It Was a Very Good Year, Music

It Was a Very Good Year: 1942-1944

– Nathan

Yeah! We’re at our second stop on this long, sonic journey. I’m not sure how many people are actually reading this series, but hey, we’re going to keep on trucking for as long as we can and spit out as many Grateful Dead puns as humanly possible.

January 3rd-31st, 1942: “Chattanooga Choo Choo”- Glenn Miller

See previous post.

February 7th, 21st, 1942: “A String of Pearls”- Glenn Miller

I’ve always liked this song, though I’ve never felt it sounds like the sort of thing you would find in the mouth of a mollusk. Actually, correction, I haven’t always liked this song, because it isn’t like this is the song doctors blasted at me during my ultrasound or anything like that, just in case you were wondering.

And again, further proof that Glenn Miller is better without a vocalist.

February 14th, 1942: “Blues in the Night (My Mama Done Tol’ Me)”- Woody Herman

Supposedly this song is considered part of the “GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOOK!!!” so I’m a bit intimidated at first. But I don’t know how anyone can tale a song which uses phrases like “knee pants” and “clickity click clack” seriously. The lyrics try to establish the protagonist as a “King of the Road”/Allman Brothers-style rambler while the the instrumentation proves to be surprisingly lush, so the two don’t really seem to match up in my opinion. But it’s not bad.

February 28th-May 2nd, 1942: “Moonlight Cocktail”- Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller definitely has a thing for moonlight, and also for strange two-word pairings, like “Tuxedo Junction” and the title of this song. And also for place-names, as we’ll see later.

This song compares the sky to alcohol, or something? I’m not really sure. It has a nice tinkling piano part, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, group vocals don’t really do it for me. The saxophone part is also soothing and pleasant.

May 9th-June 13th, 1942: “Tangerine”- Jimmy Dorsey

That old duo of 1941, Helen O’Connell and Bob Eberly, returns. I’m watching a live performance of this song, and Mr. Eberly (I believe he shares a last name with my kindergarten teacher…) appears to have a very stretched and alien-esque face. But I shouldn’t let this feud become too personal.

This song uses the word “bourgeoisie,” (what?) and also incorporates several of Jimmy Dorsey’s favorite Spanish phrases. While it starts out slowly and drags on in the beginning, the band soon kicks out Eberly and starts to pick up the tempo. They are soon joined by O’Connell, who was possibly an inspiration for Madonna, as she bears a crucifix around her neck. I may have to check out more live performances of these songs, as this one revealed a lot of interesting details.

June 20th-July 11th, 1942: “Sleepy Lagoon”- Harry James

I like this song. I think it’s best to listen to in the dark, though.

July 18th-September 5th, 1942: “Jingle Jangle Jingle”- Kay Kyser

No, Kay Kyser, your song doesn’t make me glad I’m single. Novelty songs…

September 12th-October 24th, 1942: “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo”- Glenn Miller

So a guy from Texas meets a girl at college in Michigan. Apparently she’s a real pipperoo and has freckles, but in a stunning twist of fate, this Texas kid is actually somehow from Michigan. Anyway, just like its predecessor “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” this one ain’t worth whistlin’ about. I’m just repeating myself here, as always, but the instrumentation is nice, the vocals aren’t, and so, yeah. You know the routine.

October 31st, 1942-January 9th, 1943:”White Christmas”- Bing Crosby

I prefer the doo wop version of this song, because Bing’s voice is just too oil-y and slick for me. Mostly my issues with “White Christmas” stem from my extreme dislike of the movie. If you’re going to make a movie about Christmas, here are a few rules that need establishing: 1) don’t release your hit Christmas single the week of Halloween! Let the people listen to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and “Monster Mash” until we have to exorcise the Rob Zombie out of ’em with the holy Thanksgiving waters known as cranberry sauce and turkey gravy. You always do this, Christmas. Always crampin’ Thanksgiving’s style, stepping on his lines. He doesn’t have a movie, for crying out loud. Not one movie. Maybe a few, if you count Charlie Brown and Hannah and Her Sisters. I would even go so far as to pronounce The Fantastic Mr. Fox as a “Thanksgiving” film because of its constant fall foliage, because the situation is that desperate! But no, no, you have to take all the good movies. You took both Die Hard and A Christmas Story! Can’t you share at all, Christmas? Can’t you? And you even snatched up one of Patton Oswalt’s best sketches. Now I just have to sit here, all of my days, grinding this candy-cane axe. Tsk, tsk, tsk. 2) If it has the word “Christmas” in the title, make it about Christmas! Don’t make it about doing something special for the general, or dancing turning into romancing. Make it about Santa and Jesus and reindeer and K-mart elves.

Anyway, it’s not such a bad song. I just like to complain. Now YouTube is suggesting that I listen to “This Land is Your Land,” which I love, but it also suggests the Lady Gaga cover of this Christmas tune, which I have not heard. She’s doing something weird with her hand in the video for it, and her fingernails are long and freaky. And she keeps doing something strange with her voice. In addition, she also exists under the grand delusion that “White Christmas” has only one verse. WRONG. Don’t you remember the Christmas card bit? Maybe that’s just part of the first verse, I don’t know. She tries to cram Thanksgiving into the song, at the very end. Well, okay. But what about Hanukkah?? Save room, those latkas add plenty of weight.

January 16th-February 6th,  February 27th, 1943: “There Are Such Things”- Tommy Dorsey

Yay, vocals by Frank Sinatra! He sounds so childish and young. Oh, those naive days of yore… The instrumentation doesn’t seem to play a large role in this song; it takes a backseat to the vocalists. I’d like it more if it were just Sinatra, but I understand that group vocals were prevalent in this time. There is some nice instrumentation, though.

This is a side note, but I wonder if songs that hit the top of the charts have anything to do with the weather and time of year?

February 13th-20th, 1943: “I Had the Craziest Dream”- Harry James

I liked it until about 1 minute and 30 seconds in, when the vocalist started. I guess I just prefer jazz/swing that’s instrumental. I feel that way about modern jazz, too.

March 6th-May 22nd, June 5th, 1943:“I’ve Heard That Song Before”- Harry James

The army of musicians who’ve kept control of the charts with different songs multiple weeks in a row swells to three- Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and Harry James. I’m not sure if I’ve heard this song before. I might have. That’s quite a circle there- Harry James has heard that song before, so he writes a song about that song, but what if the song he’s writing is that song, and he’s mentioning in the song he’s writing that he’s heard the song before, the song he’s writing, so which one is the real song, the song he’s writing, which he’s heard before, or the song he’s heard before, which he’s presently writing? It’s like the Tennessee Waltz, where the protagonist pens a number called the “Tennessee Waltz” about hearing a song called the “Tennessee Waltz,” so what’s the real Tennessee Waltz? And what’s the real “that song”?

This number is enjoyable, jazzy, swinging, gets you moving. Actually, I think I have heard it before.

May 29th, 1943: “That Old Black Magic”- Glenn Miller

Another “that,” but apparently the people didn’t want too much “that” in a row, causing this song to quickly and quietly exit the charts, head in hands. The song has group vocalists again, but a different featured vocalists than the past Glenn Miller numbers I’ve encountered here. The number’s nice, but a little sad, as it’s the last Glenn Miller song to ever hit the top of the charts (he died in World War II) and it’s nowhere near as splendid a musical creation as “Moonlight Serenade.”

June 12th-26th, 1943: “Taking a Chance on Love”- Benny Goodman

Meh, it’s alright. I like Benny Goodman, but again, I don’t like female vocalists from this era. I don’t know why, but many of them just sound the same. It gets tiring.

July 3rd-17th, 1943: “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer”- The Song Spinners

If I am remembering correctly, based on all the songs I’ve listened to so far, this is the first song credited to an actual “band,” not an orchestra or an individual. A little gospel-y and interesting, but too vocal for me. It reminds me of Gone with the Wind, and sadly, it’s not a glorious collaboration between Bon Jovi and Paul McCartney and Wings.

July 24th-August 14th, 1943:”You’ll Never Know”- Dick Haymes

I like this a lot, as its so much simpler than everything else I’ve listened to so far. It cuts back on a lot of the accompaniment, stripping it down to a basic jazz band with a piano, bass, xylophone, and the like. I sure do love the xylophone. And Dick Haymes has a great voice to boot. This is definitely one of the best songs I’ve listened to so far in the series.

August 21st-September 4th, 1943: “In the Blue of Evening”- Tommy Dorsey

This song doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, so I’m going in blind. But it’s by a familiar face, so I have that. It also has Frank Sinatra on vocals, and it doesn’t have any backing singers behind him, which is good. Frank Sinatra needs to be on his own to succeed, as his voice is like a thick knife slicing avocado, and anything behind it softens that quick, sudden blow. We’re not looking for one thick knife and a battalion of plastic sporks reinforcing him.

September 11th-October 23rd, 1943: “Sunday, Monday, or Always”- Bing Crosby

It’s like a church choir. Ugh.

October 30th, 1943: “Pistol Packin’ Mama”- Al Dexter

The song Charlton Heston sings to his woman.

I don’t really like these strange, early country-western/big band crossover songs. Also, domestic violence probably isn’t the best theme for a pop song. But hey, it’s got an accordion!

November 6th, 1943-January 22, 1944: “Paper Doll”- Mills Brothers

Interesting choice of musical arrangement, with a guitar prominently featured. It’s okay, I suppose.

Well, that’s all we have time for today, although we’ll be back promptly for the end of the war and the beginning of a new era. I just realized that I’m about to run into a major issue- from 1950-1958, when the Hot 100 was introduced, Billboard reported both the best-selling single, the most-played single by jockeys, and the most-played single on jukeboxes. So I’m not sure which one to choose and which ones to disregard. Any thoughts? I’ll probably come up with some way to fix this dilemma, as I always do. Anyway, thanks again, everyone.

– Nathan

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