This is the twenty-sixth 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: Tom Lehrer quit writing protest songs because Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.
One fairly common way for a legend to begin is from people misunderstanding a joke. For instance, awhile back, I did a bit on how a joke by Alice Cooper during an interview led to a legend that he played Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver.
A similar situation has led to the legend that Tom Lehrer quit doing protest songs because Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, soon after becoming Secretary of State during the Nixon administration (Kissinger won the award for his role in the Paris Peace Talks for the Vietnam War).
Tom Lehrer graduated from Harvard University with a degree in mathematics in 1947, at the ripe old age of 18 years old.
All throughout his schooling, Lehrer would write comical songs for his friends. He even released a solo album in the early 1950s (self-published) When he served in the United States Army during the late 1950s, he continued writing songs.
Lehrer taught Political Science at MIT during the 1960s, but at the same time, he was also pursuing a career in music, touring a little, releasing a couple of albums and writing songs for the satirical TV series That Was the Week That Was.
Lehrer slowed down and essentially stopped recording music in the late 1960s (he stopped touring soon after he began, as he did not like it at all).
When Kissinger won the Nobel Prize, Lehrer joked that political satire was obsolete now that Kissinger had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Because of that joke, which was timed generally around the same time that he quit recording music, the legend has popped up that Lehrer quit because of Kissinger.
Lehrer addressed the legend head-on in an interview with the Onion in 2000:
I don’t know how that got started. I’ve said that political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize. For one thing, I quit long before that happened, so historically it doesn’t make any sense. I’ve heard that quoted back to me, but I’ve also heard it quoted that I was dead, so there you are. You can’t believe anything you read. That was just an off-hand remark somebody picked up, and now it’s been quoted and quoted, and therefore misquoted. I’ve heard that I stopped because Richard Nixon was elected, or because I got put away in an insane asylum, or whatever. It was just a remark about political satire, because it was true. Not literally, but everything is so weird in politics that it’s very hard to be funny about it, I think. Years ago, it was much easier: We had Eisenhower to kick around. That was much funnier than Nixon.
That pretty much address that, right?
Thanks to Tom Lehrer and Stephen Thompson (the Onion interviewer) for the information!
MUSIC LEGEND: The BBC forced a change to the song “The Cover of Rolling Stone” for it to be played in England.
As I mentioned in the most recent Poetry Legends Revealed, Shel Silverstein was a songwriter as well as a poet and cartoonist.
Probably his most famous song was “A Boy Named Sue,” which Johnny Cash performed to great acclaim.
His next famous song was “The Cover of Rolling Stone,” a 1973 song about the thrill of a band and/or artist appearing on the cover of the popular magazine, which was performed by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show (which, as you can see below, ended up with the band actually getting on the cover of the magazine)…
The song hit #6 on the Billboard charts.
A problem occurred, however, when the song crossed the pond and tried to become popular in England.
The British Broadcasting Company (BBC), who effectively ran pop radio in England, refused to air the song, as they felt that it was advertisement, seeing as how Rolling Stone was a commercial magazine.
So in England, the band had to re-record the song under the name “Cover of Radio Times,” which was the name of the BBC’s station guide!
It ended up doing pretty well in England under that name, although I’ve never heard that version, so I can’t say how well it holds up as a tune!
MUSIC LEGEND: An interesting confluence of events had to occur on the road to “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song (including a title change).
Alfred Hitchcock had a problem when it came to the casting of his latest film, The Man Who Knew Too Much.
He wanted the film to star Jimmy Stewart, but Stewart’s agent told Hitchcock that Stewart would only do the film if Hitchcock agreed to take another of their clientsr, Doris Day, as the female lead (presumably to help promote Day as a dramatic actress to go with her fame as a singer and comedic actress).
Not only that, but part of the MCA deal insisted that if Day were to appear in the film and sang a song, Hitchcock would to hire her songwriters, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, as well. And upon hearing that Day was possibly going to be in the film, Paramount Pictures insisted that yes, if she was going to be in the film, she would have to sing a song.
The character in the film WAS a singer, so Hitchcock was not all together displeased at this offer (while he was not at first pleased with the idea of hiring Day, he later was very complimentary of her acting skills), but first, he wanted to hear what kind of song Livingston and Evans were going to write. If they could nail the specific type of tune that he wanted, he would be okay with the whole deal. He specifically wanted them to write a song that sounded foreign and could be sung to a little boy.
Livingston and Evan were already very notable songwriters, at the time. I mean, the guys wrote “Silver Bells,” for crying out loud!
And they had already won two Academy Awards for Best Song, including “Mona Lisa,” which was a major hit for Nat King Cole in 1950.
So forcing them to practically audition was not an experience they had had for quite some time.
However, the duo were up to the task.
Interestingly enough, Livingston had already jotted down a foreign-sounding idea for a song soon before their meeting with Hitchcock.
While seeing the film, Barefoot Contessa, Livingston noted a scene where Ava Gardner’s character is taken to the ancestral home of an Italian character, who shows them the family motto (engraved on the castle wall), “che sera, sera,” which she is told means “whatever will be, will be.”
Livingston thought that that sounded great, so he jotted it down while still in the movie theater.
So when Hitchcock told them he wanted a foreign-sounding song (since Jimmy Stewart’s character in the film is a well-traveled man), they had the song name in their files and quickly whipped up “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).”
They switched from the Italian “che” to the Spanish “que” because they figured that there are more countries that speak Spanish than speak Italian.
Hitchcock loved the song, although it actually took some cajoling to get Day to agree to do the song, as she felt it was too childish, but she eventually relented.
Of course, it became her biggest hit (she would sing the song in two more films and had it as the theme song to her 1960s TV series)…
The song was featured prominently in the film, which was a big hit, commercially and critically…
One last thing had to happen, though.
The song’s original title was “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” but there was a worry that the song title would put off Academy voters (as no foreign language song had ever won the Oscar at the time – the first foreign song to win was actually four years later, and that was the ONLY foreign language song until 2004!), so the producers insisted that the song be listed in the film as “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera).”
And that’s how the song was released, and that’s the name the song won the Oscar under.
By the by, while Livingston did not know it, Che Sera, Sera was an actual phrase before being used in the Barefoot Contessa. Christopher Marlowe used it in his famous play Doctos Faustus in the late 1500s – “Che sera, sera / What will be, shall be”
The term was also used as the heraldic motto for the Dukes of Bedford.
That’s a lot of usage out of one little phrase!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: "A Boy Named Sue", "Mona Lisa", "The Cover of Rolling Stone", "Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera Sera)", Academy Awards, Alfred Hitchock, Ava Gardner, Barefoot Contessa, BBC, Best Original Song, Doris Day, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, Henry Kissinger, Jay Livingston, Jimmy Stewart, Nobel Peace Prize, Ray Evans, Rolling Stone, Shel Silverstein, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Tom Lehrer