“Happy Days Are Here Again”
Composed by Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellin (lyric); arranged by George “The Fox” Williams.
Recorded by Barbra Streisand for Columbia Records in October of 1962 in New York.
The story: Barbra Streisand was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 24, 1942. Brooklyn remained a part of her personality long after she left it, first to enter show business in Manhattan, and then to go onto an enormously successful career as a singer, actress and movie-maker. Growing up in Brooklyn, she learned the quick reactions one has to have to be successful onstage. Despite the fact that she possesses a voice that comes along very rarely, and astonishing musical instincts that she seems to have had since she was a child, her career as a performer became more successful only after she was able to talk with and joke with the audiences she blew away with her singing. It humanized her, and enabled audiences to know that at the core of her being, she was just a girl from Brooklyn. “Brooklyn to me means the Loew’s Kings, Erasmus (Hall High School), the yeshiva I went to, the Dodgers, Prospect Park, great Chinese food. I’m so glad I came from Brooklyn — it’s down to earth.” (At right: Barbara, as she was then known, with (I think) her older brother Sheldon – 1952 in Brooklyn.)
Barbara attended Erasmus Hall High School from 1956 to January 1959, when she graduated at age 16. She excelled at her studies as well as singing while in high school. One of her classmates and friends at Erasmus was Neil Diamond. (Below – Barbara’s picture in her high school year book – 1956.)
She moved to Manhattan soon after leaving high school, and scuffled, trying to break into show business. The year 1959 was one during which Barbara worked at menial jobs, slept on the couches of friends, and made the rounds of casting offices. Her primary objective was to become an actor, not a singer. She took a job as an usher at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater for The Sound of Music early in 1960. During the run of the play, she heard that the casting director was auditioning for more singers, and it marked the first time she sang in pursuit of a job. Although the director felt she was not right for the part, he encouraged her to begin including her talent as a singer on her résumé when looking for work.
She asked her then boyfriend, Barry Dennen, to tape her singing. Dennen found a guitarist to accompany her: “We spent the afternoon taping, and the moment I heard the first playback I went insane … This nutty little kook had one of the most breathtaking voices I’d ever heard … when she was finished and I turned off the machine, I needed a long moment before I dared look up at her.” (1)
She then duplicated the tapes so she could give copies of them give to possible employers as demos. Dennen grew enthusiastic, and in the spring of 1960 he convinced her to enter a talent contest at the Lion, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. There, she performed two songs in the contest, after which there was a “stunned silence” from the audience, followed by “thunderous applause” when she was pronounced the winner. She was invited back and sang at the club for several weeks without pay, but with audiences. It was during this time that she dropped the second “a” from her first name, switching from “Barbara” to “Barbra.”
In the summer of 1960, Streisand auditioned at the Bon Soir, a nightclub on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. She got the gig there, which paid $125 a week. It was her first professional engagement as a singer. In the club’s show she was the opening act for comedienne Phyllis Diller, who was the headliner. She later recalled that was the first time she had been in that kind of “plush” environment: “I’d never been in a nightclub until I sang in one.” During her run at that venue, she became something of an underground sensation in Greenwich Village.
She discovered that her ironic Brooklyn sense of humor was received favorably by her audiences, so she began inserting light-hearted comments, always with a hip Brooklyn edge, between songs. During the next six months appearing at Bon Soir, she began to get noticed by mainstream media. Newspaper reporters and columnists began comparing her singing voice to those of Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Fanny Brice. Her ability to charm audiences with spontaneous humor during performances became more sophisticated and professional. Theater critic Leonard Harris wrote: “She’s twenty; by the time she’s thirty she will have rewritten the record books.” By late in 1960, Barbra Streisand’s career was beginning to take-off.
With the help of her new personal manager, Martin Erlichman, she had successful engagements in Detroit and St. Louis. Erlichman then booked her at a more upscale nightclub in Manhattan, the Blue Angel on east 55th Street, where she continued to excite audiences during the period from 1961 to 1962.
In early 1962 she participated in the Columbia Records cast recording of the Harold Rome Broadway show I Can Get It for You Wholesale. This recording was produced by the president of Columbia Records, Goddard Lieberson. Lieberson was a well-schooled musician who had worked his way up to the presidency of Columbia from the position of A and R man, where he started in 1939. Although his accomplishments at Columbia Records were manifold, his particular favorite activity was in introducing cast recordings of Broadway shows to the pop music market on LP records, which started in the early 1950s. He loved every aspect of doing this, including acting as producer at the recording sessions. In order to ensure a constant flow of new material for Columbia Broadway cast recording LPs, Lieberson also pioneered in having Columbia Records invest in promising Broadway musical shows. (Above right: Goddard Lieberson and Barbra Streisand at the signing of her first contract with Columbia Records.)
