The art of the intro is, if not dead, certainly dying. I’m talking about the introductions that songwriters of old used to write for their songs, lyricists like Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Larry Hart, to name only a few. Some of them were brief, only four bars or so, but some were longer than the songs they introduced, and often quite complicated. Except for a very few songwriters today, most songs written now don’t have anything nearly as complicated or clever to say as the ones from the Great American Songbook, the songs from the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties. I must sound like an old fogy who can’t keep up with the times, can’t appreciate the music being written today by very clever people. My problem is that I hear so much of today’s popular music that’s just not very good or original or clever. And, as far as I know, none of today’s songs use intros.
Most people when the name Gershwin is mentioned automatically think of George, but it was his brother Ira who wrote all the lyrics to the Gershwin songs. Look at how he introduced one of the best known songs ever written:
Dozens of girls would storm up, / I had to lock my door. / Somehow I couldn’t warm up / To one before. / What was it that controlled me? / What kept my love-life lean? / My intuition told me / You’d come on the scene. / Lady, listen to the rhythm of my heart / And You’ll get just what I mean . . . “Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you.”
And this one:
I was a stranger in the city / Out of town were the people I knew. / I had that feeling of self pity, / What to do, what to do, what to do? / The outlook was decidedly blue /
But as I walked through the dreary streets alone, / It turned out to be / The luckiest day I’ve known . . . “A foggy day, in London town . . .”
And this one:
‘Neath the stars, at bazaars / Often I’ve had to caress men / Five or ten, dollars then, / I’d collect from all those yes men, / Don’t be sad, I must add, that they meant no more than chess-men. / Darling, can’t you see? / ‘Twas for charity? / Though these lips have made slips. / They were never really serious. / Who’d have thought, I’d be caught in a state that’s so delirious? . . . “I could cry salty tears. Where have I been all these years? Listen you, tell me do, how long has this been going on?”
Then, of course, there’s Cole Porter, who wrote both the music as well the lyrics to songs that will live forever:
My story is much too sad to be told / But practically everything leaves me totally cold. / The only exception I know is the case / When I’m out on a quiet spree / Fighting vainly the old ennui, / And I suddenly turn and see / Your fabulous face . . . “I get no kick from champagne, mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all. So tell me why should it be true, that I get a kick out of you.”
And this one:
Like the beat beat beat of the tom-tom / When the jungle shadows fall, / Like the tick tick tock of the stately clock / As it stands against the wall, / Like the drip drip drip of the raindrops / When the summer shower is through, / So a voice within me keeps repeating you, you, you . . . “Night and day, you are the one.”
Before he wrote with Oscar Hamerstein, Richard Rogers first collaborated with Larry Hart, one of the cleverest wordsmiths of his day. For example:
I don’t care if there’s powder on my nose, / I don’t care if my hairdo is in place, / I’ve lost the very meaning of repose, / I never put a mudpack on my face / For who’d have thought that I’d walk in a daze / Now I never go to shows at night / But just to matinees now. / I see the show, / And home I go . . . “Once I laughed when I heard you saying that I’d be playing solitaire, uneasy in my easy chair. It never entered my mind.”
And this one:
I won’t kiss your hand, Madam, / Crazy for you though I am, / I’ll never woo you on bended knee, / No, Madam, not me / We don’t need that flowery fuss / No sir, Madam, not for us . . . “My romance doesn’t have to have a moon in the sky.”
And this one:
When you were very young / The world was younger than you / As merry as a carousel. / The circus tent was strung / With every star in the sky / Above the ring you loved so well / Now the young world has grown old / Gone are the silver and gold . . . “Sit there and count your fingers. What can you do? Old girl, you’re through. Just sit there and count your little fingers, unhappy little girl blue.”
How about a few of the longer intros by a variety of writers. Maybe the best known of all:
And now the purple dusk of twilight time / Steal across the meadows of my heart. / High up in the sky the little stars climb / Always reminding me that we’re apart. / You wander down the lane and far away / Leaving me a song that will not die. / Love is like the stardust of yesterday, / The music of the years gone by . . . “Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely nights dreaming of a song . . .”
And a few not so well known:
“The Girl Next Door,” by Mack Gordon
The moment I saw her smile, / I knew she was just my style. / My only regret is we've never met for I dream of her all the while, / But she doesn't know I exist, / No matter how much I persist. / So it's clear to see there's no hope for me, / Though I live at fifty-one thirty-five Kensngton Avenue, / And she lives at fifty-one thirty three.
“The Very Thought of You,” by Ray Noble
I don’t need your photograph / To keep by my bed. / Your picture is always / In my head. / I don’t need your portrait, dear, / To call you to mind / For sleeping or waking, dear, / I find . . .
“September Song,” by Maxwell Anderson
When I was a young man courting the girls / I played me a waiting game. / If a maid refused me with tossing curls / I’d let the old earth take a couple of whirls / While I plied her with tears in lieu of pearls / And as time came around she came my way, / As time came around she came / When you meet with the young girls early in the spring / You court them in song and rhyme. / They answer with words and a clover ring / But if you could examine the goods they bring / They have little to offer but the songs they sing / And a plentiful waste of time of day, / And a plentiful waste of time . . . “Oh it’s a long long time, from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September.”
And perhaps the longest and most complicated intro of all, “Lush Life,” by Billy Strayhorn:
I used to visit all the very gay places, / Those come what may places, / Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life, / To get the feel of life / From jazz and cocktails. / The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces / With distant gay traces / That used to be there, you could see / Where they’d been washed away / By too many through the day / Twelve o’clock tales. / Then you came along with your siren song / To tempt me to madness! / I thought for a while that your poignant smile / Was tinged with the sadness / Of a great love for me. / Ah yes, I was wrong, / Again, / I was wrong. “Life is lonely again, and only last year everything seemed so sure.”
I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg here. There are examples all over the place of songs with introductions, a phenomenon that seems to be gone forever. You should find them and give them a listen.