A ‘mind-gripping’ song, and some ‘never quite hits’
In an article Harry wrote for his community newsletter in January 2013, he described a song as having “a mind-gripping quality.” While some of his music-themed stories covered Big Band songs not familiar to many of us, this more recent tune (from my era) I’ll bet you all know.
A movie theme-song success
The 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair” starred Steve McQueen as a bored millionaire who engineers a bank robbery just for kicks and then has a whirlwind love affair with Faye Dunaway, the insurance investigator trying to nail him for the crime. The prolific French composer, Michel Legrand, was asked to write the musical score for the movie. His assignment was to try to capture in music the kind of thinking that would motivate a sophisticated, successful businessman to turn to crime for excitement. He succeeded beyond all expectations with “The Windmills Of Your Mind”. Not only did the music fit perfectly with the movie’s theme of intricate planning to commit a criminal act, but the superb lyrics, written by the husband-wife team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, captured and built upon the theme.
In 1999 Hollywood produced a remake, as it almost always does with films that are highly successful, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in the leading roles. It had the same basic plot of the bored millionaire looking for excitement; only this time, instead of robbing a bank, he steals masterpiece paintings from a museum. In the original movie, the song was performed by Noel Harrison. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year (1968). In the remake, Sting performed it.
Michel Legrand has written more than 200 musical scores for movies and television programs. Among his better known works are “I Love Paris”, “C’est Magnifique”, “The Summer Knows”, “The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg”, and others too numerous to list. This song, “The Windmills Of Your Mind”, is another of those unique blends of words and music that has a mind-gripping quality. Once it enters your consciousness, it’s hard to let go. Let these words simmer in your mind just a little while and you’ll find yourself going over them again and again and again.
Like a circle in a spiral, Like a wheel within a wheel, Never ending or beginning, On an ever spinning reel, Like a snowball down a mountain, Or a carnival balloon, Like a carousel that’s turning, Running rings around the moon, Like a clock whose hands are sweeping, Past the minutes on its face, And the world is like an apple, Whirling silently in space, Like the circles that you find, In the windmills of your mind.
Like a tunnel that you follow, To a tunnel of its own, Down a hollow to a cavern, Where the sun has never shone, Like a door that keeps revolving, In a half forgotten dream, Or the ripples from a pebble, Someone tosses in a stream, Like a clock whose hands are sweeping, Past the minutes on its face, And the world is like an apple, Whirling silently in space, Like the circles that you find, In the windmills of your mind.
Keys that jingle in your pocket, Words that jangle in your head, Why did summer go so quickly, Was it something that I said, Lovers walk along a shore, Leaving footprints in the sand, Was the sound of distant drumming, Just the fingers of your hand, Pictures hanging in a hallway, Or the fragment of a song, Half remembered names and faces, But to whom do they belong, When you knew that it was over, Were you suddenly aware, That the autumn leaves were turning, To the color of her hair? Like a circle in a spiral, Like a wheel within a wheel, Never ending or beginning, On an ever spinning reel, As the images unwind, Like the circles that you find, In the windmills of your mind.
Hammerstein’s ‘never quite hits’
More than two years earlier, in November 2011, Harry titled his community column “Songs That Never Made It To Number One But Made it To Number Two Or Three.” If you’re familiar with old musicals, you’ll recognize the Number One hits. New to me are the “never quite hits”, but I can see why he described his last example as one “that sort of grows on me.”
One of the finest lyricists of our times, who worked with many different composers and wrote Number One hits with all of them, was Oscar Hammerstein II. Just to name a few of his hits that reached the top of the charts: with Jerome Kern, “Ol’ Man River”; with Richard Rodgers, “People Will Say We’re In Love”, “Some Enchanted Evening”, and dozens more from all those musicals –“Oklahoma”, “State Fair”, “Carousel”, “South Pacific”, “The King and I”, etc. Number One hits in all of them. Not only was the music magical, but the lyrics he wrote were sheer poetry, words that touch our hearts and express our feelings.
Let me give you a couple that never quite hit the top. Most of the singers recorded them because they were so good – so singable – but then they faded away and you never hear them anymore. For a musical called “Music In The Air”, he wrote a half dozen songs. The one that hit the top of the charts was “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star”, and you still hear it occasionally today, but the one that I prefer by far is “The Song Is You”. It was one of the loveliest melodies ever written by Jerome Kern with the epitome of poetic lyrics by Hammerstein. It was reported in all the Hollywood fan magazines that Frank Sinatra’s recording alone led to many, many marriage proposals.
When he was working with composer Sigmund Romberg writing songs for operettas back in the 1920s and ’30s, one of his songs that hit the top was “Lover Come Back To Me”. Every now and then you still hear that one. But the song I prefer, that should have hit the top but did not, is “When I Grow Too Old To Dream”. Now, maybe it’s an age thing, but at my time of life this is a song that sort of grows on me. I wish we had a sound system here so I could play some of our music in the lobbies and the elevators.
I hear music when I look at you, A beautiful theme of ev’ry dream I ever knew,
Down deep in my heart, I hear it play, I feel it start, then melt away.
I hear music when I touch your hand, A beautiful melody from some enchanted land,
Down deep in my heart, I hear it say, Is this the day?
I alone, have heard this lovely strain, I alone, have heard this glad refrain,
Must it be, Forever inside of me? Why can’t I let it go? Why can’t I let you know?
Why can’t I let you know the song my heart would sing –
That beautiful rhapsody of love and youth and spring,
The music is sweet, the words are true, the song is you.
When I grow too old to dream, I’ll have you to remember,
When I grow too old to dream, Your love will live in my heart,
So kiss me, my sweet, And so let us part, And when I grow too old to dream,
That kiss will live in my heart.
Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman