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Hit the Road to Dreamland

Written: 1942

Music by: Harold Arlen

Words by: Johnny Mercer

Written for: Star Spangled

(movie, 1942)

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Jane Monheit


"Hit the Road to Dreamland"

with Michael Kanan, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Kenny Washington, drums; Joel Frahm, tenor sax.
Live At The Rainbow Room,
New York City, 2002

Amazon iTunes

More Performances of
"Hit the Road to Dreamland"
in the Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet
(Videomaker credits )


Cafe Songbook Reading Room

"Hit the Road to Dreamland"

Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

About the Movie Star Spangled Rhythm/ Origins of the Song

My Favorite Blonde /
Star Spangled Rhythm Double Feature (DVD)




Other songs written for Star Spangled Rhythm currently included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook:

1. That Old Black Magic


For a complete listing of songs used in the this movie, see IMDB Soundtrack.


Betty Hutton's 1956 rendition of the song was featured on the soundtrack to L.A. Confidential (1997).






"Hit the Road to Dreamland" on the charts:


Freddie Slack and His Orchestra / vocal by Margaret Whiting and The Mellowaires (Capitol 126): first charted 6/12/43, remained on charts for 2 weeks peaking at number 16.
(B side of "That Old Black Magic")


Source: Joel Whitburn,
Pop Memories 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music
, 1986





Star Spangled Rhythm: Original Soundtrack Recording [Vinyl LP] [Mono]

"Hit the Road to Dreamland" was written by Harold Arlen (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) specifically for the score of the movie Star Spangled Rhythm and is introduced in the film by Mary Martin, Dick Powell and the Golden Gate Quartette.

The movie tells the story of Johnny Webster (Eddie Bracken), a sailor whose crew is given shore leave in the vacinity of Hollywood. Webster's father (Victor Moore) works as a security guard at Paramount studios and with the help of Polly Judson (Betty Hutton) a pretty telephone operator at the studio, has convinced young Webster that his father has moved up to a major executive/producer position at Paramount -- so he will be proud of his father while off fighting the war. When the crew is given leave, Johnny decides to bring a bunch of his buddies up to Hollywood to meet the stars (and starlets). He assumes his father can easily arrange it all for them. When Polly learns what the sailor-boys are up to she convinces Johnny's father that they have to somehow bring off the ruse, and the plot flows, with the expected successes and disasters, from their efforts.

As it happens, Paramount is in the proscess of making a musical and so we see the musical numbers written by Arlen and Mercer for Star Spangled Rhythm, which is a hollywood version of abackstager, preformed as rehearsals for or early takes of the final cut of the movie that is being made with the movie. Or, in some cases, we see them performed by Paramount stars as part of a benefit show they put on for a U. S. Navy crew. In the case of "Hit the Road to Dreamland" the director of the movie within the movie, Preston Sturgis (playing himself), is in a Paramount screening room waiting to view the dailies of Dick Powell, Mary Martin and the Golden Gate Quartette performing the song. Before the screening can begin Johnny and and his sailor friends wander into the screening room interrupting Sturgis who is mollified by Betty Hutton's character explaining that one of them is the son of a studio bigshot. Sturgis accepts the explanation and the screening begins. So the song has nothing to do with the plot of the movie per se but its performance is nevertheless cleverly integratedinto the story. Martin, Powell, and the Golden Gate Quartette do their bit for the movie being made within Star Spangled Rhythm, but are never seen again in the main film.

The performance itself is part of a scene in the dining car of a train. Martin and Powell are seated at a table and having finished their dinner and while enjoying some after dinner drinks sing "Hit the Road to Dreamland" to each other as a prelude to returning to their sleeping compartment. After the loitering couple does the verseand refrainkeeping the staff waiting a bit too long, a foursome of African-American servers perform a jivey, gospel counterpoint to the primary version of the song designed to ease the couple gently out so everyone can turn in. This version charms the sleepy diners who admit they "don't need a building to fall on [them]" to get the point. The scene closes with the melding of the two versions and all parties exiting the dining car. It's a fittingly creative frame for the introduction of a song that goes on to become an American standard.

Dick Powell, Mary Martin and The Golden Gate Quartette
in Star Spangled Rhythm

Of course the quartet's music and lyrics (also written by Arlen and Mercer) are heard only in the movie. Subsequent recordings of "Hit the Road to Dreamland" by many performers over the years stick to the initial parts given to Powell and Martin, which are the only ones to apear in the published version.

The remainder of Star Spangled Rhythm follows the pattern of actors in the plot of the movie interacting with actual Paramount stars playing themselves -- and virually all of the stars on the Paramount lot appaear. The finale of the film comes when Bob Hope convinces all the stars to put on a live show as a benefit for the entire crew of Johnny's ship. The show is anchored by Bing Crosby singing Arlen and Mercer's attempt at equalling Irving Berlin in creating a patriotic anthem, which they call "Old Glory." They should leave that stuff to their colleague and friend. "Old Glory," now forgotten, is, though full of pomp and circumstance is no match for "God Bless America."

