Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s post features 12 of what I consider to be the best songs of all time. Now, this list is not only subjective, but incredibly fluid — changing almost daily. Yet, even as my tastes shift, these 12 always seem to remain at the top. So as of September 18, 2013, these are my twelve favorite songs ever written. And (no surprise) they’re all show tunes! They are listed here alphabetically by show.
1) “You’re The Top” from ANYTHING GOES (M & L: Cole Porter, 1934)
The ultimate Porter list song, “You’re The Top” is one of the composer’s most well known and most fun. It’s sheer lyrical perfection (especially if you get the chance to hear all of the original refrains)! Recordings of Merman for Brunswick and Gaxton (on a rare 1935 radio broadcast) exist, but my go-to recording (SURPRISINGLY) is from the ’87 revival. LuPone, often overwhelming, is actually very enjoyable here — letting loose with Howard McGillin. The revival also made sure to include my favorite lyrics from the song: “You’re the boon/You’re the dam at Boulder/You’re the moon over Mae West’s shoulder.”
2) “I Loved You Once In Silence” from CAMELOT (M: Frederick Loewe; L: Alan Jay Lerner, 1960)
Say what you want about the book, I just adore the Camelot score. Julie shines in this beautiful but melancholy tune that, although my favorite, is not the most well known from the score. Most people think of “If Ever I Would Leave You,” when they hear Camelot. That’s a fantastic song, no doubt, but this one just entrances me with its simplicity. And Andrews never sounded better! Heavenly.
This nine-mintue-long ensemble number is a real show-stopper, from Dean Jones’ raw vocals to Stritch’s unmistakeable bellowing in the background. The juxtaposition of the good old-fashioned song-and-dance routine with the gravity of the mature and thought-provoking lyrics is unforgettable. The last 1:45 of the song really gives me chills. And of course, the silence following Bobby’s soft shoe is haunting. Listen to the full thing; it’s worth it. “OKAY, NOW EV-RY-BOD-Y!”
4) “Begin The Beguine” from JUBILEE (M & L: Cole Porter, 1935)
With one of the most beguiling melodies ever created, Porter’s “Begin The Beguine” was surprisingly not a hit upon Jubilee‘s premiere in 1935. Rather, it wasn’t until 1938 with Artie Shaw’s record-shattering swing rendition that “Begin The Beguine” entered prominence. The lyrics tell of a lover who, upon the start of the beguine, is haunted by memories of a past romance. Supreme lines like: “Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember…” and an unforgettable tune that sticks in your bones make this number an alltime favorite.
5) “Send In The Clowns” from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (M & L: Stephen Sondheim, 1973)
“Send In The Clowns” is probably to Sondheim what “Night And Day” is to Porter. It’s simply a brilliant song with achingly poignant lyrics. I’ve heard that some prefer Judi Dench’s rendition from the 1995 London revival, but the simple fact — and it’s not open for debate — is that Glynis Johns’ rendition is as close to perfection as one can get. The song was written specifically for her unique voice and nobody — NOBODY — does it like she can. Zeta-Jones and others are prone to overselling this exquisite number, but it’s not about the VOICE or the DRAMA; it’s the about the honesty. Johns is genuine and it’s mind-blowing.
6) “That’s How Young I Feel” from MAME (M & L: Jerry Herman, 1966)
Mame is one of my favorite shows ever. I even prefer it to Hello, Dolly! (1964), which is probably Herman’s most well known score. There are so many excellent numbers in Mame, but this one is so fun, so catchy, so danceable! It just makes me feel all good — and YOUNG — inside. It was not in the Lucille Ball film because our favorite redhead wasn’t up to the dancing requirements. Footage of Lansbury performing this song in the original production is illuminating. This is a criminally underrated tune that should be better known.
7) “Jolly Holiday” from MARY POPPINS (M & L: Richard & Robert Sherman, 1964)
Okay, this is from a film, but since it was turned into a stage show, we can now officially call it a show tune. “Jolly Holiday,” like some of the other songs on this list, just fills me with joy. And that’s all there is to it. Perhaps I’m recalling memories of my childhood, perhaps it’s the magic of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Or perhaps it’s just an utterly charming number. Really classy — and classic.
8) “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” from PORGY AND BESS (M: George Gershwin; L: Ira Gershwin, 1935)
Porgy And Bess is George Gershwin at his most soaring, most daring, most epic. There are many brilliant melodies found throughout this score, but, for my tastes, “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” is a cut above the rest. Listening to the number, there’s something transformative that comes over me. Everything just melts away and it’s just me and the music — pure. Perhaps my favorite rendition is by Laurence Winters and Camilla Williams from the 1951 Columbia Studio Cast recording.
9) “A Cockeyed Optimist” from SOUTH PACIFIC (M: Richard Rodgers; L: Oscar Hammerstein II, 1949)
Those who know me will recall that South Pacific is one of my favorite scores and contains perhaps my favorite Overture of all time. (Though I’m a sucker for Gypsy and Mame too!) There are scads of excellent songs in this score. In fact, every single song is sublime. But again, this particular song appeals to me because of its simplicity. It’s a short number, with an engaging tune and charming lyrics that actually give a little insight into folksy Nellie, played originally by the uniquely divine Mary Martin. I could walk around singing this one for hours.
10) “McHugh Medley” from SUGAR BABIES (M: Jimmy McHugh; L: Dorothy Fields, Ted Koehler, & Jack Frost, 1979)
Near the end of Sugar Babies, a 1979 tribute to the raucous musical revues of the ’20s and ’30s, the two aging stars, Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, came out and sang a medley of Jimmy McHugh numbers. Listening to the six-minute medley is like listening to show business itself. Here we have two showbiz legends in an uproarious duet that consists of a couple of incredibly catchy tunes. What more could we want? There are a few breathtaking moments — the last 30 seconds of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” in particular, gives me chills. Theatrical magic. Listen to the full thing.
11) “All The Things You Are” from VERY WARM FOR MAY (M: Jerome Kern; L: Oscar Hammerstein II, 1939)
I adore Show Boat (1927), but of all the Kern/Hammerstein songs, nothing moves me the way that “All The Things You Are” does. I’ve heard simple renditions and full-scale renditions… and they’re all stunning. I think, though, to completely recognize the beauty of the number, one must go to the fully orchestrated rendition conducted by John McGlinn. “You are the breathless hush of evening/That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.”
12) “Over The Rainbow” from THE WIZARD OF OZ (M: Harold Arlen; L: E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, 1939)
Is there anybody in America who has not heard this song? Over the years, it’s been covered so many times by so many different artists, all trying to make it their own. But the simple fact is: they can’t. The song belongs to Judy Garland. The two are permanently linked — forever ingrained in our collective consciences as a symbol of American optimism. But more than that: the song (like the film) is the absolute embodiment of youth. It’s really a nostalgic piece that prays upon our memories — the joys and the sorrows. It might be the best song ever written, and that’s largely due to Judy Garland. She’s magical. We think of Judy, we think of Dorothy, we think of The Wizard Of Oz, we think of our childhoods. I wonder if any other song is as powerfully evocative in such a simple, earnest way.
Come back next week for a whole new Wildcard Wednesday post! And remember to tune in tomorrow for #10 on our countdown of the best Xena episodes!