August 22, 2015

#37: I like a Lane-Freed tune

"How About You?" is a light-hearted, kinda corny song that sounds exactly like what it started out as, a 1941 duet for Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Sinatra and Riddle got hold of it and made it into something even better:

I like everything about this song: Sinatra's phrasing and timing, Riddle's gently-swinging but intensifying arrangement, matched by Sinatra all the way, and the singer's final descent at the finish. Go ahead, play it again.

The song was written by Burton Lane and Ralph Freed. Why does it work so well? Mark Steyn:

The mistake composers make with list songs is to assume it's all about the lyric and to phone in the tune. But Burton Lane wrote what Alec Wilder called "a marvelous, healthy, rhythmic ballad". Even the title phrase varies in unusual ways - the third "How about you?", in the 15th bar, puts the "how" on a high D sharp, full of romantic yearning. And the irresistible device of the rat-a-tat-tat repeated notes - "I like po-ta-to chips/Moon-light and mo-tor trips" - returns even more dramatically in the conclusion:

Holding hands
In the movie show
All the lights are low
May not be new...

That's the very definition of songwriting: not words, not notes, not a lyric, not a melody, but the two so inextricably linked that they're indivisible. Was the tune written to accommodate the lines or vice-versa? I asked Burton Lane and he couldn't recall. "All I remember is that I thought it was a terrific idea for a song," he said, "and we were so enthusiastic about it we wrote it very quickly, and I knew we'd got it right. Sometimes that happens."
"How About You" had to be the inspiration for this Bert & Ernie number by Jeff Moss, which turns the theme of having things in common on its head but winds up in the same place:

Way to pour it on at the end, guys!

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