Sunday, June 03, 2007

Tunes You Could Hum

In the 1972 film Sleuth (being remade as we speak) there's a scene at about the halfway point where the character of Andrew Wyke is making himself a late-night snack, while in the background Cole Porter music plays: 'Anything Goes', 'You Do Something To Me', and 'Just One Of Those Things'. He is interrupted by the unexpected, and unwelcome, intrusion of Inspector Doppler of the Wiltshire County Constabulary, come to ask a few awkward questions; but not before the policeman cocks an ear to the music and says appreciatively, 'Ah, those were the days, sir. Tunes you could hum.'

All of which preamble is by way of saying that I'm in complete agreement with Inspector Doppler (and Anthony Shaffer, who wrote the line, which incidentally doesn't appear in his original play script; according to the stage directions, Wyke is listening to Beethoven's 'Seventh Symphony' at this point in the proceedings). If Fred Astaire danced to it, or sang it, or both—even if he only could have danced to it or sung it—then I'm happy to listen to it until the cows come home, and for a considerable period thereafter. Imagine my delight, then, to discover that XM Satellite Radio, which we started to get a year ago, has a channel—number 4, called 'The Savoy Express'—dedicated to music from the 1940s, with forays back into the 1930s and even the late 1920s. Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Vaughan Munro, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Billie Holliday, Margaret Whiting, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, The Ink Spots, Duke Ellington, Betty Hutton, Johnny Mercer, Lena Horne: all are in constant play here, and it's the soundtrack by which my day is usually accompanied. No matter how harried or busy or complicated things get, just hearing—to name a few random favourites—'I've Got A Gal In Kalamazoo', 'I Love New York In June', 'Sing Sing Sing', 'Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye', 'On the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe', 'The Way You Look Tonight', 'Easy To Love', 'One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)', and 'The Lady is a Tramp' never fails to cheer me up. And when I look up from my computer, I'm greeted by the smiling face of Jimmy Stewart as Glenn Miller, in an 8.5 x 11 black-and-white photo signed by Mr Stewart himself: two favourites together.

There's something about these songs, with their lush arrangements, playful lyrics, leisurely instrumental introductions, and consummate professionalism that appeals to me. The lyrics might not be profound, but they're heartfelt and sincere; the singers might not always be as vocally proficient as one would like, but they knew how to sell a song; and the tunes have the wonderful merit, as Inspector Doppler noted, of being instantly hummable, as well as easily understood and catchy as all get out.

Nickelback? Franz Ferdinand? Justin Timberlake? Fergie? Carrie Underwood? I'm sure they're great. But if you'll excuse me, I have to go; Don Kennedy is hosting 'Big Band Jump' on The Savoy Express. 'I'll never smile again / Until I smile at you.'


Anonymous said...

Hi Barbara

Thanks for the interesting piece. Crowhurst set sail from Teignmouth in Devon, which is where my family live and where, not by coincidence, the short story 'Low Tides' is set - which will hopefully be appearing in the next issue or two of All Hallows.


Barbara Roden said...

Glad you enjoyed the Crowhurst piece, Mathew; and funny the connection with Teignmouth! Having just watched a fascinating 2006 documentary about the Crowhurst tragedy - DEEP WATER (about which I'll be blogging in due course) - I was surprised to find that the name I was pronouncing (in my head) as 'Tynemuth' is actually pronounced 'Tinmuth'. A bit of mental adjustment is in order!