I could easily come up with a piano program consisting solely of popular old songs about the moon: “How High the Moon,” “Moon over Miami,” “Fly Me to the Moon.” There are dozens. “Moonglow,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” “Moon Love.” The list goes on and on. Songwriters have long used the image of the moon to conjure romance.
Some of the many vintage moon songs are of the “moon/June/croon” variety. The lyrics for these songs rely heavily on the “oo” vowel sound, one that a singer can draw out and hold at the end of a phrase. Before radio and microphones came on the scene, the “oo” rhyming scheme helped singers produce sustained tones that better reached their audience. Edward Madden applied this idea with abandon when he wrote the lyrics to “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” in 1909, working in a multitude of “oo” words: moon, spoon, tune, honeymoon, June, soon.
When Rudy Vallée started performing in the early 1920s, he sang through a megaphone to amplify his thin tenor voice. Development of radio allowed Vallée to ditch the megaphone and use his naturally soft voice to great advantage, creating the personal, intimate vocal style known as “crooning.” Bing Crosby soon followed.
By the time Johnny Mercer hit his stride as a lyricist in the 1930s, vocalists were using sensitive electronic microphones, and those long, sustained notes made possible by the moon/June/croon lyrics didn’t matter as much. Performers could now sing more conversationally. Because Mercer was a singer as well as a lyricist, he understood this shift and began writing casual, informal lyrics to match it.
Mushy moon/June/croon lyrics became clichéd and earned their share of mockery. I recently discovered a song called “Blah, Blah, Blah” by George Gershwin, from the 1931 romantic comedy Delicious. The words by his brother Ira caught my eye. Here’s a sample:
Blah, blah, blah, blah moon
Blah, blah, blah above
Blah, blah, blah, blah croon
Blah, blah, blah, blah love
It’s a canny moon/June/croon lampoon.
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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