He wrote the songs. Boy, did he write the songs.
And most people can warble a line or two from several of them.
He threw everything from a telephone number to rejiggered French or Italian phrases into what he called “conversational lyrics.” And with that formula, he wrote himself an indelible legacy.
Carl Sigman, the lawyer who hated the law and
turned to writing lyrics and sometimes music for dozens of standards, died Sept. 26 at his home in Manhasset, N.Y. He was 91.
His songs are as old as 1940 and as new as a commercial for the 2000 Summer Olympics--"Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “What Now My Love,” “Arrivederci, Roma,” “Where Do I Begin,” “It’s All in the Game,” “Enjoy Yourself.”
“I was always listening, reading or looking for everyday expressions,” Sigman told Newsday in an interview a year ago. “I strive to make conversational lyrics--that’s my strength--like ‘Did anyone call?’ or ‘I’ll never forgive myself.’ ”
His first big hit was “Pennsylvania 6-5000" six decades ago--a tribute to New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania where Swing Era icons--the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw--performed regularly. The Glenn Miller Orchestra recorded the song and it became a classic, not only still recorded but used over and over by Hollywood, from the 1954 film “The Glenn Miller Story” to the 1999 “Any Given Sunday.” The hotel still answers to the phone number.
Sigman took a common adage, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think” and turned that into the popular song “Enjoy Yourself” in 1950. He also used the phrase on his telephone answering machine. Woody Allen added the song to the soundtrack of his 1996 motion picture “Everybody Says I Love You,” and viewers of the Olympics heard it again, accompanying a Mercedes-Benz commercial over the last two weeks of September.
The Brooklyn-born lyricist and composer often Americanized European melodies or sentiments. Usually, he had to start from scratch on the words, he said, because “the accents and meter are different.”
But for the 1966 hit “What Now My Love,” he simply translated the French title, creating a catchy phrase in English.
His theme for “Love Story,” the 1970 tear-jerker starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, came out of Sigman’s frustration.
“I wrote a lyric, made a demo for the movie,” he told Newsday three years ago. “Bob Evans, the producer, hated it. So I come home and sit down with Terry [his wife] and say, ‘I don’t know how to rewrite this. Where do I begin?’ And that’s how I wrote it.”
His exquisite result pops up repeatedly, not only in recordings, but also in movies, including the goofy 1989 musical comedy “Earth Girls Are Easy,” starring Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum.
Another Sigman song considered the perfect addition to many a motion picture represents perhaps the lyricist’s most unusual collaborative effort.
“One day I got a call from Warner Bros. Music, telling me that Dawes had just died and left this tune to which he thought I should write a lyric,” Sigman told Billboard in 1997.
Dawes was U.S. Vice President Charles G. Dawes, who served with President Calvin Coolidge, and the tune was a classical piece composed in 1912 called “A Melody in A Major.”
“After hearing it, I thought its two-octave range made such an assignment difficult,” Sigman said. “We took a few high notes out, and I wrote the words.”
The resulting song was called “It’s All In the Game” which became a hit recording in 1951 and again in 1958 for singer Tommy Edwards. On screen, it has resurged in “Diner” in 1982, “Losin’ It” in 1983 and “October Sky” last year.
Other Sigman songs that have sounded as welcome to movie and concert goers as the old familiar phrases on which the lyrics were based include “Ebb Tide,” which he originally wrote in 1953 to Robert Maxwell’s instrumental melody; “Bongo, Bongo, Bongo (Civilization),” from Sigman’s 1947 Broadway musical “Angel in the Wings;” and “Buona Sera,” memorable in the movies “Big Night” and last year’s “Mickey Blue Eyes.”
Television, too, loved Sigman’s work. When CBS brought “The Adventures of Robin Hood” to the small screen from 1955 to 1958, starring Richard Greene as the good bad guy of Sherwood Forest, it was Sigman who introduced him each week with, “Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen; Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men. . . . " For those too young to remember, the group Deep Purple recently featured the ballad on an album.
And in 1955, Perry Como urged the nation to take Sigman’s cozy advice, “Dream Along With Me (I’m on My Way to a Star).” The Como theme song has made the theatrical circuit in recent years in the tuneful “Forever Plaid.”
Singers like Sigman songs, recording them repeatedly and incorporating them into stage acts. In addition to Como, Sigman songs have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima, Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass, Sonny and Cher, Danny Kaye, the Andrews Sisters, Vic Damone, Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole. And now a younger generation is recording them. Cole’s daughter, Natalie, brought out Sigman’s assertive “If You Could See Me Now” on her 1997 CD “Stardust.”
Told by his mother he must become a doctor or a lawyer, Sigman, who couldn’t stand the sight of blood, duly graduated from New York University Law School, passed the bar and practiced for a year, hating every minute.
“I worked as a typist, a piano teacher,” he said, all the while “trying to find time to go to the Brill Building, where all the songwriters hung out.”
One of the songwriters he befriended was the legendary Johnny Mercer, who gave him some pragmatic advice: “A band has 15 musicians who can write tunes to one person who can write a lyric. You have a flair for it; you’ll get songs published.”
Sigman even turned his World War II Army service into a song. Sent to Europe in a glider crew, he earned a Bronze Star for heroism and wrote what became the 82nd Airborne Division’s official song, “The All American Soldier.” His pay? A $25 war bond.
He was inducted into the songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972.
The songwriter is survived by his wife, Terry, whom he met when she was working for Louis Prima and he stopped by to hear Prima recording “Bongo, Bongo”; three sons, Michael of Los Angeles, Jeffrey of Carmel, Ind., and Randy of Hartford, Conn.; and one granddaughter.
Able to spin a lyric until the end, Sigman told Newsday last year, “With the advent of rap music, I became totally out of it. . . . There’s no real outlet for my type of song anymore.”
Anybody who attends a concert, listens to a record album, turns on a radio or sees a movie might beg to differ.
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Carl Sigman, Songwriter
The songs of Carl Sigman include “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Arrivederci, Roma,” “Where Do I Begin (Theme From Love Story),” “It’s All in the Game,” “Enjoy Yourself,” “Ebb Tide,” “Buona Sera” and “What Now My Love.” The lyrics of that standard, made popular in the 1960s by Sonny & Cher, are reprinted here.
What Now My Love
What now my love
Now that you’ve left me
How can I live through another day
Watching my dreams turn into ashes
And all my hopes into bits of clay
Once I could see, once I could feel
Now I am numb
I’ve become unreal
I walk the night, without a goal
Stripped of my heart, my soul
What now my love
Now that it’s over
I feel the world closing in on me
Here come the stars
Tumbling around me
And there’s the sky where the sea should be
What now my love
Now that you’re gone
I’d be a fool to go on and on
No one would care, no one would cry
If I should live or die
What now my love
Now there is nothing
Only my last goodbye
Only my last goodbye!
English version by Carl Sigman.