Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Hugh Martin Claims Credit For Lots of Suff, Probably Accurately

Hugh Martin (Meet Me In St. Louis, Best Foot Forward, "An Occasional Man") is one of my favorite people in the history of American show music, a terrific songwriter and perhaps the greatest vocal arranger in Broadway history. (His arrangements for songs like "Sing For Your Supper" in The Boys From Syracuse sometimes outshine the songs themselves.) He's still alive, in his 90s; he was interviewed for Steven Suskin's book on Broadway orchestration, and recently, Martin's friend Michael Feinstein asked him for some thoughts on a new book about his songwriting/singing partner, Ralph Blane.

Martin responded -- at least I'm assuming this is legit -- with this partial list of corrections, mostly pointing out that many Martin-Blane songs were in fact Martin's alone, and that all the vocal arrangements were by Martin since Blane "couldn't do a vocal arrangement if his life depended on it."

The succession of "I wrote this" and "I wrote that" lines may become a bit wearying, but I find it interesting, because I love these songs and there has been very little documentation of who wrote what. Martin and Blane's partnership was, as I've said many times, essentially the same as Lennon and McCartney's in the last few years of the Beatles, where they would each write songs on their own (both music and lyrics), then take joint credit for all the songs, as well as making small changes to each other's work. Some books -- including, apparently, this book on Blane -- mistakenly say that Martin wrote the music and Blane the lyrics, when in fact they almost never worked this way. (Martin says that the only song they wrote like that was "Three Men On a Date," a song from Best Foot Forward.) It's hard to identify who wrote what, but Martin is often responsible for the songs that have big jazzy choral sections and a hard-driving, peppy style also typical of his friend Kay Thompson.

In Best Foot Forward, their first Broadway and movie success, Suskin's Show Tunes identifies some of the songs by author; Blane wrote the big hit "Buckle Down Winsocki" and my favorite song from the show, "Shady Lady Bird," which unfortunately was not used in the film. Benny Goodman recorded the song with Peggy Lee singing; here it is, just as a reminder that Blane was a fine songwriter himself (something that can get lost in Martin's comments, because he's responding to a book that apparently tried to give Blane credit for everything).

Incidentally, why has Encores! not done this show? Great score, the original jazz-influenced Don Walker orchestrations and Martin vocal arrangements would sound great, and the only place anybody has heard the full score is the 1963 Off-Broadway revival with the young Christopher Walken and Liza Minnelli, which used only two pianos and jettisoned Martin's choral arrangements.

Anyway, Martin's contributions to Best Foot Forward the wonderful ironic torch song "Ev'ry Time." I recall seeing somewhere that "Three B's" was mostly Martin, though since it's really a suite of songs, there might be contributions from both of them in there. And according to "Show Tunes," one song from the show, "The Guy Who Brought Me," was mostly written uncredited by Richard Rodgers, who was a producer of the show.

As the Martin/Blane collaboration continued, Martin seems to have done more of the memorable work; his solo work, compared to Blane's (they both did musicals and movies on their own or with other collaborators) suggests that he had become the superior songwriter, which would explain why their big hits after 1943 or so tend to be Martin's work.

That's maybe too much credit-assigning for one post, but I say all this just to emphasize that songwriting credits for Broadway and Hollywood musicals can be every bit as deceptive as their counterparts in modern pop music.

AAs for Martin's comments, I'm assuming that they are real if only because the information given in the post checks out with the little bits of information that have been confirmed before: I knew that Blane wrote "Buckle Down Winsocki" himself and that "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is all Martin. And he says that my favorite song from the team, "An Occasional Man" (see above) was one of his, which is what I guessed in an earlier post, so I'm naturally inclined to accept it at face value...

Martin also explains why one of the most famous Martin-Blane novelty songs is credited jointly to them and Roger Edens, Arthur Freed's brilliant right-hand man:

Roger Edens went to the library and made a list of Indian tribes that started with "Ch." He also wrote 8 bars of music that he thought might be appropriate. I went home that night and wrote "Pass That Peace Pipe," using Roger's 8 bars of melody and all of the Indian tribes that he listed. The song got an Oscar nomination in 1947.

Annoyingly, the original version of "Pass That Peace Pipe" has been pulled from YouTube. Of the versions that are on there, the version from Duckman is (somewhat surprisingly) much better than the one by the Muppets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a version of "Pass That Peace Pipe" done on "I Love Lucy?"