– – –
Former L.A. Weekly publisher Michael Sigman is celebrating his father Carl Sigman’s centennial by refocusing attention on the late Songwriter’s Hall of Fame inductee’s valuable song catalog.
Carl Sigman, who died in 2000, would have been 100 on Sept. 24. He wrote over 800 songs contributing the lyrics, music or both. These include such 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s standards as “It’s All In The Game,” “Ebb Tide,” “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story),” “What Now, My Love,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000” and “Arrivederci, Roma.”
Frank Sinatra recorded 16 Sigman tunes, with the legion of vocalists who also recorded Sigman classics including Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell, The Four Tops, the Righteous Brothers and Willie Nelson.
Even Miss Piggy, The Cheetah Girls and The Pussycat Dolls have covered Sigman songs.
“I think my dad would be most amazed to find that some of the songs that would not be considered the cream of the crop are being kept alive in ways no one would have imagined,” says Michael Sigman, who is now a writer and media consultant in addition to promoting his father’s catalog in conjunction with music publishing company Music Sales Corporation. “Also, his ‘Great American Songbook’ songs keep coming back in all kinds of usual and unusual ways.”
Of Carl Sigman’s lesser known songs, Sigman points to “Robin Hood,” the theme song of the ‘50s British TV series that aired in the U.S.
“It was originally a hit for Dick James,” says Sigman. “Then I started talking about the song with Stanley Weiser, who was writing the screenplay for W.—whom I went to camp with when we were 10 years old! Somehow he got the song to [director] Oliver Stone and they used it several times in the movie: Every time Bush and his gang get together to do something warlike, they play the song like a battle cry.”
Another surprise Sigman catalog usage came with the release of Pussycat Dolls’ 2005 album PCD, which included “Right Now,” a song written by Sigman and Herbie Mann.
“Mel Torme recorded it, but nothing happened,” says Sigman. “Then lo and behold, it was on the Pussycat Dolls CD that sold five million copies worldwide—and became a commercial featuring the Dolls as NBA cheerleaders!”
Bigger Sigman songs, too, are finding new life. Jug band music legend Jim Kweskin has just recorded “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think),” which Sigman wrote with Herb Magidson and is still a New Year’s Eve favorite thanks to Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians’s 1949 recording. Michael Sigman notes that another seasonal standard, “It’s A Marshmallow World,” a Peter DeRose collaboration that was a 1951 hit for Bing Crosby and a famous 1963 recording by Darlene Love on the historic A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector Christmas album, was included on the 2005 Cheetah Girls Christmas disc. And opera star Renee Fleming, who sang “Answer Me” on her 2005 album Haunted Heart, performed the 1954 Nat “King” Cole hit (co-credited to Gerhard Winkler and Fred Rauch) last year on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… TV series.
“The point is the diversity and versatility of his songs,” says Michael Sigman, noting “Answer Me”’s various classical, jazz, jug band and traditional pop versions. He adds that “It’s All In The Game,” one of his father’s most famous songs (written to a melody by Calvin Coolidge’s vice president Charles Dawes, it was a massive No. 1 hit in 1958 for Tommy Edwards), has been recorded in every possible genre.
“I think of him as the utility player on the all-star team,” Sigman concludes. “Think about the greatest songwriters, like Gershwin. You hear a Gershwin song and you know it’s a Gershwin song. But you can’t say that about a Carl Sigman song, because they’re so diverse. And he saw himself as a craftsman rather than a great artist: He mostly wrote on assignment instead of being a great artist working in the middle of the night, making music out of his dreams. He was the go-to utility guy–and that’s how he thought of himself. He thought ‘Ebb Tide’ and ‘It’s All In The Game’ were inspirational works of art, but the rest was craft.”
I am listening to the Pizzarelli/molesky radio show on January 10, 2009 on which you are being interviewed.
Then a fast google on Wikepedia to learn more about your Dad and the website on which I am replying.
I always think it important that classic American Popular Song will survive with the assistance of people such as yourself because you have such a clear and knowledgeable grasp of and commitment to the diverse catalogue of your father.
I particularly liked your account of your father’s own description of himself as a ” craftsman”, one who gets an assignment and writes to fit a predetermined situation. Alec Wilder’s landmark analysis in
” American Popular Song: The Great Innovators” Oxford University [Press -1973) has a major section deveoted to the : The Great Craftsmen, talented songwriters who might not have had the breadth of output as Kern, Berlin, Porter,Rogers, Gershwin,Arlen,Youmans, Schwartz, Lane,High Martin and Vernon Duke. He names 12:
Hoagy Carmichael,Walter Donaldson,Harry Warren,Isham Jones,Jimmy McHugh, Duke Ellington,Fred Ahlert, Richard Whiting,Ray Noble,Johnny Green. Rube Bloom and Jimmy Van Heusen.
Wilder felt that these composers best work could be equated with theatre songs which he felt were ” undoubtedly the finest examples of popular song writing.”
I should add that Wilder’s focus was on the composer rather than the lyricist but his description of what constitutes a great craftsman certainly applies to your fathers output.
It was a pleasure to listen to you and learn more about your father whose songs are well known to me since, at age 71,I know all those you mentioned as well as those described on the Wikepedia coverage.
Keep up the good work
Today, Jan 20, I heard the John/Jessica Molaskey show with Michael Sigman mostly about the songs of Carl Sigman.Let me recount one civilian’s experience of “It’s All In the Game”
In 1941 I listened to FM on my Stromberg Carlson radio. One station played nothing but transcription disks by the Associated Music Company, the company under the direction of the great Ben Selvin, that spun off Muzak (for better or worse) One of the recorded bands was that of Clyde Lucas, I believe the only Chicano among the Big Band leaders. He preceeded Johnny Richards, Esquivel, Ernie Caceres and Chico Alvarez.
One of the numbers they played was a lovely tune titled “Melody” I loved it and kept in my mind. In 1951 I was surprised to hear “Melody” set to a nice set of lyrics and called “It’s All in the Game” and sung nicely by what I considered a Nat Cole wannabe, Toomy Edwards. But I bought the record and enjoyed it. Around nine years later, “All In the Game” with Edwards came out again but with a rock arrangement. That, I did not buy and did not enjoy.
A few words about “Where Do I Begin” Rejecting the first set of lyrics Carl wrote for the melody from “Love Story” as “too suggestive” the movie company showed it’s hypocricy. What about the highly-acclaimed “One Night of Love” the title of a great song and movie? In today’s NYTimes, there is a letter from a woman explaining why the book/film/song was so popular. The objections came from people who did not like a married couple showing deep love for each other.
Joe Adams (happily married for 61 years)
I was listening to Guy Lombardo’s recording of your father’s song Enjoy Yourself. Fabulous tune.
I’m a jazz guitarist (I stink, but I try) & would love to play his tune. Can you tell me where I might purchase a chart?
I’d appreciate any help you might give me.