Sunday, April 20, 2008

I want a ditty with heat in it

Pins and Needles was a hit musical revue in 1937, performed by rank-and-file members of the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) who worked all day and then practiced the show three hours at night; it took a year of practice before the show was ready to open.

Until Oklahoma came along, Pins and Needles was Broadway's longest-running show ever. Harold Rome's song - a meta-song if ever there was one - "Sing Me a Song with Social Significance" was a favorite of audiences. Don't keep singing me silly songs; after all, now is a time which "history's making" and "nations are quaking," so why doesn't the popular song try something serious and significant? "Sing me of wars, sing me of breadlines." Editorialize "in syncopation" - sure, go ahead.

Sing me of crime and conferences martial,
Tell me of mills and of mines,
Sing me of courts that aren't impartial,
What's to be done with 'em? Tell me in rhythm.

Most of all, songs should be about "new things." This was a new Broadway song about what's wrong with the old kinds of songs. Here's another verse:

Sing me a song with social significance,
All other tunes are taboo.
I want a ditty with heat in it,
Appealing with feeling and meat in it.
Sing me a song with social significance,
Or you can sing till you're blue,
Let meaning shine from every line
Or I won't love you.

"I didn't realize," Harold Rome said, "that the big attraction was that the garment workers themselves were doing the show and singing to the audience, creating a rapport which is very rare in the theater."

All the lyrics are here.