Sometimes it seems like it’s actually fun to be a congressman. Take the annual concert hosted by the ASCAP Foundation, where songwriters serenade lawmakers with their favorite oldies. Tuesday night’s lineup at the Library of Congress drew Barbara Boxer, Orrin Hatch, Rand Paul, Mel Watt, Jerry Nadler and Marsha Blackburn, among others; listening to tunes from the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Elvin Bishop, Alan Bergman. Just some nice tunes, some sweet showbiz memories — and only a gentle dose of intellectual-property lobbying:
“When I started in the business writing songs, you could actually make a living writing songs,” harrumphed Siedah Garrett, who penned “Man in the Mirror” for Michael Jackson. “That’s why I’m here today. I gotta remember these faces.”
The two best song-stories of the night:
Arthur Hamilton recalled getting hired by actor-producer Jack Webb to write something for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in an early ’50s movie. He came up with a gorgeous torchy song, but Webb rejected it: “Nobody,” he told Hamilton, “can believe Ella Fitzgerald would sing the word ‘plebeian.’”
Punchline No. 1: Webb’s ex-wife Julie London recorded the song, “Cry Me a River,” and it became a massive hit. Punchline No. 2: Six weeks later, Hamilton went to see Fitzgerald’s nightclub act. She sang his song — with the word “plebeian.”
Jim Weatherly could top that name-drop. In the early ’70s in L.A., he made pals with Lee Majors. One day he called the actor’s home — and the star’s gorgeous new starlet girlfriend, Farrah Fawcett, answered. She mentioned that she was packing her bags to go see her parents, “on the midnight plane to Houston.”
Sound familiar? “When you hear something like that as a songwriter,” Weatherly said, “a bell goes off in your head.”
But the country tune he recorded went nowhere. Months later, a producer for Cissy Houston called his publisher: They were interested — but could they change it to “Midnight Train to Georgia”? A year later, Gladys Knight made it a hit.
“One of the best moves I ever made,” said Weatherly.
Earlier: Songwriters woo Congress through music at ASCAP concert, 5/17/12
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