The Drifters was formed in 1953 and in the 62 ensuing years, the band played on in spite of the multitudinous changes in personnel. R&B singer Clyde McPhatter was signed by Atlantic Records to assemble a group of musicians that would later adopt the name. McPhatter left the group a year later and after a stint in the army launched a solo career.
Who needs baseball when, according to the Drifters frontman, Johnny Moore, America’s great pastime is spending Saturday nights converting neighborhood cinemas into passion pits? “Saturday Night at the Movies” was recorded on August 4, 1964, almost a year after Oswald (Hoover? Castro?) air-conditioned Kennedy. The song maintains a strong sense of sexual innocence imprudently associated with the country’s prevailing mood during the pre-assassination Camelot era. (Lily Tomlin once joked that the 1950s and early-’60s were but foreplay to the upcoming decade’s sexual revolution.)
If “Hollywood or Bust” and “Stereophonic Sound” set the bar by singling out short-lived technological aberrations (VistaVision, Cinerama, Todd-AO, SuperScope), “SNATM” is enough to make one die for a CinemaScope production filmed in the eyeball-warming majesty of dye transfer, never-to-fade Technicolor.
I do take great umbrage with one of the lyrics. To the musical question “Who cares what picture you see?” I say, who needs to play tongue-hockey when there’s a Tech/’Scope print to get off on? Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the single, released a little over three months after its recording date, charted at #18.
Frank Tashlin’s splendiferous live-action Technicolor cinematoon, Hollywood or Bust, turned out to be Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’s swansong. Being such as it was, the animosity between the boys was so pronounced, unless the cameras were rolling they refused to directly address one another during the production. Lewis swears that to this day he has never watched the film fearing the bad memories it would stir.
I’ve parked my tootsies in front of it at least two dozen times, and Jerry, you don’t know what you’re missing. Movie maniacs from Kansas to Pennsylvania consider it a must to commit to memory Paul Webster’s catchy lyrics to Sammy Fain’s irrepressible tune. Look past the stardust and glamor, tinsel, and bubbles to find a neon playground infused with burgers, weenies, and bathing beauties in their bikinis.
3) “Take Your Girlie to the Movies” by Dean Martin
Dino again, this time reviving a 1919 chestnut that was a big hit for Billy Murray, the most popular pre-Jolson male singer in America. Murray-phile Sam Umland notes, “The song reveals how quickly the movie theater became a popular setting for the courtship ritual.”
Pete Wendling composed the tuneful ditty with lyrics by Edgar Leslie and Bert Kalmar. Kalmar and longtime partner Harry Ruby’s dulcet contributions to Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup would earn them the distinction of being the Marx Bros. songwriting team of choice. When or where Dino’s swingin’ rendition was taped remains a mystery, but it’s easily the lustiest rendition on record.
Why fuss and bother with at-home distractions like nosy younger siblings when for a buck-twenty the two of you can make out to Ty Power in a public place and with an uncomfortable armrest intervening? Commencing with a red-blooded wolf whistle, Martin encourages lovers to spend seven reels creating “love scenes of your own.” And only a master of assimilation like Dino could get away with rhyming “alone” and “dark.”
4) “How About You” by Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby
“How About You” by Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby
Composed by Burton Lane, with lyrics by Ralph Freed and an arrangement by Billy May, this 1958 recording of “How About You” is one of only two songs to make the list that I actually recall hearing on the radio around the time of their initial release.
A copy of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney’s “Fancy Meeting You Here” resided within my folks understuffed record cabinet that also housed 78 rpm plate-mates of Rosie’s “Mambo Italiano” and Kay Kyser’s “Woody Woodpecker Song” in addition to a long-playing copy of Rusty Warren’s “adults-only” “Knockers Up.” (The latter would only hit the turntable when company was over and only then after it was presumed that I had fallen asleep.)
I was too young to remember all of the details, but it must have been a Sunday afternoon since both my parents were taking me to a movie. The radio in the Rambler Ambassador was pumping out standards when “How About You” hit the air. Both my parents loved to sing (badly). Dad began warbling Bing’s verse while mom assumed Ms. Clooney’s part, and from the backseat I contributed the “How about you”s.
It was the closest my life has come to a “Sandra Bullock and the kids burst into spontaneous song” moment.
Babe and Larry were never big on public displays of affection. Inside the picture palace, curtains part, and the previews hit the screen. At that moment, I redirect my gaze long enough to see dad place mom’s hand in his while in my mind Rosie and Bing duetted, “Holding hands in the movie show, when all the lights are low, may not be new. But I like it, how about you?”
In high school, I couldn’t get laid if I walked into a whorehouse waving a fistful of fifties. That, coupled with my purist tendencies, made me the only schmuck in my graduating class who took to the drive-in strictly for cinematic purposes.
