05/7/2015 10:31 am  #1

Sweet Leilani

Pondering on the thread started by new member Paul Fisher, with his interesting attempt to improve on Sweet Leilani. I recall Benny Green  the jazz saxophonist, writer and radio presenter, devoting almost the whole of one of his radio programmes to a dissertation on why "Sweet Leilani" did not deserve the Academy Award for the Best Original Song in 1937.

He took it apart from the point of view of the lyrics, the music, the arrangement, the accompaniment and every other aspect he could think of and (if I remember correctly) decided that the only possible motive of the panel was one of sympathy for Bing (of whom he was something of a fan) in having to tackle it. He compared it with the other nominees which were - 

"Whispers in the Dark" – Music Friedrich Hollaender  - Lyrics: Leo Robin, 
"Remember Me" –  Music: Harry Warren  - Lyrics: Al Dubin
"They Can't Take That Away from Me" - Music: George Gershwin - Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
"That Old Feeling" –  Music: Sammy Fain  - Lyrics: Lew Brown 

and concluded that each was more deserving. He then spread his net wider to cover a number of other songs, many from the pens of that select group of musicians and lyricists who have come to be identified as the cream of "the golden age" - Porter, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Berlin, et al, each of whom, he felt had produced one or more songs more deserving than "Sweet Leilani". 1937 was certainly a very productive year - just look at the listing in Wikipedia 

And, much as I agree with David Lobosco and Paul Fisher about possible improvement from cutting out or otherwise changing the introduction, at the end of it all I still do not see a song that compares favourably with many others of the period. I wonder if it would have become so popular if it had not had the award? And I suspect it would have been totally forgotten had it not been recorded by Bing.

And I now prepare my defences aganst the firestorm.




05/7/2015 4:07 pm  #2

Re: Sweet Leilani

I seem to recall that Bing insisted that the song be included in the movie and Paramount gave in to him eventually as the other songs were written by someone else. Such was the power of Bing just a few years into his Paramount years.


05/7/2015 4:44 pm  #3

Re: Sweet Leilani

The attraction of "Sweet Leilani" is Bing's splendid entrance after the high pitched Hawaiian singer. I love that moment when he comes in.


05/7/2015 5:41 pm  #4

Re: Sweet Leilani

Malcolm Macfarlane wrote:

The attraction of "Sweet Leilani" is Bing's splendid entrance after the high pitched Hawaiian singer. I love that moment when he comes in.

Malcolm, I'm delighted that you can find something to like about it! I'll listen to that bit again. But possibly it is the welcome relief after that high pitched strangulated introduction! Slight jocularity aside I wholly agree that Bing did very well with it - great voice and intonation, but as a song I do think it comes badly out of comparisons with many of the other quality songs of the time. It wins, in my book at least, in comparison with much modern material though!!. (That is me being provocative by the way!)

Ron, you are correct - Bing did apparently insist on it's inclusion. But Fred Reynolds says that the proceeds were donated into  a fund for Leilani herself - the daughter of the writer, Harry Owens.


     Thread Starter

05/7/2015 7:55 pm  #5

Re: Sweet Leilani

Nothing particularly profound to add, I'm afraid, but I do remember an occasion many years ago when a friend of mine named her first daughter Leilani.

I asked her if she'd chosen the name because of Bing's song, but she was completely unaware of the song's existence!

Having told her of my life-long passion for Bing's voice, she asked if I would play her the song. I didn't think anything of it as I put the disc in the player, but as the first voice came out of the speakers, she looked across at me as if to say, "You've had a life-long passion for THAT voice..?!

Having listened to the record to the end, however, she said that she heard what all the fuss was about..!

(By the way - sorry, Richard, but I'm with Malcolm on this one!)


05/7/2015 8:23 pm  #6

Re: Sweet Leilani

jeremyrose wrote:

(By the way - sorry, Richard, but I'm with Malcolm on this one!)

Well at least we have had a discussion running! I'll be more provocative in future    - - -  now about White Christmas  - - - - 

     Thread Starter

05/7/2015 8:45 pm  #7

Re: Sweet Leilani

OK - let's try and keep it going, albeit by taking a slightly sideways move...

The two Bing recordings I have always had a slight problem with come just before "Sweet Leilani" chronologically - the two sides he made with Dixie. "The Way You Look Tonight" and "A Fine Romance". I find the way the arrangement has to change key after virtually every phrase to accommodate Bing and Dixie's widely differing vocal registers really off-putting.

I can't help thinking that it's no co-incidence that these were the only sides they made together.

I haven't got access to my Fred Reynolds books at the moment, but I'd be interested to read his comments. Also, any evidence that Jack Kapp - or even Bing - had a view..?


05/7/2015 10:27 pm  #8

Re: Sweet Leilani

Jeremy, someone with a sensitive musician's ear had to come up with that critique.

Fred doesn't delve too far into interpretaive comment - he gives a factual description of the songs, pointing out that Bing "sings in a key best able to accomodate Dixie Lee's range". He comments that in the main they alternate lines, and in "The Way You Look Tonight" only sing one line together, with special comment on Dixie's wooden-ness in "A Fine Romance", apart from the single line " - - but you're as cold  - - - potatoes "- 

I agree with you - the voices are not a good match. Dixie Lee had recorded previously but I have not consciously heard anything else by her. On this evidence she was not a singer and Bing was "carrying" her. "The Way You Look Tonight" was an Academy Award winner in 1936, but as presented by Fred and Ginger in "Swing Time".
Gary Giddins mentions that others had hits with the songs and adds " - - -Bing and Dixie did not".

