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.
This week on the show, I’m highlighting the songbook of one of the most successful and celebrated songwriters of the Great American Songbook, Frank Loesser. Loesser had an interesting career. In the 1930s, he began strictly as a lyricist, working with greats like Hoagy Carmichael, Burton Lane, and Jimmy McHugh. Then during World War II, he dabbled in writing his own music, and it turned out, he excelled at both. This hour, I’ll highlight songs from this latter half of his career, as composer and lyricist, including songs from his celebrated Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.
It’s More of Frank Loesser, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - CHET BAKER, "I'VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE"
Chet Baker in 1956 with Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” originally written for the 1950 Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. This comes from the 1956 reissue of the landmark LP Chet Baker Sings, one of the six tracks added to the original 1954 album, released by Pacific Jazz, and featuring Russ Freeman on piano. “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” shouldn’t be confused with “I’ve Been In A Love Before,” a 1940 song performed by Marlene Dietrich, with lyrics also by Frank Loesser.
MUSIC CLIP - HANK JONES, "HEART AND SOUL"
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the songbook of one of the most talented songwriters of the American Songbook, Frank Loesser.
Frank Loesser’s career can really be split in two. He was born in New York in 1910, the son of two Prussian immigrants who both loved and/or taught classical music. Frank, naturally, went in the other direction, quitting piano lessons, and falling in love with the bustling popular music scene in New York. He was a poor student, but not because he lacked aptitude, but rather discipline. When he left college, after pursuing some odd jobs, he stumbled upon a career as a lyricist in Tin Pan Alley. Turns out, Frank had a real knack for writing lyrics that captured the spirit of the times.
For about a decade, mostly out in Hollywood, he worked with some of the music industry’s best tunesmiths, like Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy McHugh, Burton Lane, and Jule Styne, writing the words to hit songs like “Heart and Soul,” “I Hear Music,” “Let’s Get Lost,” and “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You.” This is the first part of his career. But in this episode, I want to focus on the second part of his career.
MUSIC CLIP - ART FARMER, "I'VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE"
In 1941, shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, Loesser was motivated to write some patriotic tunes. He was inspired by a line spoken by a Navy chaplain during the bombing of Pearl Harbor: “Praise The Lord, And Pass The Ammunition.” He had gotten in the habit of writing an example melody to his lyrics, but in this case, his sample melody did just the trick. According to his brother, music critic Arthur Loesser, the simple, straightforward melody, quote, “tastes like school, church, grandma and biscuits, a master stroke of diplomacy, aptness and good business.”
His inaugural song as both a lyricist and composer ended up being a major success. Two versions made it to the pop charts, and the song sold several hundred thousand copies in its first few months.
Here’s one hit version now from 1942. This is the Merry Macs with Frank Loesser’s first solo song “Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MERRY MACS, "PRAISE THE LORD AND PASS THE AMMUNITION"
The Merry Macs in 1942 with “Praise The Lord and Pass The Ammunition,” a World War II anthem, and the first song with lyrics and music by Frank Loesser. Loesser would revive this quasi-Gospel revival anthem style in a few different Broadway songs later in his career. More on that later.
Frank Loesser wrote several songs for the war effort. He enlisted as a private in the Army and was, in fact, officially tasked with writing entertainment for soldiers. In 1945, he wrote the epic The Ballad of Rodger Young, an elegy for a soldier who lost his life, and a song that became part of the repertoire of storytelling folk singers like Burl Ives. And he wrote the tongue-in-cheek song “What Do You Do In The Infantry,” a song that captures the monotony of certain parts of military life, made famous by Bing Crosby.
MUSIC CLIP -BING CROSBY, "WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE INFANTRY?"
After the war, Loesser made his way back to Hollywood, and started writing more songs for films, like he had done prior to the war, but now using his own melodies.
By 1947, he was writing several songs for many Hollywood musicals, including songs like “Tallahassee” written for the 1947 film Variety Girl (and a minor hit at the time).
MUSIC CLIP - BING CROSBY AND THE ANDREWS SISTERS, "TALLAHASSEE"
And there was the more enduring song “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” written for the 1947 film The Perils Of Pauline. Let’s hear that one now.
This is Aretha Franklin in 1964 with Frank Loesser’s “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ARETHA FRANKLIN, "I WISH I DIDN'T LOVE YOU SO"
Aretha Franklin in 1964 with Frank Loesser’s “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” a song written for the 1947 Betty Hutton film The Perils Of Pauline, and a song that’s since gone on to be performed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson and others.
