By Jim McConnell
Got birthdays? We got songs.
Ditto anniversaries, holidays and virtually any joyous occasion — along with many that aren’t particularly upbeat.
Take the songs of Irving Berlin.
“Avoid holiday songs, they’ll only be played once a year,” Berlin once cautioned his fellow songwriters. And yet, Berlin went on to compose the biggest seller in recorded music — “White Christmas.” He also did pretty well with a little ditty entitled “Easter Parade.”
Berlin, a Jew, never celebrated those holidays, but the royalties rolling in from those songs must have made every day feel like Christmas.
The all-time royalties Christmas king — based on sheer volume of titles — is the late Johnny Marks. Like Berlin, Marks was of the Jewish faith. But that didn’t stop him from celebrating Christmas, musically. Among his songs are “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Holly Jolly Christmas” and about a dozen other Christmas-themed songs heard throughout the season at a Big Box store near you.
Marks even extended himself to New Year’s, with “Happy New Year Darling,” co-written by Carmen Lombardo of the Lombardo brothers, who definitely knew a thing or two about ringing in a new year.
Birthdays have a lot of songs to sing. For starters, there is “Happy Birthday to You.” This peppy little tune has been around for more than 100 years now, and shows no signs of fading as America’s favorite natal day accompaniment. Everyone sings it, which is also ironic because it remains in copyright. Currently, that copyright is owned by Warner Music Corp. Sing it on network TV, and the odds are great that you will get the gift of legal papers from Warner Music.
The song was devised — composed is far too strong a word — by a pair of ladies from Louisville. In 1893, sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, both schoolteachers, took an existing song, “Good Morning to All” and turned it into “Happy Birthday to You.” Neither bothered to copyright their cobbled-together creation until 1912.
By 1920, both Hill sisters were deceased, but the battle over the song was just beginning. The copyright was acquired by Preston Orem in 1935. It passed through several corporate hands before landing with Warner Music, which has a legal hold on the tune until 2030.
Although it’s a latecomer to the birthday song wars — written in 1968 — the John Lennon/Paul McCartney composition of “Birthday” (“You say it’s your birthday”) is gaining ground in popularity.
Also from the Top Pop 40 charts, there’s “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby,” a hit for the Tune Weavers in 1957 and again for Ronnie Milsap in 1986, “16 Candles,” a hit for the Crests in 1959, “Happy Birthday Blues,” a hit for Kathy Young in 1961, and “Happy Birthday Sweet 16,” a hit for Neil Sedaka in 1962.
Lesser known, but still in the ASCAP catalog, are “Today Is Your Birthday” by Morey Bernstein, “Happy Birthday Polka” by Dewey Bergman, “Happy Country Birthday” by Ronnie Rogers, “Happy Birthday To Me” by Hank Locklin and even “The Unbirthday Song” by Jerry Livingston.
And then <NO1>there <NO>there is the curio entitled “The Birthday Cake Polka,” although frequently mis-cited as “Put Another Candle on My Birthday Cake.” This song, written in 1952 by John Rovick and Lynn Penny, has preserved even though its origin, “Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade” TV show on KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, has been off the air for 40 years.
For many people, their wedding day is the happiest day of their lives. For others … well that’s a story for another time.
Mendelssohn’s Wedding March (written in 1842) remains a staple of marriage ceremonies. Fortunately, a squeaky soprano singing “O Promise Me” has fallen out of favor.
A popular wedding song of more recent vintage is “I’ll Dance At Your Wedding,” by Herb Magidson and Ben Oakland and a big hit for Buddy Clark in 1947. Also gaining in popularity is “Hawaiian Wedding Song” by Al Hoffman, Charles King and Dick Manning and made popular by a best-selling recording by Andy Williams in the 1960s.
Honeymoons seem to inspire songwriters. There’s “Honeymoon Bay” by Martin Fried, “Honeymoon Blues” by Lloyd Fry Garrett or “Miami Honeymoon” by Thomas DiNardo. You can do the “Honeymoon Glide” to the tune of Arthur Collins or the “Honeymoon Mamba,” appropriately by the husband-wife team of Phil and Joyce Bennett.
After that, you may well be singing “We’re Having a Baby,” a Harold Adamson tune with lyrics by Desi Arnaz, made popular on “I Love Lucy.”
And don’t forget your anniversary.
To help you remember, hum “Happy Anniversary” a Top 40 hit for both Jane Morgan and The Four Lads in 1959, or “Anniversary Waltz” by Dave Franklin and Al Dubin, which was a hit for Connie Francis.
Or you can sing along to “The Anniversary Song” by Saul Chaplin and Al Jolson, a big hit for Jolson in 1946. Or try to do the “Anniversary Yodel” by Jimmie Rodgers.
And let us not forget our Uncle Sam. On April 15, you might not feel like singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” but perhaps you can manage a few bars of “You Can’t Put a Tax on Love” by George Adams.
Have a happy.