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Liner Notes

No Loss for Words: Lyrics to Great Space Age Pop Instrumentals

The great instrumental standards of space age pop inspired countless arrangers to put their individual signatures on these melodies with new approaches to rhythm, style, and instrumentation. Perhaps it was the same motivation that led a few, brave lyricists to boldly put words where no words had gone before. And so, in keeping with this site's compulsive completeness, we take a moment to excavate long-forgotten lyrics to some of our favorite instrumentals.

Quiet Village
Lyrics by M. Leven
Les Baxter's exotica masterpiece has just enough of a melody to attract an idle lyricist, and sure enough, it wasn't too many years after the tune hit the streets that Mr. Leven penned this recitation, presumably sung by a native who's carrying a torch in more ways than one. It's that little repetition--"To me, return to me," "To me, only to me"--that gives these lyrics a nice little obsessive kick.
Alone, in my quiet village I pray
You will be returning one day
To me,
Return to me.
Alone, living with the memory of you
Promising you'd always be true
To me,
Only to me.
Above me, there's the moon on fire,
Telling you to love me as I desire.
And ever the flame
In my quiet village will burn
Darling 'til the day you return
To me,
Return to me.
For a bonus lyrical treat, look for Don Ho's unique medley that combines the theme from "Hawaii Five-O"--both as an instrumental and a vocal--with "Quiet Village." I doubt many viewers imagined the following lines being applied to the brass blast of "Hawaii Five-O" (only slowed down and purred by a persuasive Don):
If you're feelin' lonely,
You can come with me.
Put your arms around me,
Lay beside the sea.
We will think of something to do,
Do it 'til it's perfect for me and for you, too
You can come with me.
Book that lounge lizard for soliciting, Dano!

Peter Gunn
Lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans
To be completely accurate, the lyrics for "Peter Gunn" were written to create a new song, "Bye-Bye," heard on Mancini's score to "Gunn," the 1967 film based on the television series. But there must have been some pent-up demand for a vocal version, for Anita Kerr, Ray Martin (at the helm of the Living Brass), and Sarah Vaughn quickly covered it for their respective Mancini tribute albums. Of these, Martin's best captures the piss-off attitude of the lyrics with a bad-ass Angels-like ("My Boyfriend's Back") girl chorus:
Every night your line is busy,
All that buzzin' makes me dizzy.
Couldn't count on all my fingers
All the dates you had with swingers.
Bye, baby.
I'm gonna kiss you goodbye
And walk right through that doorway.
So long.
I'm leaving.
This is the last time we'll meet
On the street going your way.
Don't look surprised--
You know you've buttered your bread.
Now it's fair
You should stare
At the back of my head.
If you write a letter to me,
My former friend
Don't you end
With an R.S.V.P.
The Third Man Theme
The rarest, perhaps, of all instrumental lyrics, written by Walter Lord (of "A Night to Remember" fame?) not long after Anton Karas' single and its many imitations began spinning away on American turntables, but, from what I can tell, unrecorded until the inimitable Del Rubio Triplets warbled these nostalgic words in 1987:
When the zither starts to play
You remember yesterday
In its haunting strain
Vienna lives again
Free and bright and gay.
In your mind a sudden gleam
Of a half-forgotten dream
Seems to glimmer when you hear the Third Man Theme.
Once again there comes to mind
Someone that you left behind
Love that somehow didn't last
In that happy city of the past.
Does she still recall the dream
That rapture so supreme
When first you hear that haunting Third Man Theme?
Lyrics by S.K. Russell, Norman Wise, and M. Leeds
There may have been lyrics to the Aegean folk tune from which this came, but I doubt they bore any resemblance to this Rudolph Valentino vignette, dripping with an Oriental mystique rivalling Korla Pandit's:
Desert shadows creep across purple sands
Natives kneel in prayer by their caravans
They're silhouetted under an eastern star
I see my long-lost blossom of Shalimar
You, Misirlou, are the moon and the sun
Fairest one.
Old temple bells are calling across the sands
We'll find our Kismet answering love's command.
You, Misirlou, are a dream of delight
In the night.
To an oasis sprinkled by stars above
Heaven will guide us
Allah will bless our love.
Irving Mills (if he even was the author of these lyrics) appears to have attempted to repeat Russell/Wise/Leeds' musical version of "The Sheik," but while "Misirlou"'s lyrics deserve an occasional revival, those of "Caravan" could be used as a case study in bad lyric writing. The rhymes are so obvious can call them several measures ahead of the singer. And then there are indious little logical paradoxes: Are the lights bright or fading? Is the singer's love resting on his shoulder (which has got to make camel driving a real bitch) or a memory? And just what sick thing is going on, with the guy being excited and thrilled, while girl, her body undulating against him with each camel step, is sound asleep? Does she have any idea what she's inviting him to do?
And star above that shine so bright
The mystery of their fading light
That shines upon our caravan.
Upon my shoulder as we creep
Across the sands so I may keep
The memory of our caravan.
This is so exciting
You are so inviting
Resting in my arms
As I thrill to the magic charms
Of you
Beside me here beneath the blue
My dream of love is coming true
Within our desert caravan.
Harlem Nocturne
Lyrics uncredited
"Harlem Nocturne" had been around for many a year when some anonymous lyricist finally got around to applying lyrics to it for singer Ernestine Anderson's debut album on Mercury. As far as I know, hers is still the only vocal version of this atmospheric classic.
Deep music fills the night
Deep in the heart of Harlem.
And though the stars are bright,
The darkness is taunting me.
Oh, what a sad refrain,
A nocturne born in Harlem.
That melancholy strain,
Forever is haunting me.
The melody clings
Around my heart strings
It won't let me go when I'm lonely.
I hear it in dreams
And somehow it seems
It makes me weep and I can't sleep.
Night Train
Lyrics by Lewis C. Simpkins
Essentially nothing more than a riff stolen from a Duke Ellington number, "Night Train" called for nothing more than a standard set of ABABCD pattern blues lyrics, but what Lewis Simpkins came up with is a rather unusually feminist-informed tale told by a wife-beater.
Night train,
That took my baby far away.
Night train,
That took my baby far away.
Tell her
I love her more and more each day.
My mother said I'd lose her
If I ever did abuse her,
Shoulda listened.
My mother said I'd lose her
If I ever did abuse her,
Shoulda listened.
Now I have learned my lesson
My baby was a blesssin',
Shoulda listened.
When sung with hale gusto by the Ames Brothers on their album The Blend and the Beat (arranged by Sid Ramin, these lyrics come out particularly bizarre.
This page couldn't have been possible without the contributions of Michael David Toth, who collected these and other lyricized instrumentals on public radio station WAPS in Akron, Ohio, in 1997.

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