The Songs of Harry Warren
by Jason Gubbels | April 29, 2013
Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein -- even casual fans of popular music recognize these songwriter. So why did the extraordinarily prolific Harry Warren never become a household name? Warren's anonymity belies how his compositions have permeated American pop. With over 800 songs, most written for film soundtracks, his catalog is stuffed with familiar tunes, from "At Last" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo" to "Jeepers Creepers" and "I Only Have Eyes for You."
Born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna to Italian immigrants, Warren (1893-1981) grew up in Brooklyn; starting in the 1920s, he lent his compositional skills to an emerging film industry hiring craftsmen and hacks alike to score new movies. A successful collaboration with Busby Berkeley on 1933's 42nd Street was the first of 18 projects with the choreographer. Warren would eventually score 21 No. 1 hits on the radio program Your Hit Parade as well as the first Gold record in history, Glen Miller's 1942 recording of "Chattanooga Choo Choo."
Although his first big song was 1922's "Rose of the Rio Grande" (found here in a later version by Duke Ellington), many of Warren's hits came courtesy of mainstream pop crooners and big bands, from The Dorsey Brothers' iconic celebration of easy cash flow ("We're in the Money [The Golddiggers' Song]") through ditties penned for Bing Crosby vehicles ("Zing a Little Zong" is Der Bingle at his silliest; 1933's "Young and Healthy" is more serene). And pop singers continued to embrace his skills, as witness Tony Bennett's Latin-tinged rendition of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Dean Martin's floridly romantic smash "That's Amore," country crooner Marty Robbins' bluesy "September in the Rain," and Astrud Gilberto's light traipse across "I Had the Craziest Dream." Etta James transformed "At Last" into her signature song, while The Flamingos updated 1934's "I Only Have Eyes for You" into a smoky doo-wop classic. Even rock and R&B have sampled Warren's songbook.
But Warren's finest interpreters may come from the jazz world. Take a listen to Louis Armstrong's "Jeepers Creepers," Ella Fitzgerald's "Cheerful Little Earful," the slow burn of Miles Davis' "You're My Everything," Art Tatum's careful deconstruction of "There Will Never Be Another You" and Thelonious Monk's 10-minute exploration of "Lulu's Back in Town" (for comparison, dig Fats Waller's joyous 1935 version).
And there is much more. Enjoy dipping into the deep well of Harry Warren's music.