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What The Wild Jukeboxes Say

Conversation 

What The Wild Jukeboxes Say

Feb 12 1955



Participants:

ANNOUNCER

CLIFTON "KIP" FADIMAN, host

MITCH MILLER, of Columbia Records

ALEC WILDER, composer

HOWIE RICHMOND, music publisher




FADIMAN: You know, a couple of weeks ago on this program, gentlemen, Mr. Jacques Barzun of Columbia University referred to a jukebox as a kind of mechanical hymnal. He thought that the jukebox represented for 20th century youth, er-- It had some of the religious quality and the, you know, devotional value that the old hymnals used to have in the 19th century when people were simpler and nicer and more moral. Think there's anything to this--? (CONTINUES INDECIPHERABLY BEHIND ANNOUNCER--)


ANNOUNCER: This is a program we call "Conversation." It's dedicated to the art of good talk. Clifton Fadiman is our host. His guests tonight are: Mitch Miller of Columbia Records; Alec Wilder, composer; and Howie Richmond, music publisher. This transcribed conversation started several minutes ago and as we turn up our microphones our conversationalists are discussing "What the Wild Jukeboxes Say." Clifton Fadiman is speaking.


FADIMAN: --ignorant and inimical to the darned stuff. I expect to be converted during the next half hour or so. Now, tell me what is the--? What is the attraction of these devotional pop songs that you talk about, Mr. Wilder? 


WILDER: Well, I-- And naturally I don't want to say anything against a fellow writer. I don't quite understand it, except that it seems to be, uh, uh-- To have a place in the sun right now. Uh, there are-- There are phases in popular music and this seems to be one of them. It may have something to do with a tendency toward a religious revival in other fields -- in religion itself.


FADIMAN: Well, there is such a revival in other fields, I'll buy that, that's true. I now ask whether the youngsters who are listening to these curious distorted hymns get anything out of it that they don't get out of an ordinary pop tune. Mitch, what do you think?


MILLER: Kip, the youngsters get everything out of a jukebox. Remember, while they're having a hymn in there, they have a "Sh-Boom" and an "Oop Shoop," and they also have a "Hey, There." 


FADIMAN: Wait, wait -- what are these first two things?


MILLER: Well, uh--


FADIMAN: A boom? And an oop shoop?


MILLER: They're two songs that were big hits. One is called "Sh-Boom," another one is "Oop Shoop," and if you have any children around thirteen to seventeen or eighteen, you probably have been plagued by this-- 


FADIMAN: I'm lucky. 


MILLER: Since I'm in the record business, I wish I had the good luck to have made both these songs, but I didn't have that good luck, but they say a song-- Since you're in the record business-- Why does this generation go for that slop? And--


FADIMAN: Oh, very well, I'm gonna ask that question. (LIGHTLY) Why does this generation go for that slop?


MILLER: All right. What about your generation? What's so great about (SINGS) "Barney Google, with his goo-goo-googly eyes" or "Horses, horses, horses, crazy over horses"?


FADIMAN: Well, now for one thing you can remember "Barney Google" -- it's got a darned good tune; still has a good tune. 


MILLER: But it's just-- 


FADIMAN: The melodies of most of these songs that you refer to seem to me impossible to keep in mind. 


MILLER: Well, it's a-- A song isn't either melody or lyric; it's a combination, and no song was ever sold solely on lyric or solely on melody. And if these, uh, "sports," as I call them, happen to make it, that isn't the whole picture of the music business. 


FADIMAN: I want to hear from Mr. Richmond who is a publisher of these songs and probably knows an awful lot about 'em from the business point of view. Why do the kids go for 'em? 


RICHMOND: Well, it's a little difficult for me to try to tie in in one single line of thought some of the ideas that have come across here. I think there are some interesting angles to a conversation--


FADIMAN: Choose any one. 


RICHMOND: --but I would-- It would seem to me that the one thing about songs today, primarily through the jukebox, that is a fairly clear-cut idea is that when kids and when people go into the locations where jukeboxes are -- such as drug stores and taverns and things-- 


FADIMAN: Where aren't they, by the way?


RICHMOND: Well-- 


FADIMAN: They're practically anywhere.


RICHMOND: --bowling alleys. They're just about everyplace. The music is a kind of background. It's a background of a time-- The kids aren't really there primarily for the music. The first element, to me, in a novelty tune is something which is quickly contagious. When we hear tunes that have a little repetitious melody in it -- the kind that you call slop -- and I can't put a value judgment to them, personally. Maybe they are, in a sense. But actually they're little repetitious jingles, similar to nursery rhymes, and they're in the background of the arena in which the kids are working and playing.


FADIMAN: Are those the ones that really get into the big money, the kind you're talking of? Those - those are not the ones that really go big, are they, Mitch?


MILLER: Well, uh--


FADIMAN: Isn't the sentimental ballad, on the whole, something with heart appeal--?


MILLER: No, there's-- No, there's room for every kind of song, all the time, Kip. 


FADIMAN: I mean the really big ones. Now, for instance, what's going big at the moment? 


MILLER: Well, the biggest record-- There are two records that are going to be the biggest records of the year. One of them is "Hey, There," which is a show tune and a-- Very much what we call a "class" song. And the other side is "This Ole House." Now "This Ole House" is a sort of a spiritual in the sense of--


FADIMAN: Yeah, I know that one.


MILLER: --if you listen to-- Well, the man is dying, but he lived a good full life and he said he's getting ready to meet the saints. Now, kids are taught that whenever they go to Sunday school. Now-- And then there's the other record that is on its way to two million; it's called "Let Me Go, Lover" with this little girl, the first record that she ever made. Now, you talked about melody before; selling a song. Now, this song had a melody -- the same melody, once, it was called "Let Me Go, Devil." What makes a hit song or a hit record is the self-identification that the listener has with that record. Now, with all the free plays that you get on the radio and in the jukebox, why do these people still go in the store to buy it? No one drags you by the ear and says, "Buy this record."


FADIMAN: No.


MILLER: They must mean that they want to play it fifty or hundred times, at least, at home when they want to hear it. And I'll tell you what the self-identification is. It's the same thing in two other hit songs this year: the Kitty Kallen-- What was the name of--? 


RICHMOND: "Little Things Mean a Lot."


MILLER: "Little Things Mean a Lot," and another one called "If I Give My Heart to You" -- and that's the identification of the women in this generation. By that-- They're-- Economically, they're in competition with us, but when they become women, they're not treated completely as women by the men. By that, I mean there may be not enough hours of the day to be romantic, but every one of these songs is sort of asking for understanding from the man. Not pleading for it: "I love you, but please don't treat me so stinkily." That's what it amounts to. 


FADIMAN: All right. In other words, they - they really take the messages of these songs with genuine seriousness, is that it?


MILLER: Yes! It's-- Just because it happens to be in sort of basic English shouldn't be held against it.


FADIMAN: No, no -- I'm trying to find out; I'm not trying to be superior about this.


WILDER: May I ask a question?


FADIMAN: Sure.


WILDER: Is, in other words, the popular music of today a kind of a - a pedestrian philosophy? Is it a kind of a - a white-collar attempt to arrive at some philosophical concept?


FADIMAN: You mean these are the ideas of the folks, put in melody?


WILDER: I mean I'm wondering. Yes.


MILLER: Well, it always was, but I think now with the different communications and the different, uh-- You have your radio, you have the electronics revolution, you have phonographs in people's homes. Now, I went to school with Alec. At that time, if a record sold fifty thousand, it was considered a great hit. Well, who were the big people? As you remember, there was-- We were Crosby fans, we were Armstrong fans, fans [of] Mildred Bailey and Duke Ellington. Well, I guarantee you that none of those people ever lost any of those original fans--


FADIMAN: What I want to find out is why this particular kind of pop music -- and this brings up what Mr. Wilder was saying -- why is it believed in, when obviously its sentiment is false? 


RICHMOND: I'm quite anxious to get in a word here because--


FADIMAN: Sure. Get several in.


RICHMOND: --I've got a feeling that we're kind of over-generalizing, or oversimplifying rather, the whole point. Now, economically-- After all, I'm a music publisher and we worry about our sources of, uh, starting a song. Today the primary source of starting a song is the record. There's no question about it. The radio and the television sponsors do not play songs that are new, generally speaking. 


FADIMAN: But isn't it true that television sometimes will make a hit out of a new song that appears on a show? Like this one, "Let Me Go, Lover." 


