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                           Muses on The Music

Doin’ Yer Prom Themes

April 26, 2017

       It’s that time of year, when Dad and/or Mom pony up for the dress, and the guys knot their black ties and strap on the cummerbunds.

       Yes, it’s Junior Prom time, when our nation’s teenagers repair to a high school gym or some other place decorated to look like, well, something. Possibly like the theme for that particular example of these annual social soirees — which is the theme of this week’s post. Prom themes, that is. And the impact of The Music on them.

       Those themes are quite often influenced by popular culture, particularly movies and music. But a random survey of prom themes over the decades indicates that song titles, anyway, have become less popular.

       For instance, a non-scientific survey of the Interwebs turned up themes like “A Night in Paris,” “A Story to Remember,” “Paris,” “Grecian Dreams” and “The Great Gatsby.” The last of those, of course, is the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, which was made into a movie (or maybe more than one), which might have had a theme song. But one high school class called its spring dance “Yule Ball”! Maybe April 2017 was extra cold in that area …

       If you go back to the dawn of the Rock and Roll Era, you find popular music song titles everywhere among the prom themes. My survey of 1956 news stories in Wisconsin showed “Blue Hawaii” and “Moonlight and Roses” to be the most popular.

       The former was, of course, not from the Elvis Presley movie of 1961, but probably inspired by a 1954 Bing Crosby recording of  a 1937 motion picture theme song. “Moonlight and Roses” was a 1954 No. 24 hit for the Three Suns.

       Other popular themes were “Memories Are Made of This” (Dean Martin, 1955), “Paris in the Springtime” (a line from “I Love Paris,” recorded by Bing Crosby in 1954), “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” (Perez Prado’s 1955 No. 1) and “Door to Dreams (Perry Como, 1955).

       Also chosen by at least two Badger State schools were “Three Coins in a Fountain” and “Stairway to the Stars.” The former was the Academy Award-winning theme song from the movie “Three Coins in the Fountain.” The latter, we can only hope, was not the result of the prom committee taking a time machine to 1972 and hearing the Blue Öyster Cult song of the same name; more likely, it came from a much-earlier jazz piano piece.

       Now, let’s flash forward 10 years, a decade into the rock era, including that intensely-productive period in the early-to-mid 1960s. And, junior prom theme-wise, you would think you’re back in 1956, mostly.

       The most popular themes in 1966 — again, based on a survey of Wisconsin newspapers — were “Camelot” and the above-mentioned “Moonlight and Roses.” Okay, “Camelot” was a 1960 hit Broadway musical, and its original cast recording was the No. 1-selling album in the U.S. for 60 weeks thereafter. But nobody did some one later have a hit with a cover of that Three Suns’ single?

       Close behind those two — and a lot more popular than it was 10 years previously — was “Some Enchanted Evening.” That chestnut came from the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific,” with Como, Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford recording popular versions that same year; it had been made into a movie in 1958, though.

       Also regularly recycled from 1956 was “Harbor Lights,” a 1937 song most popularly covered by Sammy Kaye and Guy Lombardo in 1950, but also recored by Crosby. Used with about the same frequency was “Shangri-La,” apparently borrowed from the 1933 “Lost Horizon.”

       Used at least twice were “Three Coins in a Fountain” (still being altered), “Showboat” (1951 movie musical), “Evening in Paris” (maybe a 1950s/early ’60s recording by jay sax virtuoso Stan Getz?), and “Moonlight Over Naples” and “Midnight in Morocco” (no movie or musical parallel that I could find).

       There were a few proms that seemingly got their themes from contemporary pop/rock, but they were mostly few and far between. “Ebb Tide” was a 1965 minor hit for the Righteous Brothers, “Stranger on the Shore” got to Acker Bilk to No. 1 in 1961.

       But otherwise, it was a lot of older songs, or recent adult contemporary/middle-of-the road: two Bert Kaempfert No. 1 instrumentals, “In the Misty Moonlight” (Dean Martin and Jerry Wallace, 1964) and so on. And some rather odd choices, like “Days of Wine and Roses,” which was a 1962 movie about two alcoholics, the theme song being covered most notably by Andy Williams.

       Jumping ahead another 10 years, you find a different pattern. The most popular prom theme in 1976 (again, in Wisconsin) appears to have been “Dream On,” a 1973 single by Aerosmith, which charted at No. 59. Ranking next was “Pieces of April,” a No. 6 in 1972 for Three Dog Night. (The Dogs’ “Til the World Ends,” a 1975 No. 11 also written by Dave Loggins, was used by at least one school.)

       Also popular were the Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road,” from their final album, and also their last single release; the much-overplayed “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin; and “Knights in White Satin,” which was obviously an alteration of the Moody Blues’ 1967 No. 2 “Nights in White Satin.”

       Generally, a majority of the 1976 themes seem to be inspired by popular music. Chicago was the league-leader in different themes, with “Colour My World,” “Saturday in the Park” and “I’ve Been Searching So Long” used by at least one Badger State prom.

       Other examples were “Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd (?!); “Morning Has Broken,” Cat Stevens; “We May Never Pass this Way Again,” Seals and Crofts; “If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words,” Bread (also possibly as the actual song title, “If”); “If You Could Read My Mind,” Gordon Lightfoot; “Dancing in the Moonlight,” King Harvest; “Could It Be Magic,” Barry Mannilow; “A Dream Goes on Forever,” Todd Rundgren (also possibly mangled as “A Dream Lives on Forever”); “The Way We Were,” Barbara Streisand; “Sailing,” Rod Steward; and “Dream Weaver,” Gary Wright.

       That appears to have been the heyday of rock/pop-themed proms; couldn't find many in 1986, nor in the following 30-plus years. Maybe it’s because video did kill the radio star, or maybe punk, grunge, indie, hiphop and rap didn’t provide the same feeling.

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