This Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d spend some time at the movies. Nothing more recent than the 1940s though. Of course we’ll have more recent sheets concerning love, but this was a quick trawl through that small part of the collection where love leads the title.
Let’s start in the 1930s …
Youmans Love is like a song (publ. 1930)
It’s easy to see who was expected to sell this song sheet, and it certainly wasn’t Vincent Youmans, the composer. Gloria Swanson’s character is shown striking various poses, giving the impression of an independent, sassy woman. What a widow, the film, is reportedly lost, with only a trailer and soundtrack now known. It’s described as a ‘pre-code’ movie. That intrigued me, so I went looking.
A strong female lead was one of the characteristics of American films released in the early 1930s, when sound was new. Several more morally-dubious traits were also evident: prostitution, illegal drug use, and homosexuality, amongst others. This caused a backlash in certain quarters of American society, resulting in the rigorous enforcement of morality-based censorship guidelines, the Hays code, from 1934 onwards.
This song however wouldn’t bother any censor. It’s quite short, with a simple vocal line. Here’s a sample of the words:
When your eyes look into some-one’s longingly, Then you soon begin to hear its melody, Love is like a song, Play’d on many heart-strings, But the words will always be, ‘I love you.’
Robin & Rainger Love in bloom (publ. 1934)
This song sheet has the appearance of something well-used and appreciated, though why one of its previous owners felt the need to sign Bing Crosby’s forehead, I’m not sure. Young and newly-famous, this song and its movie, She loves me not, helped Crosby along the road to stardom. Love in bloom was nominated for an Oscar.
The refrain goes like this:
Can it be the trees that fill the breeze with rare and magic perfume? Oh no, it isn’t the trees, It’s love in bloom! Can it be the spring that seems to bring the stars right into my room? Oh no, it isn’t the spring, It’s love in bloom! …
Have a listen as well, if you don’t know it already. I find it a different class of song from the one Gloria Swanson sung. More complex, with rhythmic variety and a much larger vocal range, it’s a good showcase for Crosby. Ralph Rainger, the song’s composer, is new to me.
You can tell the song’s publisher expected it to be popular from the advertising printed on the fold of the song sheet.
McHugh & Adamson A lovely way to spend an evening (publ. 1943)
One of the first things I noticed when I fished this out of its box (apart from Sinatra) was how small the sheet is, being about half the size of the others. It was produced during the second World War when severe paper rationing was in force. Somebody must have accepted that music is good for morale to allow music publishing to continue.
Here’s part of the refrain:
This is a lovely way to spend an evening, Can’t think of anything I’d rather do. This is a lovely way to spend an evening, Can’t think of anyone as lovely as you. … I want to save all my nights and spend them with you.
Higher and Higher started out in 1940 as a moderately successful, romantic Rodgers and Hart musical. When the film studio, RKO bought the movie rights, they scrapped almost the entire musical score and commissioned McHugh and Adamson to produce a new one. Apparently the main reason was the presence of Sinatra, making his feature film debut at the age of 28.
He must have been a great catch: for the previous couple of years, Sinatra wowed live audiences across the USA with his singing. In an early example of youth culture in popular music, bobby soxers (teenage girls) went wild for him, sending him thousands of letters and trying to steal items of his clothing, particularly his bow ties. He became known as ‘Swoonatra’ or ‘The Voice’. This seems an appropriate way to end this post.
Here’s a short clip from the film so you can judge for yourselves: