Category Archives: 20th century music

In 1941 people were asking ‘How About You’.

How About You? was a popular song composed by Burton Lane, with lyrics by Ralph Freed that was introduced in the 1941 film ‘Babes on Broadway’ by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  Now the lyrics of the song are often changed depending on the recording artist but in its original form it was a humorous romantic duet, though rarely has it been recorded that way!

Certain lyrics, especially those with topical references, are often changed based on the time of the performance’s release. For example, the line “Frank Roosevelt’s looks give me a thrill” was changed to “James Durante’s looks” in a 1950s recording by Sinatra, though he did sing it in its original form with Dorsey back in the 1940s.

Burton Lane is said to have approached song writing ‘the way a carpenter approaches cabinet making’!  In doing some digging on the matter I find that he had dropped out of school at the age of 15 and was found playing the piano in an Atlantic City hotel where he was heard by George Gershwin’s mother Rose.  The tune that he was playing at the time was ‘S’wonderful’ by George Gershwin.  Rose allegedly said to him, ‘Not only do you play like George, you look like him’. Lane idolized Gershwin, so that was praised indeed.  Burton Lane later claimed that it was George who had encouraged him to start writing popular songs.   They certainly remained close friends for the rest of George’s short life – he died on 11th July 1937 just 39 years old.

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A 1941 song that asked the question ‘How About You?’

How About You? was a popular song composed by Burton Lane, with lyrics by Ralph Freed that was introduced in the 1941 film ‘Babes on Broadway’ by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  Now the lyrics of the song are often changed depending on the recording artist but in its original form it was a humorous romantic duet, though rarely has it been recorded that way!

Certain lyrics, especially those with topical references, are often changed based on the time of the performance’s release. For example, the line “Frank Roosevelt’s looks give me a thrill” was changed to “James Durante’s looks” in a 1950s recording by Sinatra, though he did sing it in its original form with Dorsey back in the 1940s.

Burton Lane is said to have approached song writing ‘the way a carpenter approaches cabinet making’!  In doing some digging on the matter I find that he had dropped out of school at the age of 15 and was found playing the piano in an Atlantic City hotel where he was heard by George Gershwin’s mother Rose.  The tune that he was playing at the time was ‘S’wonderful’ by George Gershwin.  Rose allegedly said to him, ‘Not only do you play like George, you look like him’. Lane idolized Gershwin, so that was praised indeed.  Burton Lane later claimed that it was George who had encouraged him to start writing popular songs.   They certainly remained close friends for the rest of George’s short life – he died on 11th July 1937 just 39 years old.

1942 sees two ‘new’ singers on the scene

The war was now across the whole world but the music of the US in 1942 brought a top five tracks that would last long after the conflict had ended.  These were:

At number 5 was ‘A String of Pearls’ by Glenn Miller while, at number 4, Jimmy Dorsey was telling the story of ‘Tangerine’ with Vaughn Monroe’s version very close behind.

Glenn Miller was also at number 3 – this time with ‘Moonlight Cocktail’ – with Paul Whiteman ‘Traveling Light’ at number 2.

At number 1 was Alvino Rey – or Bing Crosby – or Horace Heidt – or the Merry Macs – but, which ever we chose, all will tell us the same story – the story that was ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’!

Meanwhile in Britain, without any question, the most popular vocalist of the time and place was Vera Lynn“the forces’ sweetheart”.  She sang just about every well-known wartime song in her concerts and in her travels to the troops.  I remember my Dad sending a message back to mum and me at home saying they had enjoyed ‘Vera Lynn singing and talking to everyone out in the desert one afternoon – but he could not say where it had happened’. I know he also had two or three more ‘shows’ from Ms Lynn – but he never did say where they were!

