“This Could Be The Start of Something” is on an album that was played a lot in my Bronx apartment, sung by the duo of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, written by talk show host Steve Allen, who boasted of cleffing hundreds of pop tunes, only a few of which seeped into the public consciousness and none as memorably as this one. It has a dose of jet-set New Frontier optimism, but it predates JFK’s incumbency by a good half-dozen years: Allen used it as a theme for his TV gigs, and it entered the pop and jazz repertoire pretty quickly. It’s a musical meet-cute; “You’re walking along the street or you’re at a party,” it kicks off, “or else you’re alone and then you suddenly dig…,” and it’s that “dig” that sells it. Allen was somewhat hip — he had jazz cats on his show, and Lenny Bruce, and cut an LP with Kerouac — and although he was completely out of it when it came to rock & roll, notoriously condescending, he had a grasp on some cool corners of the culture, and “This Could Be The Start of Something” has a modern zip.
Look out, the song says, there’s a surprise just around the corner (Bernstein and Sondheim tapped that same well for “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, and I can’t figure out why I can’t find a medley of those two songs anywhere: surely some nightclub crooner welded them together. How did that idea not hit Louis Prima or Sammy Davis Jr.?). It’s basically a list song, you’re doing this, you’re doing that, and wham!, so it lends itself to riffing on the theme. Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan, in particular, take it on a zingy, be-bopping ride, and Buddy Greco does his I’m-so-with-it variations, and they’re both fun versions, but I’ve been gravitating to the one by Mark Murphy, a jazzy singer who passed away last year and took the song for a casual stroll. Hey, I’m just out here doing my thing, open to all sorts of possibilities, but not sweating it.
How many sets in how many showrooms did this song segue out of the first burst of applause? You almost had to open with it, right? Because anywhere else in the set it sounds like the beginning of another act. The song is in the present tense, not “I was walking along the street and I met her/him,” so it pulls you into the action, and so if you were at the Sahara (Tony Bennett) or the Crescendo (Ella Fitzgerald), or in the Columbia studios recording a “live” album (Aretha’s Yeah!!!), or Basin Street East (the aforementioned Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan), it made sense to use it as a welcoming number. It takes the audience on a tour: you’re at Sardi’s or 21, you’re up in an airplane, you’re ordering wine in a dim cafe, and no matter where you are, out of the clear blue sky, it’s suddenly gal and guy. When Sammy Davis Jr. hosted Hullaballoo c.’65, he did some unfortunate pandering — “You’re out at a discotheque and doing the Freddie,” he starts off, and it’s a long slide from there — and someone from Motown convinced Marvin Gaye it’d be a good idea to incorporate it into his set at the Copa. It was not. It was handled with woeful results by Bobby Rydell, with considerable swagger by Bobby Darin, and on her TV show, Dusty Springfield flubbed through it as a duet with Georgie Fame.
Skip over the more routine pop renditions (Jack Jones, The Four Freshmen, even Steve & Eydie, though that one has a snappy bounce) and go to the jazzier side, Lorez Alexandria (the woefully underrated singer who made terrific albums for King, Argo and Impulse), Oscar Peterson, the trombone duo of J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, The Johnny Griffith Trio, Basie, Jamal. “This Could Be The Start of Something” is all wide-eyed and open-hearted. If it’s ever been done as a ballad, I haven’t heard it. The song steps out into the fresh air with a you-never-know whistle on its lips. “Ba-ba-ba-ba-BA-ba-da,” a little cheerful punch on the fifth note. It’s a new day, anything might happen. Of the many instrumental versions, I get the biggest kick of the one played with hip dexterity by guitarist Grant Green, along with Larry Young on organ and Elvin Jones on drums (Hank Mobley, also on the Blue Note session, takes a break on this track). It shuffles along and stretches out, a winding road to the unanticipated. Because, you know, sometimes you’re alone and then you suddenly dig.