Tune in weekday mornings for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of “Theme from M*A*S*H.” Rodney Franks presents Stories of Standards Monday through Friday at 7:50 and 8:50 a.m. starting Monday, May 13!
Stories of Standards is sponsored by ListenUp – If you love music, you’ll love ListenUp.
The “Theme From MASH” by Johnny Mandel and Michael Altman. Robert Altman, director of the 1970 film, had two requirements for the song, which was originally intended to for the “Last Supper” scene: 1) That it be called “Suicide Is Painless” and 2) that it had to be “the stupidest song ever written”. While Altman attempted to write the song himself, he couldn’t sufficiently meet his stupid requirement, so handed it off to his 14-year-old son Michael, who dashed off the lyrics in five minutes. In May 1980 the song went to #1 on the UK charts. During an appearance on “The Tonight Show” in the 1980s, Robert Altman told Johnny Carson that while he only made $70,000 for having directed the movie, his son had earned more than $1 million for having co-written the song.
Johnny Mandel (23 Nov 1925-present), considered one of the top composers of the 1990s, started writing arrangements as a 13-year-old, made his living in the 1940s playing trombone and trumpet in big bands, including Woody Herman’s Second Herd (1948), where his “Not Really the Blues” was one of several pieces that entered the book. By the early 1950s he concentrated more on writing than performance. Mandel moved to Los Angeles in 1953 after playing bass trumpet for a while in the Zoot Sims band and has made a living ever since writing for movies (“The Shadow of Your Smile” for “The Sandpiper” in 1965 and “Emily” for “The Americanization of Emily” in 1964 are two of the best known.), and arrangements for artists, which included Frank Sinatra and Shirley Horn.
Michael Altman (1955-present), the son of director Robert Altman and second wife actress Lotus Corelli, originally requested that he be given a guitar for writing the lyrics; this was rejected and he was instead given a standard contract, which enabled him to afford a career in art, which currently includes producing two films (“American Songwriter” about Danny Darst in 2012 and “Snuffed Animals” in 2007, which he also wrote, composed and edited). Altman also operated the Darbeevision video processor for the film “The Company” (2003).