There was, however, more than one side to all of this – and that came to the fore in February 1942 when bandleader Tommy Dorsey said of an singer:  ‘He’s a great singer, but ya know, you can’t make it without a band.  Every singer has got to have a band behind him’. Tommy was talking about a twenty-six-year-old singer who was riding the crest of phenomenal popularity.  Wherever this singer appeared with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra he would be greeted with screams, sighs, and fainting spells from a faithful contingent of over-stimulated female bobby-soxers greeting his every phrase, motion, and intonation with loud and rapturous delight.

Having spent the previous seven years paying his musical dues – a tour with a Major Bowes’ amateur unit; a stint as a singing waiter, a year as vocalist with the struggling Harry James orchestra – one Frank Sinatra now felt he was ready for a solo career, even if his boss Tommy Dorsey said he was ‘a damn fool’ for considering it!

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on 12th December 1915 – an American singer, actor, and producer who would become one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century.  He became one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide and would find success as a solo artist after he signed with Columbia Records in 1943, becoming the idol of the “bobby soxers” when he released his debut album, ‘The Voice of Frank Sinatra’ in 1946.

Noel Coward and London Pride

Noel Coward wrote “London Pride” in the spring of 1941, during the Blitz. According to his own account, he was sitting on a seat on a platform in Paddington station, watching Londoners going about their business quite unfazed by the broken glass scattered around from the station’s roof damaged by the previous night’s bombing: in a moment of patriotic pride, he suddenly recalled an old English folk song which had been apparently appropriated by the Germans for their national anthem, and it occurred to him that he could reclaim the melody in a new song. The song started in his head there and then and was finished in a few days.

The song has six verses. The opening lines, repeated three times within the song, are:

London Pride has been handed down to us, London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us, and our pride it forever will be.

The flower mentioned is Saxifraga x urbium, a perennial garden flowering plant historically known as ‘London Pride’. The song was intended to raise Londoners’ spirits during the Blitz. It was also circulated after the July 2005 bombings.

Coward acknowledged one of the traditional cries of London – “Won’t You Buy My Sweet-Smelling Lavender” as the starting-point for the tune, but he also pointed out the similarity with “Deutschland uber alles”, which he claimed was based on the same tune. It contrasts with many of the major-key, grandiose melodies used to celebrate patriotism, including God Save the King and Land of Hope and Glory. Its orchestration also contrasts with those anthems, employing muted strings and a celeste, rather than a pipe organ and a choir.

The words above – the story above – are an introduction to today’s story line. In an hour or so time the full words for London Pride will appear for you – just as it would had done so many years ago!

Here are the lyrics for London Pride as promised a short time ago:

London Pride has been handed down to us.  London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us, and our pride it for ever will be.
Woa, Liza, see the coster barrows, vegetable marrows and the fruit piled high.
Woa, Liza, little London sparrows, Covent Garden Market where the costers cry.
Cockney feet mark the beat of history. Every street pins a memory down.
Nothing ever can quite replace The Grace of London Town.
INTERLUDE

There’s a little city flower every spring unfailing

  Growing in the Growing in the crevices by some London railing,
Though it has a Latin name, in town and country-side
We in England call it London Pride.
London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be.

Hey lady, when the day is dawning, see the policeman yawning on his lonely beat.
Gay lady, Mayfair in the morning, hear your footsteps echo in the empty street.
Early rain and the pavement’s glistening; all Park Lane in a shimmering gown.
Nothing ever could break or harm the charm of London Town.

INTERLUDE
In our city darkened now, street and square and crescent,
We can feel our living past in our shadowed present,
Ghosts beside our starlit Thames Who lived and loved and died
Keep throughout the ages London Pride.
London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be.

Grey city, Stubbornly implanted, Taken so for granted For a thousand years.
Stay, city, Smokily enchanted, Cradle of our memories and hopes and fears.
Every Blitz Your resistance Toughening, From the Ritz To the Anchor and Crown,
Nothing ever could override The pride of London Town.

Songwriters: Noel Coward / Noel Pierce Coward   London Pride lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc