(Official) 12 tracks - Re-isue of the 1959 'Kapp' LP album
This album was originally released in 1959, the same year as An Evening With Fred Astaire, the first of a trio of Emmy winning TV specials. Looking back on that show and Astaire's apparent ease of movement and the old style and grace, its incredible to think that he was already sixty years old. He eventually retired from dancing some sixteen years later. The selections here, although recorded at that time, are mostly a celebration of earlier years, particularly of that magical partnership with Ginger Rogers.
Generally accepted as the best example of their work together, Top Hat, made in 1935, is represented here by Isn't This A Lovely Day' and 'Top Hat, White Tie And Tails', the latter featuring in the famous 'machine gun' sequence with Fred mowing down a line of chorus gents with his walking cane - machine gun. Almost twenty five years after introducing those now famous Berlin songs, his unique phrasing and delivery are still without peer.
Early in 1937 the by now 'hot' Astaire/Rogers team made Shall We Dance, with a score by the brothers Gershwin which was outstanding even by their standards. It included They All Laughed' and They Can't Take That Away From Me', the latter being nominated for an Academy Award as best movie song of the year. It was beaten, would you believe, by 'Sweet Leilani' from the film Waikiki Wedding. Other songs up for consideration that year were, 'The Folks Who Live Of The Hill', 'In The Still Of The Night', 'Nice Work if You Can Get It', 'September In The Rain', 'Too Marvellous For Words' and several more goodies. It makes you think that perhaps Bing's brother-in-law was on the judging panel! 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' re-surfaced again in 1949 in the last Fred and Ginger movie, The Barkleys Of Broadway. 'A Foggy Day', from A Damsel In Distress, also missed out in the 1937 nominations. Ginger was missing too, Fred's new partner being the British-born actress Joan Fontaine in what, apart from the music of course, was considered to be a bit of a disappointment.
1938, and Carefree. Rogers was back, wooed by Fred with one of Irving Berlin's most potent ballads, 'Change Partners'. One line in that lovely song has always bothered me. When Fred offers to inform the waiter that his rival is required on the telephone, Berlin uses 'tell' twice in the space of five words. This is not a criticism, Mr. Berlin is above all that, but I've often wondered if, given the benefit of hindsight, he would alter it. Ira Gershwin used to say that, with some of his own songs, he would. Anyway, if we changed the first 'tell' to 'tip', how would that do? O.K. Mr. B., only joking.
By the early 1940's Astaire's movies were being graced by a variety of leading ladies, including Rita Hayworth, Eleanor Powell, and in 1943, Joan Leslie in The Sky's The Limit. Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer contributed a couple of good songs, 'My Shining Hour' and 'One For Baby'. The former was nominated for an Academy Award, but the latter became the remembered 'standard'. It's not one of the songs usually associated with Astaire, but the fact is, he did introduce it in that movie. One other thing, against Sinatra's bleak rendering, Fred's version sounds positively jaunty. Much later, in 1955, Mercer wrote both words and music for Daddy Longlegs, with yet another new Astaire dancing partner, Leslie Caron. The story goes that a special song was needed to point up the relationship between a youngish girl and an older man. Mercer came up with two numbers. The first was swiftly discarded by a disappointed Astaire, and is now forgotten. The second was a witty dissertation on the predicament at hand, called 'Something's Gotta Give', an Astaire special if ever I heard one.
As for songwriters there are two distinct generations represented on this album. George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin, born towards the end of the Nineteenth century, were producing good work well before 1920. Two of the 'newer fellers', Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer started out around 1930. Mercer was a phenomenon. He wrote lyrics for the 'father' of American Popular Music, Jerome Kern, and was still writing with composers such as Henry Mancini and others up until his death in 1976. Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne can also be condidered as a later vintage, especially in Styne's case. He began writing songs in 1940, and four years later, with Cahn, supplied 'I' 11 Walk Alone' for the movie, Follow The Boy's, a wartime extravaganza simply dripping with Universal's stars including Dinah Shore who sang it. It was also present in the 1952 Jane Froman biopic, With A Song In My Heart.
You'll have noticed there is songwriter credited on this album who hasn't been mentioned yet, and that's Fred Astaire himself. I'm not immediately attracted to 'The Afterbeat', but perhaps it'll grow on me. Certainly some of Fred's other songs like, 'I' m Building Up To An Awful Letdown' and 'Just Like Taking Candy From A Baby', already have.
After making Blues Skies in 1946 with the marvellous 'Puttin' on the Ritz' routine, Astaire retired from movies. In 1948 he was successfully tempted back to substitute for Gene Kelly in Easter Parade, with Judy Garland. Two of the songs in that very successful film, 'The Girl On The Magazine Cover' and 'I Love A Piano' were originally sung by French musical comedy star Gaby Deslys in the 1915 Berlin show Stop, Look, Listen.
After Easter Parade Fred seemed to get second wind and continued in musical films for another twenty years. Petula Clarke, Who co-starred with him in Finian's Rainbow, told me recently, "It was a wonderful experience, we became friends and spent hours together just talking about music. It was like being in heaven, he was gentleman in the right sense of the word." May you enjoy his company on this record as she did on that film.