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On The Sunny Side of the Street

This well-loved standard has its roots in the Depression. A year after the Wall Street Crash Dorothy provided songs for Lew Leslie's International Revue, including this optimistic number, introduced by Harry Richman.

Most singers omit the verse and just start with the famous Grab your coat and get your hat. This is a great shame, as the verse(see below) sets the scene so well for the refrain. This is a "before and after" song, and the verse establishes the singer's depressed state before he/she learnt to adopt a more positive attitude.

Walked with no-one and talked with no-one,
And I had nothing but shadows.
Then one morning you passed
And I brightened at last.
Now I greet the day, and complete the day,
With the sun in my heart.
All my worry blew away
When you taught me how to say:

The familiar refrain is full of jaunty, cheery colloquialisms: Leave your worries on the doorstep ... ; just direct your feet ... ; this rover crossed over. Stephen Sondheim said: What I like best about Dorothy Fields is her use of colloquialism and her effortlessness, as in Sunny Side of the Street which is just perfect as a lyric.

The middle section of the refrain is a joyous affirmation of the singer's optimism, bolstered by the assertive McHugh melody:

I used to walk in the shade,
With those blues on parade,
But I'm not afraid.
This rover
Crossed over

Critic Mark Steyn uses this song as an example of how song-writing had changed since the turn of the century. He says it would never have occurred to early writers to rhyme across the first two quatrains (e.g. hat / doorstep / pitter-pat / your step). Nor would they have ever stuctured the middle eight quoted above so that a three-rhyme (shade / parade / afraid ) is followed by two meaty short-stopped phrases. "You only write that way if you're writing to a tune, and if you do it as well as Dorothy Fields did here, it blasts across the footlights and chisels its way into the national consciousness."

And it is not until the end of the song, that the connection with the Depression is clarified with the If I never have a cent line. You realise that the singer's gloom was at least partly connected with poverty.

The song is a great favourite with jazz musicians and you can see why. The lyric has a simplicity and looseness which allows liberties to be taken with the melodic line without losing the sense and intention of the song.

Frank Sinatra recorded the song with an arrangement by Billy May (based on an instrumental version by Tommy Dorsey). Sinatra omits the verse and commits a couple of his notorious hip assaults on the lyrics (Grab your coat and snatch your hat; all those chicks round my feet). It's fun, but the band is intrusive early on in the number.

Morag MacLaren recorded the verse in her sweet and effective rendition, with a straightforward arrangement by Dorothy Fields' son David Lahm.

Barbara Cook did the verse too, and she delivers a great version, relishing the phrase which contains the philosophical transition Then one morning you passed. She sings the refrain twice, going disarmingly jazzy second time round, and accompanied by a harmonica. Delicious.

Joe Williams recorded it with the Frank Hunter Orchestra in 1965 with a slower than normal tempo, and builds up to a jazzy crescendo.

Finally, a charming recollection from Jonathan Schwartz, son of Arthur Schwartz, a later collaborator of Dorothy Fields: Dorothy was very empathic and sympathetic to a young teenage boy alone, and she was very kind. I always felt Dorothy's warmth toward me. My father and I often took long walks in the city. and whenever we found ourselves in the shadows, one of us would always say "Let's cross over to the Dorothy side of the street".


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