I know it is said that our strongest sense memory is smell, but I think there is something intrinsically special, memory-wise, about our hearing—especially through music. It’s astounding how just hearing the opening bars of a song transports you back to a memory you haven’t thought of in years. Your life’s vignettes come flooding back.
Frankie Valli singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You brings me way back in time. I remember belting it out with girlfriends in my bedroom at the top of our lungs. I hear the Anniversary Waltz and get an image of my parents floating across the dance floor. Alicia Keyes’ New York song flashes the ash-covered New York City after the towers fell. And I’m sure everyone has an ‘our song’ for every relationship and milestone.
When writing my book, STANDING ON THE CORNER OF LOST AND FOUND, music served as the natural backdrop. The incredible music of the sixties and seventies could serve as our catalogue to the history and are pitch-perfect for our world today. Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready, Richie Haven’s Freedom, Edwin Starr’s What is War Good For? , John Lennon’s Imagine, and who could forget Helen Reddy’s, I Am Woman. What a rich music time that was.
For every personal story we each have about a song, there are the stories surrounding the writing of the songs. In Rick Beyer’s book, The Greatest Music Stories Never Told: 100 Tales From Music History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy (HarperCollins 2011), he tells about the circumstances around the writing of the most notable American music. There are fascinating stories about the birth of rock and roll, karaoke, and Broadway shows.
One story of a song written in 1931, strikes home today. Isadore Hochberg lost his business in the Depression and decided to become a songwriter (later he wrote the music for the Wizard of Oz, but that’s another story). He wrote a song that only someone who had lost everything could write, Brother Can You Spare a Dime? The hero of this song is the person who has worked hard, earned human security, yet becomes destitute. The lyric: Once I built a railroad made it run, made it race against time…. Brother can you spare a dime.
On the humor side, Kander and Ebb, the prolific and accomplished songwriting team, wrote the theme for a Scorsese movie. Both Scorsese and Liza Minelli were happy with the title song as it was written, but DeNiro was less than impressed and gave them attitude as only he could. He wanted them to start over. The writing team was more than a little miffed and their anger led to the aggressive undertone of New York, New York. The movie of the same name flopped, but the song became the biggest hit of their careers.
I’d love to learn the circumstances behind Gloria Gaynor’s, I Will Survive, written by her producers, Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris. Now that should have a really juicy backstory!
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of your own soundtrack?