Most people who try to learn to play the piano are faced at one time or another with the task of playing a song with a partner. One person plays the bass part, while the other person plays the melody. Heart and Soul is relatively easy and fun to play and instantly recognizable.
Set the Wayback machine for 1939, when the Larry Clinton and his Orchestra featuring Bea Wain released the first successful version of the song. The music was written by Hoagy Carmichael and the lyrics by Frank Loesser; that version Heart and Soul topped the charts while versions by Eddy Duchin and Al Donahue stalled in the teens.
In 1952 the version recorded by the Four Aces with the Jack Pleis Orchestra barely missed the top ten.
Ragtime piano player Johnny Maddox produced an instrumental version in 1956 that only reached #56. Perhaps ragtime had worn out its welcome (although it did get a short revival in 1973 thanks to Marvin Hamlisch and the film The Sting).
The most familiar version for most oldies fans is probably the 1961 version by the Cleftones. The five-member group was formed in Jamaica High School in New York in 1955 and originally called themselves the Silvertones. Two of the members wrote You Baby You which they recorded and had a local hit with (the song reached #78 nationwide in 1956). Another member co-wrote Little Girl Of Mine which did even better, reaching as high as #57 a few months later.
Two of the original members of the group continued performing with several new members, although with no charting results. In 1959 the group recorded their version of Heart and Soul, but the record sat around unreleased until the Spring of 1961. The release that year climbed up the charts to #18. Continued success eluded the group, and within a few years, they disbanded permanently. Their record was revived when it was included on the soundtrack of American Grafitti in 1973.
A few weeks after the Cleftones’ version of the record peaked, a cover version by Jan and Dean which was a fast doo-wop version reached #25. That limited success prompted Liberty Records to sign Jan and Dean to a recording contract that eventually led to a string of hits in the mid-sixties.
Heart and Soul continues to live on today and can easily be discerned in the melody of Train’s recording of Play That Song.