Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"An Occasional Man"

Not having anything else to post about, I spent the better part of an hour (okay, maybe not the better part) looking unsuccessfully for "An Occasional Man" from the movie The Girl Rush. The original version, I mean, performed in the movie by Gloria DeHaven. It's not anywhere, unfortunately. I guess this movie -- Rosalind Russell's consolation prize in 1955 for not getting to do a film version of her musical Wonderful Town (Paramount stepped in and offered her an original film musical instead, and this bomb was the result) -- is so obscure that nobody has posted a single clip from it anywhere.

A shame, because while the movie has the desperation typical of mid-'50s musicals (the product of a genre whose popularity had collapsed without warning), "An Occasional Man" is one of my favorite songs from this era of musicals, and I don't really remember how it was done in the movie. It's certainly right for Gloria DeHaven's voice, though. The song is by the team of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, though I don't know which one was the lead writer on it. (Martin and Blane were both composer-lyricists, and their working relationship was similar to Lennon and McCartney: they took joint credit, but they tended to polish each other's songs rather than actually writing music and lyrics together. For example, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is almost entirely Martin's, while I think "Buckle Down Winsocki" was primarily Blane.)

It is an unusual song because it's sort of a subversive twist on the familiar subgenre of songs about lazy island paradises. Most songs like that are about how great it will be for a man to go down to said paradise where the girls are willing and wear nothing except a smile; Harold Arlen had had a hit song the year before, "Two Ladies In De Shade of De Banana Tree," that was exactly like that. But "An Occasional Man" is about an island paradise from the point of view of a woman who treats men as just another fun thing to enjoy on the island, like papayas and peaches. It's a song about anonymous, willing men, a paradise where a woman can just relax and enjoy sex with cute sailors without taking it seriously; it's a "girl in every port" song where the girl is in control. In that sense it's almost ahead of its time. And like a lot of Martin-Blane songs, it's funny, sexy and just a little campy (but not too much so).

The song had a few recordings, but nothing very big. Martin's friend Judy Holliday put it on her "Trouble is a Man" album (I guess that suggests that it's probably Martin's song) . The recording below (with pointless accompanying video) is by Anita O'Day; the Wikipedia entry says that Peggy Lee recorded the song, but she never did, even though it would have been perfect for her.



7 comments:

Griff said...

Jeri Southern recorded a good version of this.

VP81955 said...

I first became familiar with this song through Anita's sparkling version, and knowing through her autobiography that one of her influences as a singer was Martha Raye (hard to believe, but true), I thought it originated with Martha, from one of the late thirties' Paramount musicals; it sounds like something she might have sung. I didn't realize it wasn't written until the fifties.

Marissa said...

I first heard this song on one of Rebecca Kilgore's albums but had no idea that it came from a flop 1955 movie-musical. Oddly enough, like the previous commenter, I also had assumed that it was written earlier than that!

Mike Tennant said...

Sarah Vaughan also included this song on her 1955 album Sarah Vaughan in the Land of Hi-Fi. This was the first I'd heard of its origins. Interesting.

Jenny said...

It was used as a motif and in the original trailer for the film "The Notorious Bettie Page"(sung by Jeri Southern)--I'd never heard it before and immediately got it from iTunes; it really is a winner.

Guy said...

I first heard this as an instrumental by Tony Hatch, on a compilation of his 60s work, and dug it. I was surprised when I heard the vocal version on Luxuriamusic.com--I had been assuming it was the them to a movie or tv show about a secret agent!

moift said...

abbey lincoln has a swell recording of it on one of her early cds