Continuing with our focus on Oscar Hammerstein II this month, it seemed like a good time to dig up this oldie but goodie. "Hello Young Lovers" is among the more complicated lyrics Hammerstein wrote. It is sung by Anna in The King and I, and although she sings directly about Tuptim and Lun Tha, she's really singing something of an autobiography about herself and Tom. As noted in our feature article about Hammerstein, he was the master (and really the first) to truly continue a show's storyline through song lyrics.
Rodgers' melody is terrific as well; the movement in "Hello Young Lovers" enables artists to restyle and make this song their own. Perry Como had the first chart hit; Mr. Smooth didn't need to change much to fit his relaxed but precise style. Guy Lombardo hit next with a capable vocal by Kenny Martin but generally forgettable record. Bobby Darin did an up-tempo version; it was so good that Paul Anka recorded a version that out-Darined Darin and hit the charts in the early 1960s.
The most compelling version, of course, came in 1965 when Frank Sinatra released his landmark September of My Years album. Highlighted by "It Was a Very Good Year," the album featured a title track written by Sinatra pal Jimmy Van Heusen, and a few numbers penned by the underrated Gordon Jenkins, who also prepared the arrangements and conducted the orchestra. Sinatra also covered a Harold Arlen tune, and added a version of "Hello Young Lovers" with a drastically slower tempo. It fit the introspective song perfectly. For a time this slower tempo was more familiar to most Americans than Rodgers' original!
All together September of My Years was a masterpiece, and rightly won a Grammy for best album. It beat out some tremendous competitors, nominations included: Help! by The Beatles, My Name Is Barbra by Barbra Streisand, My World by Eddy Arnold, and coincidentally, The Sound of Music film soundtrack. In retrospect it almost seems unfair that NARAS couldn't give Grammys to each of those LPs.
Would Sinatra have won without his incredible version of "Hello Young Lovers"? Considering the competition, probably not. One album that was not nominated was the Beatles' Rubber Soul, which arguably has been the most influential album released in 1965. We can continue to wander off-topic for a moment and think back to some other landmark albums released during 1965: The Strangers by Merle Haggard, Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West, any of which are Grammy-worthy. Sinatra provided his own stiff competition with a terrific LP called Sinatra '65.
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Here's a video of Lena Horne's rendition of "Hello Young Lovers" performed on The Dean Martin Show in 1969. The slick backup is, of course, Les Brown and his Band of Reknown. Please note you probably have to click the little arrow twice to get the video to run.
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As for our forgotten gem, it begs the question of which is more important, the music or the lyrics? The answer most musicologists will give, naturally, is that Richard Rodgers melodies make the songs. Indeed they are fabulous, but our point this month is that these songs would not nearly be as memorable -- in some cases hardly memorable at all -- without Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics.
Consider Rodgers' work with Lorenz Hart. Wonderful yes, but not as compelling as his work with Hammerstein. To study Richard Rodgers on his own we have Victory at Sea. This is one of the important works of the 20th Century, but it doesn't hold a candle to some of the songs the Rodgers & Hammerstein partnership resulted in for some of their big five musicals. Some may regard it as "more important," but that's just artifice. One line alone from "Hello Young Lovers":
You walk down the street
on the chance that you'll meet
and you meet...
not really by chance
...does more for the song than any hook Rodgers created. Without the storyline from The King and I, or Sinatra's treatment, or Darin's energy -- is the melody really all that memorable? It's good, no question, but there are thousands of songs from the early 1950s with fun melodies that have since been lost to the ravages of time. In fact, we're doing this tune a disservice by calling it a "forgotten gem."
It's hardly forgettable. Next month we'll get back to featuring one of those songs that makes you say, "oh yeah, I remember that one..."
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If you would like to read and listen to last month's forgotten gem, It's Getting Better by Cass Elliott, please click here.
|Here's our new way of adding little music clips to PopularSong.org, it's an mp3 player courtesy of Amazon.com. You can click it, and listen to brief snippets of songs at no charge (which is important, since this is a no-charge website!) and it won't load all kinds of junk on your computer. For this one we've embedded clips of "Hello Young Lovers" by Bobby Darin, as well as the original Broadway soundtrack. And of course, we've got Frank's version in there. Amazon provides this for us in the hopes that you'll want to "download" a copy of the full song for a dollar. You can then put it on your own mp3 player, burn it to a CD, or even put it on your "i-pod." (We're still spinning 45s so we can't really say how you do all this stuff, but we're told it's easy. Sure. Easy if you're a teenager). So check it out, just click the big arrow thing.|
|For those of us who aren't quite adept at downloading and burning or transferring or whatever it is they do, here's a link to Sinatra's Grammy Winning album, of course now in compact disc format. It's become very fashionable these days to overlook the original albums and instead opt for box sets and other collections. Problem with that is you miss some keys songs that weren't "hits," and you completely miss the musical statement the man was trying to make with this album. Yes, collections and box sets are great, but sometimes you simply have to listen to the songs in their original context and label order. Do that, and you'll see why this won the Grammy over some stiff competition. This is simply a fantastic CD.|