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.
Not long ago on the show, I devoted an hour to “conditional long songs,” which are a type of song that often show up in the Broadway musical. And in this hour, I’m devoting the show to another typical song type from the musical: the “I Want” Song. In a musical, an “I Want” song is a statement of desire, which leads the protagonist on their journey. We’ll hear a few of these songs, as interpreted by jazz and pop singers, and we’ll also explore other songs of want and desire from traditional American pop music.
It’s The American Songbook’s “I Want” Songs, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “I WANT TO BE HAPPY”
Ella Fitzgerald, with Chick Webb and His Orchestra, in 1937, performing the song “I Want To Be Happy.” That song comes from the 1925 hit Broadway musical No, No, Nanette, written by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar—although despite its title, it probably wouldn’t qualify as the “I Want” song from that show. That extra-long version by Ella and Chick Webb that we just heard was originally released as a special extended 12” record.
MUSIC CLIP - PAUL DESMOND, “LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING“
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the concept of the “I Want” song in popular music.
This idea of an “I Want” song comes from the world of musical theater. It’s a song usually sung in the first act by the hero, where they lay out their desires, and thus the beginning of the dramatic arc for the rest of the show. It’s not entirely clear who coined the term. Some believe it was theater conductor Lehman Engel. Others believe it was theater director Bob Fosse, who contrasted “I Want” songs from musicals to “I Am” songs.
“I Want” songs tend to show up in shows with strong, plucky leads who are on a singular mission. One early musical that featured such a plot was the 1920 musical Sally, with music by Jerome Kern. Sally is a dishwasher at an inn, who longs to be a famous dancer. Through a series of events, Sally is passed off as prima ballerina, which eventually leads to fame as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies. Sally is the heroine, and in act one, she and another character sing a song that, while it doesn’t explicitly state what she wants out of life, functions instead as a kind of mission statement—a creed.
Sally’s admirable optimism amid pain and strife is outlined in this song. And given the fact that she begins the show as a lowly dishwasher with aspirations of fame, her inevitable triumph is telescoped in this number. Let’s hear it now.
This is Margaret Whiting in 1947 with Jerome Kern’s “Look For The Silver Lining,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MARGARET WHITING, “LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING”
A proto “I Want” song, sung by the heroine in the 1920 Jerome Kern musical Sally. That was Margaret Whiting in 1947 with “Look For The Silver Lining.”
“I Want” songs in musicals are ubiquitous today—think of songs like “The Wizard And I” from Wicked or “My Shot” from Hamilton. However, they are, believe it or not, a little harder to come by in the Golden Age of the Broadway musical in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. The reason is that these shows were not often centered around a single “hero’s journey,” but rather the central plot usually concerned a romance between two people.
As a result, the kind of song you’re actually more likely to hear is what’s called the “conditional love song,” which I’ve explored in an earlier episode. Popularized by songwriters like Oscar Hammerstein, the conditional love song is a duet, not a solo song, where the two characters sing of imagined or desired love in the first act, only to become actualized love at the end. However, just because these “conditional love song” duet are more commonplace, doesn’t mean that solo “I Want” songs don’t exist.
Here’s one from Oscar Hammerstein himself. It comes from the only musical he wrote with Richard Rodgers originally for film, State Fair from 1945. In this “I Want” song, the young girl Margy, is getting ready for the late summer Iowa State Fair, and longing for something more out of life. She has the restlessness and desire often referred to as “spring fever,” even though she knows it isn’t spring.
Here’s that song now. This is Sarah Vaughan in 1950, featuring none other than Miles Davis on trumpet, with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might As Well Be Spring,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - SARAH VAUGHAN, “IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING”
MUSIC - JO STAFFORD, “OVER THE RAINBOW”
Two classic “I Want” songs from early film musicals. Just now, we heard Jo Stafford in 1946 with Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “Over The Rainbow,” Dorothy’s classic song of hope for a more adventurous world, from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Before that, a song with a similar theme, “It Might As Well Be Spring,” from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein film musical State Fair. That was sung by Sarah Vaughan in 1950, featuring trumpeter Miles Davis.
“I Want” songs continued to show up in 1950s musicals, especially in musicals with lead characters on some kind of journey of self-discovery. A classic example is Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1956 musical My Fair Lady, where in the first act, our heroine Eliza Doolittle sings one of the most obvious examples of an “I Want” song, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” all about her desire for a better life far away from the poor streets of London.
Let’s hear a version of that song now from 1963. This is Lena Horne with “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LENA HORNE, “WOULDN’T IT BE LOVERLY”
MUSIC - VIC DAMONE, “SOMETHING’S COMING”
Two “I Want” songs from 1950s musical. Just now, we heard singer Vic Damone in 1964 with “Something’s Coming,” Tony’s song of longing from West Side Story, written in 1957 by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Before that, Eliza Doolittle’s “I Want” song from 1956’s My Fair Lady, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” sung by Lena Horne in 1963.
