This is the sixteenth in a series of examinations of music legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous music urban legends.
MUSIC LEGEND: Marvin Gaye tried out for the Detroit Lions.
STATUS: False (with definite pieces of truthiness mixed in)
By the age of 30 years old (in 1969), Marvin Gaye was already a veteran songwriter and performer for Motown Records.
However, in the late 60s, he was reeling from a tragic turn of fortune in his life. His singing partner on a number of hit duets (including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love”), Tammi Terrell, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1967.
By 1970, she was dead and Gaye was reeling, questioning his whole life and career. It was in the Spring of 1970 that Gaye stated that he wanted to try out for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League!!!
Now, you have to understand, Gaye was a very famous guy in Detroit at this point in time (Detroit being Motown and all), so the Coach of the Lions, Joe Schmidt, allowed Gaye to train with Lions players that Spring and Summer.
Gaye actually got himself into pretty darn good shape practicing with actual NFL players.
It was at this point in time that Gaye sat down to record one of the most famous songs of his career, “What’s Going On?,” which upon its release did so well that Motown asked Gaye to do a whole album of similar tracks, which he gladly complied with, and the full album was released late in 1970.
However, when it came time for the actual Detroit Lions tryouts, Gaye was not given the opportunity to try out. The team was far too worried about injuring a famous singer (especially one so important to the city of Detroit), so Gaye never actually got to tryout for the team.
So if you ever see that (and it’s written constantly), do remember that Gaye never actually tried out for the Lions. He definitely wanted to, though!
MUSIC LEGEND: Frank Sinatra had to conduct an odd race against time to record “Strangers in the Night.”
The mid-60s was an interesting time for Frank Sinatra. He was now in his early 50s, but he was still competing with a new batch of younger singers with styles similar to his, like Bobby Darin. Popular music is usually a young man’s game, but Sinatra still had more clout than other artists, and by the mid-60s, he also had another thing – his own record label, Reprise!
The song that would become “Strangers in the Night” made its appearance on the film soundtrack to a minor release, A Man Could Get Killed, as an instrumental track. The song was written by the German composer Bert Kaempfert. However, English lyrics were being written as the film was coming out in March, and everyone could tell that the melody was going to be a major hit.
So suddenly there became a race to see who would be the person who released “the” version of the song, and as these things usually go, whoever gets it out first is the one who gets the most attention. The guys who wrote the English lyrics, Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, were sending out demos to pretty much every major singer out there.
Sinatra was worried that Bobby Darin, or more importantly, Jack Jones (who Sinatra tended to view as more of a threat at the time), would release the song before he did.
And that’s when he found out that Jones WAS going to release the song on April 13th – only three days away!
So Sinatra quickly booked a studio (United Recording) and an orchestra, and in one night on April 11, 1966, they laid down the track for “Strangers in the Night.”
The single was released the next day, April 12th, and soon it was the biggest hit Sinatra had had in years, reaching #1 on the pop charts.
A month later, he recorded the rest of the album (songs mostly in the same style).
Jones’ version did not do as well (off of his album, The Impossible Dream)…
Neither did Bobby Darin’s version from that same year, as well (of of his album, Bobby Darin Sing the Shadows of Your Smile)…
Sinatra certainly could move fast when he had to!
MUSIC LEGEND: Stephen Sondheim’s “Marry Me A Little” was first recorded by Harry Nilsson…as a Christmas present!
For years, fans of Harry Nilsson were wondering what exactly the deal was with Harry’s version of “Marry Me A Little” from late 1969.
The song is a great little song that was not used for Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical (SIX Tonys, including Best Musical and FIVE Drama Desk awards, including Best Music and Lyrics), Company, in 1970.
Company is about a single man in his mid-30s dealing with the single life when all his friends are either married or on their way.
The song, Marry Me A Little features this man (Bobby) wondering about marriage (as you can tell by the title, he is conflicted about it)…
Here’s a verse…
Marry me a little,
Love me just enough.
Cry, but not too often,
Play, but not too rough.
Keep a tender distance
so we’ll both be free.
That’s the way it ought to be.
(HINT: He’s not really ready).
In any event, Sondheim cut the song from the show, but it was well-liked enough to be the highlight (and title track) of an Off-Broadway Musical from the early 1980s consisting only of songs Sondheim cut from his musicals…
Eventually, the 2006 revival of Company (which, again, won a bunch of Tony Awards, including Best Revival and Best Actor for the fellow who played Bobby, the great Raul Esparza) worked the song into the musical…
But in 1969, the song was still unpublished, unreleased and unrecorded – until Nilsson’s version of the song popped up on the ol’ black market. The copies of the song were not the strongest quality in the world, and Nilsson oddly enough had added a lyric, mentioning a woman “Judy” at the end of the tune (also mentioning Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year).
Years later, the full story came out (by the time it did, Nilsson was actually already dead, as I covered in the very first Music Legends Revealed) in Meryle Secrest’s brilliant biography of Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Sondheim: A life. The story is an interesting one…
There was Hal Prince’s wife, Judy, whom Sondheim has known since she was an adolescent, whose gift of the riposte is well known, and whom he considers a brilliant, if unpublished, writer, like Mary Ann Madden. Peter Stone, a friend of them both, called her “very complicated, terribly intelligent and very wry. Steve and Judy were very symbiotic for a long time; he almost could not function without her.” In fact he completed a song for her called “Marry Me a Little,” which he had written for Company. Sondheim said, “What happened was, I was playing it and I told Hal that I had started this song but thought I should not finish it” for reasons of the plot. “He said, ‘I agree with you, it’s too knowing,’ but she was listening outside the door. She came in later and said, ‘I don’t care whether it fits or not, I just think it’s fabulous.’” So when he was trying to decide on a Christmas gift for her, he thought of the song, finished it, had Harry Nilsson record it, and presented it to her.
It’s good to know that there are benefits to being married to Hal Prince!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com