Let’s Do Talk about Love By Peter Filichia
Here’s hoping that on February 14th, you and your Valentine had a better time with love than lyricists have had.
I don’t mean Alan Jay Lerner, who married eight times. (Yes, EIGHT. And this from the man who wrote “How to Handle a Woman.”)
No, lyricists have been plagued by love because so many musicals rely on it while so very few rhymes exist for the word. Go to www.rhymezone.com and type in “love.” All you’ll get are “above,” “dove,” “glove,” “of,” “shove” and “trave.”
Yeah, “trave” is a new one on me, too. My friend the dictionary provided two definitions: “crossbeam” and “a frame to confine an unruly horse or ox for shoeing.” Both fail to pass muster as romantic images, wouldn’t you say?
For that matter, the other four rhymes don’t seem inherently amorous. Yet our songwriters have had to use them for want of anything else that rhymed.
Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Easy to Love” (to use its original and restored title) follows that line with “so easy to idolize all others above.”
Did he mean people who are taller?
William Gaxton, who was to introduce the song in the original ANYTHING GOES, said he couldn’t sing it. (Howard McGillin, as the 1987 revival cast album proves, could.) However, did Gaxton really refuse the song because he found the rhyme a stretch and didn’t want to hurt or anger Porter?
Lyricists, when looking for rhymes for “above,” all too frequently brought in stars and heaven. In MR. PRESIDENT’s “Empty Pockets with a Heart Full of Love,” Irving Berlin had a young man tell the Chief Executive’s daughter that he was “as true as the stars above.” In MY FAIR LADY, Alan Jay Lerner had Eliza sing “Don’t talk of stars burning above if you’re in love.” And in SHOW BOAT, Frank and Ellie dispensed this advice: “Go to him you love and be true as stars above.”
Don’t blame Oscar Hammerstein for that one; the song was written in 1904. True, you could chide him for selecting it for SHOW BOAT, but he felt that its hearts-and-flowers sentiment was in keeping with the turn-of-the-century style.
The song also proclaimed “Farewell, my turtledove.” Lyricists have often mentioned this animal, seemingly out of desperation when they had two extra syllables to fill. Are members of the streptopelia turtur family especially romantic? In fact, ornithologists say that turtledoves mate for life and stay monogamous (which probably can’t be said of all performers who have sung this song in SHOW BOAT).
Hammerstein also cited stars in both STATE FAIR’s “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” (“The stars are bright above … I think I am falling in love.”) and “People Will Say We’re in Love” in OKLAHOMA!: “Till the stars fade from above.” He also had Laurey demand of Curly “Give me my rose and my glove.”
Just one glove? Was she anticipating that someday a Michael Jackson would need it?
As for heaven, Lerner’s title song of BRIGADOON stated “Let the heavens cry above … in thy valley, there’ll be love.” Lerner repeated the image eighteen years later in ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER’s “She Wasn’t You”: “Why did each love melt away before heaven above to turn away before?”
Perhaps because Max and Leo in THE PRODUCERS were criminally inclined, heaven didn’t occur to them. Instead in “Prisoners of Love” they sang that “blue skies above can’t keep our hearts in jail.” No, “blue skies” can’t incarcerate; metal bars are needed for that. But the lyric doesn’t need to make sense, for Bialystock and Bloom’s new show is supposed to stink.
Griffin Matthews and Matt Gould in WITNESS UGANDA, instead of looking to the heavens or referencing stars, wrote, “Will I ever find the truth in love? Will I ever get to rise above?” So with their “above,” they did better than all of the above.
As for “of,” Robert Wright and George “Chet” Forrest in KISMET said of The Caliph “He’s in Love” and urged everyone to “Sing a hymn to the her he dreams of.”
“Sing a hymn to the her” as opposed to “Sing a hymn to the GIRL”? Wright and Forrest were playing with the homonym “hymn.” Get it? “A HIM to the her.”
If you don’t approve of that one, you’ll probably reject how they described the Caliph: “He’s a dove!” What is he, a bird? No, Wright and Forrest were being metaphorical, for they saw their Caliph “sighing, doting, flying, floating” and (are you surprised to see?) “high above.”
Onto “glove”: Irving Berlin, in CALL ME MADAM’s “You’re Just in Love,” had Mrs. Sally Adams tell young Kenneth that “You’re not sick” although he could use “a rub down with a velvet glove.”
(A hand inside it would also be helpful.)
And “shove”? Bill Russell, in SIDE SHOW’s “Tunnel of Love” had the last word of his title rhyme with “We need a break from the push and the shove.”
One push? One shove? Russell really means pushes and shoves, but a fine lyricist (such as he) knows that a singular and a plural don’t rhyme.
In GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, Leo Robin did well in “I Love What I’m Doing (When I’m Doing it for Love).” Dorothy makes her case by singing “And if a guy takes me out driving and his motor car breaks down, I roll up my sleeves and help him shove.” On the other hand, Dorothy also sings “I get more thrills spending my evening in a quiet spot for two than up in a penthouse high above.”
As opposed to a penthouse down below?
Despite this, Robin was a first-rate lyricist as a listen to either the original or revival cast album of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES reveals.
The credit for the best rhyme with “love” goes to Ed Kleban, not once but twice in A CHORUS LINE’s “Hello, Twelve, Hello, Thirteen, Hello Love.” In detailing adolescents’ “changes oh, down below, up above,” he certainly didn’t rely on anything celestial. “There’s a lot I am not certain of” is true of some kids of twelve or thirteen (albeit not many; most of us at that age think we know everything).
Credit too to Betty Comden and Adolph Green in DO RE MI, a musical about the music industry, who faced the situation head on. Their romantic hero claimed “I Know about Love” and minimized the emotion by brashly stating “‘Love’s a word that rhymes with ‘above.’” Now that’s a clever way to get around a cliché.
So there’s no love lost between lyricists and love. However, Meredith Willson did find another rhyme for our very difficult word. You won’t find it in rhymezone but you will run across it in 2 Kings 25:8 and Jeremiah 52:12.
In HERE’S LOVE, Willson’s musical version of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, Kris Kringle encourages rivals to put aside their differences at least for the Christmas holidays and instead dispense good will to each other.
So Willson hooked “Here’s love” with “From the ground floor apartment to the party just above,” “From the lamb to the lion, from the eagle to the dove,” “From the car with the bumper to the car that needs a shove,” “From the girl that’s behind you to the girl you’re dreaming of” – all understandable and acceptable.
But then he wrote “From Rosh Hashanah to Easter, from Lent to Tisha B’av.” That last-named is a Jewish holiday that, like Lent in Christianity, involves sacrifice.
Carolyn Leigh (of PETER PAN, LITTLE ME and HOW NOW, DOW JONES fame) once told me “‘Tisha B’av’ was the most desperate rhyme I’ve ever heard.” Did Willson ever hear her say that? If so, in the Kris Kringle spirit – but without attempting any rhyme – from Carolyn Leigh to Meredith Willson, here’s love, love, love.
Peter Filichia is a contributor to the new magazine Encore Monthly, a columnist at www.broadwayselect.com and a commentator on www.broadwayradio.com.