Tuesday, July 03, 2007
THE PASSING OF THE LAST GREAT TIN PAN ALLEY LYRICIST
Hy Zaret, one of the last of the Tin Pan Alley lyricists, whose most indelible work was the oft-recorded 1955 hit “Unchained Melody” but whose oeuvre ranged from jingles to songs about science to ballads of love and war, died yesterday at his home in Westport, Conn. I met him once at an ASCAP membership meeting several years ago in 1999. He was 99. Hy liked to tell about the time the composer Alex North called him to say he had written a song for a movie and needed words. Hy replied that he was busy painting his house. But he found time to write the lyrics for “Unchained Melody.” The movie itself, “Unchained,” a low-budget prison film, turned out to be a lot less memorable than the song. The grand lyricist who was a habitual contrarian, refused a producer’s request to include the word “unchained” in his lyrics, though it was simply impossible to keep it out of the title. The words have again and again evoked a lover’s loneliness in recordings by more than 300 artists, including Lena Horne, Guy Lombardo, the Righteous Brothers, Elvis Presley and U2: “Oh, my love, my darling, I’ve hungered for your touch a long, lonely time. ...” Last month the Songwriters Hall of Fame honored “Unchained Melody” with its Towering Song award for having “influenced the culture in a unique way over the years.” The song’s triumphal march began when it was nominated in 1955 for an Academy Award for best original song. In 1992, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers gave it an award for being the year’s most-performed song. In 1999, Ascap said it was one of the 25 most-performed songs and musical works of the 20th century. In a list released in 2003, Ascap called it the most-performed love song of the 1950s.None of Mr. Zaret’s other songs came close to this success, but many did very well. “One Meat Ball,” a novelty song with music by Lou Singer about a poor man with only 15 cents to spend for a meatball, was a hit for the Andrews Sisters in 1945. Jimmy Dorsey took “My Sister and I,” a tale of sisters in an occupied country, written with Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney, to No. 1 in 1941. Vaughn Monroe had a No. 1 song with “There I Go,” which Hy wrote with Irving Weiser, in the early 1940s. “Dedicated to You,” written with Sammy Cahn and Sau Chaplin, is a perennial jazz favorite. Hy also wrote the English lyrics for Anna Marly’s French Resistance song “The Partisan,” which Leonard Cohen recorded.“He had some big, big hits,” said Jim Steinblatt, assistant vice president for special projects at Ascap. Indeed, “So Long, for a While,” for which he wrote the lyrics, was the closing theme song for “Your Hit Parade,” a show that for many years played the week’s top songs, on radio and later on television.