Song of the Week – Tonight; West Side Story, The Raspberries, and Smashing Pumpkins

Today’s post is the next installment of my Contrast Series, this time analyzing a group of songs with the theme “Tonight.”

Let’s start with “Tonight” from the movie soundtrack for the musical West Side Story (1961), with music written by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

This is a key song from the show, portraying its version of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.  As such, it is an ode to teenage romance, though it sounds much more mature.

Tonight, tonight
The world is full of light
With suns and moons all over the place
Tonight, tonight
The world is wild and bright
Going mad
Shooting sparks into space

The Raspberries released the Eric Carmen penned “Tonight” in 1973.

This power pop classic opens with a count-in and a guitar intro the lead guitarist Wally Bryson has claimed “nobody knows how to play but me” because he made up “weird chords to get different sounds.”  Hmmm.

It is a typical Carmen teenage drama but without the innocence of the West Side Story song.  The protagonist wants to bed the “too young” person that smiled at him.  (I guess it doesn’t take much to make Carmen horny!)  I dig the “bop-om-doo-doh-woh-mop-shoo” he exhorts while “making love” in the bridge section.

Sadly, Carmen recently passed away in March at the age of 74.

“Tonight, Tonight” from Smashing Pumpkins’ epic Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) is something totally different, both musically and lyrically.  It was recorded with a 30-piece string section that adds palpable drama to the recording, making it a very unlikely single release.

The lyrics are more vague than the other songs.  Exactly who is vocalist Billy Corgan singing to?  Wikipedia reports:

On The Howard Stern Show, Corgan has said that the song pays homage to Cheap Trick, with its black humoresque lyrics and theme, and that the song is addressed to himself, who escaped from an abusive childhood against all odds, so as to keep him believing in himself.

If this is right, the song’s final verses are the payoff:

We’ll crucify the insincere
Tonight, Tonight
We’ll make things right
We’ll feel it all
Tonight, Tonight
We’ll find a way to offer up the night
The indescribable moments of your life
The impossible is possible
Tonight, Tonight

Believe in me as I believe in you
Tonight, Tonight
Tonight, Tonight

Enjoy… until next week.