.

That same year, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles covered it on their whatlovehas… concept album.

Hundreds of others have covered it in the years since (and thousands more in karaoke bars). In 1982, the Reels – an Aussie pop-rock band – scored a No. 7 hit with it Down Under:

In 2009, jazz-pop singer Jane Moneheit included her dreamy take on the song on her The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me album:

Here’s She & Him (Zooey “One Day You’ll Be Cool” Deschanel & M. Ward) from their 2014 album Classics:

Finally, British singer-songwriter Rumer released her rendition of it on This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook in late 2016. (That’s Burt Bacharach himself at the song’s start.) It and Dusty’s are my favorite versions, though every rendition has something going for it.

On this day in 1967, a Sunday, the Middle East was headed toward the conflict now known as the Six-Day War; it would begin on June 5th when Israel launched a preemptive strike against the Arab armies massing at its borders.

Closer to home, American society and culture was continuing to experience rapid (and, in some quarters, welcome) cultural changes, as evidenced by the Chicago Tribune introducing the “Working Woman” column by Carol Kleiman in its lifestyle section. It begins with its raison d’être:

Everyone talks about the working woman – but nobody knows her name. She’s been put under a microscope and dissected by the experts. She’s been told to stay home and do the dishes. And then she’s been told she can have any career she wants if she only lets herself have one.

Everyone talks to the working woman. Everyone has advice. But nobody lets her answer. Meanwhile, millions of young, single work. So do married women, with and without children. And thousands of mature women enter the labor market each year and start working for the first time in their lives or for the first time in years.

This is unique. It’s a revolution in the labor force and in equality for women, and all working women – you and I – are caught up in it. We have problems – and we have possibilities. We are not men, and the business world is still a man’s world.

In all the studies of feminine mystiques and feminine mistakes, no one has let the working woman speak for herself. What does the career girl say her problems are? Does she look at her job as a temporary career until marriage, or a lifetime profession?

Kleiman, as she notes in the column, was in the latter category.

Unless my eyes deceived me, however, this Sunday edition of the Tribune doesn’t mention anything related to youth culture. Oh, it includes a few teen guest columnists weighing in on such subjects as patriotism and volunteerism, articles about folks in the entertainment world and one on classical music, but not one mention of any of this week’s top pop releases or hits or even Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was due out in the U.S. on June 2nd.

Not surprising, of course, but annoying to me all the same.

Speaking of career gals and lonely hearts: 16-year-old young Wendy D. was eyeing a career in education; and, to that end, she belonged to the Future Teachers of America club at her high school. As for lonely hearts – well, she certainly wasn’t one.

Valerie S., a few years younger than Wendy, was less about the lovin’ and more about studying and playing games. Ping pong!

I share their experiences because, as I noted in the Top 5 for April 22, 1967, when we think of bygone ages – especially one as romanticized as the late ’60s – we often imagine them as totally different from the present. The reality is often more mundane, however. Tectonic cultural shifts were underfoot, true, but the vast majority of kids, such as these two, still woke up, went to school, hung out with friends, dated and – as Wendy will in short order – dealt with strep throat. Some things change. Some things don’t.

Oh, and here’s one other thing that attracted my eye while browsing the Tribune’s Sunday edition – an advertisement for Sony’s latest, greatest 12-transistor portable radio. It and radios like it, for those too young to know, were the iPods of the day.

Anyway, enough of the rambling intro and onward to today’s Top 5: May 28, 1967, with songs pulled from the May 27th chart over at Weekly Top 40. (And, yes, I’ve featured a few of these songs before, but not these specific clips.)

1) The Young Rascals – “Groovin’.” The No. 1 song in the land, for the second week in a row, is this gloriously evocative song of summer.

2) Aretha Franklin – “Respect.” Jumping from No. 5 to No. 2 is this classic from the Queen of Soul.

3) Neil Diamond – “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” Entering the Top 10 is Neil Diamond’s fourth single for Bang Records. It possesses a dramatic, brooding melody and lyrics that…well, what can be said about “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon/Please come take my hand/Girl, you’ll be a woman soon/Soon you’ll need a man”? That they reflected a certain mindset of their time? Or that they were just…creepy? You be the judge.

4) Eric Burdon & the Animals – “When I Was Young.” Dropping from No. 15 to 22 is this classic counterculture ode inspired by Burdon’s father.

5) Dionne Warwick – “Alfie.” The week’s No. 37 song is what is now considered to be one of Dionne Warwick’s signature tunes. The Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, which was the theme to the 1966 movie of the same name, was originally sung by Cilia Black over the end credits for the U.K. release and earned her a Top 10 U.K. hit. For the U.S. release, however, Cher sang it, and her version stalled at No. 32 on the American charts. Warwick, who’s joked that she was the 43rd person to sing the song, recorded it only at the insistence of Bacharach, who’d wanted her to sing it all along. (That idea was nixed by the movie studio.) It would reach No. 15. Here she is, in 1972, singing it on Mike Douglas’ afternoon talk show:

And two bonuses…

6) Scott McKenzie – “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” One of the theme songs to the Summer of Love, this hippie paean was penned by John Phillips (of the Mamas and the Papas) in order to promote the Monterey Pop Festival.

7) And, finally: The times they were a-changin’. That’s for sure. On Thursday of the following week, aka June 1st, Jefferson Airplane flew onto the set of American Bandstand and sang the trippy “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” which had jumped from No. 22 to No. 17 and was about to rise even higher, No. 9, by week’s end.