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"Tonight You Belong To Me" is a wonderful song, written by Billy Rose and Lee David in 1926, that first became a hit for Gene Austin in 1927 (though one source I found tells me it was first recorded by Irving Kaufman in 1926). It has been covered by many many people over the years, the best known version of which was probably the one by sister duo Patience and Prudence in 1956.

Patience and Prudence were the daughters of Mark McIntyre, a professional musician, songwriter and record producer who wrote for Nat King Cole and accompanied Frank Sinatra on piano during the mid-'40s. They reportedly learned the song while at summer camp in 1955, when they were nine and twelve respectively - their father recognised it as the Billy Rose hit from several decades earlier, and was impressed enough to work up the arrangement as a demo, intended for cabaret singer Lisa Kirk, while also recording a version with Patience and Prudence's vocals as a gift for their grandparents. Two copies of that tape were made - the other one he gave to Ross Bagdasarian (perhaps better known as David Seville, creator of the Chipmunks), his work partner at Liberty Records.

It so happened that Bagdasarian's wife liked it, and suggested they play it for Si Waronker, head of Liberty Records. Waronker loved the song, quickly signed Patience and Prudence to Liberty, and they re-cut the song with overdubs to strengthen their ethereal vocals and rushed to release it as a single (with the B-side "A Smile and a Ribbon", now featured in the graphic novel and film Ghost World), then watched as the record became a hit and rose to number four in the Billboard charts in the U.S. and number 28 in the U.K.. It saved Liberty from bankruptcy and became the label's first top-10.

The other place many people may come across the song is in the Steve Martin '70s comedy film "The Jerk". In one scene, Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters sing a night-time duet on the beach - the song was "Tonight You Belong To Me", with Martin playing ukulele and Peters on flugelhorn. (I've read that the DVD has a bonus feature that actually teaches you how to play the song on the ukulele.)

I myself first came across this song about a year ago, when Erin McKeown and Josh Ritter performed it as a duet on the radio show The Whole Wide World with Rita Houston on WFUV. While loving it at the time, I thought nothing more of it until over a year later, just last week in fact, when a video of McKeown and Ritter performing this very song for the Signature Sounds 10th Anniversary Show surfaced. I fell in love with the song all over again, figured it out on guitar, couldn't stop singing it all day, and googled it the day after to see what I could dig up on it. I found the Patience and Prudence version on an mp3 blog, along with some information on that version of the song. The next day I happened to buy Fiona Apple's new album Extraordinary Machine, which included with the CD a DVD of some live performances, and there was Fiona Apple, backed by Nickel Creek, performing that very same song. I took that as a sign that I really should tell you about it.



I know (I know)
you belong
to somebody new
but tonight
you belong
to me.

Although (although)
we're apart
you're part
of my heart
and tonight
you belong
to me.

Way down
by the stream
how sweet
it will seem
once more
just to dream
in the moonlight...

my honey, I know (I know)
with the dawn
that you
will be gone
but tonight
you belong
to me.

Way down (way down)
along the stream
How very very sweet it will seem
Once more just to dream
In the silvery moonlight...

my honey, I know (I know)
with the dawn
that you
will be gone
but tonight you belong to me.
just to little old me.




It's such a simple, classic song - most versions I've heard have runtimes of under two minutes. Although the song is essentially about accepting that someone you love is leaving, the sweet melody and harmony give it an air of innocence that makes it a joyful song to sing. There is so much room in the song for any performer to make it their own, and sure enough, many people have covered it - a search on allmusic.com turned up a long list - and that's just the well-known artists who have recorded it.

The Erin McKeown/Josh Ritter version and the Steve Martin/Bernadette Peters version replace the repeated section with an instrumental outro - Bernadette Peters with a flugelhorn, and Erin McKeown with her dead-on (and very funny) vocal impression of one - and are all the better for it. McKeown and Ritter said on the radio show The Whole Wide World with Rita Houston that when they perform it live (it's said to be very much a live favourite), they would stare each other in the eyes to try to make each other laugh throughout the song. When you watch them perform the song, they sing it with such infectious joy, it's hard not to be charmed.




Sources:
http://www.warnerchappell.com/wcm_2/song_search/song_detail/
http://www.theguitarguy.com/tonighty.htm
http://earcandy_mag.tripod.com/rrcase-patienceprud.htm
http://www.punkasspunk.com/phancy/index.php?d=20050801
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patience_and_Prudence
songview_2.jsp?menu_status=songsearch&esongId=104440000
http://www.jerryosborne.com/7-16-01.htm
http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/patience_and_prudence/bio.jhtml

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