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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

'Unchained Melody' songwriter Hy Zaret's children's science songs get new life from

Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer's perform "Zoom a Little Zoom," the titletrack of their new album of science songs by Hy Zaret, who released "Ballads for the Age of Science" in the 1960's.

The late songwriter Hy Zaret remains best known in pop music for his lyrics to the huge hit “Unchained Melody,” the much recorded novelty song “One Meatball” and the jazz standard “Dedicated to You.”

But in addition to his numerous pop hits, he’s also remembered for writing short radio songs about American values for use as public service announcements (compiled in his albums Little Songs on Big Subjects and Little Songs About UN) as well as educational and socially conscious songs aimed at schoolchildren—of which he was most proud.

Now the Grammy-winning folk and children’s music duo Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer have made a new recording of some of Zaret’s science songs, culled from his classic Ballads for the Age of Science a six-LP set originally issued in 1961 at the height of the Space Race.

Zoom a Little Zoom! A Ride Through Science, to be released on March 30 on their Community Music label, is the duo’s 35th album collaboration and features 10 new versions of songs from Ballads for the Age of Science and covering such subjects as space, rocketry, gravity, animal habits, weather and energy. The release is accompanied by a free downloadable activity guide, written by former head of school programs at Boston’s Museum of Science Lynn Baum, that is designed to introduce elementary level science concepts using household materials and further stimulate interest in science among youngsters.

The original ballads were co-written by lyricist Zaret and composer Lou Singer, and performed by such artists as Tom Glazer and Dorothy Collins. Shortly after Zaret’s death in 2007, his son Robert decided to revisit the six-disc set, and was introduced to Fink and Marxer--whom he then commissioned to create contemporary arrangements of the most suitable songs from the albums.

“For all of my father’s spectacular commercial success,” notes Robert Zaret, “he took particular pride in the educational and public service songs he wrote with Lou Singer [including] Ballads for the Age of Science, of course, as well as Little Songs on Big Subjects, a 1949 collection of songs about religious and racial tolerance, respect for immigrants and democracy – subjects that are as topical today as they were seven decades ago. And with some of our leaders now expressing doubts about the value of science, I believe that Zoom a Little Zoom is just what is needed now. Cathy and Marcy have reinterpreted the songs with brilliant musicality and a very contemporary sense of whimsy that I am certain would have tickled my father.”

Notes Fink, “The science in the originals remains sound, not to mention the wonderful lyrics and melodies, 57 years after the original release. Marcy and I are delighted to take a new approach to this material.”

“We’ve brought some exciting genre treatments to a number of the songs, including western swing, Klezmer and boogie-woogie, and I believe that while the kids are moving and grooving to the songs, a little science may just seep in,” adds Marxer.

Cathy FInk & Marcy Marxer will now perform a limited number of concerts based on the new album, complete with some of Baum’s activities plus graphics, animation, and film from NASA. And by the way, a then updated edition of Little Songs on Big Subjects, titled It Could be a Beautiful World and featuring Ronnie Gilbert and Leon Bibb, was released in 1967 and is now available on CD and streaming outlets.



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