I’m learning to play “As Time Goes By” on the piano, music and lyrics by Herman Hupfeld, a song originally written for the 1931 Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome, but memorably revived in the classic film, Casablanca (1942).
(The song’s reputation is unlikely to be enhanced when I play it, and sing croakily along. Though you’re welcome to come over and hear it. Once I get it down. Which could take a while. So keep busy in the meantime.)
When I was studying “As Time Goes By”, what impressed me the most – and I mean really knocked me out – was, what they then called, the verse. Until maybe the 50’s, songs, especially songs included in stage shows, began with introductory verses, setting up their conceptual intention, as well as, my piano teacher informed me, serving as a transitional bridge between the show’s spoken dialogue and the full-out singing to come.
Traditionally, the verses were less musically ambitious than what followed, accentuating the lyrics over the relatively unmodulated melody. The music, in fact, is almost superfluous. You could easily recite the lyrics, or “talk/sing” them, until the meat and potatoes of the number kicks in.
Many of those old-time verses are eminently forgettable. But, for me, lyrically, “As Time Goes By’s” verse, which I recently discovered, stands out as the most impressive part of the whole song.
(I use “discovered” here in the way that Columbus discovered America. I have always felt Columbus got a bad rap in that regard. He did discover America, in the sense that I recently discovered the verse to “As Time Goes By” – we did not previously know it existed. So leave “Columbus Day” alone, will you? Okay, rant over.)
“As Time Goes By” is primarily a love song, a genre I can generally take or leave, depending on my mood. But the introductory verse is, literally, something else entirely, exploring not the condition known as love, but, rather, an intellectual idea.
In a nutshell, the verse says, “Scientifically, things are changing at a dizzying pace here in 1931. The essentials of love, however, remain eternally the same.”
Imagine, opening a paean to the immutable elements of love with some startlingly sophisticated ruminations on discombobulating nature of scientific advancement in 1931, a time when some people were just getting electricity. Though it could be that’s the point.
Still, introducing a standard love song with...
This day and age we’re living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like Third Dimension
Yet we get a trifle weary
Of Mr. Einstein’s theory
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax relieve the tension.
No matter was the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed…
You must remember this…
Is it just me, or at those words, like, postgraduate lyric writing? The achievement is even more impressive – and also somewhat perplexing – considering that none of Hupfeld’s other songs rise anywhere close to “As Time Goes By’s” lofty standard.
Nearly forgotten today – with the exception of his association with “As Time Goes By” – Hupfeld was known in his day for penning novelty tunes, such as his first hit, “When Yuba Plays The Rhumba On The Tuba” and his later, “Goopy Geer (He Plays Piano and He Plays by Ear)”.
I don’t get it. The same guy came up with “Yet we get a trifle weary of Mister Einstein’s Theory”? How did he do that?
I guess sometimes you just do what’s needed. Like I did, I suppose, when, during the same television season, I consulted on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show and Fox’s justifiably short-lived Goode Behavior, starring the recently departed Sherman Hemsley.
A single “hit” on your resume may not be not numerically impressive. But as demonstrated by the enduring presence of “As Time Goes By”, it can easily seal your immortality.
So, Hail Hupfeld! There may be many groundouts to the shortstop on your record.
But one ball is still soaring.
(And “Hat’s off!” for that verse!)