Standards to Love: A Sentimental Journey Home
On Friday, I paid tribute to Doris Day’s career in movies. During her stint in Hollywood, she had countless opportunities to display her singing talent. She was in a plethora of musicals, and the studio bosses never missed an opportunity to have her singing voice associated with a film.
However, it was Doris Day’s singing that really put her on the map. And though she is often overlooked- remarkably- as a singer, her talent was right up there with some of the greatest singers of American Popular Standards. Here are a few of my favorites. And a few of hers, too.
Doris Day was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff. At the start of her career, when she was picking up radio gigs and doing small spots in local joints in her home state of Ohio, she caught the attention of big band leader Barney Rapp. After auditioning 200 vocalists, Rapp fell in love with Doris’ voice and hired her to sing with his band. He had only one suggestion. Seeing the writing on the wall, Rapp knew Doris would become a huge singer when all the stars aligned. But, he also knew that Kappelhoff was a very long name to try and fit on a marquee. He suggested that Doris change her last name for a more fitting stage one. How did she decide on Day? It was Barney’s suggestion. He had a soft spot for her rendition of Day by Day, so he suggested Day. I could not find a recording of Day by Day by Doris earlier than the 1956 version. I include this one because Doris is accompanied by Paul Weston, who was also one of the composers of this tune. Sammy Cahn and Axel Stordahl are the other two.
Doris Day made the circuit of big bands, working with Barney Rapp, Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown. Perhaps the most important parring was with Les Brown. During World War II, Les Brown, along with arranger Ben Homer and composer Bud Green, wrote a beautiful song called Sentimental Journey. They played it live while touring, but they weren’t able to record it. This was due to the 1942-1944 musicians’ strike that severely curtailed new recordings. However, at the end of 1944, when the dispute over royalties was largely settled, Les Brown and his big band had the opportunity to record Sentimental Journey. They released the recording featuring Doris Day singing in March of 1945, and in very short order it was peaking at #1 on the Billboard charts. The timing couldn’t have been better, either, as the release coincided with many of the troops coming home from Europe after World War II. As the song is all about relaxing and renewing old memories, it struck a resonant cord with the returning men and their families. Today, Doris Day and Les Brown’s recoding of Sentimental Journey is known as the un-official anthem of the end of World War II.
Secret Love is a particular favorite of mine. It was written for the 1953 musical Calamity Jane by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster. The first time Doris heard the song, performed by Fain for her, she was so moved, she said she fell apart. No doubt, she wanted to convey the same emotion through her recording. On August 5th, 1953, Doris Day recorded this song to be released three weeks prior to the premiere of the movie in October. She did her breathing exercises at home prior to riding her bicycle to the studio to record. When she showed up, Ray Heindorf, a Warner Brothers musical director, wanted her to rehearse once with the full orchestra before they started to record. Whether it was a hunch or just nerves on Doris’ part, she pleaded with Heindorf to record the practice session. At the conclusion, Doris looked into the sound booth to find Heindorf beaming and motioning for her to come speak to him. What did he have to say?
Secret Love was recorded in one take- the practice take- and, by February of the next year, it reached #1 on the charts. It was even nominated for an Academy Award. Doris declined to perform the song at the Academy Awards, however, earning her the Sour Apple Award from the Hollywood Women’s Press Club. They saw her refusal to sing as her being nothing more than a difficult prima donna. I, however, believe it was because she took Heindorf’s words to heart. I don’t think she thought she could sing it better than that one time.
In 1956, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote this lullaby of sorts to be featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Doris Day sings this song to her son when he’s getting ready for bed. Originally, Doris didn’t want to record it for release, believing that it would not do well. However, Hitchcock and others persuaded her and she released it. It went to the top of the UK charts and was also a smash hit in the States. In an ironic twist, it also became Doris Day’s unofficial signature song. She sang it in The Man Who Knew Too Much, then in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies several years later, and again in The Glass Bottom Boat several years after that. Not only did she sing in three separate films- each unrelated to the others- it was also the opening to the Doris Day show for the five years it was on the air. AND, the year it was released, it was nominated and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. In fact, in 2004, more than five decades after its release, the American Film Institute released a survey- 100 Years… 100 Songs- and Que Sera, Sera debuted as number 48 out of the 100 top tune in American cinema. I’m sure glad Doris Day released her recording, aren’t you?
I Have Dreamed is a poignant love song written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for the smash Broadway hit The King and I, based loosely on the true life story of English governess Anna Leonowens and Siam’s King Mungkot. The song is not featured in the film version of the musical, but thankfully, it was so loved by so many, it has been widely recorded. Now, Richard Rodgers worked with the greatest singers of all time. Therefore, his opinion holds a great deal of weight. When Rodgers heard Doris Day’s recording of his song I Have Dreamed, he wrote to her and her arranger, James Harbert, to tell them that their recording was the most beautiful rendition he had ever heard of it. And, I have to agree with him. Doris sings with such poise and graciousness. She conveys supreme tenderness as this love song certainly deserves.
This is the last song I will include, as I could continue on and on. However, I end on this note because the entire album from whence this song comes is superb. In 1961, Doris Day collaborated with the genius pianist, composer, and arranger Andre Previn on the album known as Duets. What makes this album particularly special is the fact that Doris Day picked all the songs on it. That means, that these songs were favorites of her own. Throw in the ease and closeness created by the Andre Previn trio, and you have an intimate evening with Doris Day whenever you listen. The first song on the album is Close Your Eyes, penned by Bernice Petkere, whom Irving Berlin dubbed Queen of Tin Pan Alley. Berlin admired her work so much, he offered her a job as a staff writer at his publishing company. Like Doris, Bernice lived a long life, passing away at the age of 98. I feel it only right to include this song sung by Doris written by Bernice because both women excelled in their careers, even those career paths were largely dominated by men. They are both an inspiration. And their prolificacy and longevity are thoroughly admirable, too.
Close Your Eyes is flirty and seductive. And Doris sings it that way. It’s sublime. Definitely on of my favorite version of the song.
If you would like to listen to more Doris, I’ve put together a playlist over on YouTube: The Doris Day Playlist. I endeavored to select slightly more mellow pieces so that you can keep the music playing while you go about your day. But, please, check it out. I’ve included all of my favorites by her.
What’s your favorite song by Doris Day?