New Year's Eve gets a bad rap, but I look forward to it because of a special kinship with a certain song.
The first time I heard "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)" I hadn't been born yet. Neither had the song. We were gestating -- me in my mom's womb, the song in a telephone wire.
In 1948, from my folks' apartment on Manhattan's East Side, my dad, Carl Sigman, wrote "Enjoy Yourself" over the phone with L.A.-based songwriter Herb Magidson. In other words, he wrote it transcontinentally with the writer of "The Continental."
"Enjoy Yourself" and I were both released in '49 and so we're practically twins. Not identical twins, though. Unlike you and me, the song is immortal. It will never not exist. If no one sings it for a thousand years, it will still be there, waiting with perfect serenity for some future being to caterwaul it in the shower.
Immortality is nice, but there's more to eternal life than mere survival. In the Darwinian quest for standard-hood, evolution is a must!
If my life began with a big bang, "Enjoy Yourself" began with the Big Bands, most notably recordings by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra and Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (vocals by Kenny Gardner). Lombardo's iteration was a Top 10 smash and he made the number a New Year's Eve staple by performing it year after year at NYC's Roosevelt Hotel. Covers by Bing Crosby, Doris Day, and Eddie Cantor peppered our early childhood.
By the time Louis Prima put his zany imprimatur on "Enjoy Yourself" later in the '50s, we -- the song and I, that is -- were old enough to know how cool it was that my parents first met in Louis's office in the Brill Building, and that in a way we owed our very existence to the inimitable Mr. P.
In 1967, I went off to college and became an alienated hippy radical who enjoyed not enjoying myself. I wasn't interested in hearing about one comfortable white guy telling another comfortable white guy to eat, drink and be merry before he kicks the bucket. How exactly does a napalmed Vietnamese mother or a starving Appalachian orphan decide to enjoy themselves?
I conveniently forgot that earlier in the '60s, ska master Prince Buster had reimagined "Enjoy Yourself," syncopating the beat and singing, "Get wisdom, knowledge and understanding."
After college, I immersed myself in all kinds of pop music and my attitude towards "Enjoy Yourself" shifted once again. I loved hearing Der Bingle croon a bit of it with Dino on TV and heard the Doris Day recording with new ears. My mom reminded me that "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)" was a Chinese proverb and I wondered if the song was less about hedonism than about living in the present moment. If we don't, it'll be way later than we think.
The hundreds, perhaps thousands of professionally recorded versions of "Enjoy Yourself" -- the Specials, the Supremes , Jimmy Witherspoon, Todd Snider, Jim Kweskin, Wingless Angels, Jools Holland , Larry Chesky Orchestra, Johnny Clarysse, Enoch Light et al -- are a speck of dust among the millions of private recordings and performances from karaoke bars to YouTubes to living rooms to New Year's bashes.
Add to that the countless times we've heard it in our heads or sung it to ourselves or to others. (One YouTube commenter writes, "My Gran sang this song every time I saw her for nearly 40 years and we'll be playing it at her funeral next week"; the one and only time I met Michael Buble, he didn't say "Hi," he sang a few bars of "Enjoy Yourself.")
Before we turned 65 last year, "Enjoy Yourself" and I got together to discuss that milestone. Which is to say, "Enjoy Yourself" spoke and I listened.
The song said, "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think/Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink/The years go by, as quickly as a wink/Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself it's later than you think."
I'd like to think that as long as there's a New Year's Eve, there will be a place for "Enjoy Yourself."
(Portions of this blog appeared last December.)