The Vice President Who Wrote a Hit Song

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History buffs might know the name Charles Dawes, which probably sounds vaguely familiar but can’t-quite-place-him to the rest of us. Here’s a refresher: he was Calvin Coolidge’s vice president. They hated each other.

Long before he was Coolidge’s second-in-command, however, Dawes was a pianist and composer. In fact, he was a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a fraternity for men “who, through a love of music, can assist in the fulfillment of its object and ideals by adopting music as a profession or by working to advance the cause of music in America.”

Though Dawes obviously didn’t adopt music as a profession (unless he entertained Silent Cal by tickling the ivories in the Oval Office), he definitely made his mark on music in America. In 1912, besieged by a bit of music he couldn’t get out of his head, Dawes wrote a pretty piano and violin piece called “Melody in A Major.” It became pretty popular, which Dawes, by then a banker, found amusing: “Few bankers have won renown as composers of music. I know that I will be the target of my punster friends. They will say that if all the notes in my bank are as bad as my musical ones, they are not worth the paper they were written on.”

After an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1901, Dawes declared himself done with politics. But politics had other plans for him – in 1921, Dawes was appointed the first-ever Director of the Bureau of the Budget under Warren G. Harding. And in 1924, after going through at least three other possible vice president candidates (two declined the nomination and the third, Herbert Hoover, was too unpopular), Calvin Coolidge agreed to have Dawes as his vice president. A rather unpopular vice president, but that’s another post.

In the end, Dawes would have been quite glad if his bank notes had been as valuable as his musical ones, because when songwriter Carl Sigman added some words to the tune in 1951 and renamed it "It's All in the Game," the song was suddenly a pop hit. Tommy Edwards took the song to #38 on the Billboard charts that year, but it peaked at #1 seven years later when Edwards recorded it again in a rock ‘n’ roll style. Since then, the song has been covered by Elton John, Barry Manilow, Mama Cass, Nat King Cole, Van Morrison and many others.

To date, Dawes is the only Vice President to have a song chart at #1 (better get on it, Biden), though he missed the whole thing - he died in April 1951; Sigman added lyrics that summer.

Here’s a rendition of Dawes’ “Melody in A Major”:

Here’s the Tommy Edwards version that became a hit in 1958:

Here’s the Four Tops’ version:

And, just for fun, here’s Isaac Hayes loaning his velvety vocals to the song (the melody starts around 1:04):

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August 16, 2011 - 4:23pm
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