April 21, 2015

#69: He won't dance (or will he?)

"I Won't Dance" was written by Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern, et al. Have a listen and then go read Mark Steyn's excellent piece on this great song. It's #16 of his Sinatra Century hit parade.

Sinatra recorded "I Won't Dance" twice, five years apart, with two very different but terrific arrangements. I think I prefer, by a smidgeon, the earlier one, arranged by Nelson Riddle and recorded in 1957 for A Swingin'Affair!

Says Steyn:

The first was cut at the end of 1956 to close out A Swingin' Affair - which was basically Son of Songs For Swingin' Lovers. Nelson Riddle's chart is a hard swinger that builds and builds and builds - until Frank is so enthralled he interjects:

You know what?
You're lovely
You're lovely
And, oh, what you do to me...

There would be a trio of further "Ring-a-ding-ding!" interpolations on record over the years, and eventually an entire Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen song dedicated to Frank's catchphrase. But in 1956 it was new, and the interjection was more or less spontaneous, arising from Riddle's wild ride of an arrangement.
And you gotta love those lyrics. Dorothy Fields, with her "colloquial but literate, unusual but utterly natural" style, as Steyn puts it, is as charming as she is clever:
For Heaven rest us
I'm not asbestos...
And in case you didn't catch her meaning --
I know that music leads the way to romance
So if I hold you in my arms
I Won't Dance!
Mark prefers Neal Hefti's arrangement, done for Sinatra-Basie in 1962:

Wow. Mr. Hefti's name should be on the cover. In fact, I can't find his name anywhere on my copy of the CD, front, back, or in the liner notes.

Back to Mark, comparing the two versions:
If I had to sum up the difference between the two arrangements, I'd have to say that Nelson Riddle's sounds like no-way no-how does Frank want to dance, whereas Neal Hefti's makes like he's willing to have you talk him into it.
Yes, and the guy in the Riddle arrangement is more overcome by the lady's charms -- more "stumped" -- and that in itself is attractive.

Mark explains how the song wound up with so many authors:
Why so many names on a song essentially written by one composer and one lyricist? Well, it takes two to tango, but it takes five to say "I won't dance." Jerome Kern is on there because he wrote the music; Dorothy Fields because she wrote the words; Oscar Hammerstein because he came up with the title and the idea; Otto Harbach because he wrote the other lyrics in Roberta; and, finally, Jimmy McHugh because, up to that point, he'd been Miss Fields' exclusive songwriting partner and he felt he was entitled to a piece of the action. Which was a shrewd move. He was a terrific pop composer, but Dorothy Fields was outgrowing him and getting ready to move on. And isn't that what most young ladies mean when they decline a whirl around the floor? Not "I Won't Dance", period, so much as "I'm just waiting for the right partner".
Read the rest.

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