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Tune Detectives at Work

Filichia pores through responses to his ''tune detectives'' column of November 16. logo

Jerry Herman
Faithful readers may recall the column I wrote a couple of weeks ago about tune detectives--those musical theater enthusiasts who hear one song and automatically think of another. They'll tell you that Richard Rodgers' "Honey Bun" sounds a bit like Cole Porter's "You Got That Thing." That Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Music of the Night" sounds like Frederick Loewe's "Come to Me, Bend to Me." That Sondheim's "No One Is Alone" has the same first six notes as Leslie Bricusse's "The Candy Man."

Well, I heard from lots of tune detectives out there, and I thought you might like to hear from them, too. Many would suggest that even Inspector Clouseau would be able to discern one instance of outright theft--but since Darwin Planet was the first reader to write in with it, I'll let him do the honors of telling you: "The most glaring example of one composer's scanning another composer's song is 'Make 'em Laugh' from Singin' in the Rain, which sounds s-o-o-o-o suspiciously close to Cole Porter's 'Be A Clown' from The Pirate. Shouldn't Cole Porter have sued for that, given that those tunes are exactly the same?"

But others apparently look at sheet music with a magnifying glass. Alan Scott Gomberg: "I suddenly realized how similar 'Happy Endings' from New York, New York is to Jule Styne's 'Witches' Brew' from Hallelujah, Baby, which he stole from himself via 'Call Me Savage' in Fade Out--Fade In." Ed Weissman: "Have you ever noticed that the words to Robert Frost's 'Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening' fit perfectly into 'Hernando's Hideaway?' "(No, but I have noticed that the words of "Moments to Remember," used in Forever Plaid, scan to the tune of "I Remember It Well" from Gigi.) Ed also contributed the following anecdote: "Don't know if it's true, but I heard that, not long before he died, Alan Jay Lerner was supposed to have been asked whether he'd heard any of the music from The Phantom of the Opera--for which Andrew Lloyd Webber had initially asked him to write lyrics--and Lerner replied 'Probably.' " And a reader identified as Druhawn notes that "Peggy Lee's Broadway fiasco Peg contained a Paul Horner tune, 'No More Rainbows,' that was incredibly like 'Diamonds for Mrs. Rogers' from The Will Rogers Follies. Cy Coleman was the creative consultant on Peg, so he must have heard the other song dozens of times before his subconscious kicked that one in!

Frances Yasprica: "I had a the Encores! Broadway Bash. During the All American overture, there was a tune that I remembered drove me crazy when I first heard the album many years ago. I suddenly realized what it reminded me of 'You've Got Possibilities.' Then I realized it hadn't been exactly stolen, because 'Possibilities' hadn't been written yet; and, anyway, they were both by Charles Strouse! All of this reminds me of something Arthur Sullivan said when it was pointed out that 'When a Merry Maiden Marries' from The Gondoliers sounded a bit like 'Love's Old Sweet Song.' He said: 'Remember, we only had the same eight notes to work with.' "

Seth Christenfeld: "Am I the only person who's ever noticed the similarity between the chorus of 'The Picture Of Happiness' from Tenderloin and 'Perfectly Marvelous' from Cabaret? Or that a bit of music in that damn Ralph Lauren commercial that's on all the time is like 'Jenny Rebecca'? Come to think of it, it also reminds me a bit of the theme from Jurassic Park, which itself was stolen by Lord Andy for 'The Vaults Of Heaven' in Whistle Down The Wind."

Mark Rothman: "My favorite outright thievery is 'This Could be the Start of Something Big,' 'written' by Steve Allen in 1956, one year after Johnny Mercer wrote 'Something's Gotta Give' for Daddy Long Legs. They both have the same subject matter, but there's [also] a chord-for-chord match, including the release. Both were recorded at the exact same tempo by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. The two songs can even be sung simultaneously using the same orchestration." But there are others. 'When I've Got Shoes With Wings On' from The Barkleys of Broadway and 'Straighten Up and Fly Right' were separated at birth. Dishonorable Mention goes to 'Among My Yesterdays' from The Happy Time, which was taken from 'Too Late Now' from Royal Wedding. The Three's Company theme ('Come and knock on our door...') was taken from Duke Ellington's 'Don't Get Around Much Any More.' As for 'Nightlife', sung by Anita Gillette in All American--after viewing the DVD of White Christmas that contains wonderful commentary throughout by Rosemary Clooney (including remarks about how dopey the story is), I'm convinced that Charles Strouse was more than familiar with the Irving Berlin score, as 'Nightlife' is a dead ringer melodically for 'The Best Things Happen While We're Dancing.' And 'Night Lights,' a hit single by Nat King Cole in 1955, must have stuck in Jule Styne's head for four years, when it provided the melody for 'All I Need Now Is the Girl.' As for my favorite [example of] self-thievery, that's 'Come Back To Me' from On a Clear Day, taken from 'Follow Me' from Camelot [both with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner].

