Get Happy: The Harold Arlen Centennial Celebration, Various Artists
Verve, February 8, 2005 (songs from 1930-1954, recordings from 1952-1964, and 1998)
Track Listing: 1. Pray For Love (Ella Fitzgerald), 2. Get Happy (Mel Torme), 3. Blues in the Night (Dinah Washington), 4. Come Rain or Come Shine (Count Basie), 5. That Old Black Magic (Shirley Horn), 6. Let’s Fall in Love (Diana Krall), 7. It’s Only a Paper Moon (Morgana King) 8. Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home (Helen Merrill), 9. Stormy Weather (Billy Holiday), 10. If I Only Had a Brain (Abbey Lincoln), 11. I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues (Louis Armstrong) 12. Over the Rainbow (Sarah Vaughan), 13. As Long As I Live (Billy Eckstine), 14. Down with Love (Blossom Dearie), 15. The Man that Got Away (Ella Fitzgerald) 16. My Shining Hour (Count Basie)
“Life is bare, gloom and misery everywhere
Just can’t get my poor old self together
I’m weary all the time, the time
So weary all the time”
-from “Stormy Weather”
There goes the rainbow lady. Dissolving fast. Melting. Over the hills. Over the hollows. Over brick roads that smell of piss. The monkeys are flying to get you. The straw men. Men in tin. Men zipped in lion suits fat and stinking. Your heals are clicking. Click faster. Why aren’t you going anywhere? Lose your little doggie? Your basket? Your yellow tiskets? Lose the big ruby task of sorting out the existential mess of this supreme and ineluctable universe? Follow me my precious. My mellow yellow. Yellow fever. Don’t get you ponytails caught in the spokes. It’s a twister sista! Black and brackish. Tomato? Say TORNADO! The good witches have all gone east. Or west. Does anyone really know? The bad ones wear black and have green faces. But that could be almost anyone living in Kansas. Anyone in America. Anyone in any state in any country on any continent around this pathetic, cyclone-splitting world.
“Yes it’s only a canvass sky
Hanging over a muslin tree
But it wouldn’t be make believe
If you believed in me”
-from “Paper Moon”
So get thee to a microphone. Sing. Sing real sad. Wear something slinky. Slithery. Something soothing to cover up all the pretty bruises. Sing it like it was supposed to be sung. Like some big guy just slapped you around out back (he did and you loved it). Sing like you live in a one-room flat with no heat behind the El (you never really wanted anything better). Sing like the sun just went down forever. Went away for good. As if the sky went black (black as trash) and suddenly sucked it all away. Your house. Your family. Everyone you ever loved in this miserable fucked up world. Dragged it all up, up the dark and cruel wet hole they call the heavens. Yes, sing the blues, honey. Sing them dirty. Sing them deep. Blue collar and melancholy. They’re bitter and they’re sweet but they are all your own. Yours only.
“If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why, can’t I?”
-from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
It was at Harlem’s Cotton Club in New York where Harold Arlen gained his first experience combining jazz and blues with traditional folk songs to form his unique and moving songwriting (together with lyricist Ted Koehler). It was also the Depression. And one can only imagine what Arlen saw on his walks through the city on his way to the club. The tired. The desperate. The dispossessed. Weeping lovers and ruined dreamers. Lonesome losers lying drunk on the colored streets and doorsteps. The world was in pain so come on everybody get happy. How was he chosen the voice of the broken hearted? The downtrodden? The pill-popping torch singers who all fell off the road? Shot themselves up with brown sugar only to sing softly, sadly under the dim-lit stage lamps? How could such beauty come from all this sadness?
Arlen worked with a number of lyricists, the most famous, American-Jewish socialist Yip Harburg who wrote the lyrics to “Stormy Weather” and “Over the Rainbow” as well as other songs on The Wizard of Oz. Perhaps it was Harburg’s keen eye and realist skepticism that pulled away the rose-colored glasses traditionally worn on other contemporary songs.
“Sometime the cabin gloomy and the table bare
Soon he kiss me and it’s Christmas everywhere
Trouble fly away and life is easy go
Does he love me good?
That’s all I has to know”
-from “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe”
So where do we escape all this darkness, Dorothy? On the other side. Just over there. The next corner. Follow the golden road. We’ll be there in no time. In the meantime, hold on. Hug someone you love. It’s black and stormy, this weather, but it always blows over. Always.
“We’re headin’ cross the river
Gonna wash our sins in the tide
It’s all so peaceful
On the other side”
-from “Get Happy”