November 21, 2009

The Lost Verse

Last week my wife and I attended a stage version of the musical “The Wizard of Oz,” part of Utica’s Broadway Theater League performances. Most of us have seen the movie countless times as part of our childhood, less of us have seen the stage musical, and few of us have read the original book by L. Frank Baum. If you are familiar with the 1939 film you know that the first and most recognizable song is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” True to form, the initial vocal offering we heard in this stage production was this song, but the first line was not “Somewhere over the rainbow,” the first lyrics from Dorothy were:

When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around
Heaven opens a magic lane
When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There’s a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your window pane
To a place beyond the sun
Just a step beyond the rain
Somewhere over the rainbow …

This is a classic example of the genius of the songwriters of the thirties and forties: the Gershwin Brothers, Cole Porter, Harry Warren, Rogers & Hart, Irving Berlin, and in the case of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg.

The section of “Over the Rainbow that we rarely hear is called the verse. The craftsmen of that era were able to create songs that could stand on their own even when one third or more of the composition was snipped out. Do you recognize the lyrics of this song?

I was never spellbound
By a starry sky
What is there to moonglow
When love has passed you by
Then there came a midnight
And the world was new
Now here I am so spellbound, darling
Not by stars but just by you

Did you get it? The next lyric would be: “At last, my love has come along.” Yes indeed, this is the never-heard verse of the song “At Last” made famous by Etta James, originally from the movie “Orchestra Wives” that featured the Glenn Miller Orchestra (written by Harry Warren and Mac Gordon).

I am so impressed by the fact that these composers could write a verse (usually at a slower tempo than the chorus to follow) set up the song lyrically and musically, flow into the chorus familiar to us, and make that verse completely disposable.

One clue to this phenomenon that you’ll see in the better music books is that the majority of these songs with “lost verses” came from musicals or movies. The lyrics to the verse were closely connected to the story line happening at that moment in the script. If you look back at the verse to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” you’ll see references to what has happened in the story thus far and a foreshadowing of what will happen. It’s easy to see in this case because we know the story so well. Yet the chorus certainly stands on its own without this set-up information.

This verse-chorus arrangement also provided for an effective layering of music and tempos. A typical verse was slow and rubato, allowing the singer to emote, almost always followed by a brighter tempo kicking into the part of the song that people would be whistling as they left the theater, or so the producer hoped.

How about George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” — how many people have ever heard these lyrics?

Days can be sunny
With never a sigh
Don’t need what money can buy
Birds in the trees
Sing their day full of song
Why shouldn’t we sing along?
I’m chipper all the day
Happy with my lot
How do I get that way
Look at what I’ve got
I got rhythm — I got music …

One of the most familiar songs in the history of popular music has 24 bars of music that are never heard. These lost verses do provide an outlet for new interpretations by up-and-coming artists. I have often seen a reviewer phrase: “and this new singer has taken the trouble to sing the rarely-heard verse.”

I wonder if it was the prescience of the great songwriters of that era that guided their craft, methodically thinking ahead as they composed, knowing that their A sections would be discarded and the choruses would stand alone to live on in cover versions separate from the original setting. The first time I looked closely at the music for the Beatles tune “Here, There and Everywhere” I understood why Paul and John mentioned people like Oscar & Hammerstein as influences. The song starts out with their brief version of a verse: “To lead a better life I need my love to be here.” It sets up the song with a slow, out of tempo intro, followed by the part that we know so well. The song certainly would have stood on its own had they taken a razor blade and just cut out that piece of the tape. It’s a lost art. I can’t say I’m all that familiar with current Broadway, but I don’t see this craft from Andrew Lloyd Weber.

If you listen to jazz stations at all there may be occasions where you hear a singer sing something unfamiliar. Most likely it’ll be slow and dreamy. At some point a familiar song will reveal itself. You may then say to yourself, Aha! A Lost Verse!

See if you can determine this wistful song from a classic movie:

This day and age we’re living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like third dimension
Yet we grow a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein’s theory
So we must get down to earth
At times relax, relieve the tension
No matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed.

And the answer is?

17 comments:

  1. That's the intro verse to "As Time Goes By."

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  2. Congratulations, Mike. For your prize you get to join us at our house today for turkey soup and pumpkin pie.

