“Mr. Magician” (1934)

“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.

Elsie Carlisle & Sam Browne – "Mr. Magician" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle and Sam Browne – “Mr. Magician” (1934)

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.

New York-based Sam Robbins and His Orchestra had done a catchy version of the song in January, 1934, followed by Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra (with vocalists Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard) in February). In Britain Harry Roy and His Orchestra had recorded it with vocals by Bill Currie in mid-May; the latter version includes the following priceless exchange:

— “I say, Mr. Magician, won’t you bring my baby back to me?

— “Sorry, I need her for myself!”

“So Is Your Old Lady” (1926)

“So Is Your Old Lady.” Words by Al Dubin, music by Joe Burke (1926). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with piano accompaniment by Carroll Gibbons on May 25, 1926. Zonophone 2757.

So is your old Lady, Elsie Carlisle, 1926

“So Is Your Old Lady” – Elsie Carlisle (1926)

Transfer by Clive Hooley (YouTube)

“So’s your old man!” is a somewhat dated rejoinder to an insult, a suggestion that one’s interlocutor can take what he has said and apply it to his own father. One still hears the term “old lady” used to refer to a man’s wife or girlfriend. In this playful 1926 song, lyricist Al Dubin combines the two expressions in an exchange between a wife and a husband, the latter of whom has been philandering a little too obviously. The wife tells him to do as he likes, but to remember that while he is pursuing his affairs, “so is [his] old lady” — a threat of reciprocal infidelity. At her first recording session in 1926, Elsie Carlisle handled the quick patter and formulaic repetition in the lyrics deftly, bringing something both cute and slightly titillating to the taunting threats of the wife. Carroll Gibbons’s piano playing complements Elsie’s quick, crisp delivery quite nicely. This recording was also released on the Ariel label (issues 940 and 1006) but attributed to Maisie Ramsey — Elsie’s first known pseudonym!

Other versions of “So Is Your Old Lady” were done in 1926 in America by the Original Indiana Five, Ruth Etting,  and Warner’s Seven Aces. In Britain the song was recorded by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra, Teddy Brown and His Café de Paris Band (with vocalist Lionel Rothery), Bert Firman (the take was rejected), Hilda Glyder, Victor Sterling and His Band (directed by Nat Star), and the Edison Bell Dance Orchestra (with vocals by Tom Barratt).

“I Love My Baby” (1926)

“I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me).” Words by Bud Green, music by Harry Warren (1925). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with piano accompaniment by Carroll Gibbons on May 25, 1926. Zonophone 2772.

Elsie Carlisle – I Love My Baby (1926)

Elsie Carlisle – “I Love My Baby” (1926)

Video by bsgs98 (YouTube)

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.

Noteworthy early American recordings of “I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me)” date from the autumn and winter of 1925-1926, and include those of Aileen Stanley, Mike Speciale and His Orchestra (with vocals by Jimmy Flynn), Sam Lanin’s Dance Orchestra (with vocalist Irving Kaufman), The University Six (with singer Ed Kirkeby), Bailey’s Lucky Seven (with vocals by Arthur Fields), The Little Ramblers, Esther Walker (with the piano accompaniment of Rube Bloom), Lee Morse, Isham Jones, Owen Fallon and His Californians, Peggy English (with Rube Bloom on the piano), Sally Freeman, and Jack Glassner and His Colonial Inn Orchestra.

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.

Elsie Carlisle c. 1926
Elsie Carlisle c. 1926

Notes:

  1. 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” (1934)

“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day.”  Words by Maurice Sigler and Al Hoffman, music by Mabel Wayne.  Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on May 18, 1934.  Decca F. 3990.

Elsie Carlisle – "Little Man, You've Had a Busy Day" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle – “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” (1934)

“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.

In America that year, “Little Man” was made popular by the Pickens Sisters, Isham Jones and His Orchestra (with vocals by Eddie Stone),  Connee Boswell, and Paul Robeson.  Interpretations by British orchestras include those by Roy Fox and His Band (with vocals by Denny Dennis, in a Jack Nathan arrangement; they would revisit the song later in the year in a “Fox Favourites” medley), Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocalist Alan Breeze), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Jack Payne and His Band (with Jack Payne providing the vocals), The Casani Club Orchestra (directed by Charlie Kunz, with vocalist Dawn Davis), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Elsie Carlisle), The BBC Danc Orchestra (directed by Henry Hall, with vocals by Kitty Masters, in a Phil Cardew arrangement), Harry Leader and His Band (with Dawn Davis), and Eddie Wood and His Band.  Other British vocalists who recorded “Little Man” that year include Phyllis Robins, Gracie Fields, and Donald Peers.

“Seven Years with the Wrong Woman” (1933)

“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- d also? / Sam Browne-Elsie Carlisle-v

Seven Years With The Wrong Woman – Maurice Winnick & his Orchestra 1933

Seven Years With The Wrong Woman – Maurice Winnick & his Orchestra 1933

Transfer and video by Peter Wallace (YouTube)

“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

In 1933 there were other British treatments of “Seven Years with the Wrong Woman” by Jimmy Campbell and His Paramount Band (in a medley, with vocals by the Three Ginx),  Roy Fox and His Band (with vocalists Jack Plant and Sid Buckman), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Billy Cotton and His Band (Alan Breeze, vocalist), Syd Roy and His R.K.Olians (with Ivor Moreton), and Jack Payne and His Band (with vocalists Billy Scott-Coomber, Bob Busby, Bob Manning, and Jack Payne himself).

Notes:

  1. For a considerably more elaborate British dance band treatment of Rachmaninoff’s prelude, listen to Teddy Joyce’s recording of a Bob Busby arrangement of the piece.
  2. Many thanks to Fred Finnigan for drawing my attention to Bacon’s considerable work as an independent comedian, and not just as Britain’s premier drummer.

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

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