Stubbing your Toe on the Moon

At one point or another, all musicians and especially songwriters have uttered the words, "I wish I had written that song". Sometimes the words are uttered because the song is just so damn good (eg. Urge for  Goin' by Joni Mitchell - one of the greatest ever written IMHO). Other times it's because the song just happens to resonate so deeply on a personal level.

The latter feeling is what I've felt ever since I first heard Frank Sinatra sing If You Stub Your Toe on the Moon. The recording was on a Sinatra Columbia Years cassette my Mom gave me many years ago. She was ol' Blue Eyes' greatest fan and my childhood memories are filled with Sinatra tunes. Unlike most, my Mom's favorite Sinatra era was the 1940's when he recorded for Columbia Records. Mom was one of the "bobby soxers" - the girls who would attend his early shows at the Paramount Theatre in New York City and scream and cry. Unlike when the Beatles had the same spell over young girls 20 years later, the screaming was AFTER he finished the song, not during. When he was singing there was no sound but his voice.

Most of the songs Sinatra is best known for were from the 50's and early 60's when he recorded for Capitol Records.  This was the golden era of Fly Me To the Moon, Witchcraft, The Best is Yet to Come, etc. I don't even mention anything he did after that like My Way and New York New York. I consider the later Sinatra years akin to the later Elvis years. I'll be kind and leave it at that.

Although I LOVE all the songs from the Capitol years (especially the ones he recorded with Count Basie's Band), there's something about the Columbia-era that moves me very deeply. His voice was just so, well..., perfect. There's a recording of him singing Once in Love with Amy with a very spare band that, to me, is the pure essence of what pop singing is about.  Much of the accompaniment in those years was very orchestral with lots of strings and such. It didn't swing alot with a few exceptions such as Stub Your Toe. That one was recorded at the tail end of the Columbia years.  The Sinatra arrangement sounds very much like what the Nat Cole Trio was doing around that time with great sucess. I don't think it was a coincidence. Pop music has always been a copycat business.

Anyway, the song was written by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. Burke is one of the great, underrated songwriters in the Great American Songbook era. He wrote Pennies from Heaven and whimsical songs like Would You Like to Swing on a Star. Stub is in the latter category. As someone who has stubbed his toe on the moon often throughout his life, it has always touched me so I decided to record it.  I felt the Sinatra version and arrangement couldn't be improved upon so I enlisted my buddies and great musicians Bob Baughman and Paul Ahlstrand to help with the chart.  I was lucky to get a great band together including Jesse Williams on bass, Dave Limina on piano, Mike Williams guitar and Billy Novick clarinet. They did a fantastic job as you can hear.

In doing some research on the song, I saw that it was recorded by Bing Crosby and sung in the movie A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In the movie, Bing sings the song to a bunch of children as kind of a friendly lecture. I always felt the song had a great message for kids; especially for today's "yoots" who too often get told how wonderful they are despite, (ahem) evidence to the contrary. Now having raised two kids into adulthood and one on the way to young adulthood, I'm all about encouragement, believe me. But you also have to try to instill the lesson that while you should "try and try again", sometimes you have to accept reality and make the best of it. That's basically the message of the song. It was written at a time when kids were expected to take more responsibility for themselves and were not as sheltered from the sometimes humdrum realities of life.

The lyrics  tell the story in a very clever and singable way so I thought it would be a good one for a video. As I write this, we're filming various scenes and should have it complete by early August and edited and ready to release sometime late August or after Labor Day.  The players are members of the band, my family and friends. The main parts are played by my grandson Tye McCatty and my daughter Nina. The DP  is Ginny Riley, a very talented graduate student at BU film school. She's going to use this video for her thesis. She's great to work with and I think you're all going to enjoy the finished product.

Stay tuned!

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