MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, [a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook], I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
There’s a convention of the Golden Age of musical theater, where two characters on the verge of falling in love, imagine what life may be like if they were together. This “conditional love song,” as it’s often called, is obviously a device to drive the plot. But it got me thinking: what songs in the American Songbook explore this kind of conditional (rather than unconditional) love? So this week on the show, we’re diving into the hypothetical, as we feature songs that all explore the concept of “if,” like “If I Were A Bell,” “If I Had You,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
It’s If I Loved You: Conditional Love Songs, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - CARMEN MCRAE, “IF I COULD BE WITH YOU”
Carmen McRae live in New York City in 1965 with the song “If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight).” That recording was reissued on the 1973 album called Alive! “If I Could Be With You” is an old American standard that dates back to 1926, written by stride pianist James P. Johnson, with lyrics by Henry Creamer. Early recordings of the tune were made by Clarence Williams, Ruth Etting, and Louis Armstrong.
MUSIC CLIP - CHARLES MCPHERSON, “IF I LOVED YOU [INSTRUMENTAL]”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, I’m getting my inspiration from the world of musical theater, and exploring a type of song that became a convention in the Golden Age of the American musical: the conditional love song.
The concept was first brought to my attention by author and Broadway producer Jack Viertel in his book The Secret Life Of The American Musical. In it, he breaks down some common tropes in musicals: everything from the familiar overture and finale, to more esoteric concepts like the 11-o’clock number and the “I want” song.
Viertel describes the “conditional love song” as something that typically occurs in the first act, where the two romantic leads sing together for the first time addressing the issue of love, but not necessarily love with one another. Hypotheticals are proposed, conditions need to be met, certain things need to change for them to finally fall in love—in other words, the entire plot of the musical needs to unfold before these two leads can finally get together.
Many of these conditional love songs have become standards in the world of American pop music, and those standards are the ones I want to focus on this hour—songs that have been reinterpreted many times over the years. But the concept of “if” is not unique to the American musical, so later in the hour, I’m also going to feature other songs that delve into the hypothetical.
But first, let’s turn our attention to the song that Viertel describes as the ne plus ultra of the conditional love song: “If I Loved You.” It comes from the 1945 musical Carousel by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, which itself was based on an older Hungarian play called Liliom. In this song, the two romantic leads—carousel barker Billy Bigelow and humble millworker Julie Jordan—are too shy to express their love to one another this early in the show, so they talk safely in hypotheticals instead. This statement of love in the subjunctive mood is made all the more poignant because Billy dies before either gets to truly express how they really feel.
Here’s a romantic version of that song now from just a few years later. This is Jo Stafford with “If I Loved You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JO STAFFORD, “IF I LOVED YOU”
Jo Stafford and the Paul Weston Orchestra in 1950 with “If I Loved You,” a conditional love song from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel.
In the context of the musical, the “conditional love song” doesn’t necessarily have to deal directly with hypotheticals… “if this, then that.” Sometimes it’s just about the characters in Act I stating the fact that they are not in love—only to realize (or admit) in Act II that, in fact, they were in love all along.
If you know a little bit about Broadway history, it probably comes as no surprise that Oscar Hammerstein was the lyricist primarily responsible for these types of songs within shows. He was a master craftsman at constructing plots, so by adding in these songs of conditional, uncertain or make-believe love in the first act, he creates the driving force of the show.
Hammerstein had been doing this kind of thing even before Carousel. Let’s hear two more songs by Oscar Hammerstein, this first one from his musical Show Boat, which he wrote with Jerome Kern way back in 1926. The song is called “Make Believe,” sung in the first act by the riverboat gambler Ravenal and the young actress and singer Magnolia. The two just met and can’t admit they love each other just yet, so instead they simply “make believe” that they are in love.
Here’s that song now, performed by Tony Bennett in 2015. This is Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Make Believe,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “MAKE BELIEVE”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE”
Two conditional love songs from Broadway musicals. Just now, we heard Ella Fitzgerald and pianist Ellis Larkins in 1954 with “People Will Say We’re In Love.” That song, all about denying one's' true feelings of love, is performed by the two romantic leads in the first act of Oklahoma, the 1943 musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Before that, we heard Tony Bennett and pianist Bill Charlap in 2015 with “Make Believe.” That song, all about denying one’s true feelings of love, is performed by the two romantic leads in the first act of the 1926 musical Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.
Conditional love songs from Broadway shows are really all about the romantic conflict that drives the plot. Romantic leads longing for love, not having the courage to pursue the love that’s standing before them, or the knowledge to realize that this person they are pitted against in their true love after all.
This is perhaps best exemplified in the song “I’ll Know” from Guys And Dolls, where the two leads—the sinful gambler Sky Masterson and his romantic foil, the religious missionary Sarah Brown—sing about knowing exactly what will happen when they meet their true love. Their ideas of love are completely opposed. Of course, we the audience realize this hypothetical meeting of lovers has already happened—Sky and Sarah, the unlikely couple, have already met.
