Monday, November 23, 2009

The Shadow of His Smile

November 23, 1925

As a musician, he played with Count Basie and Zoot Sims. As an arranger, he's won two Grammy Awards and worked with the likes of Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand. As a composer, he's written some of the most gorgeous melodies of the post-Great American Songbook era (our favorites include "The Shining Sea," "A Time for Love," "Close Enough for Love" and "Quietly There"). But despite this accomplished list of achievements, it's for one single composition that Johnny Mandel will forever be remembered: "The Shadow of Your Smile."

Inarguably the best (and certainly the most tasteful) thing to come out of the bloated, would-be blockbuster The Sandpiper (1965), Mandel's haunting theme captured the hearts and imaginations of nearly everyone, becoming a massive hit even as the British Invasion, Motown and the early murmurings of psychedelia and acid rock were all but obliterating "middle of the road" pop from the charts and airwaves. Interestingly though, not one single version (and there were plenty to choose from, as we'll soon see) became the definitive, chart-topping rendition. Mandel's music had seduced the world, and such was the strength of the music, it seemed to matter little who was giving voice to it.

Still known as "Love Theme from The Sandpiper," the song first became a minor chart hit for Tony Bennett on Columbia - reportedly incensing Peggy Lee over at Capitol, who had recorded it months prior to Bennett; hers was probably the first cover of the theme, recorded literally days after the film's June 1965 premiere and rush-released soon after. (Lee's single didn't chart, but it made an appearance on her Then Was Then, Now is Now album a few months later.) Lou Rawls, La Lee's Capitol labelmate, recorded a souled-up version which first gained Mandel's ballad entrez to the R&B chart in early 1966. Perhaps sensing overkill (or not wanting to steal Bennett's thunder), the good folks at Columbia curiously withheld Barbra Streisand's uncharacteristically demure rendition as a single - except, of course, in Japan.

Unfortunately, the film itself didn't receive the same kind of rapturous reception as its swoonsome theme song (which ultimately won the Best Original Song Oscar, as well as the Song of the Year Grammy Award), though not for lack of trying. One of the many tie-in promotions featured co-star Eva Marie Saint with her smartly-matched American Tourister luggage - all ready for a chic yet quick getaway from the deadly reviews.

One of the more amusing promotional campaigns was a Saks Fifth Avenue collection "inspired by the "dramatic story and scenic beauty" of The Sandpiper. The youthful, chic clothing was indeed "very Saks Fifth Avenue," as the ads would say, and designed by Lynn Stuart; the sight of the increasingly zaftig Mrs. Burton in her Irene Sharaff painter's smocks in the actual film reminded one wag more of Lane Bryant.

Meanwhile, "The Shadow of Your Smile"'s juggernaut continued unabated, with new singles, and album tracks, and albums titled after the song hitting the shelves weekly. It became the one mandatory song for every Adult Contemporary vocalist of the generation to record, with one glaring exception: the Chairman of the Board never made a studio recording of it, although he did include a quick, two-minute performance on his Sinatra at the Sands (1966) live album.

And what would the creator of all this think? Surely, it must be gratifying to have one's work, albeit just a 3 minute portion of it, so celebrated and loved and universally known. On the flip side, what of all the other work (some of it far better), which has gone relatively unnoticed, consumed by the huge, looming Shadow? Since he's described as one of the nicest, most generous guys in the business, we'll assume that Johnny Mandel has taken it all in stride, and with typical graciousness. Happy Birthday, Mr. Mandel. And just between us, even though you call Diana Krall your favorite singer (well...even geniuses are entitled to inexplicable quirks), we'd love for you to revisit a 1982 album by one SSUWAT's favorites, Miss Sue Raney. She's as lovely as your music, and the match is one made in heaven.


  1. Despite the poor reviews, The Sandpiper was an enormous hit for MGM and the Burtons, grossing $14M on a $5.5M budget in '65.

  2. Don't know Ms Raney...and just checked to see that Amazon doesn't have this disk--the 30 sec clip is SO enticing!

  3. FrednEthel... email me privately.

  4. What a wonderful, nutty, labyrinthian post! Eva Marie looks more like Pamela Austin than herself in that ad.

  5. My favorite Mandels? Shirley Horn's Here's To Life, and The Manhattan Transfer's Christmas album.

  6. Goodness! is this your doctoral thesis? It should be.

  7. May I cast my vote for Mr Mandel's song "Don't Look Back", written for David Allyn and subsequently recorded by the great Irene Kral ? And what about all those delicious arrangements for David Allyn's Kern Album?
    Of the Sandpiper's two diminutive stars, one critic
    exclaimed, "It's a Pygmy romance."

  8. Wow - great post! I hope no one was inspired to dress in that horrible flouncy painting smock a la Liz on the beach, though. Poor choice.


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