Music/Lyrics: Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers
Original Artist: Rodgers and Hart
Original Album: Single (1935)
Historian: Geoff Ecker
Though originally defined as the third full moon in a season with four full moons, an error in a Sky and Telescope article in March 1946 resulted in the current definition for a “blue moon” as the second full moon in the same month. A fairly uncommon occurrence in the real world – only happening six times between 1999 and 2010 in North America – there will be only two more in the five years thereafter.
Conversely, in the world of music, the song “Blue Moon” is far from a rarity. It has been recorded or performed by countless artists including jazz icons Django Reinhardt, Mel Tormé, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong, big band singers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennett (with Ella Fitzgerald), R&B artists The Supremes, surf music aficionados The Ventures, contemporary artists Cowboy Junkies, Chris Isaak, Tori Amos and My Morning Jacket, pop-punkers MxPx, not to mention Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. It is also the theme song for the Manchester City Football Club in England, sung by their supporters during matches.
The creation of the song “Blue Moon” was fairly convoluted. In 1933, songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were commissioned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to write a song for a movie entitled Hollywood Party. The result was a song with different lyrics and the music that would become “Blue Moon” was called “Prayer (Oh Lord, Make Me a Movie Star)” which was copyrighted but remained unpublished when it was scrapped from the film.
In 1934, attempting to create a title song for the film Manhattan Melodrama, Hart wrote new lyrics for the tune (now called “It’s Just That Kind of Play”), but it, too, was cut from that film before its release. “The Bad In Every Man” was the result of Hart’s third attempt, which ended up being used as a nightclub number for the same film.
After the Manhattan Melodrama’s release, the head of MGM’s publishing company thought the tune could be a commercial hit with more romantic lyrics, and after some reluctance from Hart, he crafted the fourth and final evolution of the song: “Blue Moon.” Initially used as the theme song for the radio program Hollywood Hotel, after Connee Boswell recorded it, MGM ended up using the song in at least seven more films including the Marx Brothers’ At the Circus.
Despite all Hart’s efforts with the lyrics, the one time Phish played this song it was performed as an instrumental. At the conclusion of their first year back after their 2004 breakup – during the encore of their Miami 12/31/09 show – the song was used as the background music as Trey individually thanked each and every staff and crew member for their work. Typical of Phish their choice for using “Blue Moon” was not haphazard; instead it was a nod to the fact that that New Year’s Eve was a blue moon – an extremely rare occurrence. Who knows? Maybe they’ll play it again when the next New Year’s blue moon occurs in 2028 (when it also coincides with a total lunar eclipse)?