Video: Video Finds: Music — “How High the Moon” |
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Video Finds: Music — “How High the Moon”

A Capitol 78rpm recording that topped the charts in 1951, “How High the Moon” was the most influential side ever cut by Les Paul and Mary Ford, whose music can be counted as one of the immediate predecessors of rock’n roll. A married couple, they had their squabbles in real life, but working together they could spin a dream. Some of the techniques used in the arrangement and production had never been heard before and would never be topped again for their integrated effect, even when there were whole studios available to extend the multi-track concept that Les Paul did so much to invent. He also invented his guitar, which was the forerunner of the classic Gibson. And he could play it like no one else: BB King said that Les Paul had a better tone than Charlie Christian. If you doubt that, just listen to the central instrumental section and ask yourself whoever combined so much sweet phrasing with such velocity. In the vocal sections Mary Ford’s four-part harmonies are laid down one over the other to achieve the kind of blend that later on would be supplied for lesser singers by tweaking the machinery. The future had not yet arrived, but it started here. All these historical considerations will be left aside, however, when the new listener first lays ears on what is made to happen in just over two minutes. It’s a sonic universe, the ideal blend of melody and impetus. The first link leads to a clean registration of the number, with nothing to look at but a still. A still, however, is all the listener should be seeing until the sound is well ingrained. The second link, which culminates with the 24-track original of “How High the Moon” apparently augmented by two more tracks added right there in the television studio, shows the dynamic duo talking to Alistair Cooke on one of his Omnibus programmes that did so much to bring popular music to an upmarket audience who hadn’t yet realised the richness of what was going on beneath them. The third link ends with that same on-camera performance, but starts with a useful short biography of Les Paul, narrated over stills.

Hear Les Paul & Mary Ford performing "How High the Moon"
Les and Mary explain it all to Alistair Cooke
Mini-bio of Les Paul, plus “How High the Moon”