On the other hand a number of the songwriting team's creations written for the movie beside "Hit the Road to Dreamland" are terrific. The best are "A Sweater, a Sarong and a Peek-a-Boo Bang" sung by the trio of Paulette Goddard, Dorothy Lamour and Veronica Lake; "On the Swing Shift" sung and danced by Marjorie Reynolds, Betty Jane Rhodes and Dona Drake with an ensemble of singers and dancers as a tribute to women working in war plants (between the early and late shifts) while the men are away fighting; and the other great standard from the movie, "That Old Black Magic." Finally, "Sharp As a Tack" is a black cast number satirizing the fad of the zoot suit. It features Eddie "Rochester" Anderson in a zoot suit to die for. At the end of the number Rochester gives up this suit for a military uniform to fit in with the film's appeal to wartime patriotism. The movie also tries to advocate for racial equality in a couple of remarks by white stars during the course of the film but undercuts these slight forays by sustaining the idea of separation of the races in all of its numbers. Star Spangled Rhythm is a perfect example of a film that is far less memorable than the songs created for it.

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Critics Corner

Edward Jablonski
Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues, Boston: Northeaster UP, 1996
(paper bound ed. 1998 shown).

In 1941 and 1942 Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer wrote the music and words respectively to two of their greatest standards: "Blues in the Night" for the movie of the same title and "That Old Black Magic" for the wartime Hollywood call to patriotism "Star Spangled Rhythm." For both movies they wrote second less well known standards: "This Time the Dream's on Me" for Blues in the Night and "Hit the Road to Dreamland" for Star Spangled Rhythm, both of which have long played second fiddle to their more glamorous siblings. Both big numbers, aside from being great songs, had a grandiose quality about them: one a tribute to the Blues and the place it holds in American culture; the other a paean to passion itself. Both second fiddlers shared an interest in jazzy and hip sounds in their music, lyrics and general sensibility. Mercer himself recognized the nature of the place of these songs in the concsciousness of their audience saying to Gene Lees in 1970, "We [meaning he and Arlen] have a lot of songs that are people's favorites that you don't hear much like "Hit the Road to Dreamland" [and] "This Time the Dream's on Me."

In "Hit the Road to Dreamland," Mercer "draws upon contemporary musician argot: 'Dig you in the land of nod,' 'knockedout moon . . . a-blowin' his top," and the title phrase" itself. It even features, in the movie, a very jazzy gospel rendition of the song by the Golden Gate Quartette, that foreshadows the rhythms of 21st century hip-hop. Even the fact that the quartet, though enormously accomplished and well known, are restricted to playing dining car waiters, cannot deny the musical freedom they embody. And the treatments given to the song by jazz singers and players over the following decades confirms its hip core (Jablonski, pp. 158-159).

For William Zinnser, "Hit the Road to Dreamland" is one example of how the strange bedfellows Arlen and Mercer, "from opposite ends of the cultural landscape, one Northeast Jewish, the other Southern Episcopalian . . . together created a distinctively American sound." In the case of this song the same American hipness reflected in Jablonski's comments above.

Book cover" William Zinsser, "Easy to Remember"

William Zinsser.
Easy to Remember
The Great American
Songwriters and Their Songs
Jaffrey, New Hampshire:
David R. Godine, 2001.

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Lyrics Lounge

Click here to read the lyrics for "Hit the Road to Dreamland," as sung by Jane Monheit.

Two Jane Monheit albums featuring renditions of
"Hit the Road to Dreamland"
album cover: Jane Monheit Live at the Rainbow Room
Amazon iTunes Amazon iTunes icon

Very few recorded performances of "Hit the Road to Dreamland," including Jane Monheit's, include Arlen's and Mercer's verse, if for no other reason than it's a duet. Dick Powell and Mary Martin, of course, sing it to each other in Star Spangled Rhythm, for which the song was written. The verse, always an introduction to a song's refrain, here turns out to be a kind of adult version of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," which gets the couple ready for bed, but instead of wanting warm milk as an inducement to turning in, they order two more drinks:

Dick Powell: Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle / Goes the star.
Mary Martin: Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle / There you are. / Time for all good children to hit the hay. / Cock-a-doodle, doodle, doodle, / Soon will be another day.
Powell: We should be on our way!
Martin: [yawns]
Powell: [yawns] Me, too. Waiter, two more, please.
(from Kimball, et. al. The Complete Lyrics)

Meredith D'Ambrosio on her album of lullabies, perhaps more intended for children, does include the verse leaving off the request for "two more."

The complete, authoritative lyrics for "Hit the Road to Dramland" can be found in:

book cover: The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer
The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer, Robert Kimball, Barry Day, Miles Kreuger, and Eric Davis (Eds.),
New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 2009.

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

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("Hit the Road to Dreamland" page)


Credits for Videomakers of videos used on this page:

  • Jane Monheit at the Rainbow Room: romasenatus
  • Dick Powell, Mary Martin the Golden Gate Quartette:
  • Margaret Whiting:

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This section is currently incomplete.