RICHMOND: Well, now that's Mitch. Mitch did that. He - he pioneered something. But actually the majority of songs played on television -- and I can vouch for this over at ASCAP and BMI -- are about ninety-five percent either hit parade tunes which are already there or the standards.


FADIMAN: It's the record, then, that makes it?


RICHMOND: Now, this is our primary outlet -- is the record -- to get songs started. Now, we can't really go to Frank Sinatra or Dinah Shore or Perry Como or Frankie Laine or the big stars and get our song started unless they start on records. And this is the the business that Mitch and some of the other boys, the other record companies, are actively creating in. Now, they want to sell records; that's their job, and I think Mitch knows probably more about music than most of us forget. But I - I don't want to give him any undue credit because this is his basic, uh, ability. However, in running his job, I think he's trying to sell records in as best taste as he can under the circumstances. Now, most of these records go to jukeboxes and they go to disc jockeys and to kids. This is the audience. It's not the audience sitting at home listening to, for the sake of argument, a top artist singing in their living room. Eventually, the songs get there -- and when they get there, they sure sound a little bit different than if they'd started there. Uh, Mitch picked up a song that Jane Froman introduced called "I Believe," which she'd been singing as a theme song. And, uh--


FADIMAN: I know that one very well.


RICHMOND: He made a record with Frankie Laine that went into the jukeboxes. Now, I was fortunate enough to publish it. I will tell you that many of the original people who heard Jane Froman's record thought Frankie Laine's record was sacrilege -- because it was exciting, it moved. Yet Frankie Laine sold well over a million, million and a half, and Jane Froman didn't get off the ground. Now, the point is that Mitch knew what he was doing in order to sell records and also he made that song much more available to the general public -- through the jukebox or the disc jockey. But we're not primarily promoting our songs through the major markets of radio and television at the start. And, by the way, we come on another subject at the same time: the Broadway show. The majority of, uh, really long-range standards that we know started either in shows or in films because they didn't have to make it in thirty days. 


FADIMAN: Aren't those, in general, superior to the jukebox product?


MILLER: Not especially.


FADIMAN: You don't think so? 


MILLER: I mean-- 


FADIMAN: I'm thinking maybe-- 


WILDER: They used to be.


MILLER: No. Well--


FADIMAN: You don't think so, Mister--? 


WILDER: I think they used to be. I think that the tendency nowadays is for the writer of show music to, uh-- I think his standards have been lowered, or rather I should say I think a lot of pop writers have gotten into writing show music and I don't think that the present-day show writer would have been allowed in town fifteen years ago. 


FADIMAN: You're thinking of the average one, not somebody like, uh--


WILDER: Well, no. The successful shows--


FADIMAN: --Rodgers and Hammerstein? 


WILDER: No. They're the keepers of the keys. 


RICHMOND: Could we--? Could we just make a little general statement, see if it fit? The more you hear the, uh, the classic or the standard type song that we're speaking of, such as the show tune, the more you like it. And the more you hear the pop tune, the less you like it beginning at some point after ninety days. 


FADIMAN: That's very interesting. 


RICHMOND: Now, uh--


FADIMAN: In other words, it's a quick sale, zooms right up to a peak, and then is forgotten? 


RICHMOND: But at the same time if you make a record of a song like "Tenderly" -- I think that's come pretty close to eight or nine hundred thousand-- We just made a tune of Alec's that'll live as long as any of us do-- 


FADIMAN: What's the name of that?


RICHMOND: "While We're Young," which is, to me, not a minor classic, but a true classic of pop music, because twenty years from now it'll have new meaning for new generations, but at the same time the pop kids -- the kids who are running down the street to buy records -- would much more likely run in to buy "Botch-A-Me"--


FADIMAN: Tell me, how does a publisher and a record maker -- like yourself, Mr. Richmond, and you, Mitch -- how do you guess the trend?


RICHMOND: That's the sixty-four dollar question. Some of us get luckier than others at a period of time. I think the big project is being up at bat, being able to take chances. Now, there's a recent fad that's taken place in the last ninety days towards Mambo music. Now, I must admit that I have guessed wrong on the Mambo influence in pop music. 


FADIMAN: Give me a little-- Fill me in on Mambo music, will you? You know, this stuff is new to me.


RICHMOND: Well, I'm not-- 


FADIMAN: You're now dealing with an analphabetic in pop music. 


RICHMOND: I think we'd have to pass the, uh, deal to Mitch on the Mambo because I don't know truthfully what its recent origins in the pop music field are. However, it's something new-- There's a new rhythm, isn't that right, Mitch? 


MILLER: Well, it started in Cuba about eighteen, twenty years ago--


FADIMAN: What's the difference between Mambo and the ordinary Cuban rhythms that we are familiar with?


MILLER: Well, just - just the beat behind it. And the - and the different step. But basically the Latin music is all the same. 


FADIMAN: It isn't any different, then, from the Samba or the--? 


MILLER: It is different.


FADIMAN: It is? 


MILLER: But, er-- (CHUCKLES) But it isn't. Now, uh--


WILDER: That's clear. 


FADIMAN: Now I want to know-- I want to know about trends. You say you missed out on figuring the Mambo trend. 


RICHMOND: Well, I like to put it this way: we didn't think of it first. It came along and it apparently got very, very exciting on a few records about three months ago. It got to such a point, apparently, that some of the fellows knew how far this trend had gone. Matter of fact, Mitch made a record with Clooney again -- we keep bringing her up, but she's one of the top artists -- on a thing called "Mambo Italiano," which I think is a very cute record. Uh, I think Mitch at some point decided that this was a craze, he could make a record that he could get out within the thirty days necessary, and he did, and he's probably sold a million. Now, even Woody Herman who is, as far as I'm concerned, the most wonderful jazz man that I've ever heard-- Had a great standard called "Woodchopper." Now, that's fifteen years old if it's a day, and he did it over again as a mambo and he sold another couple o' hundred thousand records--


FADIMAN: Just hooking on to the trend.


RICHMOND: Hooking on to the trend. Now, we-- Our philosophy over at our publishing office is that maybe if we had thought of it -- assuming that we had known about the possibility, in the sense of a Mambo rhythm -- we might have gone ahead and tried to pioneer it. Now, to get on the bandwagon, frankly, in popular music, I think you've got sixty or ninety days and you're just about out. Now, that may be six months--


FADIMAN: Oh, that's quick stuff.


RICHMOND: So that we would much prefer taking our songs, where they come from, and looking for our own approach. Now, that comes up to Alec, you see--


FADIMAN: I was gonna ask Alec-- Alec's a composer. Do you have any feeling when you sit down to write a song that you're writing it in a trend that's going to hit public favor--?


WILDER: Well, that's my trouble.


FADIMAN: --or do you just write what you darned please?


WILDER: I'm only interested in writing good songs, and I've tried writing "material" and - and songs that met a market. 


FADIMAN: Yeah. 


WILDER: And I find that it's not, as far as I'm concerned, a sincere endeavor. I mean I don't completely believe it. So that, uh, I'm really out of the contemporary picture in terms of trends because I - I can only write well what I feel and believe in.


FADIMAN: Okay, I honor that. But you would never, for example, take a well-meant suggestion from two experts like Mitch here, and - and Howie, who know the market -- think they know the market there, right? Would you ever listen to them if they told you to write such and such--?


WILDER: Oh, I've tried many times. And they don't very often work because of-- Well-- 


FADIMAN: But how about your colleagues? Don't they often write to a predetermined market?


WILDER: Well, the successful writers are writing constantly and constantly taking the pulse-- As a matter of fact, I've met a boy recently who is, as far as I can make out, quite talented and has been quite successful although he jumped into the business right from college and decided that he was going to try to make it. And while very intelligent, he has made this point of ambition to achieve a certain roster of popular songs and he's been able to write to a demand, to a market. At the same time, he's kept enough integrity, or perspective rather, to be able to write a-- Just a song. 


FADIMAN: What you're saying, though, is that there is such a thing as an observable, checkable market for which you can write--


WILDER: I believe so.


FADIMAN: --if you know the tricks?


WILDER: Yes, indeed.


MILLER: Yes, but, uh--


FADIMAN: Is that right, Mitch?


WILDER: Bob Merrill is a great instance of that.


MILLER: That's right, but there's another thing that everyone forgets, and that is there's always room for any type of song that hits home to the emotions of the listener.


