Neil in New York paper

Legends of the fall:
Autumn’s greatest hits


Ella Fitzgerald

It’s relatively easy to write a song about the joys of summer, the warm glow of winter holidays or the rebirth of spring. Just think about the ubiquity of seasonal standards such as the “Grease” ballad “Summer Nights,” Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” or Rodgers & Hart’s “Spring is Here.”
The real challenge is capturing the spirit of wistfulness and subtle melancholy that accompanies harvest time, Halloween and the arrival of chilly weather. There have been many attempts, but few are memorable and even fewer are true classics. That’s what inspired the Daily News to compile this highly subjective list of the greatest fall songs ever written.

10. “October”
Written by: U2
Definitive version: U2, “October” (1981)
From the midst of an album swirling with delayed guitars and Bono’s unrestrained vocals, this simple ballad emerges with only piano as accompaniment. It’s a tender rumination on either the memory of a lover or — given early U2’s frequent Christian themes — the enduring power of God.

9. “Fall”
Written by: Wayne Shorter
Definitive version: Miles Davis, “Nefertiti” (1967)
After opening with a longing, moody theme, the track features delicately dissonant improvisations from Davis, Shorter and Herbie Hancock that presage the fusion era. It’s since been covered on dozens of jazz albums, but no one has added lyrics.

8. “September Morn”
Written by: Gilbert Becaud, Neil Diamond
Definitive version: Neil Diamond, “September Morn” (1979)
Fall seems to inspire thoughts of faded love, and “September Morn” is no exception. Here, Diamond works with Becaud, who also co-wrote “Love on the Rocks.” Becaud made his name by serving in the French Resistance, marrying Edith Piaf and adopting the nickname “Monsieur 100,000 Volts.”

7. “The Monster Mash”
Written by: Leonard Capizzi, Bobby Pickett
Definitive version: Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, “The Original Monster Mash” (1962)
Pickett may sing about a graveyard, his fiendish laboratory and vampires run amok, but “Monster Mash” is hardly scary — probably because all the ghouls are dancing the mashed potato. A disposable Halloween novelty, but unforgettable thanks to Pickett’s nutty Boris Karloff impersonation.

6. “November Rain”
Written by: Axl Rose
Definitive version: Guns N’ Roses, “Use Your Illusion I” (1991)
Axl Rose could be a real jerk, but occasionally he wrote something, like this lost-love power ballad, that actually made him seem human. Clocking in at nine minutes, replete with strings and flutes, “November Rain” is the second-sweetest GNR song, trumped only by “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”

5. “Autumn Leaves”
Written by: Joseph Kosma, Jacques Prévert, Johnny Mercer
Definitive version: Nat (King) Cole, “…Sings for Two in Love” (1954)
In most fall songs, the leaves — be they brown, orange or red — are always tumbling, reminding us of long-ago love. It’s apparently the same in France, where “Autumn Leaves” was originally known as “Les Feuilles Mortes.” Mercer’s English version earned Cole a No. 1 hit.

4. “September”
Written by: Al McKay, Maurice White, Allee Willis
Definitive version: Earth, Wind & Fire, “Best of… , Vol. 1” (1978)
Others may portray fall gloomily, but on a certain “21st night of September,” somebody in EW&F met a fine lady — and actually managed to stay in love with her all the way to December. A disco-era smash, thanks to a funky groove and the insanely catchy falsetto “ba-de-yas” of the chorus.

3. “Maggie May”
Written by: Martin Quittenton, Rod Stewart
Definitive version: Rod Stewart, “Every Picture Tells a Story” (1971)
Ah, to be young and used by an older woman. This would be a typical torch song if our hero hadn’t noted that “it’s late September and I really should be back at school.” Rod the Mod’s infamous croak lends this “Graduate”-style affair just the right amounts of romance and regret.

2. “September Song”
Written by: Maxwell Anderson, Kurt Weill
Definitive version: Frank Sinatra, “September of My Years” (1965)
When Sinatra sings this Weill tune about an aging playboy who finally wants to settle down, even the toughest guys get misty. Written for the 1938 musical “Knickerbocker Holiday,” the song became a standard when Ol’ Blue Eyes made it a mainstay of his repertoire.

1. “Autumn in New York”
Written by: Vernon Duke
Definitive version: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, “Ella and Louis Again” (1957)
You might think that the greatest fall song of all time is uncharacteristically upbeat, since it rejoices in “gleaming rooftops at sundown” and “lovers that bless the dark on the benches in Central Park.” But as soon as we get a taste of happiness, Ella and Satchmo remind us that “Autumn in New York is often mingled with pain.” It figures.

The famous pairing of Fitzgerald and Armstrong perfectly captures both the city’s glory and the eternal ache of lovelorn New Yorkers. Their lovely duet is nearly matched in other excellent versions by Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Bobby Short.

Russian-born author Vernon Duke (originally Vladimir Dukelsky) wrote the song in 1934 for the musical “Thumbs Up.” He must have known he was on to something with the season-city idea. Two years earlier, he’d scored a hit with “April in Paris.”

Originally published on August 28, 2004

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