Memory (Cats song)

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"Memory" is a show tune from the 1981 musical Cats.[1] It is sung primarily 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 best-known song. Elaine Paige originated the role of Grizabella in the West End production of Cats, the first to perform the song publicly on stage and bringing attention to its writers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn, who received the 1981 Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.[2]

Conception and composition[edit]

The lyric, written by Cats director Trevor Nunn, was loosely based on[citation needed] T. S. Eliot's poems "Preludes"[3] and "Rhapsody on a Windy Night".[4]" 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!"[5]

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".[6]

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.

Cover versions[edit]

"Memory" has been covered by numerous musical acts. Among the more notable are the following:

  • Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Grizabella in the West End production of Cats, released a version of the song that was a Top 10 hit in the UK, peaking at #6 on the UK Singles Chart in July 1981.[7] She re-recorded the song in 1998 with a slight lyrical alteration, which was included in the video release of the musical. This version reached #36 in the UK Singles Chart in October of that year.[7] Elaine also recorded a version for her 1983 album Stages.
  • Barry Manilow released a cover of "Memory" as a single in late 1982; this became the highest-charting version to date on the Billboard Hot 100 when it reached No. 39 in January 1983.[8] Manilow's recording also made the Top 10 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart, reaching No. 8.[9] This version is included on his album Here Comes the Night.

Barbra Streisand version[edit]

Memory single cover.jpg
Single by Barbra Streisand
from the album Memories
B-side"Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)"
Songwriter(s)Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn
Producer(s)Andrew Lloyd Webber
Barbra Streisand singles chronology
"Comin' In and Out of Your Life"
"The Way He Makes Me Feel"

Barbra Streisand recorded "Memory" (produced by Lloyd Webber himself, and widely regarded as the definitive version) for her 1981 album Memories. When released as a single, Streisand's cover reached No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 9 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart in 1982. In the UK this version peaked at No. 34 the same year.[10] A music video was made for her version of the song; it was filmed with only one camera on a set resembling a recording studio, and utilized some vintage stock footage of New York City and New Year's Eve parties to make the mood melancholic. The video was produced by Chips Chipperfield. The single sold 749 000 copies in France and is the 231st best-selling single of all-time in the country.

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (1981–1984) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[11] 14
Canadian Adult Contemporary (RPM)[12] 3
France (SNEP)[13] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[14] 30
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[15] 19
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[16] 4
South Africa (Springbok)[17] 8
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[18] 6
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[19] 34
US Billboard Hot 100[20] 52
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[21] 9
Chart (2012) Peak
France (SNEP)[13] 185


  1. ^ "Cats" Retrieved 26 April 2009.
  2. ^ Lister, David, Pop ballads bite back in lyrical fashion, The Independent, 28 May 1994
  3. ^ T. S. Eliot, "Preludes", Academy of American Poets. Accessed Aug. 18, 2017
  4. ^ T. S. Eliot, "Rhapsody on a Windy Night", Academy of American Poets. Accessed Aug. 18, 2017
  5. ^ Bence Olveczky, Cats – Stage Review, The Tech, Issue 48 : Friday, 8 October 1999
  6. ^ Snelson, John (2009). Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yale University Press. p. 173. ISBN 0300151136.
  7. ^ a b "Elaine Paige – Full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. Official Charts Company. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (Billboard Publications), page 394.
  9. ^ Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of No. 1 Adult Contemporary Hits (Billboard Publications), page 260.
  10. ^ "– Full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. Official Charts Company. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  11. ^ " – Barbra Streisand – Memory" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Adult Contemporary – Volume 36, No. 14 May 15, 1982". RPM.
  13. ^ a b " – Barbra Streisand – Memory" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  14. ^ " – Barbra Streisand – Memory". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  15. ^ " – Barbra Streisand – Memory" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  16. ^ " – Barbra Streisand – Memory". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  17. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  18. ^ " – Barbra Streisand – Memory". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  19. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  20. ^ "Barbra Streisand Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  21. ^ "Barbra Streisand Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved March 3, 2016.

External links[edit]