Doris Day, who died Monday at age 96, was one of the great voices of the 20th century, though, as with her acting, the apparent ease with which she performed could hide that fact. Day began, still in her teens, as a Big Band singer before moving into movies. Pure and perfectly pitched, informal and intimate, with every consonant and vowel present and accounted for, her voice was a great instrument of communication. Day was casually modern, always real and completely present. In her songs of longing and disappointment, one feels that things will turn out well, eventually.
Here is a look at a singer's life, as lived in music.
- "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)." Day's signature song (supplanting earlier signature songs) is a faux folk waltz from the team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans ("Mona Lisa," "Tammy"). It was originally sung, to solo piano accompaniment; during a key, tense scene in Alfred Hitchcock's 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which Day starred opposite James Stewart; it won the best song Oscar. Day revisited it in Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966).
- "Sentimental Journey" was Day's first signature song, recorded in 1945 at age 23, with Les Brown and His Band of Renown (Brown wrote it with Ben Homer and Bud Green). It was Day's first No. 1 single. Day was a fan of Ella Fitzgerald, and one hears both Fitzgerald's precision and her winsomeness in this performance. Her approach is conversational and confidential.
- "It's Magic." This cascading ballad, her second signature song, comes from the 1948 film comedy Romance on the High Seas, Day's first film, in which she played a spunky, hip chick with a penchant for jazz jive. As in her singing, honest interpretation is her strong suit as an actress.
- "Put 'Em in a Box, Tie 'Em With a Ribbon, and Throw 'Em in the Deep Blue Sea." Also from Romance on the High Seas, this song, written by Jules Style and Sammy Cahn, teamed Day with the light bop of the Page Cavanaugh Trio. Its light swing and devil-may-care lyric fits her well; though Day would acquire the image of a perennial, ironically virginal housewife, she grew up, not always pleasantly, among jazz musicians from her teens (and married two), and knew how to handle herself, both on and off the mike.
- "Let's Take an Old-Fashioned Walk" (with Frank Sinatra). Day would later co-star with Frank Sinatra in the 1954 musical drama Young at Heart. Here, in a 1949 recording of an Irving Berlin song, written the same year but focusing on pleasures of the past, he is still the Sinatra who could pull off playing innocent juveniles in Gene Kelly pictures.
- "By the Light of the Silvery Moon." Day co-starred with Gordon MacRae in five features for Warner Bros., mostly period musicals that took advantage of the company's deep well of songs and added to Day's recorded corpus a lot of songs that were old-fashioned at the time but reworked for her style. She and MacRae had a lovely, flirty, parlor-romance interplay; onscreen, in the 1953 musical the song gave a name, they sing "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" side by side at the piano. The soundtrack recording, for probably contractual reason, features Day alone.
- "Secret Love," from the 1953 musical Calamity Jane, written by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, is another of the songs most identified with Day, a chart-topping single and an Oscar winner. A lilting, then soaring ballad, it floats on a bed of harp, strings and winds and comes at what, to a present-day viewer can feel like a disappointing moment: Calamity's conversion from scruffy independent wildcat to something approximating "wife material." It's not as bad as that, in the end -- she's still packing a six-shooter beneath her wedding dress.
- "Nobody's Heart." From Duet, a 1962 album recorded with the Andre Previn Trio. This album, which brought out the jazz in Day's singing, is the sort of thing one wishes she would have done more often. Here, with only Previn's piano, Red Mitchell's bass and Frank Capp's drums to accompany her, every track is a gem. But this pensive reading of a bravely melancholy Rodgers and Hart ballad stands out.
- "Night Life." The Willie Nelson ballad was a hit for Ray Price in 1963, the same year Day recorded it for her album Love Him. The lyrics are darker than is typical for Day, but she gives it a lived-in reading. Day was over 40 then, and there was a natural ripeness to her voice.
- "Daydream," written by John Sebastian for The Lovin' Spoonful, is one of the rare rock-era songs Day recorded; it comes from a cache of 1980s recordings produced by her son, Terry Melcher, some of which provided background music for her cable pet show Doris Day's Best Friends and eventually released on the 2011 odds and ends album My Heart. The ambling, happy nature of the song suits her well.
Style on 05/19/2019
Print Headline: Doris Day, a life in 10 songs to remember her by