Blue Moon was the only song by Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart not to have been written for a musical. Originally composed as a ballad of beauty it started life as Make Me A Star for a Jean Harlow movie.
The song (and the star) were dropped from the film, and Rodgers and Hart re-worked the song into Blue Moon.
It became a movie favourite in East Side, West Side (1950) and With A Song In My Heart (1952) and during the 50’s an impassioned version by Elvis Presley reached the British Top Ten.
The Marcels were a multi-racial group from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who chose their name from a popular hairstyle at the time.
The group comprised Cornelius ‘Nene’ Harp on lead vocals, Fred Johnson as bass singer, tenors Ronald Mundy and Gene Bricker, and Dick Knauss on baritone. The group became regular club performers with an act that was devoted to doo-wop and R&B cover versions.
When Stu Phillips from Colpix Records in New York was searching for a new act he remembered a demo tape which had been sent to him by The Marcels. The only one with faith in the quintet, Phillips booked a recording studio at Colpix’s expense but without anyone’s knowledge.
The Marcels had recorded three songs when it became apparent they had time to squeeze in a fourth. They chose Blue Moon, speeding it up and adding a deep bass introduction by Fred Johnson, and lashings of doo-wop that practically suffocated Rodgers and Hart’s original.
When New York DJ Murray The K heard the studio tape he became so addicted to the song that he afforded it maximum airplay on New York’s WINS radio station. Stu Phillips was summoned by his Colpix boss to explain how Blue Moon carried his company logo and – more to the point – where it had come from.
Public demand forced Colpix to issue it.
When Blue Moon was commercially released it shot straight to the top of the American chart where it stayed for three weeks, notching up sales of one million copies. The track was licensed to Pye for British release in May 1961, where it was issued immediately to dominate the chart for two weeks.
An album, named after the single, followed quickly.
A follow-up single, a version of George Gershwin’s Summertime, was released in June 1961 but struggled by comparison, reaching #78 in the US and #46 in Britain. A third single, You Are My Sunshine, bombed completely.
With a change of line-up and an appearance in the Rock Around The Clock movie (1956) with Chubby Checker, The Marcels’ first single of 1962 was the Blue Moon sound-alike, Melancholy Baby. It was to be their last hit.
Their final single for Colpix was I Wanna Be The Leader. A subsequent one-off single, How Deep Is The Ocean, was their final release on the Kyra label. Both records bombed and The Marcels disbanded.
The group re-formed during the 70s for a series of nostalgia shows, and in the eighties Blue Moon was heard in the closing sequence of the movie An American Werewolf in London (1981).
Cornelius Harp died on 5 June 2013.
Cornelius ‘Nene’ Harp