Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Recycling, '50s-style

In my Ink Spots post, I mentioned parenthetically that when the Platters' record of My Prayer zoomed to the top of the charts in 1956, we teenagers thought it was a new song. Like so many pop hits of the '50s -- Side By Side (1927), Play a Simple Melody (1914), I Can Dream, Can't I? (1938), Beyond the Blue Horizon (1930), The World is Waiting for the Sunrise (1918), Walking My Baby Back Home (1930), Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries (1931), I've Got the World on a String (1932), Love Letters in the Sand (1931), My Blue Heaven (1924) -- it wasn't new at all.

I can't find the date of composition of Fats Domino's 1956 hit What's the Reason I'm Not Pleasin' You? but I know that Red McKenzie and Bunny Berigan and the Mound City Blue Blowers recorded it in 1935:

Other 1950s recyclings come to mind: Jo Stafford's Make Love to Me was, of course, derived from the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' 1923 Tin Roof Blues, and Elvis Presley's Love Me Tender was nothing but Aura Lee from 1861.

We even thought Joe Turner was a new singer. When I saw him at one of Alan Freed's first rock 'n' roll shows at the Brooklyn Paramount, I knew nothing about him and Kansas City and the Sunset Club and pianist Pete Johnson. We had no idea Big Joe had already been shakin', rattlin' and rollin' for over twenty years.

But back to My Prayer. The Ink Spots had scored a hit with the song in 1939, but the melody wasn't new even then. My Prayer was derived from Avant de Mourir, a 1926 composition by Romanian violinist Georges Boulanger (1893-1958), student of Leopold Auer and composer of salon pieces featuring tango rhythms and gypsy-flavored melodies. In 1939, the English lyrics -- uninspired, in my opinion -- were added by Jimmy Kennedy, an Irish songwriter. (Kennedy did a much better job with composer John Walter Bratton's 1907 The Teddy Bears' Picnic, retrofitting it with lyrics in 1932. He was also the lyricist of Red Sails in the Sunset and The Isle of Capri.)

This tango version of Avant de Mourir is from 1929:

Boulanger's own version, played with schmaltz aplenty, can be heard here:

Boulanger plays it at such a funereal pace that the tango rhythm is lost, but considering the title of the piece (and that this is the composer playing it) his tempo seems heartbreakingly appropriate.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the doowop Marcels had composed "Blue Moon." I did.