“Mr. Magician (Won’t You Bring My Honey Back to Me?).” Words and music by Charles O’Flynn, James Cavanaugh, and Frank Weldon (1934). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle and Sam Browne with orchestral accompaniment on June 22, 1934. Decca F. 5079.
O’Flynn, Cavanaugh, and Weldon were prominent Tin Pan Alley songwriters, but their 1934 “Mr. Magician” does not appear to have inspired many recordings. It may have seemed outrageously corny even by the standards of the time (consider the lines of the refrain: “Hocus, pocus, Mr. Magician, won’t you bring my honey back to me?”). All the same, this melodramatic arrangement (complete with an anonymous carnival barker, with Sam Browne as a grandiose, boasting circus magician, and with Elsie Carlisle as an earnest girl who wants to “find [her] man somehow”) has a certain appeal. Elsie plays the Dorothy to Sam’s Great Oz with a comical insistence; the whole piece is cartoonish, funny, and sweet.
Elsie Carlisle began her career as a recording artist 89 years ago today. Already an accomplished 30-year-old actress, she had started to do musical radio broadcasts on March 1, 1926. On May 25 she was joined at the Gramophone Company’s Studio B at Hayes in Middlesex by Carroll Gibbons, who was to be her piano accompanist — he was not yet the famed director of the Savoy Hotel Orpheans. In his 1938 journalistic paean to Elsie Carlisle (“Radio Sweetheart No. 1”), Ralph Graves tells how the two first met:
Now for another scene.
This time not a swank lunch, but a very informal party.
Elsie was asked to sing. No, she hadn’t her music, but a quiet, bespectacled young man at the piano knew all the latest numbers, and could instantly transpose into any key Elsie wanted.
She sang several numbers which went down well, but the outstanding thought in Elsie’s mind was what a good accompanist this young man was. And when he played some piano solos on his own afterwards her opinion of him went up.
She asked who he was.
“That chap at the piano? Oh, he’s a Mr. Gibbons. Just come over from the States with Rudy Vallee, you know. Carroll Gibbons I believe his name is….”
That was in the days when Carroll was striving to make a name for himself.
Elsie and Carroll used to meet quite often after that party, as they held each other in mutual esteem. Well, now here’s a secret. Even his best friends will admit that Carroll has a “queer” voice. Those melodious deep tones, so very “Southern” are a characteristic. His announcements are fun, but you can’t imagine him as a singer, can you!
Yet it is a fact that Carroll and Elsie not only made gramophone records together, but on at least one of them Carroll sang part of the vocals! Yes, that vocalist is a fine pianist!1
At this particular session Gibbons did not sing, but his piano accompaniment is flawless, as it would continue to be throughout his period of collaboration with Elsie Carlisle that year. The two songs that they recorded at their first session were a prescient snapshot of the Anglophone popular music of the time, insofar as Harry Warren’s “I Love My Baby” was paired with “So Is Your Old Lady,” whose lyricist was Al Dubin, the man now most associated with Warren. Those two men had already collaborated at that point, but it would be many years before they would begin their famous stint as the great songwriters for Warner Bros.
“I Love My Baby” expresses the enthusiasm of silly young lovers at an insistent tempo that is entirely infectious and is somehow as definitively redolent of the decade of its composition as “The Charleston.” Elsie Carlisle intones the lyrics with just the slightest hint of a chatty, dramatic delivery, and she adds color with vocal effects such as her husky second repetition of the refrain (most reminiscent, perhaps, of the versions recorded a few months earlier by Aileen Stanley and Lee Morse — see below). The persona Elsie takes on is one familiar from her later work, an example of brilliant, brainless fun such as we hear in her 1929 “Come On, Baby” with the Rhythm Maniacs. Elsie would appear on the sheet music for “I Love My Baby” that year.
Other British 1926 versions of the song are those of the New Princes’ Toronto Band (under the direction of Hal Swain, with vocalist Les Allen) and Don Parker and His Band; Frances White recorded it for HMV with the Kit-Cat Band, but it went unissued.
