Would You Rather Swing on a Star?
By Patrick F. Cannon
Most mornings I find myself humming or even singing some long forgotten song as I get up and stagger into consciousness. I have no idea why they force themselves up from deep within my memory as I awaken, but they invariably do.
A few mornings ago, I found myself singing these lyrics, not out loud, but in my head: “Would you rather swing on a star/Carry moonbeams home in a jar/And be better off than you are/Or would you rather be a mule?” The title of this song, from the movie Going My Way, is “Swinging on a Star.” It was sung by the movie’s star, Bing Crosby, one of the greatest pop singers and movie stars of the first half of the 20th Century. Indeed, the movie won the Academy Award as Best Picture of 1944; and the song – with music by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke – was awarded Best Song.
It seems strange to me that songs like that would bubble up from my memory on a regular basis; even stranger that I would remember the lyrics, although sometimes inexactly (if I have time, I check). I was six when the movie came out. My sister took us to the movies fairly regularly, so I might have seen it then; I did see it later on television.
Crosby plays an Irish-American priest sent as an assistant to an inner-city parish with a crotchety pastor, played by the Irish actor best suited for a role like that, Barry Fitzgerald; who, by the way, won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. You may remember Fitzgerald better from The Quiet Man, in which he played the matchmaker. If you’ve never seen Going My Way, you might want to look it up. The Quiet Man is always shown on or near St. Patrick’s Day.
Even stranger is another song that recently sprang from deep within my noggin: “Watching all the Girls Go By,” from the 1956 Frank Loesser Broadway musical, The Most Happy Fella (Loesser is better known for Guys and Dolls) . I never saw it; but I would have heard the recorded version of the song, which was a hit for The Four Lads that same year. It goes: “Standing on a corner watching all the girls go by/Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by/Brother, you don’t know a nicer occupation/Matter of fact, neither do I/Than standing on the corner watching all the girls/Watching all the girls/Watching all the girls go by.”
I would imagine standing on a corner watching all the girls go by might get you arrested these days. But so far I’ve gotten away with singing it in my bathroom while shaving. Just for the record, other songs that have come to my mind over time include “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” (I’m not stuck in the 1940s and 50s), and one of my all-time favorites, “What’ll I Do.” Written in 1923 by a genius, Irving Berlin, Frank Sinatra sang it better than I do. By the way, you can find his version – and samples of all the songs I’ve mentioned – on the internet.
Finally, a favorite that often comes to mind goes like this: “Oh, I’m a happy wanderer/I wander to a fro/I wonder up the Zeider Zee/To zee the buffalo/Valderi/Valdera/Valdari/Valderah..ha…ha…ha…ha…ha/Valderi/Valdera/A knapsack on my back.” I was astonished to find that these lyrics are nothing like those written by the composer, the German Florenz Freidrich Sigismund. Of course, the original song was written in German, so perhaps my translation is as good as any.
To be memorable, like a great poem, a song has to have lyrics that fit the tune and even rhyme. It’s unlikely, therefore, that I shall ever wake up singing “I ain’t got no satisfaction.” Or, for that matter, with visions of the Mona Lisa appearing before me. While the visual arts are important, they don’t touch our souls in the same way. It may seem a cliché, but music really is the universal language.
Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon
3 thoughts on “Would You Rather Swing on a Star?”
Good job Pat
Songs unexpectedly and capriciously pop into my head, prompted by something I may be doing or thinking, though the songs, unlike yours are rarely classics. Why just today (we are in California visiting Julia) it happened as we were waiting to walk to a nearby plant nursery. Julia was getting a small pull wagon out of the garage and suddenly a song came to mind. Not any song but one they used to make us sing in Brooklyn junior high school music class, apparently an old Civil War song, “Wait for the Wagon.” Here is a rendition:
I guess if I ever get as senile and demented as Joe Biden, at least I’ll have music.
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Good God! Judy Canova! Now, there’s a name from the past. Due for a revival?