Obituary: Harold Spina

The first of the composer Harold Spina's many hits was launched by a bandleader who couldn't decide whether it was a funny song or a tragic one.

The tongue-in-cheek "Annie Doesn't Live Here Any More" (1933), which Spina wrote with Joe Young, veteran lyricist of such standards as "My Mammy", "You're My Everything" and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter", and the fledgling Johnny Burke, was considered a dud by its publishers, who sent it to the bandleader Guy Lombardo in a parcel of tunes they regarded as equally hopeless. Although unsure whether the song would make people laugh or cry, Lombardo asked the publishers if he could have it exclusively for six weeks. They replied, "You can have it for six years!" In less than three weeks, the number became a nationwide hit.

Like Lombardo, America was divided about "Annie"; college students and big-city types found it funny, while those in the hinterlands thought it poignant; its ending ("She was oh-so faithful - what a pitiful sight! / Waited for a letter that you promised to write. / A gentleman with a top hat called around the other night, / And Annie doesn't live here any more") led many to think Annie had died of a broken heart, and that the top-hatted gentleman was not a rich lover, but an undertaker.

Obsessed with music from an early age, Spina led his own high-school dance band at 14. Soon after graduation he became a pianist and vocal arranger for a music publishing firm in his native New York, turning full- time composer in 1932. After the success of "Annie Doesn't Live Here Any More", he and Johnny Burke turned out a dozen songs, including "It's Dark on Observatory Hill" (1934) and the Fats Waller hits "You're Not the Only Oyster in the Stew" (1934) "You're So Darn Charming" and "My Very Good Friend the Milkman" (both 1935).

The partnership ended in 1936, when Burke left for Hollywood to write for Bing Crosby. In 1937 Spina too went west; with Walter Bullock he wrote the score for United Artists' 52nd Street (1937), a tedious musical whose title invited invidious comparison with Warner Bros' 42nd Street (1933). After being signed by 20th Century-Fox, Spina and Bullock provided songs for the Sonja Henie-Don Ameche-Ethel Merman film Happy Landing, Alice Faye's Sally, Irene and Mary, and Shirley Temple's Just Around the Corner and Little Miss Broadway (all 1938).

Frank Loesser was his lyricist on Paramount's True to the Army (1942), which starred the hillbilly comedienne Judy Canova. Spina later worked on her equally corny Honeychile (1951) and The Wac from Walla Walla (1952) with others providing the words.

In 1950 Dinah Shore had a hit single with Spina's "It's So Nice to Have a Man Around the House". Jack Elliott wrote the lyric, which ended with the cynical "Though it's two to one you'll wind up with a louse". Patti Page had a million-seller with "Would I Love You?" (1951), which Spina wrote with Bob Russell. Soon afterwards, the composer became his own lyricist; his "Lazy Summer Night" (1958) was a leading record for the Four Preps. He also provided both words and music for "The Velvet Glove" (1953), which his long-time friend Jerry Colonna recorded. "If Jerry hadn't been a friend," joked Spina, "I wouldn't have let him do that to my song!"

During his long life, Harold Spina also founded two music publishing firms and a film studio, produced and directed for record companies, developed the first automated music programme in radio, and campaigned tirelessly for his union, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Although his most enduring song was the Latin-American "Cumana", (written with Barclay Allen and Roscoe Hillman), his most remunerative composition was "Man Around the House", which was adapted for a long-running television cake-mix commercial. It became "It's so nice to have a cake around the house".

Harold Spina, composer, lyricist, music publisher and record producer: born New York 21 June 1906; married (two sons); died 18 July 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser