A Verse – Needed or Not?

I suppose I’d better make it clear from the outset that I’m talking about the verse of a song – you know, those half dozen lines that some vocalists sing before singing the main melody. I am not talking about Valentine, Birthday or Christmas Cards.

These days, I doubt if one song in a hundred has a verse, but in the golden age of the Great American Songbook, most songs came from stage shows or films, and the verse explained the situation to the audience.

When taken out of the show setting, most singers or arrangers debated whether the verse was essential or not when making a recording for an album. Most of the time it was omitted, but not always.

Hoagy Carmichael (music) and Mitchell Parish (lyrics) wrote a famous song called ‘Stardust’. I actually have more than twenty different versions in my collection – most of the artists sing the verse, for example: Rod Steward, Natalie Cole, Stacey Kent, Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day amongst others,  whereas a few don’t. Frank Sinatra goes so far as to only sing the verse, which did not endear him to Hoagy Carmichael.

But a song like ‘Fly Me To the Moon’ (originally titled: ‘In Other Words’) written by Bart Howard in 1954 the verse is hardly ever sung, although if you listen to it, it makes sense of the choruses that follow. Nat ‘King’ Cole and Tony Bennett do actually sing the verse, but Astrud Gilberto, Julie London and Diana Krall don’t.

I have spent most of my life teaching English, I also write novels, and am in the process of writing a book about different recordings of some of the Great American Songbook. To me, words are important – after all, they are 50% of the song, which is one reason I find listening to jazz instrumentists so difficult – if they play a song and I know the lyrics, I try to mentally fit them to the music – a difficult occupation.

Still, once in a long while when I hear a song with an unfamiliar verse, I pay attention and thank the singer and arranger for not allowing part of a whole to wither away and die of misuse.

You can contact me here, or at www.markpatrick.net


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