“I Was True” (1932)

“I Was True (That’s Why I’m Blue).” Words by Kate Smith, music by J. Russell Robinson (1931). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment in London on February 12, 1932. Decca F. 2827 mx. GB3954-2.

Elsie Carlisle – "I Was True" (1932)

Elsie Carlisle – “I Was True” (1932)

The song “I Was True” was a creation of J. Russell Robinson (a former member of the Original Dixieland Jass Band who later wrote the music for two other songs that Elsie Carlisle recorded, “Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon” and “Hold Up Your Hands”) and a certain lyricist named Kate Smith. It is possible that the latter person was the well-known singer Kate Smith, who may have occasionally penned lyrics, but I am not certain of this.1 “I Was True” describes a relationship about to dissolve due to one party’s infidelity. One could not accuse it of being a very complex or deep song, but Elsie’s version holds a certain fascination for me. It has a languid, melancholy quality that makes the repetitive lyrics mesmerizing. The studio band adds a certain elegance to a simple arrangement.

Other British artists who recorded “I Was True” in 1931-1932 were Ray Noble and His New Mayfair Orchestra (v. Al Bowlly-The Three Ginx), The Savoy Hotel Orpheans (recording as The Masqueraders), Henry Hall and His Gleneagles Hotel Band (v. Maurice Elwin), and Harry Bidgood’s Broadcasters (recording as Lew Sylva and His Band; v. Sam Browne).

Notes:

  1. Robinson had accompanied the singer Kate Smith in vaudeville. See Ragtime: An Encyclopedia (2007) 222.

“More Than You Know” (1930)

“More Than You Know.” Lyrics by William Rose and Edward Eliscu, music by Vincent Youmans (1929). Composed for the film Great Day (unreleased). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with Jay Wilbur and His Orchestra (uncredited) in London in late September 1930. Imperial 2362 mx. 5510-1.

Personnel: Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-ts / Norman Cole-George Melachrino-vn / Billy Thorburn or Pat Dodd-p / Bert Thomas-g / Harry Evans-bb-sb / Jack Kosky-d-chm / Wag Abbey-x / Len Fillis-bj

Elsie Carlisle – "More Than You Know" (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – “More Than You Know” (1930)

In “More Than You Know” we have one of those eminently successful, perennial standards that originated in a Broadway flop (one might compare “Exactly Like You,” also recorded by Elsie Carlisle). It was introduced in the musical Great Day, set in the American Deep South, which saw only 36 performances over the course of a single month. The Vincent Youmans score was so catchy, though, that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer planned and almost completed a 1930 movie version starring Joan Crawford. Crawford was so personally disappointed with the results (including with her own acting) that she convinced the studio to rewrite and reshoot the greater part of the film and to release it in 1931, but this never happened, and a 1934 attempt starring Jeanette MacDonald also never came to fruition. The legacy of these failed shows, then, is in the songs “Without a Song” and “More Than You Know.”

“More Than You Know” shares the structure of many Broadway tunes of its time, consisting of an introduction that is melodically quite different from the verses. Its intro is even more melancholy than the rest of the song, which is sad in tone but which encapsulates an effusive expression of love for a man without respect to any flaws he might have. Elsie Carlisle’s version fully embraces the gushing quality of the lyrics while maintaining a sense of credibility and sincerity. One might compare it to her recording of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (which she had introduced on the London stage the previous year); in both, she evokes innocence and vulnerability of a sort that is immediately attractive to the listener. It is worth noting that the Imperial label of the disc on which “More Than You Know” is recorded mentions the film Great Day; there must have still been a keen expectation of the release of the film and a corresponding need for a tie-in.

“More Than You Know” was recorded in 1929 in America by Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting, Libby Holman, and Carmel Myers. It was recorded in London in 1930-1931 by Zaidee Jackson, The Million-Airs (Arthur Lally dir., v. Maurice Elwin), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), The New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (Ray Noble dir.; in a medley), Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra (v. Val Rosing; also in a medley), Gwladys Stanley, and Bert Maddison and His Dance Orchestra (Nat Star dir., v. Dan Donovan; in a medley).