The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of

"Hit the Road to Dreamland"

(All Record/Video Cabinet entries below
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.)

Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)

1942 and 1957
Margaret Whiting
album: Moonlight in Vermont


Amazon iTunes

Notes: Whiting either participated in or was the featured solist on two tracks of "Hit the Road to Dreamland": In 1942 she sang as part of the vocal group the Mellowaires on the Freddie Slack recording, which was the "B" side of "That Old Black Magic" (on which she is the featured vocalist). In this version the whole song is taken at a slow lullaby tempo -- Click video just below to hear the Slack recording of "Hit the Road to Dreamland." (See the Cafe Songbook page for "That Old Black Magic" for an account of the recording session.)

In 1957 she made another recording of "Hit the Road to Dreamland." This is the same track found on the albums Moonlight in Vermont and Goin' Places and can be heard on the music-video just above. Whiting begins with a slow lullaby tempo but quickly picks it up moving into a swinging rendition.


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Pearl Bailey
album: The Best of Pearl Bailey
(and other albums)

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Sassy and outlandish, this [album] anthologizes most (but not all) of Bailey's best sides, including 'It Takes Two to Tango'" (from the iTunes review). Bailey is not outlandish on her lullaby rendition of "Hit the Road to Dreamland" giving us a chance to hear her in her less familiar tender mode, though not without a bluesy touch. This track can also be found on her album My Man.
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Rosemary Clooney
album: Rosemary Clooney Sings
the Lyrics of Johnny Mercer

Amazon iTunes

Notes: On this album Clooney combines "Hit the Road to Dreamland" in a medly with the Mercer song "Dream" -- one of the few songs for which the lyricist wrote both words and music.
"After a long period of indifferent recordings in the 1960s and early '70s, Rosemary Clooney underwent a renaissance after she began recording regularly for Concord in 1977. Backed by swinging ensembles and encouraged to record songbooks and special projects involving superior songs, Clooney blossomed and her career regained its momentum, continuing into the late '90s. This album finds Rosie singing 11 songs that have Johnny Mercer lyrics, including "Something's Got to Give," "Laura," "I Remember You," "Skylark," and even "Hooray for Hollywood." Joined by such fine soloists as tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, cornetist Warren Vaché, trombonist Dan Barrett, guitarist Ed Bickert, and her musical director, pianist John Oddo, Rosemary Clooney is heard in excellent form throughout the colorful program" (iTunes review).

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Meredith D'Ambrosio
album: Sleep Warm

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Meredith D'Ambrosio, who accompanies herself on the piano, has created an album of lullabies, which although still mildly jazz inflected, is aimed at least as much at children as adults. She is one of the few artists who retains the verse, but tactfully, leaves off its concluding words, a request that Dick Powell makes to the waiter in in Star Spangled Rhythm for "two more" before the couple will head off to their sleeping compartment.
Video: currently unavailable
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Nancy LaMott

Album: Come Rain or Come Shine

Amazon iTunes

Notes: LaMott includes the seldom heard portion of the song sung by the Golden Gate Quartette in the movie Star Spangled Rhythm, for which the song was written. (View the clip from the movie center column above.)

Regarding the album as a whole, the Amazon Editorial review reads. "As an interpreter, Nancy LaMott shunned extremes . . . . And so her tribute to lyricist Johnny Mercer typically avoids emotional extremes, exploring instead subtle in-betweens . . . . Her minimalist approach reaps maximum rewards on "P. S. I Love You" and "On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe," on which she basically engages in duets with carefully selected instruments (an acoustic guitar and a stand-up bass, respectively)" --Elisabeth Vincentelli, Amazon Editorial reviewer.

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Susannah McCorkle

Album: From Bessie to Brazil

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "For this Concord release, singer Susannah McCorkle alternates vintage standards and obscurities with some more recent songs such as 'The Waters Of March,' and Dave Frishberg's 'Quality Time,' and Paul Simon's 'Still Crazy After All These Years.' The bread and butter is still the older tunes and among the highlights are 'The Lady Is A Tramp,' "My Sweetie Went Away,' 'Hit The Road To Dreamland' and a remake of 'The People That You Never Get To Love' (From the CDUniverse Product Description). McCorkle is joined by Dick Oatts (alto sax, flute), Ken Peplowski (tenor sax, clarinet), Randy Sandke (trumpet, flugelhorn), Robin Trowers (trombone), Allen Farnham (piano), Howard Alden (guitar), Kiyoshi Kitagawa (bass), Chuck Redd (drums).

Dr. John
album: Mercenary

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Dr. John's been on a roll since he signed with Blue Note. Each title he's released on the label has been solid, full of New Orleans funk, hot R&B, and swinging, finger-poppin' jazz. Since the Hurricane Katrina disaster, dozens of Crescent City players have been active, and trying to bring the message of the music to the masses like never before. Mercernary is a program almost entirely made up of tunes by the legendary Johnny Mercer. There is no explanation for this, other than Mac Rebennack has always admired his lyricism and the striking rhythmic originality of the rhythmic possibilities in his music" (from the iTunes review).
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