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More On Movie Title Songs

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by Leonard Maltin
August 14, 2012 1:00 AM
3 Comments
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Nat “King” Cole and Gene Barry in Sam Fuller’s 'China Gate'.
Nat “King” Cole and Gene Barry in Sam Fuller’s 'China Gate'.

Not long ago I wrote about “unsung” movie themes, as depicted on sheet music covers. The piece elicited quite a response, including a lovely note from Christa and Samantha Fuller, the widow and daughter of filmmaker Sam Fuller, whose theme to China Gate (sung by the great Nat King Cole) I’d failed to mention. Christa adds that it’s available on iTunes and is “great Nat.” Remember, too, that Fuller even gave the incomparable singer a rare acting role in that 1957 movie.

Singer, entertainer, and musicologist non pareil Michael Feinstein wrote, “The theme from A Place In The Sun had a lyric by Johnny Mercer; he wrote the first one and it was rejected! Livingston and Evans then wrote two lyrics for the theme, one of which was chosen and published. (I think I also have the unused one.) I tried for years to find the Mercer lyric, especially since the Livingston and Evans one is not their best work. It has never turned up and is thus not in The Complete Lyrics Of Johnny Mercer.

“So many people love that particular theme. About two years ago, Dory Previn told me that she would come out of retirement only if she could get permission to write a new lyric for A Place In The Sun. There is also a funny anecdote in Andre Previn’s book No Minor Chords in which he relates a story about Kim Novak having written a lyric for it called To Be Or Not To Be. He recently recounted it to me with great amusement. (We have just recorded a CD of all of his songs).”

Michael always has something interesting up his sleeve, and naturally I look forward to that Previn CD.

Another savvy veteran of the music business, Ronny Schiff, wrote, “Thank you for reminding people of the importance of sheet music and its place in media history. This brought to mind one song, Theme from Middle of the Night by George Bassman and Paddy Chayefsky. It wasn't unsung—Nina  Simone recorded it—but it didn't make any waves. It is a haunting, melancholic, minor-key piece and there is like nothing else like Paddy's lyric in songwriting annals.

"Only the lonely love, only the sad of soul/Wake and begin their day in the middle of the night/To breakfast on their pride, burnt joys and tears just dried/To breakfast with the moon in the middle of the night."

You can read the entire lyric at metrolyrics.com.

One of best movie songs of the '60s, 'You're Gonna Hear From Me'
music by Andre Previn, Lyric by Dory Previn One of best movie songs of the '60s, 'You're Gonna Hear From Me'

Reader Nicholas Anez wrote, “Your article on movie songs struck a chord with me (sorry). I have always loved film music and, in the 1950s, I started buying LP soundtracks and still have my collection of soundtracks and film music LPs. However, I also bought 45 rpm singles of themes from movies and I also still have those (about a hundred.) About half are instrumentals: “Theme from The Caine Mutiny,” “Theme from Sons and Lovers,” “Theme from The Bramble Bush,” etc., but just are many are vocals. Many are relatively well-known to film fans : “Hajji Baba” by Nat King Cole, “3:10 to Yuma” by Frankie Laine, “The Searchers” by Tex Ritter, “Johnny Guitar” by Peggy Lee, etc. but many others probably sold only one copy. They include such songs as “Legend of the Lost” by Joe Valino, “The Conqueror” by Frank Verna, “Hannah Lee” by Guy Mitchell, “And the Moon Grew Brighter and Brighter” by Kirk Douglas (from Man Without a Star), “Land of the Pharaohs” by Johnny Desmond, etc. I will not bore you with the complete list of my old 45s but it is very nice to know that someone else shares my love for those obscure songs.”

Finally, at least one reader pointed out that title songs actually dated back to the silent-film era. I’m well aware of that, and wrote about it and other aspects of the movie-music connection in my Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy newsletter—the printed version, that is. (You can learn more about that story, which spread over issues 10, 11, and 12, HERE.)

The fun part of collecting sheet music is that it’s so widely available and, generally inexpensive. But, as in all forms of collecting, it’s the discovery of something rare—the thrill of the chase—that makes it especially enjoyable.

Here are some more largely “unsung” movie themes, almost all of them written by major composers and lyricists “to order.” In the case of The Caine Mutiny, the studio reissued an old standard heard on the movie’s soundtrack with the graphics that helped promote their movie.

'Johnny Guitar
Words and Music by Peggy Lee and Victor Young. 'Johnny Guitar
'Sylvia'
words by Paul Francis Webster - Music by David Raksin 'Sylvia'
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3 Comments

  • DBenson | August 15, 2012 3:28 PMReply

    Randomness:
    -- "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" has a title song, a love song where the singer invites his beloved on . . . a voyage to the bottom of the sea. I have it on iPod.
    -- Hal David wrote the "Skiddle-Diddle-Dee" lyrics to Herman and Katnip cartoon song (Cartoon Brew had the sheet music for that one)

  • Kristine | August 14, 2012 3:52 PMReply

    Leonard, as always, your website columns are interesting and informative. I like the song Blue Tahitian Moon(written by the great Alfred Newman)in "Son of Fury:Benjamin Blake" (1942)Tyrone Power and the haunting theme for Esmeralda (also written by Alfred Newman)for second version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"(1939)Charles Laughton(who was superb), Maureen O'Hara, Edmond O'Brien(his film debut). Hello to Alice and your daughter.

  • Terry Bigham | August 14, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    The best-known movie title song is, no doubt, "Laura" by David Raksin and Johnny Mercer. Wll, believe it or not, three years later, Raksin and Mercer reteamed for a lesser-known title song for "Forever Amber"! Mercer put words to Raksin's haunting main theme and it was recorded that same year, 1947, by Bobby Sherwood on Capitol Records. You can catch it on YouTube.

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