“Let There Be Love” (1941)

“Let There Be Love.” Music by Lionel Rand, words by Ian Grant. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur in London on May 22, 1941. Rex 9989 mx. R5782-2.

Personnel: Jay Wilbur dir. Alfie Noakes-Chick Smith-t / Paul Fenoulhet or Ted Heath or George Rowe-tb / Frank Johnson-Frank Weir-cl-as / George Smith or Cliff Timms-ts / Matt Heft-p / Jack Simmons-g / Billy Bell-sb / Jack Simpson-d

"Let There Be Love" (1941)

Elsie Carlisle – “Let There Be Love” (1941)

The output of songwriters apparently known for little else, “Let There Be Love” has exhibited unusual staying power, with a notable artist reviving it every decade or so: Nat King Cole (1961), Rosemary Clooney (1992), Cliff Richard and Matt Monro (2006). Bruce Forsyth even sang it as a duet in 1976 with Miss Piggy of Muppets fame.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should mention that I do not like this song, and that Elsie Carlisle’s version of it is my least favorite of her recordings. Some of my objection to it must stem, no doubt, from simple matters of personal aesthetic sensibility. I find the rhythm of the beguine moderately irritating: it is to dance genres what a cloying, fruity blended drink is to cocktails (I am referring to the kind with a paper umbrella in it). All the same, 1941 saw Elsie Carlisle release a recording of another beguine, “You’re in My Arms,” which seems in every way preferable to me.

Surely there must be firmer grounds for my dislike of “Let There Be Love.” I locate those grounds in the insipid lyrics, which aim for cuteness and end up with stupidity verging on the repugnant. The rhymes are facile and seem to be the driving force behind the lyrics, rather than any detectable thematic cohesion:

Let there be you,
And let there be me.
Let there be oysters
Under the sea.

The moment of maximum bathos comes early in the song:

Let there be birds
To sing in the trees,
Someone to bless me
Whenever I sneeze.

The blessing-sneezing moment is no doubt the most carefully thought-out part of the lyrics. “…[O]ysters / Under the sea,” for example, only rhymes and does not contribute to a love theme, but “Someone to bless me / Whenever I sneeze” is a preconceived notion that the lyricist actually had to work to put into words — it is not there simply for the sake of rhyming.

One might hope that, as is usually the case with weak underlying compositions, Elsie Carlisle (assisted by some musical luminary such as Jay Wilbur) could redeem the piece in some way, but I cannot hear it. The arrangement contains one too many wacky woodwind flourish for my taste. It is all just too regrettable: Elsie’s voice seems to have acquired strength over the course of her career, and the improved recording techniques of the early 1940s (putting the Rex label’s infamous “crackle” aside) capture every bright moment, every delicious quaver in her voice. That they captured this particular song is perhaps unfortunate, but it provides us with something like an absolute zero on the thermometer of Elsie Carlisle songs. Everything else is better, even “Calliope Jane.”

Noteworthy 1940-1941 American recordings of “Let There Be Love” are those of Sammy Kaye, Kay Kyser and His Orchestra (v. Harry Babbit), Maxine Gray, Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra (v. Hal Derwin), and Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra (v. Bob Eberly).

The song was recorded in Britain by Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Anne Shelton and Sam Browne), Joe Loss and His Band (v. Bob Arden and Bette Roberts), Victor Silvester and His Ballroom Orchestra, and the Savoy Orpheans (dir. Carroll Gibbons, v. Anne Lenner).

“Is There Anything Wrong in That?” (1929)

“Is There  Anything Wrong in That?” Words by Herb Magidson, music by Michael H. Cleary (1928). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with accompaniment by Jay Wilbur’s Orchestra in London c.  February 1929. Dominion A. 83 mx. 1148-2.