He also says that the " - renditions have a unique unforgettable pathos that sets them apart" and comments on the disparate ranges.

I do not know of any published views of Bing or of Jack Kapp, but we do know that Dixie Lee was reluctant from the outset. Bing pressed her to participate. After the event they presumably both reached the view that she had held from the outset.


     Thread Starter

06/7/2015 6:44 am  #9

Re: Sweet Leilani

Thanks for that, Richard - particularly the bit about my "sensitive musician's ear"..!

I just found this on YouTube:-

Last edited by Admin (06/7/2015 10:19 am)


07/7/2015 12:39 pm  #10

Re: Sweet Leilani

I love Sweet Leilani and the 2 Bing and Dixie sides. When Bing sings Sweet Leilani in Waikiki Wedding it is one of my favorite moments in the film. Bing liked the song and it showed in his performance. As far as the Bing and Dixie recordings, I'm not one to disect songs, if the song and singers move me in some way -I like it. And Ilike the 2 Bing and Dixie sides. If I told you which Bing songs I don't like many of you would be shocked. I hate the Whiffenpoof Song and Stardust.

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07/7/2015 12:59 pm  #11

Re: Sweet Leilani

Carmela, which version of 'Stardust' don't you like? The 1931 or the after one.
Another song that I believe that Bing insisted on singing in a movie is 'Swanee River' in 'Mississippi'. I really like 'Down By The River' in this movie and apparently the song writers for the movie didn't like that 'Swanee River' was included. Don't have info of those blokes at my finger tips but I don't think recorded any of their other songs for many years after that.


07/7/2015 5:39 pm  #12

Re: Sweet Leilani

Quite right about "Swanee River", Ron... "Those blokes" were Rodgers and Hart, and Bing's insistence on including "Swanee River" did apparently cause ill-feeling which lasted for some years.

Hope you and Anita are well, and I hope I can look forward to seeing you both in Leeds later this year...


08/7/2015 2:39 pm  #13

Re: Sweet Leilani

It is amazing just what power Bing had so early in his career at Paramount after only joining them in 1932. 'Mississippi' 1935 and 'Waikiki Wedding' 1937. Just 3 years in. Don't think any other 'big' stars - Gable, Tracy, Cooper, Wayne, Hope, Joan Crawford etc etc etc had the same pull.
Jeremy, we have our room booked already at Weetwood - did it last October. Hope to get to Bucharest and Poland (Anita's ancestry) prior to Leeds.


09/7/2015 11:58 am  #14

Re: Sweet Leilani

Ron, I'm not crazy about any version of Stardust. I always felt the song[melody] didn't flow right. Anyway back to Sweet Leilani. The way Bing sings it in the movie gives me goose bumps. I guess only the ladies know what I am talking about. I feel like one of the hens in Swooner Crooner.

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10/7/2015 8:39 am  #15

Re: Sweet Leilani

48blonde wrote:

Ron, I'm not crazy about any version of Stardust. I always felt the song[melody] didn't flow right. .

It has an unusual structure - but may be that is one of it's attractions. Certainly many musicians have done interesting things with it, and it plays an important part in Bing's own story. Consider the entry in "Wiki" which says in part

" - a slower version had been recorded in October 1928, but the real transformation came on May 16, 1930, when bandleader Isham Jones recorded it as a sentimental ballad. "Stardust" represents the rare case of a song in AABA form lacking a refrain. The title appears seemingly incidentally, not as a memorable hook. In the final A-section, the usual place of the refrain is filled by the word 'refrain' ("...the memory of love's refrain")- - - -- . - - -  Jones's recording became the first of many hit versions of the tune. Young baritone sensation Bing Crosby released a version in 1931, and by the following year, over two dozen bands had recorded "Stardust." It was then covered by almost every prominent band of that era. Versions have been recorded by Artie Shaw, Billy Butterfield, Louis Armstrong,, Dave Brubeck, Tommy Dorsey, Tex Beneke with The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Jan Garber, Fumio Nanri, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole (considered by many to be the best), Mel Tormé (which is considered to be second best), 

Personally I like many of the versions though I think I dispute the ordering in terms of "the best" by the Wiki writers. Our man has to be the best!

And of course Frank Sinatra managed to make a nearly new song out of just the first verse. 

In the above quote I have removed all the references to recording dates and catalogue numbers.

And also returning to "Sweet Leilani", it seems there is some agreement about the introduction, but what reaction to Paul Fisher's attempt to improve it - his "mashup"?


     Thread Starter

11/7/2015 1:56 pm  #16

Re: Sweet Leilani

I can understand people not liking the intro to the song but it did make it more Hawain sounding. Anyway, a few months ago I purchased many Fred Astaire movies and I remember a comment about Sweet Leilani. I was listening to one of the Commentaries and someone mentioned that a Fred Astaire song from that year should have won the Oscar not Sweet Leilani. They thought Sweet Leilani was a horrible song.

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