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'Santa Baby' changed my life

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For songwriter Philip Springer's 50CC, this Christmas classic is the gift that always passes on.

By Paul Hond |17. Dec. 2020

Photos courtesy of Philip Springer

In April 1953, The month Judy Garland recorded Heartbroken, Phil Springer’s 50CC, a twenty-seven-year-old composer on the Upper East Side, called a lyricist whose work he admired. Her name was Joan Javits, and she was a staff writer at the Brill Building, the eleven-story song factory on Broadway and 49th, where writers, publishers, producers, and performers produced material in search of the golden apple - a hit record.

Javits had written the words to Second Fling, a brave song sung by country crooner Eddy Arnold and released earlier this year. It wasn't a hit, but it had cheeky lines like The ladies liked my love / And I haven't forgotten anything / I have oats, need to be sown, out, I'm going / Let me make a second fling .

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Springer had worked with some of the best copywriters. He wrote Heartbroken with Fred Ebb, who was to compose the musicals with John Kander'54GSAS cabaret and Chicago . And his 1950 song Teasin, sung by Connie Haines, had a text by Richard Adler that later became famous The pajama game and Damn Yankees . Teasin 'was an insidious charge of coquetry. 4 in the charts - a real hit. Now Springer tried to team up with Javits.

I called her and said, 'I'd love to write songs with you,' says Springer in a wealthy New Yorker, cured with the salt of old Broadway. She said, 'I don't have time to write with you.' I said, 'Do you know my song' Teasin ''? 'She said, 'Of course. It was a hit. ”I said,“ Have you ever written a hit? ”She said,“ No. ”I said,“ You're going to tell me that a songwriter who has never had a hit will refuse to talk to you Songwriters working together who had a hit? ”She said,“ What are you doing tonight? ”I said,“ I'll write with you. ”And so we started.

In the spring of 1953, when former Columbia President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 47HON in the White House and the radio in every Studebaker on the Parkway were yapping (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window, Springer and Javits made their way out Hit city.

A few months later, RCA bosses Victor Javits and Springer announced that they wanted a Christmas number for Eartha Kitt, a sultry 26-year-old entertainer who brewed on Broadway Revue in a sleeveless mini dress New faces from 1952 , and whose recording of the French song C’est si bon hit the charts. Springer was amazed. Christmas carols meant sleigh bells, yule logs, and a plump, chaste, white-bearded man in a red suit and putty who would name her memoir Confessions of a sex kitten , was not to be confused with Bing Crosby. When Springer voiced his concerns, the bosses said: Just worry about the music.

Springer did, but he didn't have to worry too much. People ask me what comes first in songwriting, the music or the lyrics, he says, and the answer is neither: that title come first. And Javits delivered a beauty: Santa Baby. It clicked. Springer has developed four perfect notes that match the syllables. Once you've found a track, write a little melody or the lyricist writes a line and you work on the song together. Using a standard chord progression, Springer created a catchy melody within Kitt's vocal range. I took the song straight to RCA Victor and played it for music director Henri René, and he made the great arrangement you hear when Eartha Kitt sings, says Springer. I wish he were still alive because I was going to send him a big check.

Released October 6, 1953, Santa Baby occupy Kitt as a shy, bustling sweetheart who addresses a certain Santa Claus in intimate terms and says that she was a terribly good girl and wants to pick up her Christmas reward: a Cadillac convertible (light blue), a yacht, Tiffany ornaments for her Christmas tree and - she forgot to mention - a little thing / a ring / I don't mean on the phone. One year when Americans flocked to see Marilyn Monroe in the How to marry a millionaire , Santa Baby hit the zeitgeist.

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This song, says Springer, changed my life.

Springer grew up in Lawrence, Long Island. one of the five cities. He took piano lessons and fell in love with the songs on the radio - the top class stuff from Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers 1923CC, 1954HON, the Gershwins and his darling Harold Arlen. At fifteen he started writing songs. He performed one of them in high school, and the kids were so crazy about it that one of them, Marty Mills, offered to introduce Springer to his father, an executive at Brill Building who published Stardust in 1929. And that's how I met Jack. know Mills, the largest independent music publisher in America, says Springer. He didn't take my song, but he encouraged me. He said, “If you get out of the army, come back and visit me. I think you have talent. '

Springer was drafted in October 1944 and sent to England and Germany as a Jeep driver, and when officials found he could play all popular songs on the piano, they took him off the job. They said, 'Springer, we'll take care of the guard. You just play the piano. ”One soldier particularly noticed Springer's facility - it was Mickey Rooney, one of the greatest stars in the world. When he heard me he said, 'Springer, how would you like to be my musical director?' So I became very friends with Mickey and he took me out of my outfit to be his musical director for his army show. He was only a soldier, but of course everyone treated him like a star. Springer also had a special status. In the army, I was protected by officers who just wanted me to make music. Not many guys could play every hit from America.

The war is over andSpringer began college in Hofstra before moving to Columbia, his father's alma mater, Mordecai Springer 1911CC, 1913LAW. His roommate isn John Jay Hall was Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Sr. ’51CC,’ 92HON, future editor of New York Times , and he studied composition with the conductor and pioneer of electronic music Otto Luening ’81HON. Luening was annoyed that I went to Broadway and became a successful songwriter, Springer says, so he gave me the only C I ever got.

Left: Jumpers at Columbia. Right: a recent photo. (Courtesy Philip Springer)

Springer's friends included the piano prodigy Dick Hyman’48CC, composer of the 1947 Varsity Show, and they both played two pianos. Springer composed the music for the Varsity Show in 1948, Streets of New York , and was the main composer of the 1950 show, Wait for it which he regards as his first real work experience. It was such a great cast and such a wonderful director, he says. Broadway level. Springer's songs were so successful that BMI released them - only the second Varsity Show score to be released. The other was in 1918 Ten for five , with music by Richard Rodgers. Going to Columbia, says Springer, was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Springer graduated in 1950 and started looking for his next hit album with his new song Teasin ’in the charts. He never thought it would be a Christmas carol, let alone a Christmas classic. Santa Baby was hardly his major work, but a hit was a hit, and one of the Brill Building's largest publishers, Joy Music, made it possible for Springer to fulfill any young songwriter's dream by hiring him as a collaborator.

Then in March 1956 a meteor struck. Like Capitol Records Frank Sinatra. published Songs for swinging lovers! RCA Victor released an album by a 21 year old singer called Elvis presley . Ol ’Blue Eyes gave way to Blue Suede Shoes. Rock-and-roll, doo-wop and R&B got hot and the Brill Building saw a new generation of writers: Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Laura Nyro, Phil Spector. The rock revolution threw almost all old songwriters out of business, says Springer. The Brill Building has been taken over by 19-year-old kids, rock and roll writers, and publishers. It was a sad time for most songwriters.

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But not for jumpers. Although he was already thirty in 1956, his musical training at Columbia and later NYU allowed him to flourish. I was so well trained musically that I could adapt, he says. That was very rare.

In fact, Springer has explicitly bridged the gap. In 1956 he wrote a Top 40 song for Sinatra entitled How Little It Matters How Little We Know, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh (Witchcraft, The Best Is Yet to Come, Young at Heart), and in 1963 Elvis recorded Springers Never on the end. In between, Springer wrote The Next Time for Cliff Richard (the Elvis of England, Springer notes), which starred in the 1963 film Summer vacation . In another mode, he composed gems for Dee Dee Warwick (We've Got Everything Going For Us), Dusty Springfield (All Cried Out) and Aretha Franklin (Her Little Heart Went to Loveland).

The 1960s were very productive for me, says Springer. The decade was less friendly to the Brill Building, however: the British invasion, led by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other bands who wrote their own songs, spelled the end of the factory system. When all of the songwriters but some of us were out of business, Springer said, my musical skills enabled me to become a composer for TV shows and films.

Springer's crowning collaboration came in the 1970s when he teamed up with the man he believes to be the greatest lyric poet of the 20th century: E. Y. Yip Harburg (Over the Rainbow, It’s Only a Paper Moon), am bekanntesten für The Wizard of Oz . Springer and Harburg worked together for nine years until Harburg's death in 1981.

But of all the songs in Springer's more than 70-year career, none had the legs of Santa Baby. A flirtatious Christmas party staple for a long time - Mae West covered it in 1966 - the song took on new life when Madonna recorded a Betty Boop-influenced version in 1987. This heralded a cascade of Santa Babies from the likes of Macy Gray, LeAnn Rimes, Kylie Minogue, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Michael Bublé, and Gwen Stefani.

For Eartha Kitt, the pioneering cotton-field diva who Orson Welles said became the most exciting woman in the world, Santa Baby was her biggest hit. She died on Christmas Day in 2008 at the age of 81.

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Springer, now ninety-four, lives in Pacific Palisades in western Los Angeles. He's still writing. I just finished a song called When New York Becomes New York Again, which I think has great potential. In October, he even got a taste of the internet's glory when he Video of him plays Beethoven Moonlight sonata went viral and garnered millions of views. Is not that crazy? I never thought that I would have become known for playing Beethoven.

Or come to it to write a Christmas chestnut that's just a little naughty than cute. Decades after Santa Baby was born, Springer, who owns the rights to it, is still showered with license requests, and the numerous versions of the song have sold millions of copies worldwide. Add movie and TV soundtracks ( Drive Miss Daisy , The sopranos ) and the sale of ring tones, and the deed to Santa Baby would fit well on the Christmas list that the song describes, along with the yacht and the light blue convertible: Because if there is a gift that always passes on, it's a hit.

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