Trying to write lyrics for a 40s-style song - need songs for inspiration

I’m working on my feature script, “Ice,” to try to get it ready for a screenwriting contest. I just realized that I still haven’t written the lyrics for a forties-style torch song that’s an important part of the opening scene. It needs to evoke the same attitudes as “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Material Girl.” Other than “Diamonds,” what jazzy, big-bandy, clever lyrics-y songs should I listen to for inspiration?

My Heart Belongs to Daddy*, by Cole Porter (if not that, there’s also Porter’s “Always True to You Darling In My Fashion.”

*An abridged version.

From “Gold Diggers of 1933”: “We’re in the Money”
From “Gold Diggers of 1937”: “With Plenty of Money and You”
“Lullaby of Broadway” isn’t quite it, but has the right sound.

After the Lights Go Down Low by Al Hibbler
I Found A Million Dollar Baby at the Five and Ten Cent Store by the Boswell Sisters
Can’t We Be Friends by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald
You Meet the Nicest People In Your Dreams by Fats Waller
Remember one man’s inspiration is another man’s copyright infringement.

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend 1953
My Heart Belongs to Daddy 1938
Always True to You Darling In My Fashion 1958
Lullaby of Broadway 1935
We’re in the Money 1933
With Plenty of Money and You 1937
After the Lights Go Down Low 1956
I Found A Million Dollar Baby at the Five and Ten Cent Store 1931
Can’t We Be Friends 1929
You Meet the Nicest People In Your Dreams 1939

Many suggestions, but nobody hit the right decade including the OP. When I build my time machine, none of you are allowed to touch it.

If the screenplay is set in the Forties, I think you have the wrong type of music in mind. These are some of the more well-known tunes from that period.

This Land Is Your Land (1940)
You Are My Sunshine (1940)
In The Mood (1940)
Take The ‘A’ Train (1941)
God Bless America (1943)
Stormy Weather (1943)
‘Round Midnight (1944)
When You Wish Upon A Star (1940)
Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (1947)
Sentimental Journey (1945)
Blue Moon Of Kentucky (1947)
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (1949)
Paper Doll (1942)
Strange Fruit (1948)
Deep In The Heart Of Texas (1941)
Ghost Riders In The Sky (1949)
Salt Peanuts (1942)
Boogie Chillun (1949)
That Lucky Old Sun (1949)
I’ll Fly Away (1948)
Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around (1947)
Mule Train (1949)
(I’ve Got A Gal In) Kalamazoo (1942)
Jingle Jangle Jingle (1942)
Tangerine (1942)
You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want To Do It) (1941)
Blues In The Night (My Mama Done Tol’ Me) (1942)
I’ll Never Smile Again (1940)
There Are Such Things (1943)
You’ll Never Know (1943)
There! I’ve Said It Again (1945)
It’s Been A Long, Long Time (1945)

Buy, Buy for Baby is from 1928, but the sentiment seems to fit what you’re looking for.

“I’ll be With You in Appleblossom Time”:

“You’re a Sap, Mr Jap”: (racist obviously, but its about as quintiessentially '40s as you can get)

“Lili Marleen” (goes without saying):

“White Christmas” (ditto):

If you want to do it a bit differently or including other songs in your script, the marches of Herms Niel may provide much inspiration such as “Erika”:

“Santa Baby” Coy, sort of like he’s a sugar daddy.

Like Prof. Pepperwinkle alluded to, go check out some Busby Berkeley movies. I personally liked Gold Diggers of 1935 (amazing dance sequence in there out of nowhere), Dames, and Footlight Parade. Definitely worth watching on their own for the amazing choreography, not to mention every since song is that quintessential sound you’re looking for.

Sorry, I should have clarified this point because it’s a little complicated. Most of the movie is present-day, and deals with the theft of a collection of diamonds that once belonged to a movie actress from the forties. The opening scene is from one of her movies; the movie-within-a-movie was made in the forties, but is set somewhat earlier.

Anyway, here’s what I have so far. Thoughts?

