Asked “Which comes first, the words or the music?” Sammy answered “The phone call.”
That’s how Tin Pan Alley worked. The call could even come while Sinatra was waiting in the studio for a closing song. “Many might have written these lyrics better, but none faster. If Sinatra was waiting in the studio for a ballad, I wrote a ballad.”
It seems he did a pretty good job, writing the lyrics for such standards as ‘My Kind of Town (Chicago Is), ‘Love and Marriage’, ‘Come Fly With Me’, ‘Let It Snow’, ‘The Second Time Around’, ‘I Should Care’, and four Academy Award winners: ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’, ‘All the Way’, ‘Call Me Irresponsible’, and our song of the week, ‘High Hopes’.
Sammy (1913-1993) was born Samuel Cohen on (surpise!) the lower East Side of New York. “So low that one step backwards would have landed me in the East River.” He anglicized his name from Cohen to Cahn. Go figure.
‘High Hopes’ is a charmer, from Frank Capra’s 1959 trifle “A Hole in the Head”, where Sinatra plays the widower father of child actor Eddie Hodges. Frank’s compadre Jack Kennedy took it as the theme song for the 1960 presidential campaign, with the opening lyric “Everyone is voting for Jack ’cause he’s got what all the rest lack. Everyone wants to back – Jack, Jack is on the right track.” I’m guessing that Sammy Cahn himself wrote that lyric. He prided himself on reworking lyrics of his best-known songs for rewrite-on-demand occasions such as corporate gigs (and making a pile of moolah doing so).
For all its cuteness and universality, the song has had surprisingly few cover versions (although Pink Floyd had a song by the same name, as did The Havalinas, whose song is covered by Bruce Springsteen as the title track for his 2013 album.) Oh, and here’s one you may not have heard – a Columbian string quartet playing a ragtime arrangement.
A dozen years ago, I noticed that my then ten-year old granddaughter Nogah had a pretty nice singing voice. I wanted to encourage her to try out her pipes, so I took her into a studio and recorded the song with her. I’m no Frank Sinatra, and she’s no Eddie Hodges, but we sure had a lot of fun.
I wanted to demonstrate to Nogah that it’s actually possible to cut a record without too much difficulty, that all you need to do is find an appropriate song and an accompanist and a studio. All you need is a dream and a plan. I don’t know if that lesson came across to her, and if it did what she’ll do with it when she grows up. Perhaps she’ll become a singer, perhaps a doctor or lawyer or Indian chieftess – whatever she wants. I don’t know what she’ll do with her future. But I have high hopes.
Next time you’re found, with your chin on the ground
There a lot to be learned, so look around
Just what makes that little old ant think he’ll move that rubber tree plant?
Anyone knows an ant, can’t move a rubber tree plant
But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes, he’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes
So any time your getting’ low ‘stead of letting’ go, Just remember that ant.
Oops there goes another rubber tree plant
When troubles call, and your back’s to the wall there a lot to be learned – that wall could fall.
Once there was a silly old ram thought he’d punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram, scram, he kept buttin’ that dam.
‘Cause he had high hopes, he had high hopes he had high apple pie, in the sky hopes.
So any time your feeling bad ‘stead of feeling sad, just remember that ram.
Oops, there goes a billion kilowatt dam
All problems just a toy balloon, they’ll be bursting soon
They’re just bound to go pop – oops, there goes another problem kerplop.
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