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SOME SONG LYRICS

Following is a small sampling of song lyrics, some serious and some not at all serious, that I've written over the years. The selection starts with a rewritten set of lyrics for "Blues In The Night."

Ever since I first heard it, “Blues In The Night" has been one of my favorite songs. But for years the Johny Mercer lyrics have bothered me -- they seem like a rough draft, an idea sketch not finished enough to do justice to Harold Arlen's powerful melody. And, to me, they don't come up to the level of most of Johny Mercer's lyrics-writing. Maybe he just didn't have a strong feeling for the blues. That's certainly my impression -- especially when I consider his other songs, such as "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive." The songs one writes tell a good deal about one's inner nature; and Johny Mercer's songs seem to me to have been written by someone who shied away from the shadows.

My reworking of the lyrics to "Blues In The Night" might be considered Not The Thing To Do -- but I did it anyway, because I believe that the melody deserves better than what it originally got. For example: I'd have thought that, as he was from the South, Johny Mercer would have known better than to write "...the mockin' bird'll sing the saddest kind o' song." The mockingbird, the musical comedian and mimic of the bird world, doesn't have a sad song; but the nightjar -- the whippoorwill, the chuck-will's widow, and the poorwill -- does. What bird would be better qualified than a night bird to sing blues in the night? Also: A mother wouldn't tell her son that a woman's a "two-face"; trees don't cry; the moon doesn't hide its light; etc. Lyrics need to make sense. "Blues In The Night" gives a lyricist a great opportunity to create an emotional state by referring to the sights and sounds of physical reality, rather as showing a movie audience a dark night, an empty street, and shadows on a stairway creates an atmosphere in a film noir movie. Going against the laws of nature and human nature, as the song's original lyrics do, lessens the impact of the song.

It seemed to me that another verse was needed, as a conclusion. So I added one.

B.H.

BLUES lN THE NIGHT

My daddy done told me,
When I was in knee-pants,
My daddy done told me, "Son --
A woman'll sweet-talk
And give you the big eyes,
But soon the sweet-talkin's done.
A woman's a two-face --
A worrisome thing who'll leave you to sing
The blues in the night."

My mamma done told me,
When I was in pig-tails,
My mamma done told me, "Hon --
A man, he will sweet-talk
And give you the glad eye,
But soon the sweet-talkin’s done.
A man is a two-face --
A worrisome thing who'll leave you to sing
The blues in the night."

Hear the rain a-fallin';
Hear that train a-callin':
Whoo-eeA-whoo-ee-a-whoo-ee...
With its mournful whistle
Wailin' like a lost soul:
Whoo-eeA-whoo-ee-a-whoo-ee...
And clickety-click-clack --
From way down the track,
Its wheels sendin' back
The blues in the night.

The evenin' breeze can set
The trees to sighin',
And the clouds will dim the light --
Then you'll feel the blues in the night.
We've all heard the nightjar bird
Singin' "po' Will" dusk-to-dawn,
As though someone's gone,
Somethin's wrong.

Dah-dah de dah, dah de dah...

From Memphis to Mobile,
From Jackson to Saint Joe,
Wherever the four winds blow --
l've been in some big towns,
l've heard me some big talk,
But there is one thing I know:

A woman's a two-face --
A worrisome thing who'll leave you to sing
The blues in the night.
A man is a two-face --
A worrisome thing who'll leave you to sing
The blues in the night.


The rain just keeps a-fallin';
'Nother train's a-callin':
Whoo-eeA-whoo-ee-a-whoo-ee...
I lie awake and listen
To its plaintive whistlin':
Whoo-eeA-whoo-ee-a-whoo-ee...
And clickety-click-clack --
From way down the track,
The sound carries back
The blues in the night.

Dah-dah de dah, dah de dah --
I hear 'em cryin', the blues in the night.

New lyrics © 2010, 2013 Benjamin Hoff

Original lyrics by Johny Mercer © 1941 Warner Bros. Inc.


Set to the melody of "Deep In The Heart Of Texas,"
by Gene Autry

OUTSIDE THAT BAR IN TEXAS

The cars at night are big and bright
(clap-clap-clap-clap)
Outside the bars in Texas.
And every night, there is a fight
(clap-clap-clap-clap)
Outside the bars in Texas.

Now, take that fight we had tonight
(clap-clap-clap-clap)
Outside that bar in Texas,
'Cause you were wrong, and I was right
(clap-clap-clap-clap)
Outside that bar in Texas.

And yes, we two did disagree
(clap-clap-clap-clap)
Outside that bar in Texas --
So I hit you, and you hit me
(clap-clap-clap-clap)
Outside that bar in Texas.

Those cop-car lights were big and bright
(clap-clap-clap-clap)
Outside that bar in Texas;
And in this jail we'll spend the night
(clap-clap-clap-clap)
Be-hind bars in Texas.

Y'all come down and visit us, hear?

© 2012 Benjamin Hoff


Set to the melody of "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby,"
by Johny Mercer

YOU SAY YOU WERE A BEAUTIFUL BABY

You say you were a beautiful baby,
You say you were a beautiful child;
You say when you were startin'
To go to kindergarten,
You really drove the other kids wild.

And when it came to winning blue ribbons,
You say you showed the other kids how.
Well, I can see the judges' eyes
As they denied you every prize --
I'll bet you made an awful row.
You say you were a beautiful baby,
But babe, I don't believe it, somehow --
I think you're ly---ing --
Babe, I don't believe it, somehow.