*When I was young, my heart it sung for romance
True love could turn a pauper to a prince
But anymore, I’m looking for the main chance
And things have been much better ever since

I wish that love could rank above my purse strings
But fools in love are really only fools
I do declare, I’ve found that there are worse things
Than men who shower me with precious jewels

‘Cause… I… Like… Ice
I like ice
Only diamonds will suffice
If you want to keep me happy, sir, then just take this advice
I know that some girls like it hot, it gives their lives some spice
But I… Like… Ice.*

(Imagine the first two stanzas kind of slow and ballad-y, with the tempo picking up at the chorus and staying faster in the (not yet written) second verse.)

I like the second stanza, and the chorus is great. First verse not so much. I think “heart it sung” turned me off and I never got back into it. And “things have been much better ever since” does not sound like a song to me. But I love the chorus.

Yeah, Cole Porter I ain’t. More like Cole Slaw.

What if I change the first line to:

When I was young, my poor heart sung for romance

Is that better?

To me, yeah, that’s better. Maybe not poor though. Sad heart? And shouldn’t it be sang?

Love the chorus! But I’m gonna nitpick the verse (verses?):

Popular songs in the pre-rock’n’roll era were generally quite meticulous about grammar and syntax, except in the (not infrequent) cases where they were using colloquial or deliberately awkward constructions for effect (like “I’m biding my time, 'cause that’s the kind of gal I’m”). When you phrase something awkwardly or ungrammatically and it doesn’t sound like you meant to, that definitely breaks the mood.

So yeah, you cannot write “my heart sung” as a past-tense construction: it needs to be “my heart sang”. Or else you need to rewrite the line with a past participle instead, like “my heart had always sung” or something.

“But anymore” is also a non-starter: standard English in those days didn’t accept “anymore” as a synonym for “nowadays” (and some of us are still not too crazy about it). I also think that the present tense of “I’m looking” sits awkwardly with the next line’s sudden return to the past-time perspective in “ever since”. Ever since what? You’ve got to specify something that happened in the past, “ever since” which the change has happened. Along the lines of

Then I turned my attention to the main chance
And things have been much better ever since.

The idiom “purse strings” is also a bit clumsy in this context, since it connotes restrictions on spending. We say “She’s the one that holds the purse strings” to mean that she has control over whether something gets purchased, not “She absolutely adores the purse strings” to mean that she likes to spend money.

I like the slant rhyme with “worse things”, though: maybe you could rewrite the line?

“Sung” is the wrong tense. It’s jarring. How about:

‘When I was young, my poor heart was stung by romance…’

Oh, and I forgot to actually respond to the OP’s question about actual 1940’s-era songs on a similar theme! How about “The Saga of Jenny”, from Lady in the Dark?

? Where’d you get 1958 as the date for “Always True to You”? AFAICT it’s from the 1948 musical Kiss Me, Kate. Which puts it smack in the range of the OP’s required decade.

Mmm…better but IMvHO still doesn’t quite work: suggests a traumatizing experience (“I got stung”) when I think what you mean to imply is just that she used to be young and romantic and then got a little more practical.

“When I was young, my heartstrings were strung for romance”? “My heart always clung to romance”?

:confused: …I got nothin’, sorry.

I agree. The more I look at that line the less I like it. I think I’ll change it to:
In days gone by, my heart would cry for romance

That loses the interior rhyme, though. How about just changing “But anymore, I’m looking for…” to “Not anymore - now I look for…”?

That one I’m keeping. After all, the subtext of this song is that control over her future, financial and otherwise, is more important to her than love. And the slant rhyme trumps all. :slight_smile:

GOOD nitpicks! I really appreciate it.

Yes, I think both of those are keepers!

Now I wanna see your movie. :slight_smile:

“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is definitely not a torch song. The use of the word “torch” is about carrying a torch for someone – unrequited love. Torch songs are sentimental and sad and longing.

Several of the Forties torch songs carry a double entendra. “Body and Soul,” when you think about the title/refrain, is a hot song. “Prisoner of Love” even mentions chains and shakles. Both of these songs were written in the Thirties.

“Stormy Weather” is the ultimate torch song. You can probably find a clip on U Tube. It, too, was written in the Thirties. But the Lena Horne movie version came out in 1943.

So, were you told to write a torch song or were you told to write something along the lines of “Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend”?

I wish you luck!