Harry Revel

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An important English composer, best remembered for his contributions to movie musicals of the 30s.
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Composer Harry Revel is best known for his songwriting partnership with lyricist Mack Gordon, which produced a string of hits for the stage and screen during the ‘30s. Thanks to his later attempts at "therapeutic" composition, Revel was also an unlikely pioneer of space age pop, especially in his early use of the theremin. Revel was born December 21, 1905, in London, and began playing piano at age nine; as a youth, he studied classical music at the Guildhall School of Music and in Austria and Germany. However, he was also interested in popular music; at 15, he joined a Paris band and published his first original song, "Oriental Eyes." He moved to a dance orchestra called the New York Jazz Band (despite the fact that it featured European players and toured European cities), and played in similar groups over the next few years. During a stay in Berlin, he composed an operetta titled Was Frauen Traumen, and also kept working on popular material, some of which he sold to a London revue in 1927. Encouraged, Revel eventually decided to move to New York to try his hand at becoming a professional songwriter, emigrating in 1928.

In 1929, Revel teamed up with lyricist Mack Gordon, who had a concurrent career as a vaudeville singer. Revel first toured with Gordon as his pianist, then became his songwriting partner; their collaboration started to bear fruit in 1931, when they placed songs in several different Broadway revues. The following year, they scored their first hit with "Underneath the Harlem Moon," which became a standard recorded by many jazz artists. Signing with Paramount as a team, Revel and Gordon moved to Hollywood in 1933, where they would find their greatest success in the movie business; their first score was for Broadway Through a Keyhole that year. They went on to co-author numerous songs for Shirley Temple films over the course of the ‘30s (including "When I'm With You," "A Star Fell Out of Heaven," and "An Old Straw Hat," among others). Other notable engagements for the prolific duo included the Bing Crosby picture We're Not Dressing ("Love Thy Neighbor," "Goodnight My Love," "May I?"), the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film The Gay Divorcee ("Don't Let It Bother You"), and Paris in the Spring (the title song). Revel and Gordon moved to 20th Century Fox in 1936, and their success continued apace for three more years; after 1939's The Rains Came, they went their separate ways.

During World War II, Revel worked for the USO as a variety show organizer (among other duties); he also continued to write music for films, earning Academy Award nominations in 1942 for "There's a Breeze on Lake Louise" (from The Mayor of 44th Street, written with Mort Greene) and in 1944 for "Remember Me to Carolina" (from Minstrel Man, written with Paul Francis Webster). He returned to Broadway in 1945 with the moderately successful musical comedy Are You With It?, co-written with lyricist Arnold B. Horwitt.

Revel entered a new phase of his career in the late ‘40s, as he became interested in creating what he dubbed therapeutic mood music. Many of Revel's experiments in this area were centered around the theremin, an ethereal early electronic instrument that was just beginning to come into vogue. In 1947, an album of Revel compositions called Music Out of the Moon was released on Capitol; arranged and conducted by easy listening king and exotica pioneer Les Baxter, the album also featured theremin playing by Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman and is considered a seminal record in the development of the space age pop genre. A follow-up, Perfume Set to Music, was released on RCA Victor in 1948 (also with Baxter and Hoffman), and a third appeared back on Capitol in 1950, though this one -- Music for Peace of Mind -- backed Hoffman with Billy May's orchestra instead of Baxter's. Revel's songwriting career took a downturn during this period, and by the early ‘50s he wasn't writing much at all; Nat King Cole turned one of his last songs, "Jet," into a minor hit in 1951. Another album of Revel's space-themed music, Music From Out of Space, was released on MGM in 1955; arranged and conducted by Stu Phillips, this recording substituted a wordless vocal chorus for the theremin. Revel died of a cerebral hemorrhage on November 3, 1958.