One of the most romantic songs of all time might never have been written if Hoagy Carmichael had stuck to practising law.
He’d been taught piano by his mother and while at college he supplemented his income by playing in bands. But one day, Hoagy Carmichael decided to put his law books on one side for good….and I’m very glad he did.
As you know, we like song lyrics around here. But although Hoagy Carmichael was a pretty decent lyricist himself, “Stardust” began life as an instrumental. (It also began life as “Star Dust”, but unless you’ve got time for an intricate grammar-based discussion, we’ll leave that thought there for now…)
Thankfully, Mitchell Parish came along and wrote some of the most beautiful lyrics in the English language to complement Hoagy Carmichael’s wonderful composition. “Stardust” was on its way to becoming one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, and one of the most popular songs of all time.
Although several singers had recorded it by the time Nat King Cole was given the opportunity to put it on vinyl, and even though his interpretation wasn’t the only, or even the biggest, hit version of “Stardust”, somehow Nat King Cole’s performance of the song quickly became the standard.
I’ve got a great personal fondness for Willie Nelson’s version too, which you can find here… https://youtu.be/Hf5UvKjCDUU
Willie Nelson captures the sentiment well, but only really sings the chorus of this admittedly oddly-structured song. He gave us a good sense of the feelings, but doesn’t set up the story for us first like Nat King Cole’s version which uses all of Mitchell Parish’s wonderful lyrics.
“Stardust” was the perfect song choice for Nat King Cole. With his silky tone and great control, Nat King Cole made “Stardust” sentimental and reflective without being overly-emotional or maudlin.
It always comes across to me as a song from someone who’s not used to acknowledging his feelings…maybe they’re even a little gruff in person…but late one night, walking home alone, he looks up at the night sky and something touches him deeply.
And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
We could probably spend the rest of this article just on those two lines. Mitchell Parish certainly takes us on a journey, the like of which we haven’t been on before…
You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by
The stardust metaphor is wonderful.
The idea that several millennia ago fragments of some far-away planetary body broke away and started their journey of millions of miles across the frozen darkness of space until they collided, largely by chance, with the planet we know as Earth is the perfect motif for a fond, but distant, memory of a special person in your life.
Of course, it might not have been millennia since you last saw them. But being without them means it feels like millennia have passed by in your heart, even if only a few hours or a couple of days is all that’s passed by on a clock.
Beside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
A paradise where roses bloom
Thought I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain
Mitchell Parish begins “Stardust” with some of the most tender lyrics ever written. He’s still going strong at the end.
“The memory of love’s refrain” is the perfect way to describe how you feel when your heart reminds you of someone special…especially when that person can’t be with you any more, and you can’t be with them.
It might be love gone wrong. It might be someone’s passing. It might be a brave man or woman going to serve their country overseas, putting their own life on the line.
But “Stardust” isn’t a just song for someone who’s not with you. It’s a song for someone you can’t be with, no matter how much you want to. It’s physically impossible.
All you have left of them…at least for now…possibly for the rest of your life…is their “stardust melody, the memory of love’s refrain”.
You think about them and all the feelings come back. It’s like they’re beside you, even though they’re not. You know this rationally, but your feelings trick you.
You’re together again in your heart, even though all you have left of them are your memories.
You’ll have to go a long way to find those feelings described better than on that day in the late 1920s when Mitchell Parish picked up a pen, took the soaring, idiosyncratic melody Hoagy Carmichael had written a couple of years previously and used it to create one of the most tender songs of all time.
Never has a sense of loss been described as well as Mitchell Parish does in “Stardust”.
Here’s Nat King Cole with what most people regard as the classic version of this beautiful song (although don’t forget to check out the Willie Nelson version above…you won’t be disappointed in that either…)
If you’ve got this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/4YPYFUATiul0877A1HhSlW