I remember listening to my favorite 45 records like it was yesterday. It’s weird, but the smell of lilacs permeating the air through open windows, and a warm breeze blowing in off the lake are as much a part of the memory as the actual music on the record player. I don’t mind dating myself, I have sadness for this generation who has missed out on the feel of an old vinyl album.
Do you remember playing the “A” side so much that the skipping eventually led you to see what was on the “B” side? And what a pleasant surprise that was when side “B” was actually pretty good. If you know the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and of course you do, then listen to the story of how this “B” side song became one of the most well-known songs of all time.
A new book coming out this fall, “They Left Their Hearts in San Francisco: The Lives of Songwriters George Cory and Douglass Cross,” by Bill Christine, chronicles the tale of how an American standard may have been left in a drawer, unattended to and eventually finding its way to a thrift store or the doom of a garbage landfill. It tells of the trials and tribulations of two men, a couple, whose relationship found demise just as the song they placed their dreams upon soared toward success, but not even the riches they would receive could save their love or lives.
For Bill Christine, whose eventual telling of how, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” came to be, he knew he had tapped into something special when he was able to pen 11,000 words about the story off the top of his head. He was immediately drawn to the tenacity of two creative and colorful characters who worked through their relationship woes, and lean times by believing in the words they could arrange into poetic ballads as songwriters, knowing that the right one would come along at the right time, validating their work. It’s amazing to think that the song had not only been carried around in the shirt pocket of a bandmember of Tony Bennett’s, Ralph Sharon, for weeks, but then eventually made its way to his dresser drawer as well, was eventually dismissed by famed musical legend Mitch Miller, and would only become famous preceded by the statement, “One night in a bar.” One might bet heavily against this immensely popular song ever seeing the light of day, but, it happened, and the realities of what occurred before and after are riveting. Here is an excerpt from Bill Christine’s new book, “They Left Their Hearts in San Francisco: The Lives of Songwriters George Cory and Douglass Cross.”
“Singing three numbers before the San Francisco number probably helped Bennett. His voice was good and loose, but not tired, by 3 a.m. The first two takes, Laico said, were mainly to establish the right sound levels, and for everyone to get comfortable with the song.’
“As the night dragged on, Miller put on his hat and coat and said: “I gotta go. I got an appointment back at my office in just a few hours.” He wasn’t there for the take that counted. Bennett and the orchestra swung into the third take. When it was done, everybody seemed pleased. Everyone but Laico. “That’s it,” a weary Bennett said. “Let’s not do any more.’
“Tony,” Laico said, “I think we’re still looking for the one we need. We’ve gone this long, let’s do one more.” Bennett shrugged, but he agreed. They did a fourth take. “That’s it,” Laico said. “That’s the one.”
Some songs echo the sentiments of many and touch the hearts of the listener in a way that etches a memory, good or bad. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” is the official theme of the city and county of San Francisco, and the mantra of many who have fallen in love with the “City of Lights.” It is recognizable beyond borders, generations, and ethnicity, and we have two gentlemen, Cory and Cross, plus several precisely placed chance encounters to thank for its tremendous success. “They Left Their Heart in San Francisco: The Lives of Songwriters George Cory and Douglass Cross” places the importance on hard work, the kind that grinds most individuals down, yet somehow propels certain people to find their greatness, and is balanced with the important elements of luck, chance, and love. It is the kind of story with a happy ending albeit bittersweet, because, aren’t all the good stories tinged with these emotions?
For Sarasotian’s, the opportunity to see living legend Tony Bennett and hear him croon his planet-wide popular standard, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” is happening on September 8th as he brings his extraordinary talents to Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Hear his entire repertoire of musical excellence. And before you go, be sure to read the new book by Bill Christine to heighten your experience by learning just how lucky that a “B” side 45 record found it’s way into the hearts and mind of millions of people. The backstory always makes the front of the house seem more interesting, doesn’t it? If you would like to learn more about Bill Christine or “They Left Their Hearts in San Francisco: The Lives of Songwriters George Cory and Douglass Cross,” please contact Bill Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org. ; And for ticket information for Tony Bennett, please visit www.vanwezel.org. .
top photo from Bill Cristine / bottom photo, Deposit Photos