FADIMAN: Isn't it true that the sudden triumph of a new performer -- let's say Johnnie Ray, a year or two ago-- 


MILLER: Yes--


FADIMAN: -- will start a Johnnie Ray trend? 


MILLER: Yes--


FADIMAN: Ray-type songs on the whole? 


MILLER: Well, yes, because he made it acceptable to be, uh, very, very extroverted on a record -- around this particular record of "Cry." But if you stop and think, the song "Cry" says to-- "If your sweetheart sends a letter of goodbye," or "if you have troubles, it's no sin to just sit down and have yourself a good cry." Now, how is that any different than what Rabbi Liebman told you to do in "Peace of Mind"? He said that the people who, when they had a bereavement in the family, those that had some sadness, those that sat down and cried were able to express themselves more emotionally later instead of going to the analyst's.


FADIMAN: Okay. Had that particular emotion or idea ever been expressed in pop music before? 


MILLER: Oh, yes. Not-- The idea of crying had.


FADIMAN: It had?


MILLER: Sure. But not in this way. 


FADIMAN: I can remember laugh songs, but I can't remember cry songs.


MILLER: Oh, "Crying Myself to Sleep," don't you remember? (HUMS THE MELODY)


FADIMAN: That's not the same thing as what Johnnie Ray is telling you to do exactly.


MILLER: But the timing of this Johnnie Ray record was very important. That's one thing that we haven't talked about and that is something you can't divine, 'cause you've seen shows come into New York and you thought that the show wasn't particularly good, but it came at a time when there was a need for a show. I don't think I'm hurting "Can-Can" by saying that it had bad reviews and it wasn't particularly good, but there was a need for that type of show. The idea of the-- The whole idea of the French kick with "Moulin Rouge" and, uh, "Can-Can" and the kicking of the legs and all that. And there was nothing in New York at the time -- and they went on and now they're an established hit for over a year and a half. Well, it's the same with songs. Johnnie Ray came in with "Cry" at the height of the Korean business. Kids were in school, they didn't know when they got out of high school whether they'd go to college--


FADIMAN: Do you really think there was a tie-up between the--? 


MILLER: Oh, absolutely! I look for that all the time. 


FADIMAN: And can you determine that? Can you feel it? To me, the tie-up between the general feeling of a whole country in connection with the Korean War and a song such as "Cry" seems such a tenuous connection.


MILLER: Not at all! Because the kids at school had no-- Could make no plans for the future. They were stymied. Well, what else can they do? They said, "Well if you cry, at least it's something."


FADIMAN: You know, I'm so glad to have you say this, Mitch, 'cause it makes something clear to me, and that is that these songs apparently are real


MILLER: Oh, yes!


FADIMAN: They are not confections. They actually mean something to the youngsters who listen to them.


MILLER: I guarantee you that if you have any friends who have children who were from the age of fourteen to seventeen when "Cry" came out, they will tell you that they locked themselves-- Closed the door and put themselves in a room, probably played the record many, many times--


FADIMAN: Very interesting. 


MILLER: I have another theory, if you don't mind. 


FADIMAN: No, no -- go ahead. This is-- 


MILLER: On the rhythm and blues, on these so-called nonsense things. After every - every war, every crisis in the world, we've had the idea of the rebellion of the kids. 


FADIMAN: Yes. 


MILLER: Nonconformity. When I was a kid, I remember after World War I, we wore sailor pants and shoestring ties. And used to wear the gaiters -- you know, with them open and flapping?


FADIMAN: So you haven't changed, looking at that beard of yours.


MILLER: (LAUGHS) Well, so that was our way of rebellion, see? Now, with these songs -- these nonsense songs and these rhythm and blues songs -- I think this is the way the kids are being nonconformists. And I think it's very healthy that they do it this way, instead of running off and slitting somebody's throat. They do it in a mob. They feel that they're - they're defying convention, to get rid of their aggressions this way, and then they come home and they outgrow it.


FADIMAN: Full of tricky theories, this Miller. It's wonderful.


RICHMOND: After showing about ten or twelve tunes to a fellow like Mitch, a publisher starts to think in terms of the things that he knows the record men are looking for for their artists. You'd be surprised -- at least, I think I am -- when I think that Mitch has a certain image of Frankie Laine.


FADIMAN: Yeah.


