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Love Me Tender – The Stories behind the world’s best-loved songs

by Max Cryer.

Frances Lincoln Limited.

ISBN 978-0-7112-2911-2.

£9.99 US$ 16:95

Experience Classicsonline

 

The 40 songs:-

Memory (Cats); Love Me Tender; Edelweiss; For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow; The Star-Spangled Banner; Danny Boy; Auld Lang Syne; Hello Dolly!; Lili Marlene; Somewhere Over the Rainbow; Yesterday; White Christmas; Amazing Grace; Home Sweet Home; Moon River; Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; Begin the Beguine; God Save the King/Queen; I Don’t Know How to Love Him; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Galway Bay; I Could Have danced All Night; Blue Moon; You Made Me Love You; Silent Night; Beyond the Blue Horizon; Ave Maria; Now is the Hour; Mad Dogs and Englishmen; Falling in Love Again; Happy Birthday; Candle in the Wind; Waltzing Matilda; Send in the Clowns; Greensleeves; The Loveliest Night of the Year; Bali Ha’i; You Don’t Have to say You Love Me; It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

Ever wondered how a song originated, the story behind it? Ever wondered whether the music comes before the lyrics or vice versa, or speculated about the people or things that might have influenced the words? Well this intriguing little book offers such information on forty of the world’s best-loved songs.

Beginning with the smash hit song ‘Memory’ from the musical Cats with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music - pity the rest of the Cats music was so much less distinguished - and lyrics by Trevor Nunn based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Cats. We learn about how T.S. Eliot’s poems came to be written and how Lloyd Webber first considered his settings as a concert song-cycle. Nunn was not impressed with the idea and besides there were legal considerations and the Eliot estate was very fussy about who and how the poems were to be set to music. It was not until Eliot’s widow, Valerie Eliot, heard and warmed to Lloyd Webber’s evocative treatment of the cat poems that the idea of a musical with the notion of dancing cats gained momentum. Valerie Eliot also passed on the idea that, in death, cats would travel up to "cat heaven" and a few lines about a once-glamorous cat called Grizabella who was forced to face the loss of her looks. Grizabella gradually became an important part of the Cats story and Elaine Page, the original stage Grizabella, sang the heart rending song, ‘Memory’, as the old cat recalled, at the end of her life, all that had been so joyous in her youth. Incidentally, we also discover that an alternative set of lyrics had been written by Tim Rice but Nunn’s words were chosen.

At the other end of the book is a very different song, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. Apparently one night in 1912 a fishmonger and part-time composer took on a bet that he could write a song the next day and sing it on stage that same night. The bet was for five shillings, a not inconsiderable sum in those days. On the way home he overheard somebody giving directions, "It’s a long way to …" and that phrase stuck in his mind and, for no accountable reason – he had never been to Ireland, the word "Tipperary" came in to his mind and a classic was born. It became extremely popular amongst the troops of the Great War.

In between there are 38 more intriguing stories. An Irish woman, Jane Ross, who collected old-time melodies and folk music, heard and was entranced by a particularly lovely melody and the famous lyricist Fred Weatherley, took out a song lyric that he had never used, from a drawer, and seamlessly applied it to that tune to create ‘Danny Boy’. Weatherley wrote the words for ‘The Holy City’ and the poignant First World War song, ‘Roses of Picardy’ and he had collaborated with the Italian composer, Paolo Tosti in a series of songs. Weatherley also wrote the lyrics for a number of hit songs by Eric Coates. ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ had an interesting story on its way to becoming America’s National Anthem in 1931. The tune was composed by an English musician, John Stafford Smith (1750-1836) who was a choir member of the Chapel Royal and later its organist. The tune was wedded to words by a young American lawyer and poet, Francis Scott Key who had witnessed how the star-shaped Fort McHenry in Baltimore had withstood an English naval bombardment. It will be recalled that the poem begins, "Oh, say, can you see, By the dawn’s early light …" The story of ‘Hello Dolly’ is traced through a 19th century farce A Day Well Spent through Thornton Wilder’s play The Merchant of Yonkers in which the action was moved from Europe to the outskirts of New York with the addition of a strong woman in keeping with the times of women’s emancipation. The play was none too successful and it was not until Tyrone Guthrie took an interest and suggested a re-staging of The Merchant of Yonkers with a considerably expanded role for Dolly Levi plus a re-naming for the play, as The Matchmaker, that the project became successful. The musical Hello Dolly and that song, belted out, most famously in the film version, by Barbra Streisand, followed. It was first sung, in the stage premiere, in 1963 by Carol Channing, others who rejoiced in it included: Mary Martin, Betty Grable, Ethel Merman, Dorothy Lamour and Eve Arden.

We also discover how ‘Love Me Tender’ came to be one of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits, how Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’ ‘evolved’ from scrambled eggs, and what Marie Antoinette had to do with ‘For He’s a Jolly Good fellow’!

An intriguing little book that would make an ideal Christmas stocking filler.

Ian Lace

 


 


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