“I Heard” – Ray Starita with Elsie Carlisle (1932)

“I Heard.”  Words and music by Don Redman (1931).  Recorded by Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band with Elsie Carlisle on September 1, 1932.  Four-in-One 5.

“I Heard” – Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band (with Elsie Carlisle)

Video by David Weavings (YouTube)

“I Heard” is a novelty song written by the American musician, bandleader, and composer Don Redman.  It involves interlocutors who discuss a piece of apparently scandalous  gossip, but who cut each other off so as to leave the listener in the dark as to the real nature of the rumor.  This 1932 British recording was made by the great American-born bandleader Ray Starita and his Ambassadors’ Band.  Elsie Carlisle plays the person who has heard the rumor, and there is a male speaker who questions her, doubts her, and eggs her on.  The latter was once thought to be Ray Starita himself, although it is now more generally supposed that it is Les Allen.

This recording of “I Heard” appears on a Four-in-One record.  As the name would suggest, Four-in-One records pushed the limits of technology by fitting two songs onto each side of the disc, the result being a bargain for the record buyer.  The downside of their concept is that the grooves are a bit narrower than usual and thus more prone to being scratched up by repeated playing.  In the same recording session, Starita and Elsie did a separate take for the Sterno label, which used the more typical one-song-per-side approach.  The Sterno recording is quite similar for the most part, but the violin solo is rather different and does not reach into such a high register.

The composer, Don Redman, recorded two versions of “I Heard” in late 1931 (here and here), and in 1933 appeared in a Betty Boop short of the same title.  In 1932 it was recorded by Harlan Lattimore and His Connie’s Inn Orchestra, as well as by Chick Bullock.  The Mills Brothers did a particularly popular 1932 version that led to their appearance singing it in the 1934 film Twenty Million Sweethearts.

In Britain in 1932, other recordings of “I Heard” were made by the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (Al Bowlly, vocalist), Billy Cotton and His Band ( Cyril Grantham, vocalist), Nat Gonella, and Harry Roy and His R.K. Olians (with vocalists Harry Roy, Bill Currie, and Ivor Moreton).

“Conversation for Two” (1935)

“Conversation for Two.” Composed by Sammy Mysels, Billy Hueston, and Bob Emmerich (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on September 7, 1935. Decca F. 5689.

ELSIE CARLISLE. Conversation For Two 1935

Elsie Carlisle – “Conversation for Two” (1935)

Video by Brighton Rock (YouTube)

Elsie Carlisle sings this languid love song about small talk leading to romance with considerably less of the dramatic element than is her wont. Instead, she adapts her delivery to the slow yet catchy tune in such a way as to make it atmospheric. Even her dreamy humming “Mm-mm-mm-mm…” followed by “I love you” is seductively sedating. It is perhaps fitting that the flip side of the record is “Star Gazing,” a song which is similarly leisurely in pace and vaguely mesmerizing.

Elsie’s 1935 rendition of “Conversation for Two” is the only recording that I have found of the song. Even the sheet music appears to be rare. The three composers were all prolific, however. Mysels and Emmerich got involved in composing music for motion pictures, and Emmerich, a pianist in the Tommy Dorsey Band and songwriter for Fats Waller, went on to write “The Big Apple,” a song which popularized New York City’s peculiar sobriquet.

“Come On, Baby” (1929)

“Come On, Baby.” Composed by Sidney Clare, Archie Gottler, and Maceo Pinkard (1928). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with the Rhythm Maniacs at the Chenil Galleries Studios in Chelsea on August 23, 1929. Decca F. 1528.

Personnel:  Arthur Lally-cl-as-bar dir. Sylvester Ahola-t / Danny Polo-Johnny Helfer-reeds / Joe Brannelly-bj-g / Max Bacon-d-vib1

 The Rhythm Maniacs (w. Elsie Carlisle) – “Come On, Baby”

On August 23, 1929 Elsie Carlisle recorded three songs for Decca (“Why Can’t You?” “Come on, Baby,” and “He’s a Good Man to Have Around”) with a band known variously as the Rhythm Maniacs and as Philip Lewis and His Dance Orchestra. This was a studio band, and Philip Lewis the recording manager for Decca; it was really the great  Arthur Lally (pictured above) who led the sessions. An Ambrose Orchestra saxophonist, Lally also directed a great many sessions at Decca and Filmophone between 1929 and 1932 under various band names and oversaw the making of some of the “hottest” dance band music of the period.