Recorded in October, 1963, around the same time the Beach Boys had a tumultuous falling out with their tyrannical father-manager, Murray Wilson, “Drive-In” brilliantly captured the innocent days before lawn furniture, boom boxes, and keggers became drive-in de rigeur.
A groovy place to “talk” and “watch” a show through fogged windshield, the song encouraged patrons to pay just enough attention to the plot in case mom and dad had any questions. One suggestion: do your colon a favor and skip the drive-in chili dogs.
6) “Stereophonic Sound” from Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings
“Stereophonic Sound” from Cole Porter’s <em>Silk Stockings</em>
Contrary to popular belief, unnecessary remakes have been around almost since movies began. This reboot of Ernst Lubitsch’s unblemished Ninotchka is saved only by the rug-cutting artistry of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Originally conceived for the stage by George S. Kaufman and Leueen MacGrath, with a polish-job by Abe Burrows and music and lyrics by Cole Porter (his last stage production), it was just a matter of time before Silk Stockings attracted Hollywood’s eye.
Decades before our two top entertainment mediums became joined at the hip, the film’s premier number, Stereophonic Sound — performed by Janis Paige and Mr. Astaire — summarily lampoon’s Hollywood’s dread over the rise of television sets in American homes and the myriad of technological devices studios devised to wage battle against the small screen enemy. Some of the lyrics were deemed too racy for 1955 movie audiences, thus “unless her lips are scarlet, and her bosom’s five feet wide” became “unless her lips are scarlet, and her mouth is five feet wide.”
For a film that sings the praises of every widescreen process from CinemaScope and Cinerama to Superscope and Todd-A-O, it’s ironic that veteran director Rouben Mamoulian isn’t quite sure what to do with all the extra space, making this both literally and figuratively one of the flattest musicals to come out of M-G-M’s prestigious Freed Unit. Still, as your ears will soon indicate, the song joyously remains the same.
7) “I Can’t Sleep in the Movies Anymore” by Fred Hall’s Radio Syncopators
“I Can’t Sleep in the Movies Anymore” by Fred Hall’s Radio Syncopators
If television promised to rock Hollywood’s very foundation, imagine the fear that surged through the veins of American insomniacs denied their precious cat naps once talkies were deemed here to stay.
People fall in love with movies for so many crazy reasons, why shouldn’t sleep be one of them? In the good old days, long before the movies had found its voice, it was not uncommon for theatre seats to double as Serta mattresses. As a former movie theatre manager, I can’t count how many times I found myself gently nudging the shoulder of a zonked-out patron who spent the better half of the 10 pm show in slumberland.
The habit increased tenfold once air conditioning replaced ceiling fans to provide patrons with blasts of chilled air in which to doze through the hot summer months. If the sound of gunplay and lyrics to “theme songs meant to torture me” once proved troublesome, imagine how the lyricist would feel having to endure today’s Dolby-juiced jolts or the score to any Dreamworks Animation production.
Written by Fred Hall and Arthur Fields, this recording of the popular novelty number as performed by Fred Hall’s Radio Syncopators has been in my iTunes rotation for years. Versions by Ernest Hare and Billy Jones and Arthur Fields and the Broadway Merry Makers can be found on YouTube.
8) “You Oughta Be In Pictures” by Little Jack Little
“You ought to be in pictures! You’re beautiful to see!” It’s every agent’s favorite pickup line, baby.
Why settle for being part of the audience when your “looks can be adored” by millions on a hundred-foot screen? And if your kisses publicly test as good as they privately taste, you’ll sleep your way to stardom in record time.
British-born American singer-songwriter Little Jack Little became known to a generation of baby boomers through the single mention of his name on an episode of The Honeymooners. This rendition would later become soundtrack material for Woody Allen’s Celebrity.
From Norton to Nickelodeon, this immensely popular 1934 song, written by Dana Suesse and Edward Heyman, is probably best remembered by generations of cable viewers as the musical inspiration behind the lasting cartoon that bore its name. (It’s the one in which Daffy does everything to sabotage Porky’s contract negotiations with a live-action Leon Schlesinger.) The short has the distinction of being the only black-and-white Looney Tunes never to be colorized for TV distribution.
Poor Sue Thompson. No sooner does the newsreel hit the screen than she spies her boyfriend answering a balcony booty call.
Is it my imagination or is this number bringing everybody down?
According to Wesley Hyatt’s The Billboard Book of #1 Adult Contemporary Hits, country singer-songwriter John D. Loudermilk found his inspiration for this mournful million-seller when taking a girlfriend to see Spartacus: “After the movie went off, they turned the bright lights on, and it was just an ambience killer. The person I was with had tears in her eyes and said, ‘Sad movies make me cry.’”
The tune charted at #5 on the Billboard Top 100. And don’t let the adolescent twang fool you. Thompson was in her 30s when the song was recorded.