Radio Pictorial (November 4, 1938) 251 p. 8. The boldface is Graves’s and typical of the bombastic editorial style of the magazine. Graves is presumably referring to Gibbons’s faint antiphony in the 1926 “Ya Gotta Know How to Love” (Zonophone 2815), another composition by Bud Green and Harry Warren, as well as in the song on its reverse side, “My Cutey’s Due at Two-to-Two Today.”↩
“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day,” a 1934 hit that has seen revivals in every subsequent decade, is a lullaby both in theme and in mood and hence runs the risk of being hopelessly saccharine. In spite of that basic handicap, the song met with truly excellent interpretations in its first year, no doubt because the tune is fundamentally quite beautiful and the lyrics pleasantly mesmerizing, as those of a lullaby should be.
Elsie Carlisle’s “solo” version of “Little Man” is quite complete in its lyrics and even includes some bedside chatter. The version she was to do a month later with the Ambrose Orchestra (in which the band not surprisingly plays almost as sweetly as Elsie sings) is naturally more abbreviated and leaves open the possibility that she is cooing to a husband, but the earlier version really does seem directed to a child. One might ask what the attraction of such a song would be to an adult audience, but admittedly there is something inherently attractive about the idea of being tucked into bed by Elsie Carlisle. Out of a great many British versions of “Little Man” recorded in the middle of 1934, it would appear that Elsie’s versions were particularly successful. A good indicator of that success would be the fact that it reappears in the 1937 “Carlisle Medley” (HMV BD 476), a sort of “best hits” compilation.
“Seven Years with the Wrong Woman.” Words and melody by Bob Miller (1932). Recorded by Maurice Winnick and His Orchestra, with vocals by Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle, on May 16, 1933. Panachord 25527.
Personnel: Maurice Winnick-vn dir. Charles Price-another-t / 2tb / Harry Hayes-Harry Turoff-as / Percy Winnick-cl-ts-o / Bert Whittam -p / Bill Herbert-g / Tiny Stock-sb / Stanley Marshall-d / Max Bacon-sp (possibly -d also)
“Seven Years with the Wrong Woman,” a comic hillbilly waltz by Memphis-born but New York-based Bob Miller, is the lament of an unhappily married man. The henpecked husband and the shrewish wife are perennial stock sources of mirth, and Miller’s encapsulation of the sentiments of the former attracted the attention of such American artists as Cliff Carlisle, Parker & Dodd, Frank Luther, Mac & Bob, and Jess Hillard. The success of the song is attested to by Miller’s having released a second song, “Seven Years with the Wrong Man,” a year later, in which he presented the same situation from the point of view of the fairer sex.
Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle’s duet in Maurice Winnick’s recording of “Seven Years with the Wrong Woman” is an early example of the sort of song of bickering and vituperation for which they became well known (consider also the 1934 songs “What’s Good for the Goose Is Good for the Gander” and “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You”). The verses of the song are interspersed with spoken comic vignettes. The arrangement is whimsical, and it includes a bit of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C Sharp Minor.”1 The comedy is at times rather dark (“Prisoner at the bar, you are accused of striking this woman with your fist. Why did you strike her with your fist?” “Because I couldn’t find a hammer”). The third speaker is Ambrose drummer Max Bacon, who liked to do comedy in a stereotypical Jewish accent whenever the chance presented itself.2
“You’ve Got Me Crying Again.” Words by Charles Newman, music by Isham Jones (1933). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocal refrain by Elsie Carlisle in London on May 5, 1933. Brunswick 01523.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-cl-as-bar / Joe Jeannette-cl-as / Harry Hayes-as / Billy Amstell-cl-ts / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d
“You’ve Got Me Crying Again” is a particularly good torch song, or “plaintive onion-ballad of the better type,”1 if you prefer. It is an example of a genre that Elsie Carlisle had mastered (compare her renditions of “Mean to Me,”“Body and Soul,”“He’s My Secret Passion,”“Poor Kid,” and “Have You Ever Been Lonely”), and she handles this Isham Jones piece with dramatic dexterity, combining pathos with utter cuteness. The lyrics are the words of a person frustrated by the vicissitudes of a love relationship, but the complaints are really rather generic, and so it is impressive that Elsie is able, in the 45 seconds allotted to her, to impart character to what is fundamentally just a snippet of a speech. She outdoes herself in this recording, but she is matched by the mesmerizing instrumentals of an arrangement outstanding even by the high standards one expects of Ambrose.