Analysed by Robert Walton
There are three songs I know with the English female name Ruby, popular from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th inspired by the gemstone. The name seems to be having a revival in Ireland at the moment.
The 1969 one by Kenny Rogers was Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town. Two years before that there was Mick Jagger’s Ruby Tuesday, but by far the most musical was written for the 1953 film “Ruby Gentry”. Milwaukee-born film composer Heinz Roemheld’s beautifully crafted song Ruby became a standard almost overnight with words by Mitchell Parish. Despite its limited melodic range, the way it gradually builds provides as much emotional wallop as a song with a wider spread. Incidentally one of Roemheld’s best known scores from almost 400 films was that of “The Invisible Man” (1933).
The common element between the various arrangements of Ruby seems to be the harmonica, as in recordings by Victor Young, Max Geldray and Les Baxter’s hit record. Although I’m not a particular fan of Ray Charles, his soulful vocal on bluesy Ruby has remained with me ever since I first heard it, while the more conventional crooning of Vic Damone coming a close second.
For analysis purposes though, I’ve chosen Percy Faith’s interesting piano concerto-like arrangement that can be found in “That’s Light Musical Entertainment” on Guild’s “Golden Age of Light Music”(GLCD 5158). In fact Ruby, full of potential ideas for development, could have easily been the basis for an official piano concerto. If Faith hadn’t injured his hands in a fire, the soloist might well have been Faith himself, as he had every intention of becoming a concert pianist.
After a rousing start, the tune of Ruby gets maximum exposure followed by some relaxed piano reminders of Rachmaninov. Then the faithful Faith flutes with more piano including a touch of Carmen Cavallaro. See if you can fathom out how Faith achieves the sound of a harmonica. Then gorgeous unison violins give the tune a symphonic feel accompanied by that uplifting woodwind sound. Listen out for a wee suggestion of Mantovani.
Going into the bridge with a harp-like piano, the strings in harmony continue to dominate with the presence of horns. The strings now lusher slow right down to a standstill. After the “harmonica” returns, a brief encounter with a violin continues the pattern soon broken by a complete change of mood.
Like the opening, the orchestra suddenly bursts into an almost operatic moment. We’re back in “concerto” style with piano chords a-plenty while dramatic horns play the melody. Soon they swap parts and the strings play for all they’re worth answered by the horns.The middle section gently creeps back in, after which that sublime violin plays a most moving solo bringing Ruby to a peaceful end via an exotic Riddle-like downward string movement with two quotes from Mam’selle. There can’t be anything in the universe as soul stirring as a violin.
Listening to this tune again after so many years makes me realize that the much neglected and underrated Ruby must surely be one of the most dramatic and thrilling standards of the 20th century. It deserves nothing more than this magnificent arrangement and performance. Where has it been all this time? In fact I would go further and say it contains some of the magical ingredients of a Puccini - the ultimate praise of any melody.
When I first became aware of Bob's latest article covering Heinz Roemheld's signature theme from the film "Ruby," made into a popular song, my immediate thought was to ascertain which setting he was referring to, as I am familiar with a number of these.
The first setting of "Ruby" that I was exposed to, and the version that made the charts, was one by Richard Hayman, featuring Mr. Hayman as a harmonica soloist. It should be mentioned that Hayman was a harmonica virtuoso in his own right and made numerous other recordings featuring his instrument, and additionally produced many other fine arrangements during the years he was active.
I am quite surprised to note that this version is not mentioned at all in Bob's article, causing me to wonder whether it was even available in the UK, as I have become aware of far too many recordings that for whatever reason have not travelled in either direct across the Atlantic, and often David and I in our conversations expressed a certain regret over this state of affairs.
In any event, I find this version to be generally satisfactory, but there are others that I greatly prefer to it. The Victor Young version, the one I most commonly listen to when I have a desire to hear this melody, featuring one George Fields on the harmonica, has an irresistible sweetness and tenderness (quite typical of Mr. Young's manner) that would place it in the forefront for me. It is also the version I use when playing the selection on the piano.