John Sweeney: "Picking out other composer's songs is a favorite pastime of mine, and I usually drive myself crazy trying to figure out who cribbed from whom. In By Jeeves, 'That Was Nearly Off' launches off with an almost note-for-note quote of Rodgers and Hart's 'Isn't It Romantic?' which might have been Lord Lloyd Webber's hommage to R&H, but I somehow doubt it. And in the same score, the middle section of 'It's a Pig!': 'It's a well-know fact that they hunt as a pack,' besides having a false rhyme, also cribs note-for-note from a section of the 'Auto-da-Fe' number in Candide. And finally, in Les Misérables, the opening notes of 'Bring Him Home' are stolen directly from a theme in the humming chorus (also a duet earlier in the act) found in Act II of Puccini's 'Madama Butterfly.' "

Matthew Stenquist: "I was just in a conversation the other day where someone said, 'All Lloyd Webber music sounds the same.' And I retorted right back 'Yes, as does all of Sondheim's music, and Richard Rodgers' music, and so on.' It's all in the style, don't you think? The only person that has a great sense of diverse style is Stephen Flaherty. Hard to spot one of his songs from a mile away. Whereas with Lloyd Webber and Sondheim, you can recognize their styles right away.' " (Well, Matthew, I'd also say that another composer with greatly diverse style was Frederick Loewe, whose Scottish-flavored Brigadoon sounds nothing like the Old West-ern Paint Your Wagon, which sounds nothing like the Shavian My Fair Lady, which sounds nothing like the King Arthur era of Camelot.)

Joe Meagor, Jr.: "The first three notes of 'She Touched Me' are also the first three notes of the lugubrious Christian song 'He Touched Me.' Of course, the Christian song refers to Jesus and the combination of tune and words to that song are simply embarrassing, even though it is very popular in the American Christian culture. From Jane Eyre, the words 'And we shall sail away,' etc., [have] the exact same notes as the words to 'And I will lift you up on eagle's wings' from 'On Eagles' Wings,' a song that has become popular in churches in the last 15 years (and is a much, much better song than 'He Touched Me'). I have consistently considered the conflict over 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Sunflower' to be a stupid charge against Jerry Herman's song. I did a comparison of the two and there is almost nothing in common." (Frankly, Joe, if 'Hello, Dolly!' was involved in any theft, I'd say the perpetrators were Garinei and Giovannini, those writers of Italian musicals, whose title song for their 1966 musical Ciao, Rudy, about the life of Rudolph Valentino, was certainly inspired by the Herman hit.)

Wayman Wong: "A major pop/rock artist recently wrote a song and put it on his CD. Then his daughter heard it and said that it sounded like 'Constant Craving,' a tune by k.d. lang.' And by gum, it did. Even I--and I'm no big pop fan--recognized the similarity. So the major pop/rock artist decided to add k.d. lang as one of the authors of the song, and she gets royalties for a song she didn't even work on!"

This topic reminds me of yet another incident involving a pop/jazz artist. This happened several years ago. I was on the screening committee for the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs; we listened to tapes of songs that would be submitted to be on the MAC ballot for Best Song. Anyway, this gentleman submitted a song of his that was on his CD.' I heard it, and an alarm went off. Wait--it seems to me I've heard that before, and even the lyric sounded alike. I found a copy of a cassette that I had of songs from the TV show Fame and, sure enough, there was a song by the same title. Same lyrics, too. And it wasn't written by some unknown, but by Paul Jabara, who got an Oscar for ''Last Dance' (from Thank God It's Friday). When confronted with this, the songwriter said that he had known Jabara and, before Jabara died, he supposedly has passed on his authorship to this man. Weird--especially because the song on the Fame tape was credited to two writers. Even if we accepted this songwriter's story, why would he leave out the other writer? Strange. We disqualified the song, assuming that this new writer was trying to pull a fast one.

As for why I'd remember an obscure TV tune all these years later, who knows? That's how my mind works. And I imagine, so does yours! (More than I'd like to admit, Wayman; more than I'd like to admit!)


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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