Tapping The Classics For Pop

Originally posted March 3, 2009

Music by Mozart was on my mind the other day, and, actually, remains there. I think the impetus was this winter’s version of The Amazing Race, which is without doubt my favorite reality television show. The second stop for the contesting duos in this season’s race around the world was Salzburg, Austria, which was Mozart’s birthplace.

That, coupled with the sighting of an oddly programmed Mozart box set of CDs at a discount store over the weekend, got to me seeing how much of Ol’ Wolfgang’s music I have in digital form. And the answer was: Not a lot, and that’s going to be remedied.

I enjoy classical music in medium to small doses. I have about sixty classical LPs, about a third of which I bought myself. The other forty or so were my father’s. My LPs – like the mp3s I currently have – are mostly of very familiar works or of works that I played in orchestra in high school. (The LPs range a little farther afield and into some odd territory: Russian liturgical music, anyone?) Beyond the core of the European classical composers, I do have an affinity for works from Eastern Europe. So the classical portion of the LP library is fairly standard with some idiosyncratic edges.

There is some Mozart in there, but the LP I was most interested in ripping – recordings of Symphony No. 40 in G Minor (K.550) and Symphony No. 41 in C Major, “Jupiter,” (K.551) – has been well used and has more surface noise than I would like. I have a CD coming from my music club with both of those works on it, but in the meantime, I have a rip of Symphony No. 40 at a slightly lower bitrate than I tend to like these days.

As I was digging around in my mp3s, however, I found two recordings based on Mozart’s music that were released as singles: The first is an excerpt from the first movement of Symphony No. 40 – with guitar added – that was a European hit in 1971 for Argentinean Waldo de los Ríos. And the other is an adaptation of the same movement with added lyrics in Italian that was – as I understand it – a substantial European hit for French singer Sylvie Vartan under the title of “Caro Mozart.”

And that made me wonder about singles adapted from classical themes that were American hits. Two came easily to mind: “A Fifth of Beethoven,” the 1976 hit (No. 1 for a week) by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band that was based on the opening movement to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and “Song of Joy,” Miguel Rios’ adaptation of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which had its own choral adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s poem, “Ode to Joy.” Rios’ single went to No. 14 in 1970.

With a little thought, I recalled two others: In early 1972, the studio and synthesizer whizzes who called themselves Apollo 100 had a No. 6 hit with “Joy,” an adaptation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” And Ferrante & Teicher’s version of the slow movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 in C Major (K. 467), as used in the film Elvira Madigan, reached No. 98 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Knowing I was forgetting some – or perhaps was unaware of them – I Googled. And I found Pop Songs Based on the Melodies of Classical Music,* which has a listing that begins with “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” a 1918 tune by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Carroll that was based on the Fantasie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor by Frédéric Chopin. That went back a bit further than I was interested in, but I went on, finding some entrants in the Top 40 era:

“Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)” written by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning and taken to No. 1 for one week in 1956 by Perry Como, was based on a theme from Emmanuel Chabrier’s España, Rhapsody for Orchestra.

Another Como single, and another No. 1 hit – also for one week – was 1958’s “Catch a Falling Star” written by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance and based on a theme from Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture.

In 1963, Allan Sherman’s “Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter From Camp)” went to No. 2 for three weeks. The single was based on Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” from the opera La Gioconda.

None of those startled me, but the next song on the website’s list was a surprise: “Annie’s Song,” which John Denver took to No. 1 for two weeks in 1974, was based on the second movement of Piotr Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

And Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic,” which went to No. 6 in 1975, quotes extensively from Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude in C minor.

A record mentioned but not discussed at Pop Songs Based on the Melodies of Classical Music was the Toy’s 1965 hit, “A Lover’s Concerto,” which spent three weeks at No. 2. The song, by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, is based on the rather famous “Minuet in G major,” with one important difference: “A Lover’s Concerto” was written in 4/4 time while the minuet was written in 3/4 time. “Minuet in G major,” taken from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, was long thought to have been written by Bach. But that’s not the case, as Wikipedia notes:

“Although often attributed to Bach himself, the ‘Minuet in G major’ is now believed to have been written by Christian Petzold. The Notebook, a gift from Bach to his second wife Anna, begins with works by Bach but also included many blank pages, onto which members of the family copied works that they liked to play; the famous minuets in G major and G minor are not in Bach’s handwriting.”

I’m sure there are other hit records drawn from classical sources that I’ve missed. If you know of any, leave a comment.

Here’s the original Mozart piece, the first movement of the Symphony No. 40:

First Movement, Molto Allegro, Symphony No. 40 in G Minor (K.550), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart [1788]

And here are the two pop songs based on that movement:

“Caro Mozart” by Sylvie Vartan, RCA Victor 1655 (Italy?) [1971]

“Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G Minor (K.550), 1st Movement” by Waldo de los Rios, United Artists 50772 [1971]

*The website no longer exists, sadly. Note added February 15, 2012.


Tags: , ,

One Response to “Tapping The Classics For Pop”

  1. Sir Douglas, Johnny, Flirtations & Waldo « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] Symphony No. 9 in E Minor “From the New World” that he did for Mozart in the single I posted Tuesday. It comes from de los Ríos’ 1970 album, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: