Sunday, August 29, 2010
GEORGE DAVID WEISS Sleeps Tonight. Hits for Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong
In the graveyard, the mighty graveyard, a songwriter sleeps tonight.
Unless he was cremated.
George David Weiss had a hand in some of the most infamous songs of all time: the syrupy "Can't Help Falling In Love" (poured by sweaty Elvis Presley), the obnoxiously cheerful "What a Wonderful World" (as vomited by Louis Armstrong), and the musical lawsuit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," yodeled by The Tokens.
Weiss was more versatile than that collection would have you believe. He wrote for Broadway. He composed movie soundtracks. His songs were covered by a very wide range of artists from Patti Page to Van McCoy and from Kay Starr to The Royal Guardsmen. He and the team of Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti (who worked with him on "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") wrote all the songs for the debut album by The Stylistics. Ask the guy to add lyrics to soul music or classical music, or to knock out music for a gangster movie or a teen beach flick…and George could do it!
In other words, George Weiss was one of a dying breed, literally; the professional songwriter...the guy who uses inspiration or perspiration to write or hack out a tune in most any genre required…and live by his wits and live off his royalties.
Here's part of the reason he ended up in the Songwriters Hall of Fame:
ACAPULCO ADIOS, ALL NIGHT LONG, ALL THAT IS LEFT IS THE LEMON, AND SHE’LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU, AS LONG AS THERE’S A MOTHER, BANANAS, BARCAROLLE OF LOVE, BIG BOAT, BIRD FLIES OUT OF SIGHT, BROOKLYN DODGERS, CAN ANYONE EXPLAIN, CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE, CARNIVAL, CASANOVA CAT. COPS AND ROBBERS, CROSS OVER THE BRIDGE, DANNY THE DRAGON, DON’T CALL MY NAME, DON’T LAUGH AT ME, DON’T WAKE ME UP ‘CAUSE I MIGHT BE DREAMING, DREAM WORLD, ECHOES, EIGHT DAYS OF CHANUKAH, ETHEL BABY…
….EVERY ROAD MUST HAVE A TURNING POINT, FIND HIM FAST, FIVE DAUGHTERS, FOOL OF THE YEAR, FORTUNE TELLING CARDS, FROM THE MOUNTAIN, FUN AND FANCY FREE, FUNKY WEEKEND, GATSBY, GAY BOUQUET, GENTLEMEN DON’T FALL WILLINGLY, GHETTO STAR, GIDGET'S ROMAN MOON, GIVE ME BACK MY LIFE, GOODBYE, MY LOVE, GOODBYE, HAUNTED HOUSE BLUES, HAVE YOU HEARD THE NEWS, HE’S TALL IN THE SADDLE, HELLO HEARTACHE, GOODBYE LOVE, HEY GIRL COME AND GET IT, HIS FATHER WORE LONG HAIR, HORN WITH TWO MOUTHPIECES, HOW ABOUT A BALL, HOW DOES IT FEEL?, HOW IMPORTANT CAN IT BE, HOW NEAR TO MY HEART….
...I CAN’T GET UP THE NERVE TO KISS YOU, I DON’T SEE ME IN YOUR EYES ANYMORE, I FEEL SORRY FOR THE GIRL, I GOT TIME ON MY HANDS, I MAY HATE MYSELF IN THE MORNING, I SUDDENLY FIND YOU AGREEABLE, I TAKE IT OUT ON YOU, I THINK ABOUT YOU, I WISH I WERE A PRINCESS, I WON’T LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN, I’D RATHER BE HURT BY YOU, I’LL KEEP THE LOVELIGHT BURNING IN MY HEART, I’M HIP, I’M KNOWN, I’M ME, I’M NOT FREE, IN DE BANANA TREE, IT HURTS ME MORE THAN YOU, JACQUES D IRAQUE, JAMBO AFRICA, JEALOUS JUDY, JOHN KENNEDY MEMORY WALTZ, JOHNNY FREEDOM, JUST FOR LAUGHS...