Composer Stephen Sondheim was just one of the songwriters who kept the “I Want” song alive in the 1960s and beyond. “Someone Is Waiting” is a great example from Company from 1970, “wishing” is key to his musical Into The Woods in 1986. Another classic example from Sondheim’s pen comes in 1959 musical Gypsy. In Act I, the ambitious stage mother Rose sings her “I Want” song called “Some People.” In many ways, this is the inversion of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” While Eliza Doolittle longs for blissful domesticity, Mama Rose thinks that a life of “playing bingo and paying rent” is for some humdrum people, but not her.
Here’s that song now, sung by jazz singer Annie Ross and the Buddy Bregman Band in 1959. This is “Some People,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ANNIE ROSS, “SOME PEOPLE”
MUSIC - BARBRA STREISAND, “MUCH MORE”
“Much More,” the “I Want” song sung by the longing protagonist Luisa from the 1960 musical The Fantasticks, with music by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. That was sung by Barbra Streisand in 1963 on her debut album for Columbia Records. Before that, we heard jazz singer Annie Ross in 1959 with Mama Rose’s “I Want” Song, “Some People” from the 1959 musical Gypsy.
“I Want” songs, as I mentioned, are arguably more popular in musicals today than in the Golden Age of the Broadway musical. Songwriters of a newer generation, like the great Howard Ashman, were strong advocates for these types of songs. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Ashman wrote some of the most acclaimed and quintessential “I Want” songs, including “Somewhere That’s Green” from the musical Little Shop Of Horrors (a kitchy sendup of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”) and the earnest “Part Of Your World” from the Disney animated musical The Little Mermaid. It was Ashman’s influence, and his knowledge of musical theater structure, that sparked the so-called Disney Renaissance in the 1980s, and made “I Want” songs an essential part of the Disney musical in recent years.
Sadly, we don’t have a lot of jazz interpretations of these Ashman “I Want” songs. But here’s another late entry into the “I Want” song canon, courtesy of another children’s theme musical. Like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” or “Somewhere That’s Green,” this is a song of longing for an idyllic domestic life, told here from the perspective of a plucky little orphan.
Here’s Harry Connick Jr in 2001, with a song from the 1977 musical Annie, by Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse. This is “Maybe,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - HARRY CONNICK JR, “MAYBE”
Harry Connick Jr, from his 2001 album Songs I Heard with “Maybe,” the “I Want” song from the 1977 musical Annie by Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse.
MUSIC CLIP - COLEMAN HAWKINS, “WOULDN'T IT BE LOVERLY”
We’ll have more songs from the American Songbook about want and desire in just a bit. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - ANDRÉ PREVIN, “IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING”
MUSIC CLIP - ART FARMER, “GOODBYE OLD GIRL”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been looking at songs about wanting from the American Songbook this hour. And up until now, we’ve looked specifically at so-called “I Want” songs from Broadway musicals.
Now, not every song about wanting from a Broadway musical is necessarily an “I Want” song. Take the musical Damn Yankees from 1955. In this musical, the lead character Joe wants nothing more than for his beloved Washington Senators baseball team to defeat those damn Yankees, even going as far as selling his soul to try to make it happen. However, the most famous song about wanting from this show is not an “I Want” song from Joe, but rather a seduction number from the mysterious character named Lola.
Let’s hear it now. This is Mel Tormé with the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross song “Whatever Lola Wants,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MEL TORMÉ, “WHATEVER LOLA WANTS”
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING I WANT”
Two songs about wanting. Just now, we heard Blossom Dearie from her 1961 album My Gentleman Friend with the Bob Haymes song “You’ve Got Something I Want.” Before that, Mel Tormé in 1960 with the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross song “Whatever Lola Wants.”
Songs about want and desire, of course, go far beyond just the Broadway musical. Wanting someone to love you is, pretty much, a universal feeling, and it’s an incredibly common trope in American pop music over the decades. Here’s a song of desire that dates back to 1931 that’s been recorded by folks like Louis Armstrong, Frankie Laine, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Here is Dinah Washington in 1962 with the Helmy Kresa song “That’s My Desire,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - DINAH WASHINGTON, “THAT’S MY DESIRE”
MUSIC - CHRIS CONNOR, “ALL I NEED IS YOU”
Chris Connor in 1960 with the Benny Davis, Mitchell Parish, and Peter DeRose tune “All I Need Is You.” And before that, Dinah Washington in 1962 with the Helmy Kresa song “That’s My Desire.”
Well, we have time for just one more song about wanting this hour. This next one is one of the most frequently-performed songs about wanting, performed more than 200 times after it was written in 1930, by singers like Ray Charles, Joe Williams, Nat King Cole, and many more.
Here’s a classic version from 1940, arguably the version that made the song famous.
This is Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie and His Orchestra, and “I Want A Little Girl,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JIMMY RUSHING, “I WANT A LITTLE GIRL”
Count Basie and His Orchestra featuring vocalist Jimmy Rushing and saxophonist Lester Young, with the blues standard “I Want A Little Girl.”
And thanks for tuning in to this “I Want” song edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - LESTER YOUNG, “I WANT A LITTLE GIRL”
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