HIGHER AND HIGHER

This post isn’t about what you may think it’s about (like maybe mountain climbing, drugs or seduction). No, friends — just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge the title of a post by its lover.

And what am I a lover of? Faithful readers know that from time to time, I indulge my love for 1920s-1940s popular music/jazz with a post honoring a songwriting giant of that era (forgotten though he or she may be today). Dec. 10 is the birthday of one such songwriter, and this is such a post (sorry about the letdown).

Lyricist Harold Adamson was born on this date in 1906. He studied law at Harvard, but songwriting had a greater appeal and, as luck (and talent) would have it, his first published song became an all-time standard: Time On My Hands, written for the 1930 stage show SMILES, starring Fred and Adele Astaire….and who better to do it justice than Billie Holiday, backed by Teddy Wilson, Lester Young & other jazz greats:

Working with such composers as Jimmy McHugh, Vincent Youmans, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Vernon Duke and Victor Young, Adamson went on to write lyrics to such hits as Manhattan Serenade, Everything I Have Is Yours, It’s A Wonderful World, It’s A Most Unusual Day and many more. Here, from the 1936 film SUZY starring Jean Harlow and a very young Cary Grant, is one of Adamson’s lesser known songs (and the only time Cary Grant ever sang in a movie):

In 1943 (at the height of WW II), Adamson teamed with McHugh to write the songs for Frank Sinatra’s first starring movie, HIGHER AND HIGHER. Quoting McHugh:

Adamson and I trekked into our office at RKO and found the script glaring coldly at us from the top of the piano. It informed us that there’d be a minor lover’s quarrel in the story, also the need of a big production number. Nothing happened with us that first day, but at 3 a.m. the next morning, Adamson phoned me and said he’d been listening to a musical shortwave program that suddenly had been cut off for a news announcement.
“There’s our title for the production number, Jim,” he said, “The Music Stopped.”
Then I began concentrating on the lovers’ spat and came down with insomnia. As the thousandth  sheep jumped over the fence, both tune and title landed: “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.”

But to my mind, the best of the McHugh-Adamson songs from that film is this one:

Note that the above recording is a V-Disc, which is a story in itself. James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), had called a national ban on recording by its members in 1942, meaning no new recordings could be made by commercial record companies using AFM musicians. To get around this ban, songs were recorded a capella, without instrumental accompaniment. However, there was an exception for records, called V-Discs, made for American troops overseas….thus the orchestral accompaniment for this song from the film’s CBS rehearsal session was recorded as a V-Disc. This, and many other V-Discs, survive to this day because, although such discs were supposed to be off-limits in the U.S., this edict was largely ignored by returning GIs.

I close at the bottom of  this HIGHER AND HIGHER post with the title song from TOP OF THE TOWN, a film with screenplay co-written by humorist Robert Benchley:

 

 

 

 

 

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10 comments on “HIGHER AND HIGHER

  1. linnetmoss says:

    Wonderful! Especially the incomparable Cary Grant. I didn’t realize he ever sang in a film 🙂 He’s not bad! Also love the Axel Stordahl years of Sinatra. My kind of music.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mistermuse says:

    I agree – Cary Grant’s singing of “Did I Remember?” is not only “not bad,” it’s a sheer delight. And it was indeed Alex Stordahl who arranged and conducted the orchestra in the Sinatra V-Disc.

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Like

  3. Resa says:

    A truly fabulous post! Enjoyed Billie & Jean & Cary immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mistermuse says:

    Thank you so much!

    Like

  5. Don Frankel says:

    Where did it go? I posted a comment here and poof. Maybe I didn’t hit the right button.

    Anyway I was surprised to hear Cary Grant sing and I wondered what army he was in. I mean it looked like he was wearing one of Major Strasser’s uniforms.

    Like

  6. mistermuse says:

    Don, as someone who has had his share of comments disappear into cyberspace, I offer my makes-my-blood-boil-to-think-of-it condolences. May the cyberspace gods become blinded by the brilliance of our missing comments and get lost forever in the netherworld of their perfidious malevolence (or worse — if this comment doesn’t get through).

    As for Cary Grant, he played a French aviator in the film, and Jean Harlow is an American showgirl in Paris as WW I begins. As I recall, the film isn’t as good as it should’ve been (given that it was co-scripted by Dorothy Parker), but the song “Did I Remember” did get an Academy Award nomination.

    Like

  7. literaryeyes says:

    I saw a film last night, apropos of the 1920s-40s, starring Deanna Durbin. She sang “Night and Day” and hit the right tone on the nuances. Some of those old “movie stars” could sing.

    Like

  8. mistermuse says:

    I own well over a dozen Deanna Durbin records (both 78s & LPs) and love her voice. I don’t think NIGHT AND DAY is her best song, though I like the “big finish” she gives it in the film (her orchestral accompaniment doesn’t seem right for the song, which doesn’t help). It’s not that she doesn’t sing it well – it’s just that I’ve heard it sung better by others.

    Like

  9. RMW says:

    Just listening to Cary Grant sing made me high… too bad he didn’t sing in more movies… he was one of a kind!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. mistermuse says:

    And to think his real name was Archibald Leach!
    But you’re right – he was a “peach.”

    Liked by 1 person

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