BRUCE’S UKULELE MUSING NUMBER 20: 18 MAY 2019—“PENNIES FROM HEAVEN,” A GREAT SONG FEATURED IN NOT SO GREAT MOVIES
The Great Depression of the 1930s gave us many songs that touched on the hard times of the era, including the iconic “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,”
and one from our Yellow Book, “Pennies from Heaven.” This was written in 1936 with music by Arthur Johnson (1898-1954) and lyrics by Johnny Burke (1908-1964).
It was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1936 film by the same name and recorded by just about every name in the book. Johnston and Burke were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song that year for “Pennies . . ..” Burke wrote the song “Swinging on a Star” that won the Academy Award in 1944—another great Crosby tune.
Not only is this song a popular American standard, but two movies used this as a title—the 1936 Crosby film and one in 1981 with Steve Martin.
The Martin film was actually based on a BBC Television series with the same title starring Bob Hoskins.
The earlier Crosby film had an offbeat story line of a wrongly imprisoned singer who promises a condemned fellow inmate that he will help the family of the inmate’s victim when Crosby is released. (Whew!) Needless to say, complications ensue with the best part of this tearjerker of a movie being our song.
The BBC Series and the later Martin film share a totally different and rather bizarre plot of sheet music and record salesmen in the 1930s (Chicago for Martin and London for Hoskins) who fantasize about the songs they sell while lip-synching and dancing to them, along with other characters in the film. Here’s a fun one with Martin’s co-star Bernadette Peters and a bunch of musical kids:
Don’t watch these for the plot (which, in my opinion, is pretty dreadful!) but fast forward to the music and choreography—much fun!
Here’s a down-and-out street musician, just given a free meal by Martin, and his take on the title tune.
Here’s the same scene from the BBC:
The best version of this song I ever heard, however, was a couple of years ago when our own AEIOUker David Juno played his uke and sang the song as the offertory hymn at a Northampton Unitarian Society service—truly, pennies from heaven! Sorry, no U-Tube of that one! But here is another ukulele version just for fun.
Almost as good as Dave!