During one of the recording sessions for the I Can Get It for You Wholesale album, which took place at Columbia’s 30th Street recording studio in Manhattan, with dozens of musicians and singers participating, the smooth flow of the session was interrupted when a relatively unknown Barbra Streisand “stopped in the middle of her song, ‘Miss Marmelstein,’ because she didn’t like the orchestration. Lieberson, who produced the session, stepped out of the control booth, took her aside, and quietly but firmly got her to sing the song as written.”(2) This inauspicious meeting was the first between Goddard Lieberson, president of Columbia Records, and Barbra Streisand. But she did meet him, and after that interaction, he definitely knew who she was.
As one would expect, Lieberson, though he couldn’t help but to appreciate Barbra’s singing, was less enchanted with her behavior in the recording studio on that date. At age 19, she clearly had huge talent as a singer, and the beginnings of an artistic temperament to match. Nevertheless, Lieberson showed no inclination to have any involvement with Barbra Streisand’s singing career.
But as president of Columbia Records, Lieberson was at the epicenter of the pop music business then, and increasingly, various people were coming to him with the same recommendation: sign Barbra Streisand NOW! Eventually, Lieberson agreed to attend one of Barbra’s performances at the Blue Angel. Her singing “…knocked him to the canvas. ‘It takes a big man to admit a mistake,’ Lieberson told Barbra’s manager Marty Erlichman,’ and I made a mistake. (Now) I would like to record Barbra.'”(3) Barbra Streisand signed with Columbia Records on October 1, 1962.
The song “Happy Days Are Here Again” was composed in 1929 for the M-G-M film Chasing Rainbows. In May of 1962, Barbra Streisand appeared on The Garry Moore television show. During a segment called “That Wonderful Year,” in a skit set in the year 1929, Barbra performed “Happy Days Are Here Again” ironically as a millionaire who has just lost all of her money and enters a bar, giving the bartender her expensive jewelry in exchange for drinks. She sang the song, which was usually done at a medium or up tempo, at an insinuatingly slow tempo. Her performance built dynamically to an explosive finale, and immediately became an audience-pleaser during the early phase of her career.
Streisand first recorded “Happy Days Are Here Again” in October 1962 at Columbia’s 30th Street NYC studio, some months before her first album sessions. This version, arranged and conducted by George “The Fox” Williams (shown below left) (3), became Streisand’s first commercial single in November 1962, with the Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler standard “When the Sun Comes Out” on the B side. Only 500 copies of this single were pressed for the New York market, and no copies were sent to radio stations. Nevertheless, the record flew off the shelves of the record stores where it was available for purchase. This 1962 version was re-released as a single in March 1965 as part of Columbia’s “Hall of Fame” series.
This first recording of “Happy Days Are here Again” by Barbra Streisand is the one where we hear her interpretation of the song at its purest. She sings the song’s verse, accompanied only by sparse piano chords, and then goes into its first chorus as well an any jazz performer, by entering deliciously after the downbeat. The quality of her voice, her phrasing, range and passionate interpretation set the standard of what she would do as a singer over the next five-plus decades. The diminuendo from the climactic note, which starts with Barbra in full voice, and which she masterfully reduces to a whisper, is one of many thrilling moments in this performance that make it clear that this was no ordinary singer.
Streisand re-recorded the song in January 1963 for her debut Columbia LP album, The Barbra Streisand Album, the music for which was arranged and conducted by Peter Matz.
Barbra sang the song opposite Judy Garland, who performed “Get Happy,” during an October 1963 broadcast of The Judy Garland Show on television. That performance was recorded and was first included on Streisand’s 1991 box set Just for the Record, and then again on her 2002 Duets compilation.
In June of 1967, Streisand performed the song for over 135,000 people in Central Park That recording was released as a part of the live concert album A Happening in Central Park. It was later rereleased on the compilations Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits, and The Essential Barbra Streisand.
The song has become a signature part of Streisand’s concert repertoire, and she has performed it live on numerous occasions. I was fortunate enough to hear her sing it at a concert in her home town, Brooklyn, in 2013, and she stopped the show with it, as always.