Alfred Hitchcock's Flirtation With The Top Ten

When you think of Alfred Hitchcock, you don’t necessarily think top ten records.

But it happened in 1956, when the featured song from Hitch’s remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much – Doris Day’s Que Sera, Serascored box-office-boosting radio play by climbing the charts to reach #2 in the US and #1 in the UK. The melody and lyrics were written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, whose later work included the theme for the TV series Mr. Ed.

Hitch tried to duplicate his success with his next film, The Wrong Man (1956). But audience reaction to the Edie Adams/Ernie Kovacs duet was negative, so the song was cut and shelved.

Determined to succeed, Hitchcock brought Billy Eckstine on board early in production on Vertigo (1958) to write the title tune. The scene as shot shows James Stewart taking Kim Novak to the Andar Pedo, a (fictitious) San Francisco Latin nightclub where Eckstine is performing. In the scene, Eckstine sees Stewart’s character and, with a wink as acknowledgment, says “This one goes out to my¬† good friend, Scottie Ferguson.” Eckstine then performs the title song.

…but once again, Hitchcock ultimately decided not to use the musical interlude. (Hitchcock’s most famous marketing misstep, Vertigo Painting by Numbers, above, was featured in a previous Isn’t Life Terrible post).

Next up was North By Northwest (1959). It was a classic Hitchcock scene: the bad guys chase Cary Grant into a radio studio, where he is mistaken for the Station ID announcer and hustled out on stage to wait for his cue. Cary sees the bad guys enter the studio and realizes that as long as he’s on stage, the bad guys won’t shoot him. He drags out the station ID as long as possible by singing it, then finally bolting off the stage. No real shot at the top ten for this little improvised “song,” but it shows Hitchcock was still thinking about the potential for musical interludes in his features.

Hitchcock tried for the top ten again again with Psycho (1960).

Anthony Perkins’ recording of This Is My Lucky Day (Norman’s Theme) from Psycho never got close to the top 200.

Part of the failure doubtlessly had to do with the fact that the song, originally slated to accompany the infamous “peep-hole’ scene, was cut from the soundtrack.

The theme for Hitchcock’s next feature, Tomorrow Never Knows (Love Theme from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’), was eventually recorded by The Beatles, but not released until 1966, three years after the film’s theatrical run.

However, with his next film, Marnie (1964), Hitch was positive he had another hit song on his hands.

He based his positive thoughts on Sean Connery’s testosterone-fueled performance of Pretty Irish Girl in Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). Hitch initially believed there was no reason his male lead couldn’t handle the recording chores on Marnie. But when Hitchcock learned that Connery’s singing voice in Darby had been dubbed by Brendan O’Dowda, he quickly switched gears and convinced Nat King Cole to record the ballad based on Bernard Hermann’s movie theme.

Capitol Records released Nat King Cole’s Marnie track as a single. It stiffed. Perhaps listeners couldn’t relate to a love song dedicated to the title character of Marnie, a congenital liar and compulsive thief who is blackmailed into marrying Sean Connery.

In test footage, Connery lip-synched Cole’s performance, but it didn’t click. Nat Cole went back to the studio and did his best to sing Vertigo with a Scottish accent, but this was even worse. The song was cut from the film.

Pity, too: check out these lyrics:

But your world is lonely
Marnie Oh, Marnie
So lost yet so lovely
Take my hand
And stay with me awhile
Let me try to dry
The tears beneath your smile
Only love can save you Marnie…

At this point, Hitchcock gave up on getting another hit song out of a movie, and took things into his own hands.

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What’s My Hush Hush? Ernie Kovacs on NBC, 1956

Much like Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, and other playwrights of the theater of the absurd school, Ernie realized that very few things in life made sense. Unlike them, however, he did not conceive of the absurd as terrifying. Ernie saw laughter as a means of survival, and created a television of the absurd as a video fallout shelter – Ernie would have tripped Godot when he finally did show up.

- Edie Adams

This video, edited from the first half hour of an episode from Ernie’s NBC series of 1955-56 hasn’t been widely circulated, and while it’s not “classic” Kovacs, it does show how casually Ernie approached his shows, even in prime time. It’s fun watching the his mental gears spin in the monologue, it’s reassuring to know that Al Kelly’s doubletalk transcends time and place… and it’s worth remembering that 10 minutes of Kovacs are usually better than ten minutes of nearly anything else.

Videos I’ve posted to YouTube

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Strangely Similar Music

“Wow, this song reminds me so much of some other song, only I can’t think of what that other song is while this song is playing, but if I turn off this song, I’ll forget what the other one sounds like.”

Sometimes, it’s coincidence. One song just happens to sound like another. I refer you to the words of Mr. Andy Breckman, who wants this phrase on his tombstone: These Things Happen.

Sometimes, it’s carefully plotted strategy (Gary Puckett and the Union Gap always made sure that their next hit contained roughly the same notes in roughly the same order as their previous hit).

Sometimes, it’s an honest mistake. The late George Harrison didn’t consciously elevate He’s So Fine into the realm of the sacred as My Sweet Lord. (When Paul McCartney was convinced that he had stolen the melody of Yesterday unconsciously, he hummed the tune to dozens of friends who failed to identify it, leading Paul to eventually conclude that he did, in fact, write it in his sleep).

Sometimes, egregious thievery is involved. That’s the subject of this post, although some of these amazing sound-alikes may not have resulted from conscious lifts.

The first one did, though:

The Song You Know is Venus by Shocking Blue (1970)

Why was Dutch group Shocking Blue a one-hit wonder? Maybe because they stole their hit song from The Big Three featuring Cass Elliot (before she became a Momma). Oh, and you’ll notice, in the opening notes, that Shocking Blue also “borrowed” Pete Townsend’s signature guitar riff from Pinball Wizard, released the previous year.

The song Shocking Blue wishes would disappear is Banjo Song by The Big Three (1963). (OK, The Big Three “borrowed” some lyrics from Stephen Foster, but still…)


Another song: Ernie’s Tune by the Tony DeSimone Trio. The instantly recognizable song was actually titled Oriental Blues and is credited to Jack Newton. It accompanied some of the best comedy ever to appear on TV.

What a great song it is – worthy of a George Gershwin. Very worthy.
Rialto Ripples by George Gershwin.


Last but not least, one that I’ve been thinking about for a couple of months. It is The Theme to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

When you’re pledging to your local public radio station to support Melissa Block, you might want to send a couple of bucks to the poor devil (Randy Newman)who wrote Just One Smile by Dusty Springfield. (Wait for the chorus).

And in the picture above, Dusty Springfield looks strangely similar to Paula Poundstone in a blonde wig.

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