Music Of Woody Allen Films – a new irregular feature about the musical compositions that have helped to make Allen’s films sing.
Hidden amongst Irrational Man, the new film from Woody Allen, was a small first – the use of a bond fide pop hit in one of his films, one of the great jazz crossover singles. With ‘The In Crowd‘, The Ramsey Lewis Trio cracked the pop charts in the swinging 60s. It is one of Allen’s most overt use of a piece of music in a long time.
The song was first released in 1964 by Dobie Gray (who almost a decade later would release the fantastic ‘Drift Away‘). It was written by Billy Page, the brother of prolific producer and arranger Gene Page. Gene would work with hundreds of artists, including Whitney Houston, The Four Tops, Buffalo Springfield and many, many more.
It’s unclear what the Page brothers were thinking with the song. Gene was popping out hit after hit. As pop music was such a cash cow in the 60s, it was likely a cash grab on a very ‘in’ term at the time. His arrangement of the Dobie Gray single hit #13 in the US in 1965.
It was in the same year that the Ramsey Lewis Trio recorded their version. Lewis had been playing piano in jazz bands since he was 15, and was 30 when he recorded ‘The In Crowd‘. Their hit version is a live version recorded at the Bohemain Caverns nightclub in DC.
For the song’s 50th anniversary earlier this year, NPR did a story about it.
The NPR story reveals that it was a waitress named Nettie Gray, who recommended the song in a coffee shop to the band. They just wanted one more fun song to play for their upcoming live album. It has become Lewis’s most enduring hit.
1965 was the rise of teenaged rock ‘n’ roll. Indeed, when ‘The In Crowd‘ peaked at number 5 on the billboard charts in October, The Beatles were number 1 (with ‘Yesterday‘). The album reached number 2, held off by The Beatles’ ‘Help‘. It was an unexpected, and unlikely hit. Jazz, and instrumentals, only got more rare at the top of the charts.
Its use in ‘Irrational Man‘ seems to have nothing to do with the song other than it sounds cool. The film opens with that classic piano lick, and it comes back many times over. It’s a leitmotif for Joaquin Phoenix‘s Abe. The energy and the snap of the song really comes to life when Abe does. When he has a plan and a purpose, he has a spring in his step, timed to this hit song.
Ramsey Lewis is still performing, at age 80. He is probably still performing ‘The In Crowd‘, a song that entered the US top 10 exactly 50 years ago today.
Here is the trio in 1990.
Find all our the stories in our Music Of Woody Allen Films series. What song should we look at next?