With all the talk about the “blue moon” on New Year’s Eve I thought it would be fun to talk about the “other” Blue Moon, that is to say the song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

If you don’t immediately recognize the song title, I’ll let the amazing Ella Fitzgerald remind you with her version:

The thing is, that this song actually has a rather long and complex history. In the early 1930s Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were under contract to the MGM Studios to write songs for their movie musicals. The music which would eventually become Blue Moan was originally written (with completely different lyrics) to be sung by Jean Harlow in the film Hollywood Party. The song at that time was called Prayer. It’s not clear how the song would have fit into the film, and it was never recorded in this version.

The music (but still not the familiar lyric,) was first heard in the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama. As you watch and listen to this scene, you’ll recognize the familiar melody sung by Shirley Ross.

As a part of the film release, sheet music for this song was published, but it was certainly not a hit. Jack Robbins, the head of MGM’s publishing company, like the melody and thought it was worthy of a commercial release. However, he felt that it required a more commercial lyric. Lorenz Hart was not happy about providing this, but he did and the result is the classic song that we know today. Of all the music that Rodgers and Hart wrote, much of which has become known in the American songbook as jazz standards, Blue Moon was the only one that was a major commercial hit at its time of release. Though I haven’t been able to find confirmation of this tonight, some years ago I was told by a friend of mine who has studied Rodgers and Hart in depth that Lorenz Hart absolutely hated this song even though was the only one that they really made money with.

By the way, there were two other unpublished versions of this song, with different titles and entirely different lyrics that I haven’t even talked about here.

So the next time you listen to Blue Moon, maybe while you’re looking at the blue moon tomorrow night, you’ll know a little bit more about the complicated history of this great American standard.