“Where Do I Begin?” — Andy Williams (Theme from “Love Story”)

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Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

I was too young to see “Love Story” in 1970 when the film first came out. But when I saw it for the first time many years later, I was captivated by the music.

Francis Lai won a well-deserved Best Original Score Oscar for his work on “Love Story”. Seldom has a film score captured and amplified the emotions on-screen as well as Francis Lai did on this occasion.

“Love Story” is a hugely emotional film in itself, of course, and there’s always a danger that the score for a very emotional film over-does the emotions, detracting from, rather than adding to the emotions we see playing out in front of our eyes.

Francis Lai didn’t do that, however. He amplified the emotions where they needed amplifying, complemented them when they needed a subtle counter-point, and faded to nothing when anything at all would have disrespected the story. It’s an exquisite piece of work.

However, the path to pairing a set of lyrics to the “Love Story” theme was a more tortured one.

The “Love Story” theme had originally been written with a set of lyrics to accompany Frances Lai’s music, but executives at Paramount Pictures decided they didn’t like them and released the film with just Francis Lai’s instrumental as the theme.

So, when “Love Story” hit the cinemas on Christmas Day 1970, moviegoers didn’t know that a few days beforehand Andy Williams had recorded the theme tune, now set to new lyrics by Carl Sigman.

Perhaps not the best-known lyricist, Carl Sigman enjoyed considerable success as a lyricist between the 1940s and 1970s. Among his well-known songs are “If You Could See Me Now”, for Sarah Vaughan, “What Now, My Love?” a UK Top 5 hit for Shirley Bassey, and “You’re My World”, a Number One for Cilla Black in the UK and many other territories. So he knew what he was doing when it came to lyric writing.

Not that this helped when it come to persuading Paramount to take the lyrics he had written for “Love Story”. In fact, “Where Do I Begin?” was the rhetorical question he asked himself when he sat down to try again, after his first set of lyrics were canned by the studio.

I’ve no idea what his first attempt was like, although I’m prepared to bet it was pretty good. However, his second attempt hit the mark perfectly…

Where do I begin
To tell the story of how great a love can be
The sweet love story that is older than the sea
The simple truth about the love she brings to me
Where do I start

In case you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil the story for you, but “Love Story” is known as a legendary tear-jerker for a very good reason.

When I was old enough to see “Love Story” for the first time, I’m guessing some time in the mid-1980s, I absolutely adored it. This was the first film I ever cried at. I remember feeling it had found its way into my emotions that no other film ever had…I was genuinely very moved by it.

The sweeping quality of Andy Williams’ vocal was a perfect complement to Carl Sigman’s lyrics and Francis Lai’s music, and brought the story of the movie to life at the same time.

Andy Williams didn’t have the song to himself, though. In the same week of January 1971 that Andy Williams’ recording was released, Tony Bennett released his version of “Where Do I Begin” too. In terms of chart performance, Andy Williams beat Tony Bennett by a considerable margin, eventually taking it into the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100…quite an achievement for an “easy listening” song.

The film’s popularity no doubt helped, but the combination of Francis Lai’s composition, Carl Sigman’s lyrics and Andy Williams’ performance is genuinely magical.

Wrapping up a complex story that took nearly two hours to tell in the cinema to something under three minutes is no mean feat either. That’s a sure sign you’re in the presence of a masterful lyricist…

With her first hello
She gave new meaning to this empty world of mine
There’d never be another love, another time
She came into my life and made the living fine
She fills my heart

Of course, as you’ll know if you’ve seen the movie, and probably suspect by now even if you haven’t, “Love Story” doesn’t have what you’d call a fairy-tale ending. But all too soon, Oliver, played by Ryan O’Neil, has to come to terms with life on his own when Jenny, played by Ali McGraw, isn’t around any more…

How long does it last
Can love be measured by the hours in a day
I have no answers, but this much I can say
I know I need her till the stars all burn away
And she’ll be there

This is the essence of true love that Carl Sigman captured so beautifully. You can enjoy being with someone without necessarily feeling that you need them “till the stars all burn away”.

Very few people experience love at that level, but in “Love Story”, that’s what happened to Oliver and Jenny, leading to one of cinema’s greatest lines right at the end of the film… “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

We can argue, of course, that apologising for when you mess something up is a normal part of a healthy relationship, but the point made in that line of cinematic gold is that while an apology is welcome, it isn’t necessary.

When you love someone completely, it means you forgive them completely as well…you forgive them for things before they’ve even done them, in fact, because nothing could take away the feelings you have for them.

And that’s a rare experience for any of us to have.

You can find both Andy Williams’ version and Tony Bennett’s versions below. Over and above those recordings, Henry Mancini took an instrumental version of “Where Do I Begin” to Number 13 in the Billboard Hot 100 and Francis Lai also reached a very respectable Number 31 with his instrumental version from the film soundtrack.

Whichever version you prefer, “Where Do I Begin?” is a wonderful tune with gorgeous lyrics, which perfectly matched and complemented the drama on the silver screen.

Be prepared for tears as the music swells towards the end, though, even if you haven’t seen the film. It’s a very moving piece of music, even without its context…you have been warned…

If you’ve read 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/45FLu3nL1iMYXYPzhqLdko

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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