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Nat 'King' Cole
Nat 'King' Cole

There are many 20th century artists who have reason to thank the composer and performer Hoagy Carmichael for not going into law. Lured away by jazz and Hollywood he came to write the music for one of the most recorded songs of all time.

Brought up in a household full of ragtime music and being an ardent jazz fan it is no surprise that what began life as a piano piece, was initially presented in ragtime style and has been embraced and recorded by the jazz world. Band leader Isham Jones was first to have a hit with the tune in 1930 although it was first recorded by Emil Seidel in 1927. Hoagy’s biggest seller was composed shortly after he abandoned the legal profession and became a full time composer and performer.

Hoagy Carmichael
"All of sudden I got to thinking music! I'm supposed to be a musician, I'm supposed to write music."

The lyrics were added four years later by Mitchell Parish, a superb lyricist who had previously worked with Carmichael on Riverboat Shuffle in 1924. Parish’s use of metaphor reflected his deep interest in literature and used his poetic talents to the full. He later said of the lyrics: "Growing up on the Lower East Side, we didn't see stars. I don't want to psychoanalyze myself, but I sometimes think that all those song lyrics about the moon and the stars represented an escape. They expressed a longing for what I couldn't see."

Legend has it that Hoagy composed the song after reminiscing about former girlfriends on a midnight stroll. Alistair Cooke says the tune was written that night.

Alistair Cooke
"He looked at the sky, he got a tune in his head and he wrote it down that night"

Comprising a sixteen barverse and thirty-two bar chorus the song does not conform to the A-B A-B structure widely used in the Tin Pan Alley era. American poet laureate Oscar Hammerstein II claimed that it "rambles and roams like a truant schoolboy in a meadow…its structure is loose, its pattern complex". Stardust uses a wide range which isn’t unusual but whereas in other songs notes below or above the octave are saved for climactic moments in Stardust they arean integral part of the melody. For instance the second bar starts with a low D, four beats later rises to a high E, to swoop down to a low D four beats later.

The Blue Rhythm Band made the first vocal record in 1931 with Chick Bullock paving the way for more hits that year with Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Further recordings followed throughout the Great Depression including records by Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.

Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra and Glen Miller were amongst those who kept the song alive throughout WWII.
The biggest hits came in 1957 when Billy Ward and His Dominoes got to the highest chart position of #13. However the most well-known version is Nat King Cole's version which was a hit around the same time but only got as far as #24.
Since then it has been recorded worldwide and in numerous styles such as Willie Nelson's country version that appeared on his appropriately titled album Stardust in 1978. 137 weeks and three million copies later it still featured in the Country charts.

The greatest, most romantic song

Terry Wogan

 Terry Wogan on Stardust

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