“Wasn’t It Nice?” (1930)

“Wasn’t It Nice?” Words by Joe Young, music by Seymour Simons (1930). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with Jay Wilbur and His Orchestra (uncredited) in London c. late September 1930. Imperial 2362 mx. 5509-1.1

Personnel: Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-ts / Norman Cole-George Melachrino-vn / Billy Thorburn or Pat Dodd-p / Bert Thomas-g / Harry Evans-bb-sb / Jack Kosky-d-chm / Wag Abbey-x / Len Fillis-bj

Elsie Carlisle – "Wasn't It Nice?" (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – “Wasn’t It Nice?” (1930)

The lyrics of “Wasn’t It Nice?” describe an idyllic romantic relationship. They consist of fond recollections of the early days of that relationship and of the ensuing marriage (the refrain for each reminiscence is “Gee, dear, wasn’t it nice?”). There is a notable description of “canoedling” (cuddling in a boat, a common occupation in the years before motorcars were common enough to provide young couples with privacy). The lyrics also mention a wedding at which not only is the familiar rice thrown, but also shoes (an older practice) — one of which is said nonsensically to still have a foot in it! This last detail provides a suitable ending for a fundamentally goofy song.

Elsie Carlisle’s version of “Wasn’t It Nice?” is noteworthy for its evocation of a certain sort of almost infantile femininity. Elsie perfectly captures a mood of youthful glee which is worlds away from the squeaky protestations of her also childlike persona in the rather sinister “Dada, Dada.”  Particularly delightful is the primal girlish giggle that she emits at 2:09. The use of the chimes in the middle of the song adds to an overall feeling of simplicity and innocence, insofar as they recall the sounds of nursery toys.

“Wasn’t It Nice?” was recorded in America in 1930 by Marion Harris, Tom Clines and His Music (v. Jack Carney), The Charleston Chasers, and Aileen Stanley. Other British bands who recorded it in 1930 were The Million-Airs (Arthur Lally dir., v. Maurice Elwin; in a medley), The Arcadians Dance Orchestra (John Firman dir.), Van Phillips and His Band (v. Billy Milton), Bert Maddison and His Dance Orchestra (Nat Star dir., v. Fred Douglas; in a medley), Nat Star and His Dance Orchestra (v. Fred Douglas and Jack Hodges; in a medley), and the Million-Airs (Arthur Lally dir., v. Fred Douglas).

Notes:

  1. The discographies do not mention take -1, but I would appear to own it.

Elsie Carlisle’s 123rd Birthday

Elizabeth Carlisle was born on January 28, 18961 in Manchester, England to James Carlisle and Mary Ellen Carlisle (née Cottingham). Elsie was not the only member of her family to show a knack for show business; her brothers James (“Jim”) and Albert (“Tim”) were both singers who worked with the great composer, publisher, and impresario Lawrence Wright. By her own account, Elsie was encouraged to learn singing by her mother, who paid for her to have lessons when she was only a small girl.2 It was her brother Jim who got her her first theatrical role at the age of 12,3 and by the time of her marriage in 1914 she could be described as a “musical hall artiste” on the wedding certificate. By 1919 she was appearing in the West End in a show whose cast included Betty Bolton, and the next year she merited her own show, entitled Elsie Carlisle – With a Different Style, in which she performed as a solo vocalist.

How “different” her style was would quickly be made known to larger and larger audiences. Her stage career grew, only to be eclipsed, starting in 1926, by her broadcasting and recording efforts. Elsie’s 38 recordings made with Ambrose and His Orchestra between 1932 and 1935 are among the best remembered, but one should remember that she made at least 342 recordings between 1926 and 1942 — a prolific output. The British public would have known her better still from her broadcasts on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. She was often billed as the “Idol of the Radio,” a well-earned epithet. By the mid-1930s she was ranked amongst the top vocalists who could be heard on the British airwaves, and she had film and television credits to her name as well. Her dulcet delivery of themes both comic and plaintive continues to attract listeners over a century after her first performance in a Manchester music hall, and the world is much richer for her having lived in it.

