Never Sleeps/Doesn’t Sleep, Heap/Something Else

Fred Ebb was too much of a pro to do this:

I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps
To find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap

Fred Ebb knew that “sleeps” doesn’t rhyme with “heap”, so he wrote:

I want to wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep

The “city that never sleeps” comes to mind more easily, probably because it was already an expression in 1977, when the Theme From New York, New York was written.  The City That Never Sleeps is, for starters, the 1953 film above – which I’ve never seen – set in New York.  The City That Never Sleeps is also a silent film from 1924 which no-one has seen, apparently – and I don’t know which city provides its setting.

So if there was a ready-made expression lying around, why didn’t Ebb just use it, and put up with an extra “s”?  Because a Broadway writer (or at least, one of Ebb’s generation and craft) would develop an ulcer if he left superfluous un-rhyming letters lying about the place.

Liza Minnelli’s version, the first, leaves Ebb’s words as written at the climax:

… doesn’t sleep …
… king of the hill,
head of the list,
cream of the crop,
at the top of the heap …

Frank Sinatra’s recorded version, probably the best-known, has “doesn’t sleep” the first time, and then:

… nevers sleeps …
… A Number One,
top of the list,
king of the hill,
A Number One …

Ebb went on the record about not liking the “A Number One” line, although he acknowledged the big hit (and he was probably relieved that Sinatra didn’t mangle the sleep/heap rhyme).  Sinatra was, apart from adopting his usual cheery indifference to a written lyric, giving himself a better vowel for the long, drawn-out note, before the “These little-town blues” that follows.

I don’t know what the Chairman of the Board was smoking before this live performance, but we get “the city that never sleeps” in the spoken word intro, followed by “doesn’t sleep” the first time, and then:

… doesn’t sleep
… I’m number one,
top of the list,
head of the heap,
king of the hill …

What?  Why set up the sleep/heap rhyme, and then non-rhyme with “hill”?  And since when does a heap have a head?

Steve Lawrence’s version:

… doesn’t sleep
… king of the hill,
head of the list,
cream of the crop,
on the top of the … list …

Now that’s just weird.  It sets up the rhyme correctly, heads off down Minnelli’s path, then changes a word, Sinatra-style, but changes it to a non-rhymer with a bad vowel. Crazy. 

This confusion is a gift to drunken karaoke singers.  You can now sing pretty much anything, and sound like somebody.

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