Tracing the History of a Song: 'It's All In the Game'

The song "It's All in the Game," currently featured on Barry Manilow's new CD, has an interesting pedigree: It was written by Calvin Coolidge's vice president, Charles Dawes, and has been recorded by a number of top musicians ever since. Musician and Day to Day contributor David Was traces the interesting history of a popular song.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And speaking of David Was...

DAVID WAS reporting:

Of all the unlikely candidates to have composed a staple on the pop charts in the last half century, former U.S. Vice President Charles Dawes certainly takes the cake.

CHADWICK: Our more literate than most musician has this story about a popular song with an odd political pedigree.

WAS: Better known for his role as second banana to Calvin Coolidge, the self-taught pianist composed an instrumental ditty in 1911 with the unassuming title Melody in A Major which sold briskly as a phonograph record.

(Soundbite of song, "Melody in A Major")

WAS: It's just a tune that I got in my head, Dawes said at the time. So, I set it down.

(Soundbite of song, "Melody in A Major")

WAS: Wherever Mr. Dawes appeared thereafter, his catchy melody was manhandled by bands of every description, noted his biographer, Bascom Timmons.

(Soundbite of song, "Melody in A Major")

WAS: Lawyer, banker, soldier, politico, and hit songwriter. Quite a portfolio for the Ohio boy whose great great grandfather rode with Paul Revere.

(Soundbite of song, "Melody in A Major")

WAS: Cut to New York City, exactly 40 years later, and we find lyricist Carl Sigmund--a lapsed lawyer whose boyhood friend Johnny Mercer had encouraged him to write songs. The VP's enduring melody hummed in his head, and he set down a wry lyric on the vagaries of love to accompany it.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Once in a while, he won't call. But it's all...

WAS: Re-titled It's All in the Game, the song was recorded by the likes of Sammy Kaye and Dinah Shore. It eventually climbed the charts to No. 18 in the hands of Tommy Edwards.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Mr. TOMMY EDWARDS (Singer): (Singing) Many a tear has to fall, but it's all in the game.

WAS: A few years later, Edwards re-recorded the song, but this time, with a more R&B feel.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) ...known has love.

WAS: In 1958, this version went to No. 1 in both the UK and the States.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) ...with him, and your future's looking dim, but these things, your hearts can rise above. Once in a while he won't call, but it's all...

WAS: It's All in the Game is only one of many distinguished hits that Sigman wrote, including Ebb Tide, What Now My Love, A Day in the Life of a Fool, and Where Do I Begin, the theme from the film Love Story, which was recorded hundreds of times by the likes of Tony Bennett and Shirley Bassey.

(Soundbite of song, "Where Do I Begin")

Ms. SHIRLEY BASSEY (Singer): (Singing) He filled my heart...

WAS: But his collaboration with Vice President Dawes, who died in 1951, would keep returning to the charts over and over.

Mr. VAN MORRISON (Musician): (Singing) Once in a while, he won't call. He won't call...

WAS: With the soulful version by Van Morrison in 1979, as well as covers by Merle Haggard.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Mr. MERLE HAGGARD (Musician): (Singing) All in the wonderful game that we know as love.

WAS: Louis Armstrong.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Mr. LOUIS ARMSTRONG (Musician): (Singing) You had words with him, and your future's looking dim.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Mr. ART GARFUNKEL (Musician): (Singing) But these things...

WAS: Art Garfunkel.

Mr. GARFUNKEL: ...your heart can rise above. Once in a while, he won't call, but it's all in the game.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Mr. ELTON JOHN (Musician): (Singing) Oh, but it's all in the game.

WAS: And Elton John, when the future pop diva was still known as Reg Dwight.

Mr. JOHN: (Singing) With a sweet okay.

WAS: And, yes, like the endearing little alien in E.T., it's back. This time, recorded by the equally ubiquitous Barry Manilow, whose recent Top 10 collection of 1950s hits features the song that won't go quietly into that good night of pop obscurity.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

Mr. BARRY MANILOW (Musician): (Singing) ...will fly away.

BRAND: Barry Manilow, singing It's All in the Game. Lyrics by Carl Sigman, melody by Former Vice President Charles Dawes. Our reviewer, David Was, is half of the musical duo, Was Not Was.

(Soundbite of song, "It's All in the Game")

BRAND: And there's more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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