...LA DEE DA SONG, LAZY LULLABY, LET ME CRY ON YOUR SHOULDER, LET’S FETCH THE CARRIAGE, LITTLE OLD NEW YORK, MAGGIE FLYNN, MANDOLINS IN THE MOONLIGHT, MICHAEL OR ME, MOMMY OUR DELIGHT, MORE AND MORE OF YOUR AMOUR, MR. CLOWN, MR. JONES OF WALL STREET, MR. WONDERFUL, MURDER, INC., NA NA IS THE SADDEST WORD, NICE COLD MORNING, NIGHT WAS MADE FOR DREAMERS, NOBODY MET THE TRAIN
...ONE HEN, OUT OF BREATH, PEGGY DID, PITTER PATTER, POET AND THE PROPHET, QUARTER TO FIVE, QUE MUNDO MARAVILLOSO, RONNIE, ROUND THE WORLD RHUMBA, SATELLITE CITY, SAXOPHONE JONES, , SEND ME NO FLOWERS, SHE WANTED FURS, SINGIN’ A DOO DAH SONG, SIXTEEN BARS, SMILE, SMILE, SMILE, SNOOPY’S CHRISTMAS, STAN THE REQUEST MAN, STAR ON T.V. SHOW
...TALE OF CINDERELLA, TEARS AND SOUVENIRS, TEHERAN, THAT CERTAIN PARTY IN APT. 1, THAT SAME OLD FEELING, THAT SUNDAY, THAT SUMMER, THAT WAS MY HEART YOU HEARD, THERE GOES THE ONE I LOVE, THERE’S SOMETHING MISSING, THEY’RE NEVER GONNA MAKE ME, TIME ALONE WILL TELL, TOO MUCH HEARTACHE NOT ENOUGH LOVE, TOYS IN THE ATTIC, TREE OF LIFE, VIRGIN ISLANDS USA, WATER PRAYER, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF JOE, WHAT DOES HE THINK?, WHY AM I TO BLAME, WOE IS ME, YOU ALL DAT, YOU MAKE ME LAUGH, YOU’VE GOT AN AWFUL LOT TO LOSE
Good bad or indifferent, he wrote a ton of songs, and that's just a partial list of some of the more colorful titles. "Wheel of Fortune" and "I'll Never Be Free" were hits for Kay Starr. "Confess" and "Cross Over the Bridge" were recorded by Patti Page. "How Important Can It Be?" did well for Joni James. "Smile Smile Smile" was covered by Mike Douglas and also by Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme. "Surrender" was sung by Perry Como. Real 50's music buffs might be able to hum a few bars of "I Ran All the Way Home" (Sarah Vaughan), "Jet" (Nat "King" Cole) and "To Think You've Chosen Me" (Eddy Howard). George also wrote novelties and oddities, such as "'Snoopy's Christmas," covered by The Royal Guardsmen, and "His Father Wore Long Hair" by Louis Armstrong. The trendy "Disco Kid" was good for Van McCoy, while "And She'll Always Love You" was covered by impressionist Guy Marks…singing it as Gary Cooper!
George David Weiss (April 9, 1921 in New York City-August 24, 2010 in Oldwick, New Jersey) attended the Julliard School of Music and in the Big Band era began writing musical arrangements for Stan Kenton, Vincent Lopez and Johnny Richards. One of the first important songs he sold, with partner Benny Benjamin, was "Oh! What it Seemed to Be!" which was rejected by Perry Como, but snapped up by Frank Sinatra. Weiss wrote some of the lyrics while riding on the D train up to the Bronx: "''It was just a ride on a train/ That's all that it was/But oh! What it seemed to be!/It was a trip to the stars/to Venus and Mars/Because you were on the train with me.''