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  3. Rhyming Polyannas with bananas, try it with riot.....

    Old man sunshine listen you!
    Never tell me dreams come true.
    Just try it --
    And I'll start a riot.
    Beatrice Fairfax don't you dare
    Ever tell me she will care
    I'm certain
    It's the final curtain.
    I never want to hear from any cheerful Pollyannas,
    Who tell you fate,
    Supplies a mate --
    It's all bananas!

    And then a really sweet song afterwards. I love Lost Verses.

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  4. @ancient ruin....Excellent verse choice! I must admit I had never heard it and had to google to see that it was from "But Not For Me". Was it Ira Gershwin with George?

    Pollyannas/bananas...try it/riot....? Masterful!

    I'll bet he could come up with a hip rhyme for "orange".

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  5. "There's no rhyme for purple;
    there's no rhyme for orange.
    Cats don't like their furpulled
    Or tails in the doorhinge." An old poem I wrote.

    My wife and I sing for seniors at convalescent hospitals as a duo of voices and my guitar. We sing tunes from the Great American Songbook, movies, and musicals often. I find that not only do I not know the the melody, chords, and timing of many intro verse, openings, and obscure sections, but if I learn them online, the people don't know them, either.
    You write a swingin'blog - thanks for the memories.

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  6. Billy from Boston writes us with this lost verse:

    Here's a intro verse for you:

    In any gambling casino
    from Monte Carlo to Reno
    they tell you that a beginner
    comes out a winner
    Beginners fishing for flounder
    will catch a 17 pounder
    That's what I've always heard
    and always thought absurd
    But now
    I believe every word.

    Guess what song, songwriters and movie ?

    BTW no fair googling to find the song!

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  7. @ Billy -- My non-googling guess is "Luck be a Lady Tonight."

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  8. Gershwin... Beginner's Luck!

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  9. Anybody know the verse to "At Last"? A singer named Joan Faulkner in Germany has sun a verse to it before the Chorus we all know "At last...my love....." But there's no mention of it anywhere and I was kust wonderinf if Ms. Faulkner had simply "made it up herself"

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  10. Ted -- the verse to "At Last" was included in the blog post itself, it's the second one down which starts, "I was never spellbound..."

    It's rarely sung.

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  11. hi there
    I'm in Melbourne (victoria, Australia) and I am part of a team of 3 that share a program on our local community station, Radio Eastern 98.1. It's mostly swing/jaz/dancebands/american songbook.. 20's-50's music.When it's my turn I often play the opening verse of a song (I've played over a 100 so far)stop it at the end of the verse and invite listeners to ring in with a guess as to the song title. I have a married couple who are fairly consistent in being successful(whoever works it out first rings), but sometimes even they don't get it right. I try to use reasonably well known songs, as it encourages people to realise there is a verse they may not have known.
    Lyn (asyoufindme@hotmail.com)

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  12. Guess the song...

    I know something, but I can't express it.
    Though there is no better time that now.

    I have waited, hoping you would guess it.
    Got to make my feeling known somehow...

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  13. Guess this Rodgers and Hart tune:

    I don't care if there's powder on my nose.
    I don't care if my hairdo is in place.
    I've lost the very meaning of repose.
    I never put a mud pack on my face.

    Oh who'd have thought that I'd walk in a daze now?
    I never go to shows at night, just to matinees now.

    I see the show, and home I go.

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  14. 'It Never entered my Mind'

    Lyn Woods

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  15. When the only sound in the empty street
    Is the heavy tread of the heavy feet
    That belong to a lonesome cop
    I open shop.
    When the moon so long has been gazing down
    On the wayward ways of this wayward town
    That her smile becomes a smirk
    I go to work.
    Anybody? I grew up going through all of my Mom's old sheet music from the 40's mostly, and used to love to learn all the verses, and have always sung them!

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  16. LOVE FOR SALE ….CLASSIC COLE PORTER

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  17. really nice article -- so nice to talk about what's really important, cause some people don't 'get it' about these songs: the closer to character, the closer to the heart of the song. and, the introduction sets the relationships in a kind of prosey way... not too long, it's a lyric, and the singer hasn't got all day...

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