Notes:

  1. January 28, 1896 is the date that Elsie Carlisle’s mother provided when she registered her daughter’s birth on March 3, 1896. The same birthday appears on Elsie’s baptismal certificate, which is dated April 15, 1896, so the date “21 January 1897” found on Elsie’s death certificate must be erroneous. People are not generally baptized before they are born, and one would assume that Elsie’s mother was a better source of information regarding her own daughter’s birth than Elsie’s son Wilfred, the informant for the death certificate.
  2. Ralph Graves. “Radio Sweetheart No. 1.” Radio Pictorial 251 (November 4, 1938): 8.
  3. According to Richard J. Johnson in “Elsie Carlisle (with a different style).” Memory Lane 174 (2012): 25.

“When My Dreams Come True” (1929)

“When My Dreams Come True.” Composed by Irving Berlin for the Marx Brothers film The Cocoanuts (1929). Recorded by Philip Lewis and His Orchestra (a.k.a. the Rhythm Maniacs) under the musical direction of Arthur Lally with vocalist Elsie Carlisle in London on September 14, 1929. Decca F. 1539 mx. DJ49-1.

Personnel: Arthur Lally cl-bas-bsx dir. Sylvester Ahola-t / Danny Polo-cl-as-ss / Johnny Helfer-ts / Claude Ivy-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Max Bacon-d-vib

The Rhythm Maniacs (v. Elsie Carlisle) – "When My Dreams Come True" (1929)

The Rhythm Maniacs (v. Elsie Carlisle) – “When My Dreams Come True” (1929)

When I first heard The Rhythm Maniacs’ recording of “When My Dreams Come True,”1 it came as quite a surprise: here was Elsie Carlisle singing a vocal part mistakenly attributed to the male singer Maurice Elwin by Rust and Forbes’s British Dance Bands on Record (a.k.a “The Bible”). Indeed, this side has been overlooked by the discographies covering Elsie’s recording career, and Elsie’s role in this Rhythm Maniacs session has been noted in print only by Dick Hill.2

“When My Dreams Come True” is the leitmotiv of Paramount’s 1929 The Cocoanuts, the first Marx Brothers feature. The song is introduced by Oscar Shaw and Mary Eaton but performed throughout by a number of characters (including twice by Harpo, on clarinet and harp). The Cocoanuts is a successful comedy, but it suffers from the awkwardness of other early sound films, which struggled with the novel problem of trying to integrate song-and-dance routines with non-musical material.

Elsie Carlisle’s recording with the Rhythm Maniacs lacks any such awkwardness: she sings with confidence and ebullience, especially when we compare her singing on this record to her excellent but admittedly slightly flawed first session with the same band. In the first takes of “Come On, Baby” and “He’s a Good Man to Have Around,” Elsie even hits a couple of false notes! In contrast, Elsie’s 38-second delivery of the refrain of “When My Dreams Come True” is nearly flawless, and Elsie makes the mental “Spanish castle” of the lyrics sound like an invitingly happy place.

“When My Dreams Come True” was recorded in America in 1929 by Franklyn Baur, Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (with vocalist Jack Fulton), Hal Kemp and His Orchestra (with vocals by Skinnay Ennis), and Phil Spitalny’s Music (with the Pauli Sisters). It was made popular in Britain in 1929 by Bidgood’s Broadcasters (as Al Benny’s Broadway Boys, with vocalist Cavan O’Connor), The Gilt-Edged Four (with vocals by Norah Blaney), Betty Bolton, and by Stanley Kirkby and Rene Valma. In March 1930 it was recorded by Harry Hudson’s Radio Melody Boys (with vocalist Sam Browne).

"When My Dreams Come True." Original sheet music (1929).

Notes:

  1. On the YouTube channel of David Weavings (a.k.a. “jackpaynefan”), where you may find other rare Elsie Carlisle songs.
  2. Silvester Ahola: The Gloucester Gabriel, “Discography,” especially pp. 151-155 (Metuchen, New Jersey, 1993). My thanks to John Wright and Barry McCanna for referring me to this fascinating volume.