Words & Music


Some time ago I posted a piece on the music Moonglow (the theme from the film Picnic), where I remarked that I thought no lyrics have ever done justice to the melody. Thanks to phonomono78s – I came across a recording by Ethel Waters. While most tributes to the song Moonglow associate the music with the theme from the 1955 film ‘Picnic’, it was originally a popular song from 1933 and recording by Ethel Waters in 1934, Despite my remark, in my case at least, once the words and music become embedded on the mind, it seems impossible to disassociate them. You hum it, I’ll sing it: “It must have been Moonglow…”

Perhaps a corollary to my remark is the ability of added lyrics to make a piece of popular music a great composition of words and music. Listening to my favourite on-line radio station, I heard Anthony Newley singing ‘This time the dream’s on me. A cover that I hadn’t heard before. The music was written by Harold Arlen and the lyrics added by Johnny Mercer. Two great contributors to ‘The Great American Song Book’. I think that Anthony Newley’s cover is a gem, but then so is the cover by Priscilla Lane in the 1941 film ‘Blues In The Night’ .

One of the many lyrics Johnny Mercer wrote to accompany a piece of popular music was ‘The Midnight Sun’. A tribute to Johnny Mercer’s poetic talent as a lyricist.

A lot of us may associate the song ‘Skylark’ with Hoagy Carmichael. The music was written by Hoagy Carmichael but yet again the lyrics were contributed by Johnny Mercer.

So maybe what makes a song memorable are the words and the music, which when they work well together make it truly great. In the 1944 film ‘To Have And Have Not‘ we find Hoagy Carmichael singing ‘Am I Blue’ and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who credited the song to him.

Cue Ethel Waters again singing ‘Am I Blue’ – complete with the introduction – a song written by Harry Akst and Grant Clarke in 1929, and was a big hit that year for Ethel Waters in the film On with the Show. It may possibly be the most covered song in ‘The Great American Song Book’ – unless you know better?

As my 53rd wedding anniversary approaches in a few days, I probably shouldn’t have ended with ‘Am I Blue’. So here’s a more approriate Johnny Mercer offering to end on.

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This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

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Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

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Professor Mark Elliott

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Am I my Brothers keeper?

An Anthology of Short Stories

Selected by other writers

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The Short Stories of David Goodwin (Capucin)

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