This is the song that led me to fall in love with English conductor John Wilson.
It was one evening after dinner a couple of years ago, and I was idly doing what I usually do after the washing up, which is trawl the internet for bits of interesting music. They’d been coming to mind either from the latest endorsements of FB friends, or from my furthest memories… Anyway, this particular evening I was remembering a poor joke (at actress Rosie O’Donnell’s expense!) made on an old, old TV cartoon show that stuck in my mind because the joke relied on the assumption that “The Trolley Song” was corny and/or second-rate.
Only thing, I don’t remember “The Trolley Song” as being corny and/or second-rate. In fact I remember the number in the movie, Meet Me in St Louis, as being rather gorgeous and lush and yummy, and not just because Judy Garland sang it. (Come to think of it, that joke also sounded like a cheap dig at gay culture, which fries me.) I hadn’t in years heard the complete version since it was played on the soundtrack [more later]
Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, I don’t care whether some guy at Warners made you up because he had to optimize the assets in his department, you’re real enough to me. And it doesn’t matter a damn bit how you got the gig. What matters is you did the work. Above Kim Criswell and John Wilson rehearsing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra: “The Trolley Song” from The Best of The John Wilson Orchestra (Warners 2019). [Photo by Eric the Fish King, 2012]
Orchestrator for this song—as well as the entire MGM musical Meet Me in St Louis—was Conrad Salinger. “He had a very individual, sophisticated sense of harmony,” said our John in a 2013 interview with the LA-based Film Music Society (of which I am a member). “It’s those very subtle and exclusive touches that he gave to those numbers that set him apart… Little touches of instrumentation, like alto flutes and French horns, that gave those pictures a sound world all their own. His specialty was that high-class production number, the theatrical presentation of a popular song, or a balletic development of a number. In the hands of Salinger, you could be listening to Debussy or Ravel. He’s never going to be a household name, but that doesn’t diminish his stature.”
“The Trolley Song”
from Meet Me In St Louis (MGM, 1944)
orchestrated by Conrad Salinger
reconstructed by John Wilson
played by The John Wilson Orchestra
conducted by John Wilson
from the album That’s Entertainment!
A Celebration of MGM Musicals
Kim Criswell, vocalist
Warner Classics, 2012
- “The Story So Far, with Conductor John Wilson”
- “The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits”