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A Foggy Day
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Judy Garland followed by
"A Foggy Day" Judy performs on The Judy Garland Show, (episode 4, taped: July 23, 1963; aired October 13, 1963). She is singing to Terry Thomas.
Rufus performs live at the Kenwood open air concert in London, July 3, 2010, with Stephen Oremus on piano (Video also includes his performance of Noel Coward's "If Love Were All."). His performances of "A Foggy Day" were explicitly or implicitly a tribute to Judy Garland and date back at least to his
"Rufus Does Judy"
tribute concert at Carnegie Hall, New York, June 14–15, 2006, a concert that recreated the song list for Judy Garland's historic Carnegie Hall concert, April 23, 1961.
A Damsel in Distress was released by RKO on November 19, 1937, produced by Pandro S. Berman, directed by George Stevens, music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, choreography by Hermes Pan--these all being veterans of previous Astaire movies. P. G. Wodehouse, Ernest Pagano, and S. K. Lauren wrote the screenplay based on Wodehouse's 1919 novel of the same name. The film starred Fred Astaire as Jerry Halliday, George Burns as George, Gracie Allen as Gracie and Joan Fontaine as Lady Alyce Marshmorton. The movie came at a pivotal point in Astaire's career being the first time since 1933, and only the second time in any of his previous films that he did not play and dance opposite Ginger Rogers. Instead, he was paired with a nineteen year old Joan Fontaine whose dancing was less than or barely adequate according to most critics. One of the more generous appraisals of Fontaine as partner to Astaire comes from Michael Skupin:
A few words about the leading lady, Joan Fontaine, the target of much criticism. La Fontaine's great days would be years in the future: in 1937 she was an eighteen-year-old starlet with only a few roles behind her. To her credit, she played her acting part well, but the script forced her to dance a lengthy pas de deux [to the music of "Things Are Looking Up"] with the legendary Astaire, and the film's first audience did not forgive her terpsichorean shortcomings. They wanted Ginger. Pan composed a dance with Fontaine's limitations in mind, and coached her; and the reader may recall that Astaire was a master at making his partners look good: one recalls Paulette Goddard in Second Chorus, Red Skelton in Three Little Words, Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn and Blue Skies, and in Royal Wedding--a hatrack! Still, the fans were not satisfied. (from Michael Skupin, "Comments on A Damsel in Distress," formerly published at Wodehouse.org, 1999.)
Jerry Halliday (Fred Astaire) an American dancer who, thanks to the efforts of his press agent George Burns (and no thanks to George's assistant the delightfully ditzy Gracie Allen), has become a heart throb. In one scene, he is in London trying to escape hordes of young female fans when he meets Alyce Marshmorton who jumps into his cab while trying to elude someone herself. Her family's butler has been assigned to bring her home to their country estate before she gets into trouble. Alyce is the scion of a noble family with a large, legend encrusted castle in the countryside but has run off to the city to hook up with her latest love. She finds Jerry (in the cab) instead.
The movie incorporates two plot devices to move things along: First the servants at the castle create a betting pool to wager on whom Alyce will marry. The plot is pushed forward by the butler, Keggs, and a boy-sevant, Albert, conniving throughout the film to manipulate matters in their own interests. Second, Fred misunderstands Alyce's comments so that he believes, with some prodding from Albert, that she is in love with him when she has actually been referring to another man. Of course within no time at all she is in love with Jerry and he with her, but the path to getting together continues to twist and turn, mostly through the comic machinations of Keggs and Albert trying to win the wager.
The Introduction of "A Foggy Day" in A Damsel in Distress
At one juncture Jerry believes all is well because he loves Alyce, Alyce loves him, and, on top of that, her father, the down-to-earth lord of the manor, is for the match. It is at this point that he sings "A Foggy Day." Most of us who got to know the song before the movie have believed that the singer is in the scene he describes, feeling the way he says he feels: A foggy day in London Town / Had me low and had me Down" So we may be surprised to find that the song is sung while the singer is ambling through a wood, not remotely city-like. In fact Jerry (Fred) sings "A Foggy Day" in a wooded (and foggy) section of the Marshmorton estate.
The resolution to this conundrum is understanding Jerry is in a reverie singing about when he first met Alyce, which was indeed a foggy day on the streets of London when he was "a stranger in the city." Realizing this is, however, still not a completely satisfactory explanation for the gap between the sense most listeners take away from the song and the scene in the movie Jerry is recalling. He was not, when he met Alyce--nor had he been as far as we know-- walking "through the foggy streets alone"; rather, he had been complaining in his press agent's office or in a taxi seeking to escape the young women who were chasing him about the town. His problem was not so much loneliness as annoyance at the surfeit of artificially created attention. He was upset about his situation but there is little to make us feel that he had been "decided blue." We don't see him "view the morning with alarm" or wistfully gaze at the British Museum feeling that it "has lost it's charm." Alyce does appear "suddenly" though not as a miraculous vision emerging out of the fog to save him, but rather as a rude intruder jumping into his taxi.
The song casts a spell on us with its evocation of foggy london as a metaphor for something verging on despair. The movie creates a delightful comic scene in which the protagonist is a bit out of sorts until he meets Alyce.
The disparity between the profoundly moving content of the song and the somewhat pedestrian circumstances of the earlier scene in the movie, the one that is supposed to have provoked Jerry's reverie is understood when learns of how the song got written. It happened in the Gershwin home in Beverly Hills early in 1937. The brothers had already written three or four songs for A Damsel in Distress, when late one evening George returned from a party suggesting they get down to work on another song. Ira tells the story:
"Got any Idea's?" [George asked Ira, who had been reading.] "Well there's one spot [in the movie] we might do something about a fog . . . how about a foggy day in London or maybe foggy day in London town?" "Sounds Good . . . . I like it better with town" and he was off immediately on the melody. We finished the refrain, words and music, in less than an hour . . . . Next day the song still sounded good so we started on a
. . . All I had to say was, "George, how about an Irish verse?" and he sensed instantly the degree of wistful loneliness I meant. Generally whatever mood I thought was required, he, through his instinct and inventiveness, could bring my hazy musical vision into focus. Needless to say this sort of affinity between composer and lyricist comes only after long association between the two. (from Ira Gershwin. Lyrics on Several Occasions. New York: Knoph, 1959 (paper-bound edition, Limelight Editions, 1997, pp. 65-66).
So the "wistful loneliness" so powerfully present in both the words and music of "A Foggy Day" is what Ira "thought was required." Did he mean required by the movie or by his poetic imagination? It is difficult to believe, given the song, that it was anything but the latter. We can all be grateful for whatever reason the director (or whoever) allowed the song to stand as the Gershwins wrote it and not insist it be changed to fit the plot more exactly.
Jo Stafford sings the complete lyric as written,
adding a repeat of the last three lines of the refrain
(substituting "and" for "For" the second time through. Stafford's version
of the lyric is pretty much the same as Ella's in the version linked to just above).
Jo Stafford with the Art Van Damme Quintet
(Recorded September 30, 1956 released in 1957. Columbia CL 968)
Comments on the lyrics of "A Foggy Day" are included
in the The Introduction of "A Foggy Day" in A Damsel in Distress--above
The complete, authoritative lyrics for "A Foggy Day'" can be found in:
Ira includes in his Lyrics on Several Occasions some notes he apparently jotted down on an album jacket in early 1937 in his and George's home in Beverly Hills about the writing of "A Foggy Day." They had already completed three or four songs for A Damsel in Distress when George, late one evening, returned from a party suggesting they get some work done. "Got any Idea's" he asked. "Well there's one spot [in the movie] we might do something about a fog . . . how about a foggy day in London or maybe foggy day in London town?" George liked the "London Town" title better and immediately started on a melody. They "finished the the refrain, words and music, in less than an hour. Next day the song still sounded good so we started on a verse" (pp. 65-67 paperback edition).
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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet: Selected Recordings of
"A Foggy Day"
(All Record/Video Cabinet entries
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)
(*indicates accompanying music-video)
Notes: Fred is accompanied here by Ray Noble and his orchestra. Noble in fact plays a character in the movie, A Damsel in Distress. He portrays Reggie, the somewhat comical, somewhat musical, somewhat pathetic member of Alyce's family who insists on playing jazz against his haughty aunt's wishes, and who ardently courts Gracie only to be defeated by her zaniness. Outside of the film Noble had a distinguished career as a composer and band leader in both Britain, where he was born, and in Hollywood.)
The track on the music-video above is not the soundtrack from the movie A Damsel in Distress, for which the song was written, but recorded in the studio several weeks before the film's release. It is the same track as on the album linked to Amazon and iTunes above with Fred accompanied by the same Ray Noble Orchestra. This track can be found as well as on most other Astaire anthology albums on which Fred sings "A Foggy Day." An exception is the two disc collection alternately released as The Fred Astaire Story and The Complete Norman Granz Sessions on which Fred is accompanied by an all star jazz combo headed by Oscar Peterson on piano made in the early fifties.