The way most songs in the American Songbook are constructed is like this: A verse prepares the listener for what’s to come by being the story line of the song. The verses set the mood and the emotional environment for the song and create the anticipation or the tension of the song. The multiple verses say, “I am going to tell you a brief story in the refrain but there are a couple of things you should know first and I am going to tell you these things in the verses.”
The refrain then follows and it brings the song to a satisfactory conclusion or resolution, proving the wait has been justified and worth it. The refrain is the hummable part of the song; it’s the part of the song that I sing in the shower.
Here’s an example, sung by the remarkable, and one of my favorites, Jack Jones, live with the 1940 Rogers and Hart evergreen “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from Pal Joey:
(“Bewitched” performed by Jack Jone))
Now, I don’t want to stretch a point here. But music works the way it does because it mirrors a larger truth about the way things really are. Each of us has a built-in desire for resolution, for things to be set right. And delay before fulfillment is part of God’s way of acting.
Think of what Paul says in Romans 5 (6), “For while we were still hopeless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” That’s us that Paul is referring to. The wonder of Jesus Christ is that at the perfect time He died for us when we were lost sinners and in a state of hostility to His Father. Love can go no further than that.
God waits until the time is right, but He is constantly working toward the conclusion, the refrain. And we Christians are to wait for God, as we live out the verses of our lives.
Back to the American Songbook now. In 1932, San Diego Sun investigative reporter, Max Miller published his best-selling book I Cover the Waterfront detailing his waterfront reporting in the l920s. In l933 Miller’s book was made into a movie with the same name, and a new song, creatively called “I Cover the Waterfront,” was quickly composed for the film.
This sad song of forlorn affection was written by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman. The singer is standing on the dock, gazing out to sea and hoping for a lost love to return. You may remember this song as background to Tom Hanks dancing on a raft in the 1990 film Joe and the Volcano or background music to the 1969 dance marathon movie They Shoot Horses Don’t They?
I like the Bill Kenny and The Ink Spots’ 1946 version of the song because it has more pathos. And besides Hanks danced to this version in the moonlight. Here are The Ink Spots singing “I Cover the Waterfront.”
(“I Cover the Waterfront” performed by The Ink Spots)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mukdBRNOrpY
Incidentally, Johnny Green was a 5-time academy award winning composer who became a Christian in middle age. He and his wife attended Bel-Air Presbyterian Church in Beverly Hills. Green, talking about his conversion to Christianity, wrote of divine intervention: “That’s got to be somebody trying to tell me something. And I happen to know who that Somebody is!” In l978, at the end of his productive life, he wrote a symphony entitled “Mine Eyes Have Seen.” You can read more about what Mr. Green’s eyes saw in John 14.
This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”