Monday, November 11, 2013

Tales of rue: three classic ballads by Rodgers & Hart

"Ophelia" by John William Waterhouse (1894)
There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts. There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue for you; and here's some for me: we may call it herb-grace o' Sundays: O you must wear your rue with a difference.
(Ophelia's apparently rambling discourse on herbs is actually quite canny. This page summarizes the underlying meanings of the herbs she references, which would have been evident to a contemporary audience. More than likely this is touched on in Peter Ackroyd's A Brief Guide to Shakespeare: Without the Boring Bits; if not, it should be!)
Today I'd like to bring you three songs by the great team of Rodgers & Hart that to me are the epitome of the rueful and the bittersweet. The first is He Was Too Good to Me (1930) performed by American operatic star Eileen Farrell on her 1959 album I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues. (Unlike some modern opera stars we won't mention, Farrell could really handle popular song with style. Click down to get to the song.)
He was too good to me,
How can I get along now?
So close he stood to me
Everything seems all wrong now.
He who had brought me the sun
Making me smile,
That was his fun.
When I was mean to him
He’d never say go ‘way now,
I was a queen to him,
Whose gonna make me gay now?
It’s only natural that I’m blue,
He was too good to be true.
Next is It Never Entered My Mind (1940) sung by Ella Fitzgerald (from her great 1950s "Songbook" series)
“‘It Never Entered My Mind’ employs a very strange and effective harmonic device I’ve heard only one other time in popular music, in Cole Porter‘s ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.’ For six measures it moves back and forth every half measure from F major to A minor. The melody in these measures is very simple and somber.”—Alec Wilder
Once I laughed when I heard you saying
that I'd be playing solitaire,
uneasy in my easy chair.
It never entered my mind.
Once you told me I was mistaken,
that I'd awaken with the sun
and order orange juice for one.
It never entered my mind.
You have what I lack myself
and now I even have to scratch my back myself.
Once you warned me that if you scorned me
I'd sing the maiden's prayer again
and wish that you where there again
to get into my hair again.
It never entered my mind.
Get hip to more fantastic Ella here.
It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing!
My third song choice is "Little Girl Blue" (1935). This 1956 version by Sarah Vaughan with Hal Mooney's Orchestra is pretty darn ravishing.
When you were very young
The world was younger than you
As merry as a carousel
The circus tent was thrilling
With every star in the sky
Above the rings you loved so well
Now the young world has grown old
Gone is the silver and gold

Sit there, and count your fingers
What can you do?
Old girl you're through
Just sit there, and count your little fingers
Unhappy little girl blue
Sit there, and count the raindrops
Falling on you
It's time you knew
That all you can count on are the raindrops
That fall on little girl blue
No use, old girl
You might as well surrender
Your hopes are getting slender
Why won't somebody send a tender little boy
To cheer up little girl blue?

If you're looking for more great Sassy vocals, check out these very special Sarah Vaughan collections!

With the career-spanning photos illustrating another beautiful rendition of "Little Girl Blue," this is an especially poignant YouTube tribute to Judy Garland. Poor Judy: did she ever have any illusions to lose?
What are your favorite Rodgers & Hart songs/renditions?
I have a mania for jazzy versions of American Popular Songs, so I must recommend two of my favorite anthologies: Concord's Women in Jazz: The New Century and Wonderland Love Stories. If you loved the above, you won't be disappointed. Not to slight the male side of the equation, I gladly tout Tony Bennett's As Time Goes By—Great American Songbook Classics as well.


  1. My favorite Rodgers & Hart song has the cleverest lyrics--"I Wish I Were In Love Again"
    "The furtive sigh, the blackened eye,
    The words "I'll love you till the day I die",
    The self-deception that believes the lie,
    I wish I were in love again.

    "When love congeals, it soon reveals
    The faint aroma of performing seals,
    The double crossing of a pair of heels,
    I wish I were in love again."

    "The pulled out fur of cat & cur,
    The fine mismating of a him & her,
    I've learned my lesson but I wish I were in love again."

    Compare it to anything nowadays!

    1. yes! beyond brilliant. what divinely inspired wordplay!