I once said that one of my favorite singers was Fred Astaire. Steve Blier muttered, “that explains a lot”. You’ll have to ask him what it explained, but it might have been that I like things simple, unaffected, and with good diction. In the 1936 film Swing Time, Fred pretends that he can’t dance, so Ginger will spend time with him in a lesson. He learns real fast. Jerome Kern’s song from the movie comes down to us as an inspiration to not give up after something makes us fall — like two left feet, or a global pandemic. There have been many standout recordings of this classic, from the likes of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Diana Krall… the list goes on. I’ll offer Ella Fitzgerald (in Nelson Riddle’s arrangement).
For a chaser, watch Fred and Ginger from the film, after Fred gets the hang of dancing.
Nothing’s impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
And start all over again.
Don’t lose your confidence if you slip,
Be grateful for a pleasant trip,
And pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off,
And start all over again.
Work like a soul inspired,
Till the battle of the day is won.
You may be sick and tired,
But you’ll be a man, my son!
Will you remember the famous men,
Who had to fall, to rise again?
So take a deep breath,
Pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off,
And start right over again!
Summer is when we get the most sun. Most of us brown up a little, even without getting to the beach. The tomatoes and peaches are coming in, the breezes are warm, the city streets are less crowded, and life is full of pleasures we just can’t experience when it’s cold. To remind us how to hang on to that feeling throughout the year, here is Esperanza Spalding singing (and playing her bass in) “The Sunny Side of the Street”. She’s an amazingly gifted artist, and she’s got all the high notes and all the low notes in her arsenal.
On the Dorothy Fields’ website, “A Cow and a Plough and a Frau” is described as the low point of Fields’ career as a lyricist, which naturally sent me scurrying to find a recording. Luckily the original cast album CD of Arms and the Girl, from which the song comes, paired with Up in Central Park goes in and out of print with regularity, and isn’t hard to find. The show itself is little remembered. It’s one of at least five Broadway musicals about the American Revolution (the most recent being Hamilton of course, the earliest being Rodgers and Hart’s Dearest Enemy). But until I found the CD, that was the extent of my knowledge. Not a lot of the score is memorable, but, somewhat to my surprise, I took immediate exception to the characterization I had read of “A Cow and…” I will say that it may be the most unlikely lyric that Fields ever wrote, and my guess is that if you played it for a hundred musical theater geeks who had never heard it, not one of them would be able to guess its authorship correctly. However, that doesn’t make it a bad song. It just makes the wonderfully urbane Dorothy Fields a more flexible lyricist than one might have guessed. I actually think it’s an adorable song, unique among Field’s lyrics for it’s ability to combine clever craftsmanship with a genuine bucolic feel. There’s something of Oscar Hammerstein about the sentiment, and something of Lorenz Hart about some of the wordplay.
I still don’t know much about Arms and the Girl, but the character singing the song is a Hessian who is beginning to see that he’s fighting on the wrong side – it would be better to be a young immigrant in a new country than a soldier-for-hire working for a troubled and troubling British Empire in a foreign land. He muses on it all, from the point-of-view of a European farmer in the late 1700s. He expresses himself with an ever-clarifying point of view, gaining confidence as he goes, and that makes this a very classical and theatrical “I Want” song. He is charming. The song is charming. The attitude is old-fashioned in a way that we would never dream of in the 21st Century, modestly gallant and graceful, but iron-willed. True, it casts the role of a wife in a way that we don’t find acceptable today, but the song wasn’t written today, and the show was set over two hundred years ago. Morton Gould’s tune isn’t classically catchy, but it has craft, and it gets under your skin if you let it. And Fields’ lyric, other opinions to the contrary notwithstanding, is, I think, kind of inspired. Interestingly, its content is almost identical to “When I First Came to This Land,” a Pennsylvania Dutch folk song that wasn’t translated into English until 1957, well after Arms and the Girl had come and gone. Great minds…
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