Published on July 5, 2016
“Memory”, often incorrectly called “Memories”, is a show tune from the 1981 musical Cats. It is sung by the character Grizabella, a one-time glamour cat who is now only a shell of her former self. The song is a nostalgic remembrance of her glorious past and a declaration of her wish to start a new life. Sung briefly in the first act and in full near the end of the show, “Memory” is the climax of the musical, and by far its most popular and well-known song. Its writers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn received the 1981 Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.
The lyric, written by Cats director Trevor Nunn, was based on T. S. Eliot’s poems “Preludes” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s former writing partner Tim Rice and contemporary collaborator Don Black submitted a lyric to the show’s producers for consideration, although Nunn’s version was favoured. Elaine Paige has said that she sang a different lyric to the tune of “Memory” for the first ten previews of Cats.
Composer Lloyd Webber feared that the tune sounded too similar to Ravel’s Bolero and to a work by Puccini, and also that the opening – the haunting main theme – closely resembled the flute solo (improvised by Bud Shank in the studio) from The Mamas & the Papas’ 1965 song “California Dreamin'”. He asked his father’s opinion; according to Lloyd Webber, his father responded “It sounds like a million dollars!”
Prior to its inclusion in Cats, the tune was earmarked for earlier Lloyd Webber projects, including a ballad for Perón in Evita and as a song for Max in his original 1970s draft of Sunset Boulevard.
In its original orchestration, the song’s climax is in the key of D-flat major, the composer’s favourite.
While Lloyd Webber mentions Ravel’s Bolero, there is no mention of similarity to “Bolero in Blue” written by Larry Clinton. In this case Lloyd Webber’s composition appears to replicate note for note the first several measures from Clinton’s composition.
Larry Clinton wrote “Bolero in Blue” in the 1930s and performed it on his mid-fifties album “Larry Clinton in hi fi”.
The arrangement of the lyrics in the show were changed after the initial recordings of the track, with the first verse, beginning “Midnight, not a sound from the pavement…” being used in only the brief, Act I rendition of the song and a new verse, “Memory, turn your face to the moonlight…'” in its place for the Act II performance. In addition, the original second bridge section became the first and a new second bridge was added. Consequently, the arrangement of the lyric for a recording usually depends on whether the artist has played the role on stage.