Frank Loesser continued to write hit songs for Hollywood films in the late 1940s, as well as independent songs. Two of his hit numbers from this period have become perennial favorites, mostly because of their association with winter holidays. One was the song “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” written in 1947, which became a hit that year for singer Margaret Whiting.
MUSIC CLIP - MARGARET WHITING, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEAR'S EVE?"
The other was a song that Loesser and his wife Lynn used to perform at parties beginning in 1944, and which later won an Academy Award after being featured in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter: another wintertime classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
MUSIC CLIP - MARGARET WHITING AND JOHNNY MERCER, "BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE"
That song has fallen out of favor in recent years because of the regressive sexual politics of its message, which is all about a guy refusing to hear the word “no.”
In 1949, it wasn’t considered all that problematic of a song. In fact, it was considered to be far less problematic than another Frank Loesser song from 1948 called “(I'd Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China.” According to Esther Williams, the actress (and swimmer) who starred in Neptune’s Daughter, “(I'd Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China,” a romantic song about trying to find a very long amount of alone time, was originally considered for the film, but deemed to risque by the censors. So, the more tame “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was chosen instead.
Let’s hear that other song now. This is Frank Sinatra on the Lucky Strike Your Hit Parade radio show, broadcast on New Year’s Day 1949 with Frank Loesser’s “On A Slow Boat To China,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, "ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA"
MUSIC - SARAH VAUGHAN, "SPRING WILL BE A LITTLE LATE THIS YEAR"
Frank Sinatra with Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra, on the radio in 1949, with Frank Loesser’s song “(I’d Like To Get You) On A Slow Boat To China.”
In 1946, Frank Loesser was tapped to lend his talents to another medium: the Broadway show. He was asked to write the music to an adaptation of the farce Charley’s Aunt when the original choice, Harold Arlen, was unavailable. The musical, now titled Where’s Charley, opened in 1948, and became a success. It ran for nearly 800 performances, on the back of its star Ray Bolger (aka, the Scarecrow from The Wizard Of Oz), and on the strength of Frank Loesser’s songs.
One of those songs was called “My Darling, My Darling,” which became a hit for Doris Day and Buddy Clark that year.
MUSIC CLIP - DORIS DAY AND BUDDY CLARK, "MY DARLING, MY DARLING"
The other was a song which became a jazz standard.
Let’s hear that other one now. This is Mel Tormé with Frank Loesser’s “Once In Love With Amy,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - MEL TORMÉ, "ONCE IN LOVE WITH AMY"
Mel Tormé and arranger Marty Paich in 1960 with “Once In Love With Amy,” a song from the 1948 Frank Loesser musical Where’s Charley. This song became a standout number from the show when star Ray Boger used to invite the audience to sing along with him on stage night after night. Before that, the other hit song from that show, “My Darling, My Darling,” sung by Doris Day and Buddy Clark in 1948.
MUSIC CLIP - SONNY ROLLINS, "ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA"
We’ll hear more music written by Frank Loesser in just a bit, including music from some of his other Broadway musicals. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - BILL EVANS, "I BELIEVE IN YOU"
MUSIC CLIP - BOBBY SHORT, "IF I WERE A BELL"
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the world of lyricist and composer Frank Loesser this hour.
By 1950, Frank Loesser had already established himself as one of the most reliable lyricists in the music industry, and had spent the last five years proving that he could also write a memorable tune. And yet over the next decade, he would find that his biggest success came from the Broadway stage.
His next Broadway show, Guys And Dolls, from 1950, became an all-time Broadway classic. Based on the colorful characters from the stories of Damon Runyon, Guys And Dolls was a critical and commercial success, running for over 1,000 performances and earning Loesser a Tony Award. The show was praised for its tight construction, but also for the Loesser’s delightful songs. New York Daily News Critic John Chapman wrote, quote “Frank Loesser has written a score that will get a big play on the juke boxes, over the radio, and in bistros throughout the land.” And indeed that has become true. Many of the songs have become standards, and let’s hear a few now.
First, let’s hear a version of the title song. This is Blossom Dearie in 1960, from her LP Soubrette Sings Broadway Hit Songs, with Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, "GUYS AND DOLLS"
MUSIC - DINAH WASHINGTON, "IF I WERE A BELL"
Dinah Washington in 1956, from the album In The Land Of Hi-Fi, with “If I Were A Bell,” originally by Frank Loesser from his 1950 musical Guys And Dolls. Before that, the title track from that musical, performed by Blossom Dearie in 1960.
