This most interesting list of songs Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim wishes he wrote himself (at least in part), originally appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 2000 and was a fascinating sidebar to a Frank Rich piece honoring the composer on his 70th birthday. The original list was prepared for Mark Eden Horowitz, Senior Music Specialist at the Library of Congress in conjunction with a concert commemorating the composer’s milestone birthday.
I received an email from Mr. Horowitz who gave me this additional insight into the creation of the list. He said, “Over a period of a few weeks, he (Sondheim) would fax or call me with songs to add to the list.” About fifteen songs from the list were actually performed as part of the concert, which featured Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Nathan Lane, Debra Monk, and Davis Gaines. When Frank Rich learned about it he asked that I send him the complete list to use as a sidebar. During the concert Sondheim spoke briefly as to some of his reasons for the choices. That segment is published in my book Sondheim on Music.” Subsequently, Barbara Cook used the list to create a concert, CD and video called Mostly Sondheim. Many thanks to Mark for sharing the backstory of this fascinating list.
In the spirit of both encouraging the American Popular Songbook to continue to flourish and with an interest in illuminating the artistry of inarguably our greatest living musical theater composer, I decided to expand upon Mr. Sondheim’s ideas. The embedded recordings are Stargayzing additions. All of the commentary is mine, only the song choices themselves come from the venerable Mr. Sondheim. I learned many new songs I had never heard from researching this piece. Many thanks to Stargayzing readers who have taken the time to correct my errors, which to my chagrin, were far more numerous than I would have expected.
Volume one was published in Stargayzing a few weeks back; here is volume two. I was gratified recently when Frank Rich himself described this series on twitter as “Outstanding archival work for Sondheim fans in need of a fix.” Please be sure to let me know which version of these songs is your favorite (in many cases, there were so many great recordings).
Volumes one and two were published here a while back. Here is volume three.
SONGS I WISH I’D WRITTEN
(AT LEAST IN PART), Volume Three
By Stephen Sondheim
“Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” from Seven Lively Arts (1944)
This is Sammy Davis Jr.’s beautiful version from his 1966 album Sammy Davis, Jr. Sings and Laurindo Almeida Plays.
Here is Doris Day singing with the Les Brown Orchestra.
“Let’s Not Talk About Love,” from Let’s Face It (1941)
Danny Kaye starred in the hit 1941 Broadway version of the show, which featured a book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields.
[The rest of Sondheim’s picks after the jump.]
“What’s the Use of Wond’rin’,” from Carousel (1945), lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
This is Barbara Cook’s live 1987 recording:
“Why Can’t I,” from Spring Is Here (1929), lyrics by Lorenz Hart
This is Sarah Vaughan’s 1955 recording from the album In the Land of Hi-Fi.
“Charm,” from Maggie (1953)
Cabaret legend Mabel Mercer proves that she had considerable charm herself in this 1953 recording.
“What Every Woman Knows,” from Maggie (1953)
This is composer William Roy’s own 2001 recording from the album The Saturn Sessions.
“By Myself,” from Between the Devil (1937), lyrics by Howard Dietz
This is Johnny Mathis’ 1957 recording from his album Warm.
“He Had Refinement,” from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951), lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Dorothy Fields’ own recording of her collaboration with Arthur Schwartz.
“There’s No Holding Me,” from Park Avenue (1946), lyrics by Ira Gershwin
This is Hildegarde’s recording from the 1950s.
“Travel,” originally written for Cyrano, known from Starting Here, Starting Now (1977), lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr.
From the Original Cast Album of Starting Here, Starting Now
“When the Weather’s Better,” from Hallelujah, Baby! (1967), lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Cabaret mainstay Sally Mayes recorded a lovely version of this tune.
“New Words,” from History Loves Company (1989)
Brent Barrett from The Maury Yeston Songbook (2003)