Alongside of this, I would give attention to the Percy Faith version, that Bob has featured in his article, and is the only setting I am familiar with that does not use a harmonica. It comes from an album of four double length settings of various themes from films that Mr. Faith has put together. I would not consider all of these to be necessarily my choice if I had to make a selection amongst them as to my preference, but his setting of "Ruby" I do consider quite viable, worthy of closer attention, though not in the way Bob has described it.
(I will just parenthetically state here that I am familiar as well with the Les Baxter setting that Bob refers to, which does use a harmonica. I personally do not consider it as viable as the others that I mention in this article.)
As with each of these double length settings, we have two full run throughs of the melody. The first is on generally an even tempered course (despite the rather showy introduction which in my opinion has no relationship with the body of this setting), without too much in the way of overt emotional display, until we get to the interlude between the two settings - the first being in C Major and the second on its dominant, G Major.
This interlude is in essence an emotional outburst, and leads to the second statement of the song, which as a result of this display, takes on an emotionally wrought aspect, which is even more virulent with its second phrase, well to be regarded as the climax of the whole. It thus takes an additional bar after this very demonstrative statement to settle down into relative calmness.
The last phrase is presented with the utmost tenderness, almost consolatory in its manner, certainly very telling an effect after what we've been through just a bit earlier. The feeling at the conclusion of the melody, and the conclusion of the setting, suggests a feeling of resignation, and the overall emotion of this setting, quite overt and explicit, should be sufficient to capture the attention of anyone who is genuinely interested in these light music settings, for this is assuredly not background or wallpaper music, but rather music with an emotional statement to make, and thus meant to be listened to attentively.
I have read Bob's outline of the piece, but regretfully, I must say that this concentration on what particular instruments happen to be playing at any given time is not something that I can or choose to follow - for me it is a matter of taking in the whole picture of that presented, without undue dwelling on details; put another way, it would be a matter of seeing the forest rather than the trees.
It should be pointed out that this album, which was released in 1953, consists of four double length settings of signature themes from various films which became more or less popular at the time they appeared. Georges Auric's "Song from Moulin Rouge" was originally released as a single by Mr. Faith featuring vocalist Felicia Sanders, a setting which made the charts, but Mr. Faith subsequently decided to expand this setting (along with his penchant for rerecording on his own many selections that he originally presented with featured artists; a topic I myself referred to in a previous article). I consider this version to be moderately successful, although other versions that I have taken pleasure with are those by Victor Young and especially by members of the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler in an arrangement stated on the label as by George Siravo.
With the remaining two double length settings in Mr. Faith's album, of David Raksin's "The Bad and the Beautiful" and Dmitri Tiomkin's "Return to Paradise" I find that I am less enthusiastic, in view of the fact that we have two superlative settings of these signature themes by David Rose; in the one case because Mr. Rose's version is far more emotionally involving for me, and in the other because the version is neatly compact and matter-of-fact; achieving all that it sets out to accomplish, in contrast with the feeling I get of empty spectacle from Mr. Faith's versions. For both of these, there is no other competition to speak of, and I'm delighted that Bob has chosen Mr. Rose's version in his description of the former, even if I don't necessarily agree with his method of approach.
Another signature theme from a film which made the charts at that time was "Terry's Theme from Limelight." The version that so made it was Frank Chacksfield's very first recording he ever made. I always found myself preferring the versions by both Victor Young and by Richard Hayman, although I must say, the flip side of the Chacksfield single offered a selection entitled "Incidental Music from Limelight" which I have found to be most attractive.
Yet another signature theme which became moderately popular was that from "Invitation" by Bronislaw Kaper. While the Victor Young version for me has always stood foremost, and is frankly the one I use at the piano, I find the version by Percy Faith to be equally viable, and so in this case I would feel it is a matter of purely personal taste.
I hope that these comparisons of the various settings of signature themes from films might prove useful to my readers, and as usual I welcome all comments.