Monday, January 19, 2015

Dreaming of 1943

Circumstances have again conspired to hinder this dusty music box project but I will persist. I have the tools and the time but unreliable internet is making it hard to upload anything. 

Dreaming of 1943
This episode features 2 songs from 1943 that don't directly reference WWII but instead use metaphors to soften the message. Both songs have lyrics by Nat Burton...who would die shortly after these songs were released in 1945 at the age of about 44 and music by an era of professional songwriters. (That sound you hear is time's clock slowly ticking off the seconds of your life)

There's a Harbor of Dream Boats (Anchored On Moonlight Bay)
By Nat Burton, Al Sherman and Arthur Altman

Someone was in for a surprise in 16 years

Nat Burton wrote the lyrics for the song "(There'll Be Blue Birds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover" which is also in this box of dusty music, but because it is a super popular song I will refrain from playing it. I'm trying to renew interest in songs that are forgotten and I honestly think I hit the jackpot with these two tunes. These are very pretty melodies, especially Harbor of Dream Boats which had music by Al Sherman and Arthur Altman. Al Sherman is the father of the two Sherman Brothers, Robert B. and Robert M. whom you probably do recognize since they wrote the music for many Disney movies including Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book. Al Sherman, their father, was a tin pan alley songwriter with songs you've probably never heard of so I won't bother to mention them except to point out that Cyndi Lauper's 1983 album, "She's So Unusual" is a title borrowed from Al Sherman's Depression era song "He's so Unusual" from 1929 and the song is actually a remake of Sherman's song with Lauper singing an accurate impression of Betty Boop before launching into a New Wave stomp fest "Yeah Yeah". This again demonstrates the interlocking threads of time that pop music creates.

My Dream of Tomorrow (instrumental)
I prefer this version.

There are a lot of personalities to cover here but let's focus on Al Sherman because there is scant information about Nat Burton aside from his single hit about the White cliffs of Dover, which I've seen from a smelly bathroom on a tossing and tumbling ferry to France, I guess they are pretty but it's not quite the image Burton was trying to leave people with. 

Vision of Tomorrow

My favorite is the Eb Major, cut time tune, "There's A Harbor of Dream Boats". Ah, this is a good piece of harmony here. I wish I could pick the tempo up and swing it but my back is crippled. The arrangement is borderline orchestral as the chords change every note. 
Harbor of Dream Boats. Good stuff.

It's impossible to tell who influenced the music more but I suspect Arthur Altman, who would write 400 songs for top artists had a big hand in this. Both songs starts off with an Ad lib introduction but the Harbor introduction is more inspired, this had a lot of consideration even though it would soon be lost to the world. In my sheet music they call this a "verse" with two stanzas, but I know that all songs of this era had an Ad lib introduction that was often disposable. But the lilting, tender quality of the chorus melody is priceless. It's as good as any pop standard from the 40s, even as good as the one for All or Nothing at All, which was the tune Arthur Altman really made some money from, even though Sinatra dropped the Ad lib introduction/verse. I prefer Harbor, but I don't find many recordings of it. I'm not sure if Sinatra recorded it.

So, that covers the three principal creators of this fine tune. Nat Burton had a brief career involving these two songs and White Cliffs, and died shortly after the war. Al Sherman had a long career in writing but few songs were big hits and he was the father of two brothers who were Disney songsmiths at a time before Disney was writing popular tunes as a yearly rule and not as an exception like with "Let it Go" from Frozen. I really think this song has timeless potential if more people would record it. Arthur Altman was a prolific writer during the smooth standard era and beyond.

The lesser composition, in my opinion, is My Dream of Tomorrow also with lyrics by Nat Burton, with music from Vic Mizzy and Irving Taylor. 

Dream of To-morrow. Kind of predictable, like a lullaby we've all heard but can't place.

I'm guessing Nat Burton was on a dream kick since he published two songs in the same year with similar topics. Or he knew that when the publishing company asked him for something "not related to war, but happy" then he could not find anything that existed worth writing about. He had to enter a dream state to escape the horrors of 1943. Who can blame him? Go ahead and research the events in 1943 and you won't find many glowing examples of human kindness. There was active war on three continents, Europe, Asia, Africa and islands like New Guinea. It was bleak bleak bleak. Jews were being herded to labor camps to be killed or worked to death. Russian forces had to retake their own city of Stalingrad. France was occupied. Anne Frank and family were living in an attic in occupied Amsterdam. There was combat basically every day of 1943 and while German forces had already overextended itself and was doomed the specific details of its fate were not yet clear. What was clear is that many more would die, including Frank, while Nat Burton had at least two more years of war bond morale songs to write. So, these type of assignments walked the line between blatant morale lifting songs, and subtle morale lifting songs. Everyone was dreaming of tomorrow, but no one wanted to be reminded of the flesh and blood details so Burton turned to metaphor and wrote of their boat in "Moonlight Bay" waiting for a "skipper" to return so it could get under way. 

