Standards to Love: Neverland Awaits Us
Music, like beautiful illustrations and paintings, is transportive. Consider some of the most epic and memorable movie scenes, if you will. Close your eyes and conjure to mind that wedge shaped Star Destroyer. Darth Vadar has just arrived. Do you hear his theme music?
Keep those peepers shut and think of Petra, her ancient columns carved into the cliff face. Add four figures astride four steeds. One is wearing a very distinctive hat. His hallmark, really. The sun is setting, saturating the far-reaching sands in rich, warm hues. Cue the music. All I need to say is Indiana Jones, and you know what music is playing as those men ride off into the sunset.
Music takes us places. And since we’ve been talking about fairy tales so much lately, I’ve been compiling a playlist of American Popular Standards that impress upon us the importance of using our imaginations to dream. Each of these songs from the Great American Songbook dance us close to wishes and dreams and their fulfillments.
My father was a big one for recording Great Performances off of television when I was growing up. Sometimes he even enlisted the aid of his clients who would record musicals and operas for him to give to me. One such musical was the 1960 color rendition of the musical Peter Pan with Mary Martin singing the part of Pan. Oh, how I loved that musical. It has been many years since I’ve watched it, but there are parts that are indelibly marked in my mind: Peter trying to paste his shadow back on with a bar of soap; Peter exhorting us to clap so that Tinker Bell would live because she would know that children believe in fairies. Never Land came alive through the music of Jules Styne and Moose Charlap and the lyrical acumen of Comden and Green and Carolyn Leigh. Peter Pan, the quintessential child, the one who refuses to grow up because he associates growing up with giving up exuberance for life in return for schedules and time tables and responsibilities. And while we as adults understand the importance of all those things, we should never forget Peter Pan’s invitation:
The version I include today is sung by Jane Monheit from the album of the same name.
Since I’ve mentioned Jules Stynes, here’s another collaboration from him, this time with Sammy Cahn. While Never, Never Land clearly invites us to enter into the realm of the fantastic, It’s Magic reveals a far more reachable magic we can experience in our daily lives. You see, Sammy Cahn pens lyrics that remind us that while life bustles around us, it is love- being loved and loving in return- that transforms our reality into something magical. And since we’re all about the magical, I give you my favorite rendition, the 1948 hit sung by Doris Day.
Dinah Washington is fast becoming a new favorite. Her recording of Nothing in the World written by Belford Hendricks, Brook Benton, and Clyde Lovern Otis is a new song for me. Until recently, I’d never heard it, but the opening lyrics caught my attention. I think it’s because I’ve been ruminating on this blog post for a while. So when I heard it, I thought they would fit perfectly with today’s theme. The sentiment is simple, but the best songs and poems always maintain that simplicity of sentiment. What I appreciate the most about this song is how many magical elements are mentioned, but how none of them could add to the immeasurable magic of love.
And since I’ve now mentioned both Star Wars and Aladdin’s lamp, I think it only right to include Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern’s standard, Long Ago (And Far Away). From the film Cover Girl starring Rita Hayward and Gene Kelly, this song has a nostalgic quality. In the film, Long Ago (And Far Away) is sung by Hayward to Kelly. The lyrics tell the tale of a woman who, long ago and far away, had a dream that she held in her heart. Now, with that dream in her distant past, she has found the fruition of it. As Ira Gershwin wrote: Aladdin’s Lamp is Mine…
The first version of this song to hit the charts in 1944 was recorded by Helen Forrest and Dick Haymes. However, while that is a beautiful rendition and one I highly recommend, my personal favorite recording of Long Ago (And Far Away) is by Jo Stafford, a tour de force of a woman who was not only a classically trained vocalist (a coloratura soprano) and worldwide success, but also a savvy business woman and true comedic talent.
This song holds a very special place in my heart. Is it because my mother played it on repeat every evening for nearly an entire year? Or is it the mellow gentility of the music and the simple exhortation of the lyric? Maybe a little of both. Johnny Mercer wrote the words and music to this gem. And, while it might seem like an ethereal song one should play before bedtime (and it is, don’t get me wrong), what I return to over and over again with this song is the exhortation to hold onto the power of dreams, even when you don’t feel like dreaming at all. The song is full of truths that remind us that we’ll get through the tough and dark times of life, and that one of the prime keys to doing so is to dream.
The Pied Pipers - a musical group that included the talent of Jo Stafford, and often accompanied Frank Sinatra- have a sublime rendition which was featured beatifically in the movie Daddy Longlegs. But my favorite recording is by Dean Martin.
We began with an invitation to Never, Never Land, the place where dreams are born. However, Pure Imagination by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse is an invitation of another sort. From the musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Pure Imagination is an invitation to reach deep into yourself and discover the magic that lives within you at all times and that will help you to live a truly free life. My favorite recording of this one is by Josh Groban.
I’m tacking this one on as an honorable mention. Written by Cole Porter for the musical Out of This World, Use Your Imagination encourages us to do just that. And, as is the way with Cole Porter, the lyrics are elevated and sophisticated, but simple and profound at the same time. The only recording I could find that I enjoy- with an singer singing it, not just an instrumental- is recorded by Jo Stafford.
And now it is your turn, dear readers. What songs about dreaming and imagination and fairy tales do you love?