A Dour De Niro Inspires A Megahit, And Other Stories : The Record A new book explains how an angry confrontation with the actor birthed a legendary song.
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A Dour De Niro Inspires A Megahit, And Other Stories

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A Dour De Niro Inspires A Megahit, And Other Stories

A Dour De Niro Inspires A Megahit, And Other Stories

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: A few years ago, Rick Beyer regaled us with "The Greatest Stories Never Told." It included 100 stories about historical events you'd probably never heard. Well, Rick Beyer is back with a new book, "The Greatest Music Stories Never Told: 100 Tales from Music History to Astonish, Bewilder and Stupefy."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER )

WERTHEIMER: He joins us from WGBH in Boston.

Rick Beyer, thank you for being with us.

RICK BEYER: Well, thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: What's your favorite of the 100?

BEYER: My favorite of the 100 is probably a story from the 1970s involving Martin Scorsese. And Martin Scorsese is making a movie and he brings in a couple of composers to write some music for this movie. And they come in to play the songs that they have written. And Scorsese is there, and the lead actor in the movie, a guy named De Niro, is also in the room. And they play the music and Scorsese likes it.

But De Niro does not like the title song they've come up with the movie. And he says can you try again. And these composers are quite famous, Kander and Ebb, the composers of "Cabaret." And they can't believe that some actor would try to tell them how to write a song. And so they said, fine, if you don't like this, we'll dash something else off. And they dashed off another song in an hour.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Start spreading the news. I'm leaving today. I want to be a part of it, New York, New York...

BEYER: It was written in anger at Robert De Niro.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: And that's a good one. Here's another song that we hear all the time. And you tell us the story of it, the musical accompaniment it to American presidents, "Hail To the Chief." I like that story.

BEYER: That song was from a musical in the early 1800s, an English musical of Walter Scott's "Lady of the Lake." The chief is actually a Scottish chieftain...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEYER: ...Roderick Dhu, I think is his name.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF")

BEYER: When John Tyler was president, this song was one of the favorites of his wife. And she was concerned that he wasn't making a good enough impression on people at public gatherings. So she decided that whenever they had a party or a big public event, she would have the band strike up this favorite song of hers when he came into the room. And that's how "Hail To the Chief" started out its journey in becoming the presidents' song.

One of the presidents didn't like it. And I think it was Chester Arthur and he asked John Philip Sousa to write an alternate song. And Sousa did. It's called the "Presidential Polonaise," and it just sank like a stone. Nobody even knows it today.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: Rick Beyer, his book is called "The Greatest Music Stories Never Told."

Thank you.

BEYER: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRLS IN THEIR SUMMER CLOTHES")

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Well, the street lights shine down on Blessing Avenue. Lovers, they walk by holding hands two by two...

WERTHEIMER: We'd like to hear your greatest summer music stories. What song reminds you of summer? Let us know by going to the NPR WEEKEND Facebook page and sharing your favorite summer music.

I like this, "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" by Bruce Springsteen.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) I'm out the door. Tonight I'm going to burn this...

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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