Analysed by Robert Walton
There are three songs I know with the English female name Ruby, popular from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th inspired by the gemstone. The name seems to be having a revival in Ireland at the moment.
The 1969 one by Kenny Rogers was Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town. Two years before that there was Mick Jagger’s Ruby Tuesday, but by far the most musical was written for the 1953 film “Ruby Gentry”. Milwaukee-born film composer Heinz Roemheld’s beautifully crafted song Ruby became a standard almost overnight with words by Mitchell Parish. Despite its limited melodic range, the way it gradually builds provides as much emotional wallop as a song with a wider spread. Incidentally one of Roemheld’s best known scores from almost 400 films was that of “The Invisible Man” (1933).
The common element between the various arrangements of Ruby seems to be the harmonica, as in recordings by Victor Young, Max Geldray and Les Baxter’s hit record. Although I’m not a particular fan of Ray Charles, his soulful vocal on bluesy Ruby has remained with me ever since I first heard it, while the more conventional crooning of Vic Damone coming a close second.
For analysis purposes though, I’ve chosen Percy Faith’s interesting piano concerto-like arrangement that can be found in “That’s Light Musical Entertainment” on Guild’s “Golden Age of Light Music”(GLCD 5158). In fact Ruby, full of potential ideas for development, could have easily been the basis for an official piano concerto. If Faith hadn’t injured his hands in a fire, the soloist might well have been Faith himself, as he had every intention of becoming a concert pianist.
After a rousing start, the tune of Ruby gets maximum exposure followed by some relaxed piano reminders of Rachmaninov. Then the faithful Faith flutes with more piano including a touch of Carmen Cavallaro. See if you can fathom out how Faith achieves the sound of a harmonica. Then gorgeous unison violins give the tune a symphonic feel accompanied by that uplifting woodwind sound. Listen out for a wee suggestion of Mantovani.
Going into the bridge with a harp-like piano, the strings in harmony continue to dominate with the presence of horns. The strings now lusher slow right down to a standstill. After the “harmonica” returns, a brief encounter with a violin continues the pattern soon broken by a complete change of mood.
Like the opening, the orchestra suddenly bursts into an almost operatic moment. We’re back in “concerto” style with piano chords a-plenty while dramatic horns play the melody. Soon they swap parts and the strings play for all they’re worth answered by the horns.The middle section gently creeps back in, after which that sublime violin plays a most moving solo bringing Ruby to a peaceful end via an exotic Riddle-like downward string movement with two quotes from Mam’selle. There can’t be anything in the universe as soul stirring as a violin.
Listening to this tune again after so many years makes me realize that the much neglected and underrated Ruby must surely be one of the most dramatic and thrilling standards of the 20th century. It deserves nothing more than this magnificent arrangement and performance. Where has it been all this time? In fact I would go further and say it contains some of the magical ingredients of a Puccini - the ultimate praise of any melody.
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