Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Forgotten Movie Songs #3: "Take Off With Us" from ALL THAT JAZZ

One of the biggest gob-smacking scenes from any movie I've even witnessed takes place at a crucial juncture for Joe Gideon (played by Roy Scheider). He's a director and choreographer, working at once on a new musical called NY/LA and a new movie about a troubled comedian, played here by Cliff Gorman. The musical he's toiling away at is a veiled version of the now world-famous Chicago, and Gorman was the actor who originally played the first notoriously blue-working comedian, Lenny Bruce, on Broadway in Julian Barry's Lenny. And both were directed in real life by Bob Fosse who, with longtime friend Robert Alan Aurthur, concocted one of the few director-driven film memoirs out there, called All That Jazz. Obviously inspired by Fellini's 8 1/2 (Fosse even stole Fellini's treasured collaborator, cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, in order to shoot the film), All That Jazz is absolutely the greatest film autobiography available to us (only Fellini's admittedly fantastic originator and Woody Allen's similarly-inspired Stardust Memories approach this masterpiece, though neither own its unique force).

I have no idea who wrote the double entendre lyrics to "Take Off With Us"--I assume it was the libidinous Fosse himself--but I know that the music was composed and arranged by Ralph Burns, who'd won an Oscar previously for Fosse's Cabaret, and had worked on Fosse's debut film Sweet Charity, Woody Allen's Bananas, Mame, Lenny, Martin Scorsese's New York, New York, and Mel Brooks' High Anxiety before winning his second Oscar for All That Jazz. Somehow, this absolutely central song for one of the most acclaimed films of 1979 escaped an Oscar nomination. But that doesn't mean it wasn't good. In fact, it was the best song of the year, even though I absolutely love the eventual winner, "It Goes Like It Goes" (from Norma Rae, music by David Shire, lyrics by Norman Fox). To me, "Take Off With Us" was the musical event of 1979: it begins as a spoof of the old show-stoppers Fosse might have had to choreograph as part of The Pajama Game or Damn Yankees, but then it violently explodes those big marketing expectations by segueing into the darkly sexual "Airotica," which would have problems bringing in the family crowd on Broadway even these days. With "Take Off With Us," Fosse and Burns seduce us with show biz, and then smushes the sordidness of it all in our faces.

Here are only 18 carefully selected frame-grabs from this caffinated sequence, played in front of director Gideon (Schieder, doing a spot-on imitation of Fosse) and his producers (played scuzzily by William LeMassena, Robert Hitt, and David Margulies) and songwriter (the flaming Anthony Holland) The dancing team is spearheaded by the gorgeous Sandahl Bergman (whom most will probably remember as Red Sonja from the early 1980s Conan the Barbarian series); the dancing team features Fosse stage regulars Eileen Casey, Bruce Anthony Davis, Gary Flannery, Jennifer Nairn-Smith, Danny Ruvalo, Leland Schwantes, John Sowinski, Candace Tovar, and Rima Vetter (all of whom were acting under their own names). They are accompanied by the finest Broadway musicians available, set off to the side and beautifully photographed:

I think the reason this song wasn't nominated for an Oscar--even though Burns won for adapting and composing the score--was that the board was confused by its origin. It seemed like this song had been around forever. To add to the confusion, in the movie, the song didn't just end--it was augmented by the ominous "Air-otica" and, as it does with the guys playing the producers, it must have stunned the hell out of the Academy's song voters.

So here is Bob Fosse's crowning film sequence--the best thing he ever did, in my opinion--in its resplendent entirety, edited with utmost precision by Alan Heim (who won an Academy Award for this work). The song is presumably written by Bob Fosse (lyrics) and Ralph Burns (music):

Here are the song's lyrics (and I'm not including "Air-otica" in the mix); the backing vocals are in parentheses:

Take off with us! (Doo doo doo doo)
Take off with us! (Doo doo doo doo)
We're warming up, so (we're warming up) take off with us!

N.Y. to L.A., going all the way
Won't you climb aboard? You'll ride as smooth as glass (glass)!
Glass (

Meet our friendly, eager crew; they only live to service you!
[girls] (service, service, service, service)
[boys] (service you, service you)

(This flight) This flight comes complete, with your choice of seat.
And any seat you grab will be first class!

Up there where the clouds are pillowy,
You'll as-a close to heaven as you'll ever be.

Lean back, relax – here come the snacks!
Drop your diet have a ball – don't stop, don't stop, don't stop
with one – try ‘em all! (try ‘em all) [yeah, yeah, yeah]

Music's ready to begin;
Take out your headset – plug it in!

What's you're answer, chum?
Are you gonna come on the coolest, hottest
Coolest, hottest, coolest, hottest trip that's ever been?

(Don'cha, don'cha, don'cha, don'cha, don'cha,
Don't you wanna go?
(Don'cha, don'cha, don'cha, don'cha, don'cha,
Don't you wanna go?

Fly, fly, fly, fly

Lean back, relax, uh!


Angela said...

I love this sequence and wonder why it doesn't get discussed much. Sure, Airotica is rather racy and would need lots of blurring, to say the least. :-) Paula Abdul paid homage to it in her ColdHearted video.

Unknown said...

What a great overview! I was searching for sheet music for this song, and found this. What a treat :)

Unknown said...

Does anybody know who plays the amazing drums on this track?

Dean Treadway said...

I agree the drumming is great, but there are no credits for the musicians in the movie. IMDB says that a Michael Hinton played a drummer in the film (and he does have a musical background, judging from his other credits). But it's difficult to tell if he's actually doing the drumming on the track. At any rate, all the musicianship is great in this piece, but the drumming really does make it stand out.

Anonymous said...

The authors of TAKE OFF WITH US were not Ralph Burns and Bob Fosse as stated in your article. TAKE OFF WITH US was written by: Lyrics - Fred Tobias, Music - Stanley Lebowski.