The variety of artists who have recorded “Blue Moon” reads like music history: Django Reinhardt, Mel Torme, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Julie London, Sam Cooke, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, The Supremes, Bob Dylan and even My Morning Jacket.
But the most famous version, recorded by Pittsburgh-based doo-wop group the Marcels, came as a shock in 1961, when the song was known as a slow, lilting ballad. Composer Richard Rogers hated it so much that he submitted full-page advertisements urging people not to buy it.
Despite the negative reaction from the musical elite, it was a massive hit. The Marcels’ version, which immortalized the phrase, “bomp-baba-bomp-ba-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp,” became an international #1 hit, and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
The controversy that surrounded the Marcels’ “Blue Moon” only served to add another element to its already unusual history, which began in 1935 with composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart.
Rodgers and Hart also wrote such songs as “My Romance”, “My Funny Valentine”, “The Lady Is A Tramp”, “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” and many more.
The music for “Blue Moon” was originally written for actress Jean Harlow to sing in the 1934 MGM film Hollywood Party, as “Prayer (Oh Lord, Make Me a Movie Star)”. It was never used.
Hart would go on to revise the tune with different lyrics (“The Bad In Every Man”, “It’s Just That Kind Of Play”) but neither one became a hit.
MGM’s head of publishing, Jack Robbins, told Hart that it needed a punchy title and romantic lyrics. Hart was reluctant to do so, but in the end, a classic was born.
Based on the idiom “once in a blue moon,” referring to something that rarely happens, the result was: “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.” The rest became history.