Guys And Dolls went on to become an enduring hit. It was revived on Broadway three times, including a revival in 1976 with an all-Black cast, and has played on London’s West End five times. In 1955, the musical was turned into a major motion picture starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. Brando and Sinatra were both Academy Award winning actors by that point, but they were controversial castings for different reasons. Brando was a mediocre singer at best, and was barely passable compared to “The Voice” Frank Sinatra. Sinatra, on the other hand, was almost too good—his smooth singing style didn’t fit the perpetually out-of-luck character of Nathan Detroit, as portrayed by the non-singer Sam Levene in the original Broadway cast. Loesser hated Sinatra’s casting, and apparently went to his death bed without ever watching the film.
Nevertheless, Guys And Dolls, and its story of no-good gamblers, became perpetually associated with Sinatra, especially during his Rat Pack years in Vegas. Let’s hear him now, performing a song from the show, although a song that was performed by Brando in the film.
This is Frank Sinatra, live at the Sands Casino in Vegas in 1966, with Frank Loesser’s “Luck Be A Lady,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, "LUCK BY A LADY (LIVE)"
MUSIC - SAMMY DAVIS, JR., "SIT DOWN, YOU'RE ROCKIN' THE BOAT"
Two Rat Pack members singing songs from Frank Loesser’s musical Guys And Dolls. Just now, we heard Sammy Davis Jr in 19xx with “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat,” a number that has a similar kind of quasi-religious, gospel revival sound as Frank Loesser’s first song “Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition.” Before that, Frank Sinatra and Count Basie live in Las Vegas in 1966 with “Luck Be A Lady.”
After the success of Guys And Dolls, Frank Loesser spent most of the rest of his career working on Broadway. He made one more brief attempt writing for film in 1952, writing songs for the Samuel Goldwyn movie Hans Christen Anderson. Star Danny Kaye helped introduce these new children’s songs, including “Thumbelina,” “Anywhere I Wander,” and “The Inch Worm,” some of which became standards.
MUSIC CLIP - TONY BENNETT, "THE INCH WORM"
But his next show on Broadway, 1956’s The Most Happy Fella was a bigger success. The show, based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play and somewhat reminiscent of the Cyrano De Bergerac story, was Loesser’s most ambitious work yet. He wrote the music, lyrics, and the book, and it unfolds almost like an opera with very little dialogue. The music and story are intertwined, and as a result, the individual songs were not as memorable as some of his older songs. However, a few were excerpted and recorded by other artists.
Let’s hear one now; we’ll follow this up with a song from his less-successful follow-up musical Greenwillow. First, this is Chris Connor in 1957 with Frank Loesser’s “My Heart Is So Full Of You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - CHRIS CONNOR, "MY HEART IS SO FULL OF YOU"
MUSIC - BARBRA STREISAND, "NEVER WILL I MARRY"
Barbra Streisand, live at the Bon Soir in 1962, with “Never Will I Marry,” a popular song from Frank Loesser’s 1960 Broadway flop Greenwillow. Before that, Chris Connor with “My Heart is So Full Of You,” a song from his more successful 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella.
Frank Loesser wrote one more successful musical before he passed away from lung cancer at age 59 in 1969. And that final musical ended up being his most successful show both critically and commercially. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, a satire about American corporate ethos, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1962, the Tony Award for Best Musical, and ran for more than 1400 performances, a record at the time.
Several songs have endured, including “I Believe In You,” an anthem of self-confidence, and “Brotherhood Of Man,” a song that riles up the crowd in a similar gospel revival fashion as other Frank Loesser hits like “Praise The Lord and Pass The Ammunition” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat.” Let’s hear each of those songs now.
First, this is Nancy Wilson in 1963 with Frank Loesser’s “I Believe In You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NANCY WILSON, "I BELIEVE IN YOU"
MUSIC - JUDY GARLAND & LIZA MINNELLI, "WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN / BROTHERHOOD OF MAN (MEDLEY)"
Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, mother and daughter, live in 1964 at the London Palladium, with a medley of the traditional song “When The Saints Go Marching In” and Frank Loesser’s 1961 song “Brotherhood of Man.” Before that, Nancy Wilson in 1963 with “I Believe In You.” Both of those songs come from Frank Loesser’s final Broadway hit How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
And thanks for tuning in to this Frank Loesser edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON AND CLARK TERRY, "BROTHERHOOD OF MAN"
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