Personnel: Max Goldberg-Bill Shakespeare-t / Tony Thorpe-tb / Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-as-ts / Norman Cole-vn / Billy Thorburn-p / Dave Thomas or Bert Thomas-bj-g / Harry Evans-bb-sb / Jack Kosky-d

Elsie Carlisle – "Is There Anything Wrong in That?" (1929)

Elsie Carlisle – “Is There Anything Wrong in That?” (1929)

A 1929 review of Dominion A. 83 explains

Little Elsie has tried two extreme opposites this month. “Dreaming of To-morrow” is a rhythmical but sentimental number. The other one is of the “Naughty” type; it fits Elsie like a glove and is just the thing for everyone (except your maiden aunt).1

In “Is There Anything Wrong in That?” the singer repeatedly expresses hesitance, doubt, and more than anything, ignorance with regard to basic questions of morality. She explains, “I can’t tell the bad things from the good,” and “I can’t tell the naughty from the nice.” Her misdeeds appear to consist of taking gifts in exchange for sexual favors; she also seems to use her attractiveness to facilitate the theft of a fur-lined coat and a Cadillac!

The most familiar recordings of this song are by Helen Kane and Annette Hanshaw, both of whom use the persona of a Bronx-accented baby vamp. Their exaggerated little girl voices complement their bogus claims of ignorance and innocence. Elsie Carlisle, by contrast, uses an adult voice, so the comic effect is more subtle. Elsie sings mostly in a parlando style, where the delivery of the lines is close to natural speech. Her more natural intonation gives her leeway to emphasize the lyrics’ ridiculous statements.

“Is There Anything Wrong in That?” was recorded in 1928-1929 in America by Helen Kate, Beth Challis, Annette Hanshaw, Ermine Callway (with the Seven Blue Babies), and Helen Charleston (with Ken Murray). In Britain it was recorded in 1929 by Lily Lapidus and The Rhythmic Eight.

"Is There Anything Wrong in That?" original sheet music

Notes:

  1. “Elsie Carlisle.” The Melody Maker. (The Gramophone Review). 4.40 (April 1, 1929): 376.

“Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” (1941)

“Room Five-Hundred-and-Four.” Words by Eric Maschwitz, music by George Posford. Composed for the Eric Maschwitz revue New Faces (1940). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur in London on February 10, 1941. Rex 9934.

Elsie Carlisle – “Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” (1941)

Original 78 rpm Transfer by Charles Hippisley-Cox

“Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” has its origins in the 1940 revue New Faces, which is also where “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was introduced. The lyrics describe a woman’s happy memory of a night spent with her lover in a luxury hotel too expensive for either of them. She describes the night as “her very first and only rendezvous,” and for good reason: this comparatively wholesome song is about a honeymoon, not a tryst. It is tame, therefore, by the standards of Elsie Carlisle’s songbook, which includes not just “My Man o’ War” but also “Public Sweetheart No. 1.”

Elsie Carlisle committed “Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” to shellac in her last year of recording. While I generally prefer the underlying compositions of her earlier period, it is delightful to hear her voice on her later Rex-label records. Elsie’s later style of singing seems slightly more confident, and the crisp beauty of her voice is made even more evident by the more modern recording techniques available by that time — in spite of Rex’s reputation for “crackly” shellac. The studio band’s virtuosity is showcased nicely in their rather swingy instrumental segment.

Other versions of “Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” were recorded in Britain in 1940-1941 by Vera Lynn (accompanied by Jay Wilbur and His Band), Geraldo and His Orchesta (v. Dorothy Carless), The Savoy Hotel Orpheans (dir. Carroll Gibbons, v. Anne Lenner), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Ann Shelton), again by Jay Wilbur and His Band (v. Anne Lenner), and by Binnie Hale.

"Room Five-Hundred-and-Four" sheet music
“Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” sheet music

“To Be Worthy of You” (1932)

“To Be Worthy of You.” Words by Benny Davis, music by John Frederick Coots (1931). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on February 9, 1932. Zonophone 6069 mx. OY2687-2.