© 2010 Benjamin Hoff


Set to the melody of "My Favorite Things,"
by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

OUR FAVORITE THINGS
or
WE LOVE BEING PART OF THE BANKING INDUSTRY

(man)
Silver Rolls-Royces and Bentleys with turbos,
Forty-room mansions and Learjets with logos,
Platinum wrist watches fit for a king --
These are a few of my favorite things.

(woman)
Gifts from I Magnin (and oo l've got oodles),
Rhinestone-and-ermine clothes for my poodles,
Bright, shiny necklaces, bracelets, and rings --
These are a few of my favorite things.

(her)(him)
When the dogs bite, when the stocks crash,
(both)
When we're feeling sad,
(him)
We list all our assets and count all our cash,
(her)(both)
And then we don't feel so bad.

Give us the simple life -- and plenty of it.
And yours, too.

© 2011 Benjamin Hoff


"I Know My Love," the world-famous Irish folk song -- one of my favorites -- has one of the most beautiful and haunting melodies I've ever heard. But, as with "Blues In The Night," the traditional lyrics have always seemed to me to be on a lower level than the melody. So, as with "Blues In The Night," I decided to make changes in the wording. The changes increase as the verses progress because, as often happens with folk songs, the creator of the lyrics seems to have lost energy and focus as he went on. Following the song is an explanation of why I changed what I did.

In place of the traditional fourth verse, which was obviously made up by someone other than the song's creator, and which doesn't fit the rest, I made up my own.

I KNOW MY LOVE

Irish Traditional, With Altered Lyrics

I
I know my love by his way of walking,
And I know my love by his way of talking,
And I know my love by his suit of blue;
And if my love leaves me, what will I do?

Refrain
For still I find I love him the best,
And my troubled mind sure can know no rest;
And I find too bonny boys are few,
And if my love leaves me, what will I do?

II
There is a dance house in Mar-a-dyke,
And 'tis to there my love ambles every night
And sits another girl down upon his knee --
And does he not know how it vexes me?

Refrain
Yet still I find I love him the best,
And my troubled mind sure can know no rest;
And I find too bonny boys are few,
And if my love leaves me, what will I do?

III
If my love knew that I can wash and wring,
And if my love knew that I can weave and spin
And could make a suit for him, of the finest kind,
And had I money for the cloth, then he might
not leave me behind.

Refrain
'Tis stiII I find I love him the best,
And my troubled mind sure can know no rest;
And I find too bonny boys are few,
And if my love leaves me, what will I do?

IV
If I loved you, I'd wash and wring for you,
And if I loved you, I would weave and spin
And make for you the finest suit, of the finest hue --
And yet in my mind, 'twould be he I'm dreaming of.

Refrain
For still I find I love him the best,
And my troubled mind sure can know no rest;
And I find too bonny boys are few,
And if my love leaves me, what will I do?

Wording changes and Verse IV © 2013 Benjamin Hoff

At first glance, "I Know My Love" seems a simple song (and that's the beauty of it -- that it seems simple). But there are a couple of things about it that are very strange and far from simple.

The first strange thing is that, in the original, except for the words she cried, the entire song is apparently a quotation, and therefore technically ought to be in quotation marks. The girl in the song seemingly isn't speaking to us directly, as she at first appears to be doing; instead, a narrator is, as we realize when the refrain begins, reporting to us what the girl said: "And still," she cried, "I love him the best..."

(The refrain's original punctuation -- if by now it is the original punctuation -- leaves out the comma after "And still." If you try reading the line with and without that comma, you'll see that it ought to be there: "And still I love him the best" is what's being said, not "And still she cried," since she hadn't already done so. The refrain's second "And still" didn't make sense to me with or without a comma after it, so I changed that "still" to "too.")

Unfortunately for the clarity of the song as it was originally written, one can't sing quotation marks. But without putting in quotation marks, one can't make it clear from the beginning of the song that, rather than the girl herself telling us about her wandering lover, a narrator is telling us what she said.

One way to prevent awkwardness and confusion, I thought, would be to put only the refrain in quotation marks and then have the four verses sung by a woman (the girl) and have the refrain sung by a man or another woman (the narrator).

Another way -- the way I chose after a while -- would be to forget about quotation marks, keep things simple, and change she cried to she cries, to lessen the presence of the narrator by putting the song's statements into a present-moment, You Are There context. To put it another way, the idea was to change one word to give us more of the girl and less of the narrator. Did that work? Not quite. The narrator was still interrupting.

Then -- at last -- I concluded what I could have concluded in the first place: The two words she cried, or she cries, confused and complicated what could have been a gorgeously simple song -- so they needed to be replaced. Get rid of the narrator, I decided, and keep the girl. Make the song entirely her song. And so now it is.

The second strange thing about the song: The anonymous creator of "I Know My Love" seems to have ignored the fact that singers need to breathe. Even as a child, hearing the song sung about the house and on a recording or two, I noticed that it was very awkward to sing, because the singer, if staying on the beat, has almost no time at the end of each line to take a breath before going to the next line. Notice all the ands -- the song is made up of run-on sentences. So where does one get a chance to adequately breathe?

My solution to the "breathless" problem would be to have the song sung by two singers, both female, who would take alternate lines: Singer A would sing "I know my love by his way of walking" and Singer B would sing "And I know my love by his way of talking," etc. They would sing together on the last line of the refrain, each time it comes around.

Benjamin Hoff

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