Stay, little Valentine, stay

For volunteer gigs around Valentine’s day, I devote a large portion of my set lists to songs of love and romance. There are plenty to choose from among the old standards my listeners favor. I like them, too: “The Nearness of You,” “For Sentimental Reasons,” “All the Things You Are,” “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

And then, of course, there’s “My Funny Valentine,” from the 1937 musical Babes in Arms. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart teamed up to write the score, and almost every song has endured: “Where or When,” “The Lady Is a Tramp.” But that was the stage production. Oddly, almost all of the Rodgers and Hart songs—including “My Funny Valentine”—were cut from the 1939 film version of Babes in Arms, the one starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.

“My Funny Valentine” seems an obvious choice as we near February 14th. I’d always thought so anyway, but now I’m not so sure. First, I learned that “Valentine” is not a term of endearment in the song. It’s a man’s name. Then I paid attention to the lyrics, and discovered that the woman singing to Valentine actually pokes rather a lot of fun at his looks, his intelligence. It’s meant to be lighthearted and amusing, and it ends well. Still.

My listener Walt, who took singing lessons in his 90s (you can read about him here and here) and often performed for the other residents in his senior facility, included “My Funny Valentine” in one of his programs that I attended. He introduced the song this way to the men in the audience:

“Listen to the words and see if you would feel very good after your girlfriend sang this song to you.”

Here’s the seldom-heard verse:

Behold the way our fine feathered friend
his virtue doth parade.
Thou knowest not, my dim-witted friend,
the picture thou hast made.
Thy vacant brow and thy tousled hair
conceal thy good intent.
Thou noble, upright, truthful, sincere
and slightly dopey gent, you’re…

And then the well-known chorus:

My funny Valentine, sweet comic Valentine,
You make me smile with my heart.
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable,
Yet, you’re my favorite work of art.

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak,
Are you smart?

But don’t change a hair for me,
Not if you care for me,
Stay, little Valentine, stay!
Each day is Valentine’s day.

So be careful about serenading your sweetheart with “My Funny Valentine” this Valentine’s Day. Might be better to stick with an instrumental version. There’s no denying the melody is lovely, especially under the fingers of Erroll Garner:

Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

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This entry was posted in Music and emotion, Music history and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Stay, little Valentine, stay

  1. Aunt Evie says:

    Cute story about Mr. Valentine! Keep your blogs coming.

  2. Sandy says:

    I’m well aware of the verse to this song and have sung it many times. Despite the uncomplimentary words and descriptions, in my mind it literally drips with sincere LOVE for Mr. Valentine. We all know no one is perfect, and this song says that even with all his faults, he is still truly loved. That’s my interpretation, and to me it will always be a “love song” and a beautiful one at that. Great blog!

  3. Riff Noggin says:

    First heard that opening lyric in the mid-1960s, on a Barbra Streisand album, and wondered if it was legit because she was still infusing some songs with her “Funny Girl” delivery. Thanks for the beautiful Errol Garner version.

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