Term Paper: American Popular Music

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Music

An American popular music classic, "Blue Moon" has been covered countless times. The most famous version is arguably the one performed by Elvis Presley but both older and newer recordings offer unique interpretations. The original "Blue Moon" was written by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart in 1934, when the songwriters were under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The song underwent four incarnations before Rogers and Hart penned the version that would become a commercial success. The first incarnation of the song was entitled "Prayer," and was written for a film called Hollywood Party. According to the Lorenz Hart.org Website, "In its second life the "Prayer/Blue Moon" tune was given a new lyrics and became the title song of the 1934 M.G.M film Manhattan Melodrama which starred Clark Gable, William Powell and Myrna Loy…the song was also know as "It's Just That Kind of Play," but was cut from the film before it was ready for release ("Blue Moon: by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart" n.d.).

One of the earliest commercial recordings of "Blue Moon" that was not performed for the movie industry was by the Boswell Sisters. A New Orleans-based jazz trio, the Boswell Sisters recorded "Blue Moon" in 1935. During the famed 1954 Sun recording studio sessions, Elvis Presley recorded a haunting version of "Blue Moon" that remains an industry standard. Elvis's first "Blue Moon" recording was released in 1956. Since then, "Blue Moon" has been covered by numerous artists including Rod Stewart. In spite of Stewart's rock and roll background, his 2008 cover of the Rogers and Hart ballad comes across as a soft jazz tune. Each of these three versions testifies to the extraordinary versatility of the original song.

The Boswell Sisters version may be truer to the original than any other given it was recorded only a year after Rogers and Hart wrote the first version of "Prayer." In the Boswell Sisters 1935 recording, the phrasing is nicely relaxed, almost syncopated. The overall feel is languid, which evokes the theme of moonlight. Instrumentation is sparse, including strings, some upper register woodwinds, and soft piano in the background playing both rhythm and bass line. The Boswell Sisters is a pleasant and gentle version, yet without assuming a blues pattern. The Victor Young Orchestra plays accompanying instruments, making the feel of the song one of classic American lounge jazz. The jazzy tone is in keeping with the New Orleans base of the Boswell Sisters.

Tinged with a touch of melancholy, the sisters sing lines like "without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own" in a heartfelt way. Yet the sisters express the song's theme of hope and the fulfillment of prayer beautifully. Most notably, the sisters sing the line "when I looked, the moon had turned to gold." The emphasis on the word "gold" is offered in a slightly higher register than the rest of the line. This uplifting note parallels the implication that the narrator's prayers for finding a "love of my own" were answered -- even if it took a rare blue moon.

When Elvis recorded "Blue Moon" at the Sun recording sessions in the mid 1950s, the blues had become part of the American music vocabulary. It can be said that the "blue" was being put into "Blue Moon." Ironically, however, Elvis's first recording of "Blue Moon" is not played to a blues scale. The phrasing remains relatively true to the original version. What Elvis does to change the song, though, is nothing short of remarkable; Elvis's cover is wholly unique.

The singer completely omits several key verses from the original song to change the overall tone and theme. Instead of the narrator's prayers coming true, a frightful, haunting wail replaces whole verses such as: "And then there suddenly appeared before me, / Someone my arms could really hold, / I heard you whisper "Darling please adore me," / and when I… [END OF PREVIEW]

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