“Come On, Baby” begins and ends with primal, saxophone-dominated instrumental segments, with Elsie singing for a mere 42 seconds in the middle of the song. She delivers the flirtatious lyrics with considerably more fervor and desperation than other contemporary singers. Her final appeal, “Come on, and let your conscience guide you,” concluding with “Oh BABY, come on!” conveys an impression of passionate urgency.

We have an earlier take of this song made the same day, and it is interesting to hear the development that the band and Elsie make over the course of the session. The first take is instrumentally weaker; it lacks the punch of the final recording as issued by Decca. Elsie begins on the wrong note – it is humbling to hear her make such a mistake – but she recovers admirably. There is also an alternate take from that session of “He’s a Good Man to Have Around,” in which she noticeably sings a note natural when it should be flat. Here we have, perhaps, a glimpse into the fast-paced life of these recording artists, who could have a weak start to a session but still turn out an excellent final product.

“Come On, Baby” had been popular the previous year in America. Between September and December 1928 there were versions by Allister Wylie and His Coronado Hotel Orchestra, Lou Gold and His Orchestra, Ted Weems and His Orchestra, Fred Hall and His Sugar Babies, Ernie Golden, Meyer Davis and His Orchestra (as The Park Inn Good Timers, with vocals by Smith Ballew), and Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra.

British recordings of “Come On, Baby” date from September 1929 to January 1930, with versions by the Rhythmic Eight, Ray Noble’s New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (in a “Paul Jones” medley), Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band (Eddie Grossbart, vocalist), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (Sam Browne, vocalist), Bidgood’s Broadcasters (vocalist Tom Barratt), Arthur Roseberry and His Dance Band (as Barry Bryan and His Syncopators, with Pat O’Malley and possibly Len Lees doing the singing), Jay Wilbur and His Orchestra (as the Brooklyn Broadcasters, with Tom Barratt as vocalist), Cecil and Leslie Norman (as Norman Sissel and His Rhythm Twisters, with Cavan O’Connor doing the singing), Hal Swain and His Band (vocalist Hal Swain), Ronnie Munro’s Parlophone Variety Company (in their “Talkieland Selection”), Nat Star and His Dance Orchestra (as Eugene Brockman’s Dance Orchestra), Jay Whidden and His Band (vocalist Jay Whidden), and Harry Hudson’s Plaza Band (with vocalist John Thorne). There were also recordings of the song by the Trix Sisters in August 1929, and by Miriam Ferris in October 1929. Comedienne Dorothy Ward was noted for her performance of it in a Julian Wylie pantomime of “Robinson Crusoe” at The Palace, Manchester that same year.

It has always seemed odd to me that a song entitled “Come On, Baby” would not actually have that phrase in its lyrics (“Oh, baby, come on!” is as close as it gets). Such is human perversity.

"Come On, Baby!" sheet music featuring a photograph of Jack Hylton
“Come On, Baby!” sheet music featuring a photograph of Jack Hylton

Notes:

  1. According to Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes’s British Dance Bands on Record (1911-1945) and Supplement, p. 537.

“What’s the Use of Crying?” (1927)

“What’s the Use of Crying?” Lyrics by Verdi Kendel, music by Louis Forbstein (1926). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle, accompanied by violin and piano (the latter played by Arthur Young), on August 22, 1927. HMV B2579 mx. Bb11403-2.

“What’s the Use of Crying?” – Elsie Carlisle

This song’s lyricist is comparatively obscure; its composer, Louis Forbstein, would later change his surname to Forbes and gain some amount of fame as musical director for David O. Selznick films (including “Gone with the Wind”). “What’s the Use of Crying?” is a song of unrequited love that begins in a rather moody register but quickly becomes more upbeat as the tempo is twice ratcheted up and the singer professes to have acquired a spirit of resignation in the face of her troubles, asking, “What’s the use of crying just for someone like you?”

Elsie Carlisle’s is the only British recording of this song that I have discovered. It was in vogue in America in late 1926-early 1927, with versions by Lee Sims, Charley Straight’s Orchestra, Ted Weems, Bessie Coldiron (as “The Sunflower Girl”), Greta Woodson, Gypsy & Marta (unissued), Peggy English (as Jane Gray), Bob Haring’s Dixie Music Makers, Harry Raderman (Arthur Hall, vocalist), and Willard Robison (accompanying himself on the piano).

