Jan. 28, 2002
-- Though it's an uplifting and optimistic song, "New York, New York" was born in anger.
As composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb tell NPR's Jeff Lunden, the Broadway song-writing duo were called in by Martin Scorcese to create songs for the director's 1977 film, which shares the song's title.
Among the five songs Kander and Ebb had originally written for the film was the title tune. They played their songs for Scorcese and the film's stars, Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli.
The songs seemed to go over well. But then, Ebb recalls, DeNiro decided that the theme song "had to be stronger... and would we mind trying again?"
Kander picks up the story: "We walked out of there, highly insulted that some actor was going to tell us how to write a song."
But, Ebb says, DeNiro "turned out to be right."
Kander continues, "I think we wrote it in very short time and great anger."
Lunden reports about the song's origins for Morning Edition
as part of Present at the Creation
, a year-long series about the roots of American cultural icons.
Though the film turned out to be a critical and financial flop, Minnelli kept the song alive in her concerts. But it really took off after Frank Sinatra recorded his version -- with slightly different lyrics -- in 1980.
I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps
And find I'm A-number-one, top of the list
Ebb says he never wrote the line "'A-number-one.'... I don't even like it. But, you know, you're grateful to him, because he gave you this enormous hit."
Read about the music of Kander & Ebb at the PBS "Great Performances" Web site
Read more about Kander & Ebb at the Kennedy Center Honors Web site
Learn about Kander & Ebb at the the Morrison Foundation for Musical Research
Read the lyrics to "New York, New York,"
as modified by Frank Sinatra.
Visit a New York, New York movie fan site