RICHMOND: We hear a song over in the publishing office, and very frequently a writer writes a song for a singer, and we say, "Oh, Frankie Laine or Perry Como-- Oh, they can sing this; it'd be wonderful. Eddie Fisher'd be fine on this." But when you come to the artists and repertoire man, the guy who decides who's going to sing what--


FADIMAN: That's Mr. Miller.


RICHMOND: --Mr.  Miller has a whole casting system. He sees Frankie Laine as a personal individual relating on an individual level to certain ways-- There are certain things he can or cannot say better than others, let me say. I don't think he's got a closed mind about his character-- 


FADIMAN: You mean he casts these songs just the way a casting director in the theater would?


RICHMOND: I'm afraid that that would be absolutely right. Although he does often see his artists as repertoire artists, capable of doing a number of different things.


FADIMAN: Tell me about hill-- Excuse me, country songs. I want to know about that. Now, this is the sort of stuff I used to like very much about ten, twelve, fifteen years ago. Now it seems to me repetitious. It all sounds--


MILLER: You - you like country songs, then? 


FADIMAN: Well, I called it hillbilly stuff, but country songs.


MILLER: May I ask you--? May I be moderator and ask you why? 


FADIMAN: Yeah, it had a faint trace of honesty.


MILLER: Good! Very good! That's the basic element!


RICHMOND: I think-- I think that's its prime asset.


MILLER: Yes. 


RICHMOND: Real communication on the simplest of levels. 


FADIMAN: But that was true fifteen years ago maybe. It seems pretty synthetic to me now. I listen to a lot of it on the radio.


MILLER: You don't have that need for that honest song any more.


FADIMAN: Huh. You know, this Miller is so clever--


RICHMOND: I know, I know. He has been for years.


FADIMAN: I'm not going to raise any more objections because he just sweeps 'em out of your path. Well, tell me why is country song stuff so popular in the East?


RICHMOND: Uh--


FADIMAN: It is, isn't it? It's very popular on the East coast.


RICHMOND: I would say up until about six months ago it was pretty much the primary source of at least half of the pop hits on recordings. 


FADIMAN: I would think so, too. How do you account for it? 


RICHMOND: There was a fellow down in Tennessee, Hank Williams, who has recently died. Hank Williams never studied or did anything about either-- (CHUCKLE) --his English grammar or his music, yet he was able to communicate certain words in many songs which had universal -- at least, a pop appeal, and when done by the popular artists rather than the country artists -- and they were successful country hits first -- they swept the country. There was a vogue of them, which is on the decline right now, and without trying to get too technical, I think what's happened down in the country field is that those fellows who were writing straight from their heart have been figuring: can they get a record by Rosemary Clooney or Dinah Shore--?


MILLER: That's right.


RICHMOND: --Perry Como, and they have, uh, become city fellas, and--


FADIMAN: (LAUGHS)


RICHMOND: Whereas to a true composer -- such as Alec, for example, who has to hesitate before he samples the market -- he's got to write what he can write best and what he feels, and he can't-- He does discipline himself, no doubt, in hearing music, and thinking, but he's going to write as he knows, with his background, his schooling, and his basic abilities. And no matter how he tries to compromise and is willing to, he still will write what's in there. The professional writer--


FADIMAN: He's stuck with his own honesty -- to an extent.


RICHMOND: Well, most of our professional writers--


MILLER: And his own ability, too. 


RICHMOND: Yes, his own ability. That's the point--


FADIMAN: I want to mention--


RICHMOND: Professional writers can cover up in many degrees for their ability. I mean they're pros -- I use the word with no sense of limitation. They're - they're very capable craftsman, but they're starting with the market, they're starting with the artists, they're starting with the trends and-- May I say this? That a lot of writers today are not inhibited because of good taste, they're not inhibited because of what's gone before. Some people know that there were songs such as some of the great standards that Irving Berlin has written, Cole Porter, many others. They would never write that same title, they would invariably stay away from the subject matter in the song; and certainly the melody lines, they would consider to be prototypes and they'd want to create something. Whereas our country writers -- the boys who write from their heart -- they just whistle and little bits of a little Cole Porter or something else that's been half-- (CROSSTALK) --folk song down the line, they can't help it, it comes out that way and it just happens-- 


FADIMAN: Of course, the old ballad makers did the same thing. 


RICHMOND: That's right.


