Murder, He Says – the song

11 Jun

I’m not quite sure how I happened upon this song – I think I was looking up songs by Dinah Shore on youtube – but this quirky, jazzy song immediately tickled my fancy and you gotta love the catchy introduction to this song, which brings to mind a kind of lively detective-ish grooviness. I quickly memorized the lyrics and it is a favorite song to sing while blow-drying my hair (why I wait until after my shower to sing this particular song, I don’t know. It’s just a blow dryer song).

In this case, the title of the song does not refer to an actual murder. It refers to murder used as a slang term. The singer is dissatisfied with the vocabulary of her boyfriend, who always exclaims “murder” whenever they kiss. The song then goes on to recount the other slang terms he uses, such as ‘solid,’ ‘Jackson,’ and other colorful expressions that the singer finds markedly unromantic.

The song was written for the 1943 musical movie Happy Go Lucky, with Mary Martin, Dick Powell and Betty Hutton. The lyrics were written by Frank Loesser (known for writing both the lyrics and music for “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Suceed in Business Without Really Trying) and Jimmy McHugh. McHugh is a slightly forgotten composer – definitely unknown compared to George Gerswhin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, even Rodgers & Hart.

However, many of his songs are an integral part of what is known as The Great American Songbook: popular American music from the 1920s-1950s, much of which was written for movies and musicals. Perhaps his most well-known song is “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” – though , ironically, there’s controversy over who actually wrote the song. Many people believe that the song was actually written by Fats Waller, who sold the song to McHugh.

Betty Hutton also recorded the song and her live version is something altogether more peppy than Shore’s. Actually, peppy doesn’t begin to do her performance justice. Bob Hope called her a “vitamin pill on legs.” It’s something to behold.

It is fun to imagine the influence this song might have had on popular culture. I can’t confirm any of this, but I wonder if it is possible to trace the title of this song to the title of Angela Lansbury’s show Murder, She Wrote. I read that the show might have gotten its title from the 1961 movie, Murder, She Said, which was an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel 4:50 From Paddington, a Miss Marple mystery. There was also a 1945 comedy called Murder, He Says, starring Fred MacMurray. One wonders if the song influenced the title of the movie, which in turn could have influenced the title of the Miss Marple movie and then on to the famous TV show. It could just be a coincidence, though.

1 Comment

Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Great American Songbook


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One response to “Murder, He Says – the song

  1. Keleigh Hardie

    February 20, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    I first heard this song by Dinah Shore on the radio in the video game LA Noire. It really stuck with me. Have you heard Tori Amos’ cover? She does a nice job, and the Billy May style arrangement is great. That said, Betty Hutton’s performance is my favorite now. Vitamin pill with legs, indeed.



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