"Darling every little thing we planned for two, must wait until the shadows disappear.

Thus these songs allude to a life after the War was over, and suggest that keeping our spirits up was the only thing that could be done. 

"With a prayer in each heart and their eyes on the distant horizon..."

My Dream of Tomorrow
Lyric by Nat Burton
Music by Vic Mizzy and Irving Taylor

Maybe that's why Sinatra never recorded this song. It's written from a female perspective, although it's asexual. The woman is waiting for the man to return. I don't want to write any more about WWII but all these song sheets seem to be from that era.

Vic Mizzy, one of the composers behind My Dream of Tomorrow is what I consider a professional musician because he found work, executed the work and made a career out of it. When quantity is the goal then quality is going to suffer. Mizzy wrote the music for 5 Don Knotts movies which were my favorite thing to watch in 1978 after school on Channel 56 out of Boston. The music is very appropriate and a 7 year old boy might even like it, but the quality is rough. The Shakiest Gun in The West (1968) is a good example of an intermittent score. (Oddly I idolized Don Knotts back when I thought I would be a stand-up comedian for a career.) A pre-teen will tolerate this film score but I find it too much like The Brady Bunch. But film scores, especially songs with lyrics, are under a tight deadline. There is no room for creative expression or fancy harmony. "It's Don Knotts, not Viven Leigh," I'm sure someone told Mizzy. The audience was mostly the popcorn munching set. Get the music done and move on. 
Dreaming of 1943
Even in this box of dusty music there is an odd overlap of coincidence because one of the first songs that I recorded was "Buttons and Bows" as performed by Bob Hope in The Paleface in 1948. Well, it turns out that The Shakiest Gun In The West is a remake of The Paleface, and the writer of the music for Shakiest Gun was Vic Mizzy...who also wrote the music for My Dream of Tomorrow, which is also in this box of music. Hold your applause, folks, this is why they pay me the big money. I embarked on this mission to connect the threads in 60-70 year old popular music and learn a little about the subject while recording the songs in my sloppy-Oggy fashion, and it turns out that I can find a thread actually embedded within the box of music that stretches 20 years beyond the limit of the person who was collecting the music in the first place and almost up until my birth. My theory is that within this box of dusty music is the secret of life, the unifying principle of the universe. I believe that as strongly as Stephen Hawking believes he can think of the same theory without using my box of music. See? My experiments with mind altering drugs such as Peyote and LSD and psilocybin mushrooms have taught me that everything is related but the threads that connect everything are often disguised or our senses are deadened from social-media abuse. Now that I am clinically psychotic I can see those threads without the use of drugs, but it's another task to describe them. This dusty music box contains the secret of the universe and I'm going to describe it to you. I'm going to play these songs and then write the essays that outline all of human experience with the songs as the dots I connect. This example proves it: within the box there is a song written for a movie, that was remade 20 years later and includes a song written by the author of another song in the same box. This is also my own private version of Hermann Hesse's fictional Glass Bead Game in which all of human experience is analyzed and dramatized with symbols and music and essays. Everything is connected. How else could one explain the fact that the train car that Don Knotts gets on for his trip from Philadelphia to St. Louis is #24, which is the number Dwight Evans wore during his career with the Boston Red Sox and he was my favorite player? You think that's a coincidence?
Secret of Universe? Oggy thinks so.

Irving Taylor was a songwriting partner of Vic Mizzy and the two worked together at this time in NY so it's no surprise that their names ended up on the same song. Taylor was cut from the same cloth as Mizzy as the two of them would move on to similar but separate careers in television, movies, talk shows, etc. Taylor seemed to have been the more whimsical of the two as he once released an album called Terribly Sophisticated Songs: A Collection of Unpopular Songs for Popular People. It was arranged by Henry Mancini so, you know, it pretty much was going to be good. Mancini could arrange the phone book and it would sound good. Taylor was into novelty songs like The Garbage Collector in Beverly Hills, which demonstrates another thread in the meaning of life because not only do I also write parody songs but I once collected garbage in Beverly Hills. Oh, sure, I called it "screenwriting" but I assure you that my activities were indistinguishable from collecting garbage. So, we have a novelty song writer, describing the life of the writer who would write about that novelty songwriter's song...72 years later. The hair on my neck is standing up because even when I picked up these two songs I was thinking, "These songs are about me and my reckless romantic love affairs." And now I see how prescient that prognostication was.

Oggy and fantasy partner, metaphorically frozen before a huge moon?

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