Here’s that song now, in a version from 1964. This is Nancy Wilson with “I’ll Know,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NANCY WILSON, “I’LL KNOW”
MUSIC - DINAH WASHINGTON, “THIS CAN’T BE LOVE”
Two songs from musicals that both deal with the same topic: not realizing the love standing in front of your face, because you’ve always imagined it differently. Just now, we heard Dinah Washington, trumpeter Clark Terry, and pianist Wynton Kelly in 1955 with “This Can’t Be Love.” That song originally comes from the 1938 Rodgers and Hart musical The Boys From Syracuse. Before that, we heard Nancy Wilson in 1964 with “I’ll Know.” That song comes from the 1951 Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls.
I have two more similar kinds of songs from musicals for you now. In each of these songs, an imagined, idealized picture of love is presented as something unknown and unrealized. And of course, over the course of each musical, that image of true love eventually comes into focus.
This first one comes from the 1946 Irving Berlin musical Annie Get Your Gun, a song all about what love must be like, or so they say.
This is Johnny Hartman with John Coltrane in 1963 with “They Say It’s Wonderful,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY HARTMAN, “THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL”
MUSIC - MEL TORMÉ, “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT”
Two songs all about what love may be like, if you can find it. Just now, we heard Mel Torme and the Marty Paich Dek-Tette with “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” written by George and Ira Gershwin for the 1937 film musical A Damsel In Distress. Before that, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman in 1963 with “They Say It’s Wonderful,” written by Irving Berlin for the 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun.
MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT [INSTRUMENTAL]”
After a break, we’ll have more songs that deal with that conditional concept of “if.” Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - CAL TJADER, “I’LL KNOW [INSTRUMENTAL]”
MUSIC CLIP - THE BENNY GOODMAN SEXTET, “IF I HAD YOU”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring songs in the subjunctive mood this hour, listening to some so-called “conditional love songs” from Broadway musicals. And I want to turn away from the musical for just a bit and spend the rest of the hour continuing to explore this “conditional” or “hypothetical” idea. More specifically, the idea of “if.”
Certainty in love is, certainly, a great thing. But does it inspire a great song? That uncertainty, on the other hand… that anticipation, that question of “if they only loved me”... the intensity of that emotion can open up really fascinating creative pathways for songwriters to explore.
Let’s hear a few “if” songs right now. This first one dates back to 1928, written by the British songwriting pair of Jimmy Campbell and Reg Connelly, along with American songwriter Ted Shapiro. Campbell and Connelly helped write several songs that had success on both sides of the pond, including “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” “Goodnight Sweetheart,” and “Try A Little Tenderness.”
Here’s their famous song in the subjunctive mood, “If I Had You,” sung here by Frank Sinatra in 1957, on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “IF I HAD YOU”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “IF YOU WERE MINE”
MUSIC - SARAH VAUGHAN, “IF LOVE IS GOOD TO ME”
Three songs all about “if.” Just now, we heard Sarah Vaughan with guitarist Mundell Lowe from the album After Hours performing “If Love Is Good To Me,” written by Redd Evans and Fred Spielman. Before that, we heard Billie Holiday along with Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra back in 1933 with “If You Were Mine,” featuring Roy Eldridge on trumpet. That song was written by Matty Malneck with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. And starting that set, the song “If I Had You,” performed there by Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle from the 1957 album A Swingin’ Affair.
We’re exploring some conditional love songs this hour, songs that explore hypotheticals in some way. Those last three songs all talked about the great things that would happen if only that special person loved me: “I could show the world how to smile,” “I could be a ruler of kings,” “spring will comes and grass will grow,” etc. Let’s turn now to a few “if” songs that explore the opposite, all the terrible things that might happen if you were to lose love. The music and arrangement on these next two songs, as you’ll hear, are decidedly more mysterious, dissonant, and angular.
We’ll start with June Christy and arranger Frank DeVol in 1947, performing the Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin tune “If I Should Lose You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “IF I SHOULD LOSE YOU”
MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “IF YOU GO”
Peggy Lee and arranger Quincy Jones in 1961 with “If You Go,” the title track off of their album together. That song was originally written by Michel Emer in 1947 as “Si tu partais,” first sung by French singer Edith Piaf. The English lyrics were translated by Geoffrey Parsons. Before that, we heard June Christy and arranger Frank DeVol in 1947 with “If I Should Lose You.” DeVol actually repurposed part of this arrangement for his arrangement of the song “Nature Boy” with Nat King Cole just a few months later.
We’re just about out of time, so sadly, there a few “if” songs I had to leave out this hour: Lerner and Loewe, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” Noel Coward’s “If Love Were All,” Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now,” and so on.
We’ll close off this hour of songs all exploring the concept of “if” by returning to the Broadway musical Guys And Dolls. We already heard a song this hour of imagined, future love from this show. In this next song, the love is certain: the missionary Sarah Brown has decidedly fallen in love with the roguish gambler Sky Masterson, and is ready to (drunkenly) declare it to all the world—or at least the patrons of a seedy Havana nightclub. So, she uses the word “if” to help her draw comparisons to the wonderful way she is feeling.
To close off this hour, this is Ella Fitzgerald in 1958 with Frank Loesser’s “If I Were A Bell,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “IF I WERE A BELL”
Ella Fitzgerald and the Marty Paich Dek-Tette on the 1958 album Ella Swings Lightly, with “If I Were A Bell” from the musical Guys And Dolls by Frank Loesser.
Thanks for tuning in to this close look at conditional love songs all exploring the concept of “if,” on this edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - MILES DAVIS QUINTET, “IF I WERE A BELL”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow