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Blue Moon (1934)

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Origin and Chart Information
“‘Blue Moon’s’ second incarnation was as the title track for Manhattan Melodrama. Before the film’s release, however, the title was changed yet again to ‘The Bad in Every Man.’”

- JW

Rank 94
Music Richard Rodgers
Lyrics Lorenz Hart

Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” was originally written as “Prayer” for Jean Harlow in the MGM film, The Hollywood Revue of 1933. According to Richard Rodgers in his autobiography, Musical Stages: An Autobiography, Harlow’s prayer was to become a movie star, and the lyrics started out as “Oh, Lord, if you’re not busy up there, I ask for help with a prayer/ So Please don’t give me the air...” Unfortunately, because of a series of production personnel changes, the revue was scaled down to a spoof starring Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, and Jimmy Durante. There was no Harlow and no “Prayer.”

The Rodgers and Hart song’s next incarnation was as the title track for the 1934 film, Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy. Before the film’s release, however, the title was changed yet again, this time to “The Bad in Every Man,” and it was sung by Shirley Ross.

It was not long after this that music publisher Jack Robbins offered a “deal” to the songwriting team: If Hart would write a more commercial lyric, Robbins would “plug it from one end of the country to the other.” Robbins suggested the song should be one of those Tin Pan Alley love songs with the words June, moon, and spoon. Just to show he could do it, and with a large measure of cynicism, Hart wrote the lyrics to “Blue Moon.” Although he did not personally like the song, it soon became a number one hit, a million-seller in sheet music sales, and, in the end, his most popular song.

In its final form, “Blue Moon” was for Rodgers and Hart their only hit not associated with a Broadway show or a Hollywood film. While its success and popularity are both irrefutable, because of the simplicity of its construction it is not critically ranked among the top Rodgers and Hart compositions.


More on Richard Rodgers at JazzBiographies.com

More on Lorenz Hart at JazzBiographies.com

Like many other songwriters, Rodgers and Hart moved west to Hollywood as Broadway began to feel the effects of the 1929 depression. Their three-year stay proved an unpleasant experience for Rodgers as he disliked the impersonal Hollywood system and felt unproductive between movies. Hart, on the other hand, reveled in the Hollywood life enjoying the money, the free time, and the parties until dawn. The good life, however, was not without its cost. To appease producers Hart found himself writing the same types of watered-down, sentimental lyrics he had scoffed at years before, and he, too, became disgusted with the assignments.

On the pop charts, “Blue Moon” has had repeated success:

  • Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra (1935, Kenny Sargent, vocal, #1)
  • Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (1935, Helen Ward, vocal, #2)
  • Ray Noble’s Orchestra (1935, Al Bowlly, vocal, #5)
  • Mel Torme (1949, with Pete Rugolo and His Orchestra, #20)
  • Billy Eckstine (1949, with Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra, #21)
  • The Marcels (1961, #1 selling over 2.5 million copies)

More on Glen Gray at JazzBiographies.com

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

“Blue Moon” became Mel Torme’s signature song and was also the theme music for the 1930’s radio series Hollywood Hotel.

The phrase “blue moon” originated in the 1800’s. It is a cropped version of “till a blue moon” which basically means “never” or, as it also might be expressed, “until hell freezes over.” Over the past two hundred years the phrase has changed meaning several times but has come to mean two full moons in one month, a phenomenon which occurs about every 32 months.

More information on this tune...

Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers
Musical Stages: An Autobiography
Da Capo Press
Paperback: 384 pages

(The composer gives us the history of the song in his autobiography.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Billie Holiday
The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes
2005 Verve 8030
Original recording 1952
Holiday sounds unusually joyous on this wonderful and important small-group recording. This is due in no small part to the uplifting playing of the all-star band featuring Charlie Shavers on trumpet, Flip Phillips on tenor saxophone and Oscar Peterson on piano.
Art Blakey
Three Blind Mice, Vol. 1
1990 Blue Note 84451
Original recording 1962
This performance is a feature for Freddie Hubbard, who was at this point coming into his own as an influential voice on the trumpet. Hubbard’s playing is frequently breathtaking here, deftly finding the balance between extreme lyricism and impressive displays of dexterity and creativity.
Kenny Barron
Live at Bradley's
2002 Sunnyside 3002
Original recording 1997
At the time of this 1997 recording, pianist Barron and drummer Ben Riley had been playing together for over twenty years. The two played often at the now-defunct New York club Bradley’s with bassist Ray Drummond rounding out the trio, and this recording documents one of those gigs. Barron’s gift with ballad playing and his trio’s subtle interplay are on full display here.

- Noah Baerman

Mel Torme
The Velvet Fog
2000 ASV Living Era 5346
Original recording 1949
Vocalist Torme offers a classic performance here, singing with great tenderness in front of a large ensemble led by Pete Rugolo.
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown with Strings
Polygram Records 558078
Original recording, 1955
Trumpeter Brown delivers a wonderful, lyrical interpretation of the song. His sharp sound is softened somewhat by the backing string arrangement.
Betty Roche
Singin' and Swingin'
1992 Original Jazz Classics 1718
Original recording 1960
The former Duke Ellington singer gives the simple lyrics a little more weight with her husky voice and soulful delivery.
Roy Eldridge/Dizzy Gillespie
Roy and Diz
1994 Verve 314521647
Original recording 1954
This rendition is a friendly sparring session between the two trumpeters. While they trade licks on this song, there is an obvious spirit of teamwork.
Carmen McRae
Blue Moon
2000 Polygram 829
Original recording 1956
McRae swings joyfully through this performance of “Blue Moon,” which documents a little-heralded but fruitful collaboration with arranger and composer Tadd Dameron.
Mel Torme
Swingin' on the Moon
1998, Polygram #511385
Original recording, 1960
One of Torme’s best albums sees him at his most mature and limber. His rendition of “Blue Moon” is impeccably smooth and heartfelt. It is no surprise that this song became his calling card.
Don Shirley
...Plays Birdland Lullabies/Show Tunes
2001 Collectables 2790
Original Recording 1955
This two-for-one CD is another example of the genius of pianist Shirley whose amazing body of work is finally being reissued on CD. “Blue Moon” is given a truly reverential treatment.

- Ben Maycock

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