Sinatra liked the tune, which saved it from obscurity. The same thing happened with Elvis Presley, who rescued "Can't Help Falling In Love With You." Weiss, in reading the script for "Blue Hawaii," didn't feel inspired until he found a little scene where Elvis is supposed to buy a music box in a shop and hear a romantic melody. THAT, he decided, he could do. "I loved his tender voice," Weiss recalled. "''I thought I could write something sweet for Elvis' voice. I was hearing Elvis in the melody, but the lyrics just came. When I played the song for the publisher, he listened to it, and after a 10-second silence, he said, 'Well, George, it's nice, but we want 'Hound Dog' for Elvis.''' Fortunately Elvis overheard the song being played and loved it.
As for "What A Wonderful World," Weiss loved Louis Armstrong's version, believing that his hard-gravel voice gave the piece the slight touch of cynicism it needed. (Below you get Louis doing "His Father Wore Long Hair.") Weiss insisted that most cover versions of his wonderful song were far too cloying, and that the song wasn't a Pollyanna salute to how great the world is, but how great it "could" be. Bob Thiele wrote the music, and George was also the lyricist for a pair of other powerful melodies that somebody thought should have some words. He gave Cher, Joan Baez, Vikki Carr and hundreds of others a chance to sing Luiz Bonfa's melody "Carnival." And he gave Ella Fitzgerald and hundreds of others something to do besides scat-singing on George Shearing's classic "Lullaby of Birdland."
If you've got some old vinyl around on "Lullaby of Birdland," you might notice the song credited to George Shearing and a certain "B.Y. Forster." What's with blind pianists and weird co-credits, you ask? Back then, songwriters either published through BMI or through ASCAP. No fraternizing. Contractual obligations didn't disappear in the rock era; Capitol's John Lennon, had to become "Winston O'Boogie" to appear on record with RCA's Harry Nilsson. Weiss of ASCAP could not legally co-write with Shearing of BMI, so he literally put the song in his wife's name and let her collect the royalties…until some 25 years later, when he finally reached a settlement with BMI so he could get his name on this very famous song. Working with the famous title "Lullaby of Birdland" wasn't easy…and time hasn't been kind to the cliche lines about turtle doves, "a weepy old willow," crying on the pillow, "farewell and goodbye," and the cringeworthy "high in the sky up above we're in love."
Brief though it was, he was responsible for the lines "In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight." Which is just about all you can sing in that song, besides a froggy croak of "Wimoweh." Before George stuck his finger into it, the folk song was nothing but "Wimoweh" as Pete Seeger mis-heard "Mbube." But for more on this tune, consult the previous Illfolks entry: http://illfolks.blogspot.com/2007/09/lion-sleeps-tonight-wimoweh-mbube.html
Aside from pop hits, Weiss managed to make it to Broadway several times, with a variety of partners. With Jerry Bock and Larry Holofcener, he wrote "Mr. Wonderful" (1956) starring Sammy Davis Jr. In 1959 with Robert Goldman and Glenn Paxton, he gave audiences "First Impressions," starring Hermione Gingold and Polly Bergen. In 1968 he joined his chums Hugo and Luigi for "Maggie Flynn" starring Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy. Aside from Broadway, Weiss took movie assignments, and scored the music for "Murder, Inc" as well as lesser-known films "Gidget Goes to Rome," "Mediterranean Holiday" and "Mademoiselle." He was very busy and successful from approximately 1948 to 1968, but was still active for many decades after, turning out lyrics for R&B songs, and in 1994 premiering the musical "A Tale of Cinderella" co-written with Will Severin.
Below, you get a lucky 13 of George David Weiss co-writes. There are a half-dozen songs by The Stylistics (including "Can't Give You Anything But My Love and "I'd Rather Be Hurt By You Than Be Loved By Somebody Else). Also: "Snoopy's Christmas," "His Father Wore Long Hair," "Lullaby of Birdland," "Confess," "What a Wonderful World," "Mr. Wonderful," and "Cross Over the Bridge." Helping with this salute: The Royal Guardsmen, Peggy Lee, Patti Page, Katie Melua, Eva Cassidy, Louis Armstrong and Chris Connor.
Rapid Salute to George David Weiss