"What's the Use of Crying" sheet music
“What’s the Use of Crying” sheet music

“Exactly Like You” (1930)

“Exactly Like You.”  Lyrics by Dorothy Fields, music by Jimmy McHugh (1930).  Recorded in London c. mid-August 1930 by Elsie Carlisle (under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur).  Imperial 2318.

Personnel: Jay Wilbur dir. / Jack Miranda-cl/ Eric Siday-vn / Harry Jacobson-p-cel / Len Fillis-g / sb / d

Elsie Carlisle – Exactly Like You

Elsie Carlisle – “Exactly Like You”

Video by 1930birds’s channel (YouTube)

On Februrary 25, 1930, impresario Lew Leslie opened his International Revue on Broadway.  One would have expected a show backed by the mastermind of the wildly popular Blackbirds revues, choreographed by Busby Berkeley, and with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Jimmy McHugh to be quite a success, but it had a surprisingly short run of 95 performances, the last being on May 17.  The lasting legacy of the well-funded flop consists of two Fields/McHugh tunes, “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” introduced by Harry Richman, and “Exactly Like You,” sung in the revue by Richman and British actress Gertrude Lawrence.

Harry Richman himself made a record in March 1930 with both songs on it.  His version of “Exactly Like You,” a simple song about finding the perfect match, has some unfamiliar lyrics, which are, perhaps closer to those of the original libretto than to the more familiar abbreviated sheet music.  He is, of course, a very different sort of singer from Elsie Carlisle, but it is useful to note a commonality that they share with some other performers of that year that is not universal in the many revivals of the song in subsequent decades:  they sing the melody.

One has to admit that this is a rather difficult song to sing, with a range of an octave and a fifth and a melody based on descending fourths that can throw less talented singers off pitch.  In fact, many vocalists have chosen simply to hold a single note for the first two phrases of the melody.  The first to record the song this way was Louis Armstrong, for whom we might make the special case that he had an unconventional voice and a correspondingly unusual style of vocal interpretation.

Not so with Elsie Carlisle.  Until her status as “Idol of the Radio” overtook her reputation for musical theater, she was, to the public, a “well-known mezzo-soprano” with a reputation for vocal dexterity, and she shows it in her Imperial recording of “Exactly Like You.”  She sticks to the music as written while enhancing her ascents and descents through the tune by giving the occasional impression of being on the verge of faltering, a technique which adds character to her performance.  Hers was never a weak voice, but she was an actress who knew when to give the impression of touching vulnerability.  Elsie’s virtuoso performance is nicely complemented by the memorable instrumental accompaniment put together by Jay Wilbur, musical director at Imperial at the time.

“Exactly Like You” saw many recorded versions in 1930, some of them quite commercially successful, on both sides of the Atlantic.  In America, in addition to Harry Richman’s record, there were versions by Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orchestra (Libby Holman, vocalist), Merle Johnson and His Ceco Couriers, Seger Ellis, the Casa Loma Orchestra (with vocals by Jack Richmond), Sam Lanin and His Orchestra (Smith Ballew, vocalist), Ruth Etting, Grace Hayes, and Louis Armstrong (as noted earlier).

The song must have been equally popular in Britain.  On May 26, Jack Harris and His Orchestra recorded it, but Decca rejected their version.  Records were issued, however, by Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra (with Jack Payne himself doing the singing), Florence Oldham, Ambrose and His Orchestra (Sam Browne, vocalist, in an arrangement by Lew Stone), the Rhythmic Eight, Harry Bidgood’s Broadcasters (as Ted Summer’s Dance Devils, with Patrick Waddington as vocalist), Harry Hudson’s Radio Melody Boys (with Sam Browne), Sir Robert Peel, Bart. and His Band (with Tom Barratt as vocalist), and Nat Star and His Dance Orchestra (as Syd Kay’s Band, with vocals by Fred Douglas and Cavan O’Connor).  London-based Americans Layton and Johnstone recorded the song as a piano duet that year.

"Exactly Like You" sheet music
“Exactly Like You” original sheet music

"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

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