25 October 2006

Hearts Forever Plighted

For all the controversy, real and imagined, forever embedded within D.W. Griffith's magnificent "The Birth of a Nation," there can be found one element that defies criticism and time itself --- that being a musical piece composed and compiled for the film by Joseph Carl Breil.

Titled "The Perfect Song," further defined as a "love strain," and serving as what would eventually become to be known as a theme song, it's an incredibly lovely composition that, when disconnected from the context of the film, stands up remarkably well as a melody of no particular time nor place --- but still unmistakably stirring and evocative.

How beautifully right, then... or wrong, depending upon how you look at it, that the same melody that accompanied one of the earliest motion picture blockbusters should come to be used --- some fourteen years after it's introduction in 1915, as the theme for the "Amos 'n Andy" radio show, itself a blockbuster and landmark in broadcasting history.

Initially heard as a languid organ solo that bookended the transcribed portion of the show --- and often performed live by a radio station house musician, the melody soon caught the public's fancy, many of whom surely recalled the tune's origin. But, by 1929, Griffith's film was a distant relic of another day --- and the melody would soon become inseparable from the brilliant comedic character creations of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll.

Here, to our left, is Gosden and Correll autographing copies of a slim book entitled "All About Amos 'n Andy" for delighted fans in a Chicago department store, in 1929 --- just as their radio show and their popularity were exploding across the country.

In an example of cross-promotion of the sort we usually prefer to believe is a relatively modern concept, one could, in 1930, listen to the radio show, buy at least two published books, see the performers in the RKO film "Check and Double Check," read a daily comic strip syndicated to newspapers nationwide and then, at the end of the day, dance to the show's theme song --- "A Perfect Song," now far, far removed from it's original but no less dramatic source.

Here then, is a 78rpm recording of "The Perfect Song," as performed by the Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra, with vocals, recorded on January 15th of 1930, and issued on the Velvet-Tone label.

The Perfect Song (1930)

Freeman & Gosden image courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society,Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0087461.



Eric O. Costello said...

Yes, .mp3s in a blog. Just like reaching into a box of cereal and coming up with the toy.

I've been mucking about with a good radio website. T'other day, I located a 1931 Eddie Cantor "Chase and Sanborn Hour" there.

I believe some transcribed A&A survive, but not much of the original first few seasons on NBC.

Jeff C. said...

I like the "toy in a cereal box" comparison --- Made little or no sense to discuss specific musical pieces without offering the reader a chance to hear them, after all.

Theres more cereal (and musical toys) to come!

Anonymous said...

"The Perfect Song" was not only Amos n' Andy's theme, but the theme of an icon of American Theatre Organ, organist Gaylord Carter. Gaylord first played theatre organ in the LA area in the early 1920s. He later was personal theatre organist for Harold Lloyd. Gaylord had a long career as a radio organist, playing for the A&A show in the years when they had an organ theme and was "rediscovered" in the 1960s and a sought after artist for concerts and silent films. He recorded many scores for silent films on video and finally retired, age 90, in 1995. He passed away in 2000 at the age of 95. One footnote worth repeating, when he played Toledo in 1988, I had the pleasure of hosting him at my home for a few days and we had many conversations about the good old days...what a wonderful person...

Toledo, Ohio