I’ve always been a bit of a living anachronism; I know virtually nothing about my own, contemporary culture and I especially know little about the music of my era. I’m more likely to recognize a song from the 1930s or ’40s than I am one from the 2000s or ’90s. So it was with great excitement that I recently watched a 2014 film and recognized a song. I almost came out of my seat in my excitement in pointing it out to my cousin, who I think was a little amused with my excessive glee. Here was this extremely cool movie that most everyone had agreed was one of the best entries in the Marvel movie cannon and I was babbling away about a song that was playing in the background from 1945. I could tell him exactly what the song was and who was playing and singing it; and now I could tell him who wrote it.
The movie was Captain America: Winter Soldier and the song was “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” Since Captain America is also out of time and a living anachronism, having jumped ahead from WWII to 2011, it made sense that he would listen to music from his own era.
“It’s Been a Long, Long Time” was a hit song near the end of 1945. It was originally recorded by the big band leader Harry James and His Music Makers and was #1 on the billboard for a while, to be later recorded by other artists who had a similar success. I’ve always liked Harry James, ever since I first heard him play in a movie with Esther Williams called Bathing Beauty. I was extremely impressed with his virtuosity on the trumpet. Since he plays trumpet, it always features very prominently in the arrangements of the songs he and his band play (Benny Goodman’s instrument was the clarinet, as was Artie Shaw) and I love his particular sound.
The song was written by the songwriting duo, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. Another hit song for them was “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” Both men were extremely prolific and contributed to many, many hit songs and Oscar winning songs, writing for Hollywood and Broadway. Together they wrote songs for Romance on the High Seas with Doris Day, and Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Sammy Cahn would also write lyrics with many other composers, especially Jimmy Van Heusen (who wrote a lot of music for Sinatra). Jule Styne would also have an extremely successful career working on musicals and wrote the songs for “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.”
One of the reasons “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” was such a hit, apart from the fact that it is a good song, was how much it captured an overwhelming ethos of the time it came out. It is about someone welcoming home a loved one after a very long time. They are asking for a kiss (quite a few) and singing of how they haven’t felt this way for a “long, long time.” It’s very touching, when you think about. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to welcome home a loved one who has been away for literally years, and to know that the war they fought in is now over. It must be an extraordinary feeling and setting the song in its era really gave me an extra appreciation of it and its expression of an emotion that so many people shared at the end of the war.
This version is by Harry James’s band and sung by Helen Forrest.