Blue Moon

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Blue Moon (Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart)

From Wikipedia:

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and MGM Song #225 Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star) dated June 14, 1933, was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.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was also titled It’s Just That Kind Of Play, was cut from the film before release, and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934.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”.

In the JazzStandards.com page on the song, the site creator Jeremy Wilson elaborates upon the impetus which led to the final version, suggesting that in response to a “deal” offered by music publisher Jack Robbins, Hart wrote the lyric cynically, as a made-to-order product in a vacuous style that he disdained.

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Selected popular recordings:

Glen-Gray-and-the-Casa-Loma-Orchestra-Kenny-Sargent-1-t50-f10

Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, vocal: Kenny Sargent – 1935

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Ray Noble and his Orchestra with vocals by Al Bowlly – 1935

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Greta Keller – 1935

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Mel Tormé with Pete Rugolo and His Orchestra – 1949

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Elvis Presley — recorded on 19 August 1954 at Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee; issued 31 August 1956 on the single RCA 47-6640, b/w “Just Because”

  • Elvis Presley: vocals, guitar
  • Scotty Moore: guitar
  • Bill Black: bass
  • unknown: percussion*

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The Marcels – #1 selling over 2.5 million copies – 1961

the original single

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Original members Harp, Mundy, Knauss and Johnson with a new fifth member perform live for the PBS special Doo Wop 50, 1999

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* The Elvis histories and sessionographies that I’ve checked are in agreement that Presley, Moore, and Black were the only musicians present during the August 19, 1954 session. However, it’s odd that none of those accounts attempts to provide an explanation for the clippety-clop percussion on the recording of “Blue Moon,” since the first percussion on an Elvis recording is generally acknowledged to been that played by Jimmie Lott during a March 1955 session on the song “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.” Perhaps the percussion was added to a cut of “Blue Moon” in 1956 when it was selected for inclusion on the debut Elvis album.

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