FADIMAN: The anonymous ones stole from each other all the time.


MILLER: But isn't there one thing, Kip, that with these basic songs that, uh-- Like Marian Anderson is a great artist, yet when she sings "Water Boy" or any other spiritual, it's beautiful, but it's like under glass, it's refined--


FADIMAN: That is correct. 


MILLER: But then you hear Mahalia Jackson-- 


FADIMAN: That's correct, too.


MILLER: --who is singing from, really from her guts and singing the same song--


FADIMAN: I'll buy that. 


MILLER: Well, so that's the difference between a trained composer and one who isn't trained. They're doing it to the best of their ability, the untrained one. Now, for a trained composer to try to write that same kind of song, he has to sort of relax. I'm not--


FADIMAN: Let me put it to, Alec. Have you ever tried to write that kind of song?


WILDER: Yes, indeed, but I haven't felt, uh-- Well, I've worked from lyrics and I've also worked from-- Just from the tune itself, and somehow-- Well, let me put it this way. The only money I've ever made in my life is from songs that I wrote not for the purpose of making money.


FADIMAN: Now, is it because you're a city boy, Alec, that you can't write this country song stuff?


WILDER: No. I think it's--


FADIMAN: Or is it because you have too much technique?


WILDER: Well, I don't have that much, but I perhaps have a little too much. I believe in simple music, but if I can't, uh, write it honestly-- If the least contrivance gets into my mind -- that I am contriving or I'm attempting to be simple, if I get self-conscious about it--


FADIMAN: Then you stiffen up.


WILDER: It comes out somehow dishonestly. I don't know how.


FADIMAN: It's true in writing, too, which is the only other art that I know anything about. It must be true in the pop music field. Say, before we wrap up this subject, there's one mystery that you fellows have got to solve. I may never see you all together again to get the answer to this question from you. I want you to explain Liberace to me.


WILDER: Oh, dear.


FADIMAN: I've listened to this distinguished gentleman, and had him on a show that I used to run, and he seems a very nice man, indeed--


MILLER: He plays the piano every bit as good as Oscar Levant. Now, if Levant has talent, so does he. 


FADIMAN: He plays as well as Oscar Levant?


MILLER: Yes, he can, absolutely. 


FADIMAN: Either of you other fellows got any idea as to why Liberace is what he is -- the greatest success of his kind probably in history? 


RICHMOND: I must say, I can't answer the question directly, but occasionally I get on the road and run around the country trying to find songs and get 'em started. I - I think I discovered for myself Liberace a little over a year ago, about fifteen months ago, when I was in Nashville and later on in Dallas, Texas, where he had crowds that rivaled the annual Billy Graham festivals -- and practically the same people, by the way, because I found out in Nashville that they were selling tickets on the same subscription lists for the big religious-- 


FADIMAN: I'm sure that's true. 


RICHMOND: Now I - I don't think that explains-- I don't think it explains this, uh-- Very much about Liberace as far as his music is concerned. I would discount him, I'm afraid, even with my limited experience in criticism and evaluation of music, good or bad. I would say Liberace was not a musician and I've watched him a couple of times and I don't want to make any comments about whether-- How I felt exactly. But I did keep watching him. I didn't turn him off. 


FADIMAN: I guess he's got something, and I think he's put it in the bank. (THE OTHERS LAUGH, TO MILLER) I was thinking of that interesting statement you made about the connection between the Johnnie Ray-type of crying song and the way people were feeling at a specific moment about the Korean War. Now, that made-- I thought it over and it made a great deal of sense to me. Do you see anything happening now--?

 

MILLER: Yes. In that sense--


FADIMAN: --in our contemporary history--


MILLER: Yes.


FADIMAN: --that might produce a kind of song which would match that mood? 


MILLER: More religious songs.


FADIMAN: More religious songs.


MILLER: It's what we call, uh, songs of faith, as it were, in the sense that-- It says, uh-- It has no particular value for any - any particular sect-- I mean they're--


FADIMAN: Like "I Believe." 


MILLER: Like "I Believe." 


FADIMAN: How about it, Howie? What would you say--? (CONTINUES INDECIPHERABLY BEHIND ANNOUNCER--)


ANNOUNCER: You've been listening to "Conversation," a transcribed series of programs dedicated to the art of good talk.

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