1001 Songs Challenge #43: How High the Moon (1951)
On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
Les Paul and Mary Ford – How High The Moon (1951)
How High the Moon
” How High the Moon” is a jazz standard with lyrics by Nancy Hamilton and music by Morgan Lewis. It was first featured in the 1940 Broadway revue Two for the Show , where it was sung by Alfred Drake and Frances Comstock.
We remain in the US for today’s song which began life as a jazz number written by Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis. Multiple versions were recorded but the one that belongs on this list comes from Les Paul and Mary Ford. Les Paul was a talented performer, experimenter and guitar maker with one such guitar – Gibson Les Paul – named after him. While working with his wife, Mary Ford, Les Paul was also experimenting with sound on sound recording and together they covered How High The Moon.
The song has the narrator sing of longing for love and uses imagery to describe the sheer distance of celestial objects when this love is not near. The moon is high, music is discernible but distant and, most striking, heaven is far away and also where the narrator’s love is. Presumably, this loved one has passed away and the narrator longs to see them again, the surrounding world offering no solace in the depths of their grief.
This version from Les Paul and Mary Ford was a big hit. Ford’s vocals convey the sadness implicit in the lyrics but the highlight is without question the phenomenal guitar playing of Les Paul. I found a video on YouTube with live footage of the once married couple performing the song and Paul’s skills with the guitar are out of this world and it wouldn’t surprise me if he influenced later guitar geniuses such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Dave Gilmour, Keith Richards and Eddie Van Halen.
Favourite song so far: