Blue Moon (Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart)
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were contracted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in May 1933. They were soon commissioned to write the songs for Hollywood Party, a film that was to star many of the studio’s top artists. Richard Rodgers later recalled “One of our ideas was to include a scene in which Jean Harlow is shown as an innocent young girl saying – or rather singing – her prayers. How the sequence fitted into the movie I haven’t the foggiest notion, but the purpose was to express Harlow’s overwhelming ambition to become a movie star (‘Oh Lord, if you’re not busy up there,/I ask for help with a prayer/So please don’t give me the air…’).” The song was not even recorded and MGM Song #225 Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star) dated June 14, 1933, was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.
Lorenz Hart wrote new lyrics for the tune to create a title song for the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama: “Act One:/You gulp your coffee and run;/Into the subway you crowd./Don’t breathe, it isn’t allowed”. The song, which was also titled It’s Just That Kind Of Play, was cut from the film before release, and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934. The studio then asked for a nightclub number for the film. Rodgers still liked the melody so Hart wrote a third lyric: The Bad In Every Man, (Oh, Lord …/I could be good to a lover,/But then I always discover/The bad in ev’ry man), which was sung by Shirley Ross made up in blackface. The song, which was also released as sheet music, was not a hit.
After the film was released by MGM, Jack Robbins — the head of the studio’s publishing company—decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. Hart was initially reluctant to write yet another lyric but he was persuaded. The result was “Blue moon/you saw me standing alone/without a dream in my heart/without a love of my own”.
Jazzstandards.com elaborates upon the impetus which led to the final version, intimating that Hart wrote the lyrics cynically, as a made-to-order product in a style which he didn’t care for:
…Jack Robbins offered a “deal” to the songwriting team: If Hart would write a more commercial lyric, Robbins would “plug it from one end of the country to the other.” Robbins suggested the song should be one of those Tin Pan Alley love songs with the words June, moon, and spoon. Just to show he could do it, and with a large measure of cynicism, Hart wrote the lyrics to “Blue Moon.” Although he did not personally like the song, it soon became a number one hit, a million-seller in sheet music sales, and, in the end, his most popular song.
Selected popular recordings:
Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, vocal: Kenny Sargent – 1935
Ray Noble and his Orchestra with vocals by Al Bowlly – 1935
Greta Keller – 1935
Mel Tormé with Pete Rugolo and His Orchestra – 1949
Elvis Presley — recorded on 19 August 1954 at Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee
- Elvis Presley: vocals, guitar
- Scotty Moore: guitar
- Bill Black: bass
- unknown: percussion*
* The Elvis histories and sessionographies I’ve checked all agree that Presley, Moore, and Black were the only musicians present on this session. However, it’s very odd that none of them even attempt to account for the clippity-clop percussion on the recording. Perhaps it was added in 1956 when the cut was selected for inclusion on the debut Elvis album. Jimmie Lott is generally acknowledged to have played the first percussion on an Elvis recording, during a March 1955 session, on the song I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.
In September 1956, Blue Moon was released by RCA as a single b/w Just Because. It rose no higher than #55 but spent 17 weeks on the chart.
The Marcels – #1 selling over 2.5 million copies – 1961
the original single.
Original members Harp, Mundy, Knauss and Johnson with a new fifth member perform live for the PBS special Doo Wop 50, 1999