He Writes The Songs
Jewish tunesmith penned one of America's most popular love ballads.
Special to the Jewish News
nce upon a rhyme, compos-
er-lyricist George David
Weiss philosophized that
some things are meant to
be. That's also how he assesses his long
and prestigious songwriting career that
has showcased more than five decades
of charted hits.
One that's always associated with
Valentine's Day is "Can't Help Falling
in Love" by Elvis Presley, a song that
also is a wedding staple, arguably per-
formed at more nuptials than any
It recently climbed back to
the top of Billboard magazine's
Hot 200 Album Chart via RCA's
Elvis 30 #1 Hits. The re-mastered
CD of Presley greats rapidly
earned double-platinum certifica-
tion for sales of 2 million copies.
And on Feb. 23, "What a
Wonderful World," originally writ-
ten by Weiss for Louis Armstrong
and the title track of a new
Columbia album by Tony Bennett
and k.d. lang, is up for a Grammy
Award in the Best Pop Collaboration
with Vocals category.
Both tunes typify a supernatural
combination of fate and luck that the
veteran Jewish tunesmith is at a loss to
"I just wrote my songs and put
them in a pile," Weiss contends. "I
never pushed my work in any way,
shape or form."
`Falling In Love'
If so, how did the King of Rock 'n'
Roll end up recording "Can't Help
Falling in Love" and make it his own?
"Elvis' publishing company asked us
if we'd write a song for his next movie,
Blue Hawaii, and I refused," explains
Weiss, who had previously collaborat-
ed with RCA record producers Hugo
Peretti and Luigi Creatore on the title
song of Presley's 1961 film Wild in the
"I didn't care for Elvis' movies, but I
read the Blue Hawaii script twice and
found a touching and lovely moment
where Elvis, who was playing a G.I.,
was going to deliver this music box to
his girlfriend's grandma.
"I knew that a melody, coming from
a music box and for Elvis to sing,
would have to have a certain construc-
tion, so I started thinking of a tune
with an 'Ave Maria feel, using rock
"When Hugo, Luigi and I finished
the song, we played it for the publish-
ers, and they greeted it with vast
silence," Weiss remembers.
"Reluctantly, they sent my demo to
Graceland, where, I'm told, Elvis was
walking down a hall, and
song he ever sang on stage.
"I am forever blessed by Elvis,"
Weiss acknowledges respectfully.
"When he died, it took me months
to get over the shock of his death,
because I felt so personally indebted to
him for everything he did for that
Becoming A Songwriter
After 18 years as the president of the
Songwriters Guild of America,
Weiss lives quietly in New
Jersey, with his second wife of
26 years, Claire, a non-practic-
Growing up in New York,
he was raised in a non-reli-
gious, Jewish home by a
Romanian father and
The seasoned songwriter
underscores that Judaism is
not central to his life. Yet
his thoughts are never far
away from current events.
"I've been a terrible
Jew, from the point of
view of following
Judaism," he stresses.
"But I've been the best
Jew, in terms of worry-
ing about what's hap-
pening to Jewish peo-
George David Weiss with
sheet music for his mega-hit
Having learned to
"Can't Help Falling in Love." play the violin, saxo-
phone and clarinet,
luck, he overheard it being auditioned
Weiss says that he only tinkered with
by a few of his cronies.
the idea of songwriting, while working
"They dismissed it, telling him that
at his father's store, the Broadway
it was just a dumb little ballad. But
Music Shop. There, Bennie Benjamin,
a co-writer of the Ink Spots' 1941 hit
Elvis had them play it again and said
he liked it. That's the only reason why
"I Don't Want to Set the World on
Fire," met him and asked Weiss to be
it made it into the movie."
On March 23, 1961, Elvis recorded
his new songwriting partner. Hesitant,
at first, Weiss refused.
"Can't Help Falling in Love" in
Hollywood and perfected the song in
"My father was the inspiration for
28 takes, with the Jordanaires.
my entire career and forced me to
write with Bennie," recalls Weiss, who
The quartet later revealed that Elvis
was so smitten with his girlfriend,
spent three years at the Juilliard
School of Music.
Priscilla Beaulieu, who later became
his wife, that he told them he was
"He would always tell me that I
specifically singing the song with her
could do anything I wanted to, if I
just gave myself the opportunity. He
Of course, "Can't Help Falling in
believed that I had the talent."
As unsure as Weiss may have been
Love" would later close every Elvis
concert, in addition to being the last
HE WRITES THE SONGS on page 70
Marsha Rofel, a popular
singer around town and active
member of ifnai B'rith:
"I like hearing and singing
the Gershwin classic Our
Love Is Here to Stay.' When
I perform it, everyone gets
warm and fuzzy. I also like
the story behind it. Ira
Gershwin actually wrote the
lyrics in loving tribute to his
brother, who had recently
died, so it's not just for
Lisa Soble Siegmann, direc-
tor of Jewish Experiences for
"Celine Dion's 'Because
You Love Me' is my favorite
because it's about relation-
ships that are supportive,
growing and nurturing, and
that's what my marriage has
been for the past four years. I
like that it expresses what
people do for each other
unconditionally. As a young, I
married couple with two
small children, we think of '
ourselves as a great team that
can do anything together."
Sandra Smith, geriatric social
worker at Hechtman Jewish
"The song We've Only
Just Begun' was played at my
wedding 30 years ago, and it
still applies. I remember The
Carpenters' record, and I
liked that a lot. I like the
message because there's
always something new on t
horizon and new experiences
Jeremy Haberman, owner of
the Magic Bag in Ferndale:
"The Happy Song' by
Otis Redding is not a slow,
dramatic love song, but I
think that it perfectly cap-
tures the adrenaline rush I
feel when I start daydream-
ing about a special lady."
Melissa Litvin, account exec-
utive, Jewish News and
STYLE magazine: "I Finally
Found Someone," from the
Barbra Streisand film The
Mirror Has Two Faces.
I always knew it would be
my wedding song."