Earlier this month at my band rehearsal, we sightread through a new piece of sheet music: “It’s All in the Game.” Then we had our usual follow-up discussion after trying new pieces: Did we like it? Enough to work it up to performance level?
Maybe. To me, the waltz rhythm (3 beats per measure) gave it a schmaltzy feel. We toyed with the tempo a bit, then set the piece aside. We might come back to it another night.
But during our rehearsal discussion, a band member noticed the song’s copyright date: 1912. That intrigued me. I was sure a version of the song had been popular in my youth. A much less sappy version.
The next day I looked more closely at the copyright information. I’m not very good with Roman numerals, so I needed a minute to figure it out.
Turns out the 1912 copyright is for the melody. The lyrics came much later.
“It’s All in the Game” started as “Melody in A Major,” a wordless composition by General Charles G. Dawes, who was Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President from 1925-1929.
Carl Sigman added lyrics in 1951 and gave the song its new name. A new copyright was issued. Sigman wrote the words for many hits, including “Ebb Tide” and the big band tune “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” And another sappy one: “Where Do I Begin,” theme music for the 1979 film Love Story.
Tommy Edwards recorded “It’s All in the Game” for the first time in 1951, using a slow arrangement with lots of violins:
In 1958, Edwards rerecorded the song. This time, he ditched the ¾ waltz beat and toned down the orchestra strings, immediately updating the feel of the music. It became his biggest-selling record and his only top ten hit.
Many others covered “It’s All in the Game” over the years: Nat King Cole, Johnnie Ray, Louis Armstrong, Barry Manilow, Cass Elliott. Even Van Morrison put his unique spin on the song.
But the recording I remember from my younger years is this soulful one by Motown’s Four Tops, released in March 1970, when I was a junior in high school.
Definitely not a waltz:
Paulette Bochnig Sharkey