Personnel: cl / Bert Firman-vn / ?Bert Read-p / ?Joe Brannelly-g / ?Billy Bell-sb

Elsie Carlisle – "To Be Worthy of You" (1932)

Elsie Carlisle – “To Be Worthy of You” (1932)

“To Be Worthy of You” was composed in 1931 by Benny Davis and John Frederick Coots. Davis had written the successful standard “Baby Face”  back in 1926,  and Coots would go on to co-write the best-selling “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” in 19341 “To Be Worthy of You” did not have the staying power that those other songs enjoyed. Indeed, the melody falls short of being particularly infectious or compelling, and the lyrics initially seem gushy. I do think, however, that the words express sentiments that are comparatively deep for a popular song, and that Elsie Carlisle’s version is a rather elegant realization of the song’s possibilities.

At first it would seem that Elsie is merely expressing her satisfaction at having found a love partner whose merits are so great that she feels scarcely worthy of having him. In fact, she is rejoicing in having resolved to be a better person: “Watch the way that I’ll come through / To be worthy of you.” The idea of being transported, not just with the joy of love, but also with delight at having discovered in another person the means of self-improvement, is really extraordinary.

Elsie’s singing in this comparatively simple arrangement is nothing if not refined. Her anonymous accompaniment is also noteworthy, in particular the pianist, whom Richard J. Johnson tentatively identifies as Bert Read2, a constant fixture at Elsie’s recording sessions (especially in his role as an Ambrose man). Whatever this pianist’s identity, his flourishes contribute a great deal to the overall bright, crisp sound of the recording and to the idea that we are dealing in this piece with an elevated mental state.

“To Be Worthy of You” was also recorded in a radio transcript in 1931 or 1932 in America by Gus Arnheim’s Cocoanut Grove Ambassadors (v. Loyce Whiteman). In Britain it was recorded by Roy Fox and His Band (v. Al Bowlly), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (v. Jack Plant).

Notes:

  1. Not to mention “Gosh Darn,” which Elsie Carlisle would record with Ray Starita and His Ambassadors later in 1932.
  2. Johnson, Richard J. Elsie Carlisle: A Discography. Aylesbury, UK, 1994, 14.

“Deep in a Dream” (1939)

“Deep in a Dream.” Words by Eddie De Lange, music by Jimmy Van Heusen (1938). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of George Scott-Wood at Studio 1, Abbey Road, London on February 1, 1939. HMV B.D. 663 mx. OEA7519-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "Deep in a Dream" (1939)

Elsie Carlisle – “Deep in a Dream” (1939)

In “Deep in a Dream,” the singer depicts herself sitting in a dark room, smoking and getting drowsy as she remembers a lover who is now inaccessible — whether through distance, dissolution of the romance, or death, we do not really know. The lost lover’s descent on a smoke staircase (as described in the lyrics) might suggest a quirky sort of descent from heaven. At any rate, the genuinely dreamy music swells as the memories of happier times are revived (“Awake or asleep, every memory I’ll keep / Deep in a dream of you”). The reverie ends when the cigarette burns the singer’s fingers and wakes her. To my knowledge, while this is one of three Jimmy Van Heusen songs written in 1938-1939 involving dreams1, it is the only one that uses the absence of fire safety as a plot point.

The lyrics of “Deep in a Dream” leave us in the dark as to what has happened between the two lovers. Elsie Carlisle’s interpretation is successful because she evokes the melancholy of the dark, smoky room, only to imbue her dream with a truly ecstatic spirit. She seems content to express alternating strong emotions, rather than to establish some sort of vocal character, as she often does. The anonymous studio band (led by director George Scott-Wood) complements Elsie’s singing nicely, contributing to this decidedly atmospheric piece.

“Deep in a Dream” was recorded in America in late 1938 and early 1939 by Chick Webb and His Orchestra (v. Ella Fitzgerald)Bob Crosby and His Orchestra (v. Marion Mann), Cab Calloway and His Orchestra (v. Cab Calloway), Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (v. Helen Forrest), and Connie Boswell (accompanied by Woody Herman and His Orchestra).

It was recorded in London in 1939 by Geraldo and His Orchestra (v. Al Bowlly), Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (v. Anne Lenner), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (v. Bill Currie), Lew Stone and His Band (v. Dorothy Alt), and Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (v. Garry Gowan).

Notes:

  1. The others being “It’s the Dreamer in Me” and “Darn That Dream”.