The songs in the Great American Standards songbook all have lives of their own by now – and why not, most of them are older than your grandmother. Even fairly obscure songs that your grandmother probably doesn’t remember listening to as a child have entire biographies. Grandma may not remember the 1937 Fred Astaire film Shall We Dance, or the sequence therein where Fred cuts a rug in a gleaming futuristic ‘factory’ with a bunch of black factory workers. But the song has gone on, in the hands of Ella Fitzgerald 20-some years later, and then in the next millennium as a remix.
UPDATE: If anyone noticed some layout problems in the last few days, I’ve fixed it now. Turns out one of the pictures I posted had some wonky html attached to it that was wreaking havoc. Carry on!
A Fine Romance is a song by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, written in 1936 for Swing Time, a Fred Astaire picture. It’s become one of the great standards since then, covered by a roster of greats, who all put their own spin on it. In Swing Time it does what movie songs do, being less of a standalone song than a means of propelling the story along. In the film it’s a comical duet between quarreling lovers Fred and Ginger. It really doesn’t sound like something that would blossom into a life of its own. But later the same year, in Billie Holiday’s hands it became a lovelorn lament. In 1957 Ella Fitzgerald cut an upbeat cover, trading lines with Louis Armstrong’s rascally growl. Frank Sinatra brought to it his signature swagger, Marilyn Monroe her breathy tics, Lena Horne her smoothness. It’s the mark of rock-steady songwriting that a song that started out as a comical number with references to jello and fin flapping seals would absorb so many different meanings, being mournful or happy depending on who was bringing it to life.