Judy Garland

TrackSingle / Album
(Dear Mr. Gable) You Made Me Love YouDecca 1432
Over The RainbowDecca 2672
A Pretty Girl Milking Her CowDecca 3604
For Me And My GalDecca 18480
Could You Use Me?Decca 23303
But Not For MeDecca 23309
Have Yourself A Merry Little ChristmasDecca 23362
Yah-Ta-Ta Yah-Ta-TaDecca 23410
You'll Never Walk AloneDecca 23529
Get HappyMGM 30254
The Man That Got AwayColumbia 40270
Last Night When We Were YoungJudy
I Can't Give You Anything But LoveJudy In Love
Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie MelodyJudy At Carnegie Hall
The Battle Hymn Of The RepublicJudy Garland Show #16

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

It’s really a shame the name Judy Garland usually makes people think of an early poster child for celebrities who ruined their careers and lives because they are complete and utter trainwrecks. She was an immense talent, arguably one of the greatest of the twentieth century entertainment wise. Not just her singing mind you, but she was an amazing actress, much better than your usual singer turned actor ever hoped to be. Watch the wartime movie The Clock or her riveting performance in Judgment At Nuremberg. And in neither film did she sing a line. Very few artists of her time and genre were known as a must see concert either. Judy was.

The Garland legend has been covered in so many books over the years. There is really no point for a mini bio here. I think most know the Garland story, or at least a semblance of it. So on with the list.

Couple things right off the bat. This is a list of fifteen, not ten. I tried but I couldn’t do it, wasn’t happening. Secondly, there are some big hits not on this list. What can I say, I struggled to get it to fifteen, no way I could include all the big hits from over a 40 year recording career. Lastly there are a lot of songs she recorded multiple times. So version wise I’m sort of winging it and just choosing the initial one, this hardly means it was the best one.

So …

In early 1937 Judy Garland was a teenager who had sung in a number of shorts with her sisters, made one short with Deanna Durbin and had 5th billing in a forgettable comedy called Pigskin Parade. Then one day songwriter Roger Edens wrote additional lyrics to the 20+ year old song You Made Me Love You. MGM thought it would be a cute idea for their young starlet to sing the song to Clark Gable at a birthday party MGM threw for him in 1937. So (Dear Mr. Gable) You Made Me Love You was born. It went over so well at the party that MGM decided to include it in Broadway Melody Of 1938. Supposedly Gable learned to detest the song as Garland was essentially forced by MGM to sing it to him at every studio occasion for the next couple of years. The intro where she talks about Gable is cute, but when she launches into the song proper she just soars. It’s really mind boggling someone who isn’t even old enough to drive understood phrasing and when to let her voice dip and when to let it soar. MGM must have know they had a star on there hands after that performance.

What can I saw about Somewhere Over The Rainbow that hasn’t been said. Music by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, it became one of Garland’s signature songs. As good as the 1939 version is, especially when you consider she was still a teenager, it is the later version from the early 1960s that stuck with people. Sure at 17 she wrung every bit of emotion out of the song. But doing it live at 40, with everyone wanting to love poor tortured Judy, she would purposefully choke up right before the “Why Can’t I” line, essentially leaving the already worshiping audience bawling.

A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow is probably considered a slight song by most people. It’s interesting in that Garland starts out by singing the original Gaelic lyrics, but then the song moves into an up tempo more modern piece. Both sections of the song are handled beautifully by the still in her teens Garland.

The first duet on my list is For Me And My Gal with Gene Kelly. It was Kelly’s film debut, and he always credited Garland with helping him adjust his stage acting to screen and backing him in battles with director Busby Berkeley, who Garland never liked anyway. In many ways the film was the first adult role for the 19 year old Garland. She really excelled in duets and Kelly was a great partner for her. Mostly because while he knew he could dance her into the ground, although she was pretty good in her own right, when it came to singing he just needed to act as the support act.

Speaking of duet partners it’s a little difficult to think of young Garland without thinking of all her films with Mickey Rooney. In almost all their films she played the girl who worshiped Rooney. In 1943 they made Girl Crazy, their last real film together, and Rooney had to chase her. It’s as much visual as their vocals, but watching Garland and Rooney trading barbs via song is fantastic. I’ve never really understood Rooney’s appeal but it’s pretty clear that they play off each other well. Especially in the song Could You Use Me?.

But Not For Me was from the same film, and in many ways is her first torch song. At least as an adult. When the tempo slows down and she starts singing “They’re writing songs of love but not for me”, it’s pretty poignant. So much of her artistry at this time was, as I just said, visual. She sang with her face as well as her voice. It’s hard to separate one from the other. Crosby didn’t do it, Sinatra didn’t do it, but with Garland you could see the emotion she was trying to convey in the song play across her face. It seemed as if she just wasn’t singing a song.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas plays to Garland’s greatest strength as a singer. Taking a dark, almost harrowing song, and with the passion in her voice making it seem both sad and optimistic at the same time. Seventy years later it’s still a Christmas classic.

Probably the slightest song on my list is Yah-Ta-Ta Yah-Ta-Ta, really just a fun song more than anything else. You can almost hear Garland trying not to laugh during her parts. I also enjoyed the Bing Crosby bit, and I usually am not a fan of Bing. But in this comedic back and forth that made fun of the idea men and women speak different languages was fun. Especially because you could utterly believe Bing bored his dates to tears going on about his golf game.

You’ll Never Walk Alone, originally recorded in 1945, became another one of those songs Garland wound up using in the early 1960s to choke up audiences. It’s a song that allows her to let loose with that powerhouse voice of hers. And much like some of her other classics it’s another that lyrically is a dark song, but that voice of hers makes it both seem sad and optimistic at the same time.

During the filming of 1950’s Summer Stock Garland was in a bit of a free fall. In fact in September of that year, she and MGM mutually agreed to part ways and she was let out of her contract. Earlier that year though, two months after the filming of Summer Stock ended, Garland returned to the MGM lot to film the Get Happy sequence. She had been seeing a hypnotist who had among other things helped her lose weight, and she was ready to hit it out of the park for MGM one last time.

In one of her comebacks Garland stepped in front of the camera to film 1954’s A Star Is Born. There are a couple great songs in that movie, but my favorite is The Man That Got Away. The movie generated one of Garland’s Oscar Nominations for Acting. And while I said her films and seeing her added so much to her songs, in this film her singing added so much to her acting performance. She just nailed it.

Supposedly Last Night When We Were Young was one of Garland’s favorite songs. Composed by Arlen and Harburg, who of course wrote Over The Rainbow for her, it’s a minor classic that so many recorded over the years. Garland’s version still remains my favorite. As much for the song as the singer, it’s as a critic once said “A most remarkable song that goes far beyond the boundaries of popular music”. I like Sinatra’s version as well, but there is a bit more remorse in Garland’s version and it works for the song.

I Can’t Give You Anything But Love is just a great love song. It doesn’t have the darkness and tragic overtones she puts in many of her love songs, and perhaps because of that it stands out among those efforts. It’s one of the few love songs that were in her regular repertoire that didn’t seem tragic.

When I was researching the many songs I considered I came across an article that called Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody one of Garland’s signature tones and a guaranteed showstopper in her stage act. There is probably a half a dozen songs on this list that could be slotted into that definition. I think in some ways it worked so well in her concerts in the early 1960s as it gave her audience, that she had eating out of her hands, a respite from weeping. And it allowed her to let loose with that powerhouse voice yet again.

Garland had been a big supporter and friend of John F. Kennedy, and even campaigned for him in 1960. After his assassination Garland approached CBS and asked to use one of her shows – at the time she had an hour long television show – as a dedication show to Kennedy. The network for some odd reason refused, there is even a legend of a network executive saying nobody would remember him in six months. Another story is Jackie asked that a bunch of tributes were trotted out on television. There is some indication network execs didn’t want the show to go political. Who knows the truth at this point. But on December 13th, 1963 Garland stepped in front of her cameras and supposedly said “This is for you Jack” (which was edited out) and sang The Battle Hymn Of The Republic as tribute to Kennedy. Everyone knew who she was singing about, and it remains one of the defining moments in a career of defining moments.

Judy Garland is one of the handful of people who can arguably be called the greatest entertainer of the 20th Century. Frankly I don’t think you can even argue that point.

 

The Judy Room for discography & memorabilia

Judy Garland News & Events

Judy Garland Database

The International Judy Garland Club

Judy Garland biography (iTunes)

This is Calvin’s 26th Toppermost, but only the second in six months. He had the crazy idea that he wanted to turn his new book Modern Images Of Akron in on time. For that his editor is grateful. Calvin was able to feed his music writing addiction by including a chapter with pictures and information on The Black Keys, Devo, Runner City Rebels, Joseph Arthur, Tim “Ripper” Owens, Rachel Sweet and a bunch of musicians from Akron you’ve never heard of. And while this will probably lead to a book on The Akron Sound, that’s in the future so he turns to Toppermost so he can prattle on about music while believing the people listening/reading actually might care about what he says. He is sometimes delusional that way.

TopperPost #470

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