|Arlo Guthrie whimsy.|
The first time, he recalled, was a concert in Denmark right after the Berlin Wall came down when 30,000 fans of himself, Pete and American music flocked to a folk festival. Somehow the crowd knew all the songs Pete led them in, and he again exhausted Arlo’s handbook before turning the mike over to him.
Risking Pete’s glare– Seeger was a fervent defender of folk tradition – he launched into “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”
He was blithely inviting the wrath of the folk icon who had once yanked the electric amplifier away from Bob Dylan – but not only did all the fans know the words, Pete picked up his banjo and proved that he knew it too.
Arlo’s point was that the public determines what is a folk song and maybe like this one it can be about nothing -- unlike “all those we shall overcome songs that once meant something in my country and around the world.” But more was being said, Arlo continued, by who was singing it and how they were feeling.
What Arlo didn’t mention or probably know, and I suspect
|Is this the real father of 'Can't Help Fallin' in Love' . . . ?|
It’s a reminder that the first true superstar of rock n roll may have also been the last rock superstar to rely on songs written by others. Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, made sure he was surrounded by the best studio musicians but also the pre-eminent songwriters who stockpiled “Hound Dog” type rockabilly but had no problem reaching far and wide for tunes.
|Or should it be Elvis?|
When Elvis went into the Army in Germany in the 1950s, the songwriters remained well stocked with hits to feed his growing popularity. But they also dipped into European sources. In 1960, it was an old German folk song that provided Elvis with a hit. Though “Wooden Heart” was credited to Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, Kay Twomey and German bandleader Bert Kaempfert, it was based on a German folk song by Friedrich Silcher, "Muss i denn" and originated from the Rems Valley in Württemberg, southwest Germany.
Way before Elvis, Marlene Dietrich recorded a full German language version.
Many of those old songs are just remembered today as Elvis landmarks, but something has memorialized “Can’t Help Falling in Love” into much more after his recording more than 50 years ago. It is now being sung by classical singers and pop stars. It is popular in many venues, particularly as a wedding song, as enshrined in the hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians” sung by Kina Grannis.
It took on a personal “full circle” meaning for me after I decided to write about this song. A month ago, Louise and I were attending a grandchild’s bar mitzvah in New Jersey when the remaining eight of our grandchildren joined Isaiah onstage to sing us a 50th wedding anniversary tribute. You guessed it: “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”