“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” (with Ambrose; 1932)

“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” Words and music by Harry Woods and Billy Hill (the latter using the pseudonym George Brown; 1932). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra (with vocals by Elsie Carlisle) on July 13, 1932. HMV B6210 mx. OB3134-1.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Joe Crossman-Billy Amstell-Joe Jeannete-reeds / Harry Hines-as / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d-vib

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle) – "The Clouds Will Soon Roll By" (1932)

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle) – “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” (1932)

Eighty-two years ago today, Elsie Carlisle recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra one of her two versions of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” It has become fixed in popular memory as one of her most representative recordings, and especially as a perfect example of her ability to project a persona of touching vulnerability — in this case employing optimistic lyrics set to a powerful but somewhat melancholy arrangement. Meteorological metaphors encouraging an upbeat attitude seem to have been a staple of the popular music of the time. It was in the same year that Irving Berlin composed his “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee”:

Why worry when skies are gray
Why should we complain
Let’s laugh at the cloudy day
Let’s sing in the rain
Songwriters say the storm quickly passes
That’s their philosophy
They see the world through rose-colored glasses
Why shouldn’t we?
Trouble’s just a bubble
And the clouds will soon roll by
So let’s have another cup o’ coffee
And let’s have another piece o’ pie

Elsie would record another version on September 19 on Decca F. 3146, accompanied only by a piano and Len Fillis on the steel guitar. This solo version is subdued by comparison to the Ambrose recording with its powerful orchestral arrangement.

Representative American interpretations of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” from 1932 are those of Eddy Duchin and His Central Park Casino Orchestra (with vocal refrain by the Hamilton Sisters), Bob Causer and His Cornelians (Harold Van Emburgh on vocal), and Anson Weeks.

The song would see many other treatments in 1932 by the British dance bands: Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra (Val Rosing, vocalist), Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band, Billy Cotton and His Band (Cyril Grantham, vocalist), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (vocalist Pat O’Malley), Jack Payne and His Band (with vocalist Billy Scott-Coomber), Harry Hudson (as Tanzoni and His Dance Orchestra), Nat Star (as Andre Astan and His Orchestra, with Sam Browne singing). It also appeared in medleys by Lew Stone, Roy Fox, and the Debroy Somers Band. Organist Quentin M. McClean did an organ version of it with vocal refrain by Dan Donovan (a part of which can be heard here). Americans Layton and Johnstone, who operated out of London, recorded a piano duet of the song, and musical hall artists Bob and Alf Pearson appear in a 1932 Pathé film singing “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.”

A high moment in Elsie Carlisle’s cultural Nachleben and perhaps the main reason that the Ambrose version of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” continues to be familiar to the general public is the opening scene of Dennis Potter’s 1978 television miniseries Pennies from Heaven, in which actor Bob Hoskins rather bizarrely mimes part of Elsie singing the Ambrose version of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.”

"The Clouds Will Soon Roll By" sheet music featuring Ambrose
“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By” sheet music featuring Ambrose

“His Majesty the Baby” (two versions; 1935)

In his 1914 essay “On Narcissism,” Sigmund Freud wrote

The child shall have it better than his parents; he shall not be subject to the necessities that we have recognized as prevailing in life.  Sickness, death, renunciation of enjoyment, and restrictions on his own will shall not be valid for the child; the laws of nature, like those of society, shall come to a halt before him; he shall really be the center and heart of creation, His Majesty the Baby, as we once thought ourselves to be (emphasis mine).

Freud was writing in German, of course, but he wrote the expression “His Majesty the Baby” in English.  He appears to have been alluding to a late Victorian painting by Arthur Drummond in the Royal Academy:

"His Majesty the Baby" (1898)
“His Majesty the Baby” (1898)

One can see that, in Drummond’s painting, the whole world seems to wait upon the ermine-clad infant center-of-attention.  Of course, Freud uses the idea of “His Majesty the Baby” to refer to how the child sees things, not its parents — and he pulls in all sorts of notions about primary narcissism and auto-eroticism that need not concern us here.

In 1935, the phrase “His Majesty the Baby” resurfaces as the title of a slow foxtrot composed by American songwriters Neville Fleeson, Arthur Terker, and Mabel Wayne.  Elsie Carlisle sang other Mabel Wayne songs involving childhood themes; in 1934 she recorded two versions of “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” that were issued and two versions of “Who Made Little Boy Blue.”  “His Majesty the Baby” has lyrics describing a baby who seems regal, the object of constant awe.  It is clear that it is the feelings of the adults surrounding the child that are being discussed, however, and that the imperious attitudes attributed to him are a mere transference of his parents’ reverence for his cuteness.

“His Majesty the Baby.” Words by Neville Fleeson and Arthur Terker; music by Mabel Wayne (1935). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocals by Elsie Carlisle on January 11, 1935. Decca F. 5379.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-Sid Phillips-Billy Amstell-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove-others?-vn / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d

His Majesty The Baby. Ambrose & His Orchestra. 1935.

“His Majesty The Baby.” Ambrose & His Orchestra. 1935.

Video by 85scampi (YouTube)

The version of “His  Majesty the Baby” that Elsie Carlisle recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra begins with a substantial instrumental introduction that seems stately enough.  Elsie’s concise delivery of the lyrics leaves no doubt that the worship being demanded for the infant child is somewhat tongue-in-cheek; the song plays on the attitude of fawning obedience that people adopt when around a beloved baby.

Several days later Elsie would record (again for Decca) a solo version of “His Majesty the Baby”:

“His Majesty the Baby.” Words by Neville Fleeson and Arthur Terker; music by Mabel Wayne (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on January 14, 1935. Decca F. 5380 mx. GB6876-2.

Elsie Carlisle – "His Majesty the Baby" (1935)

Elsie Carlisle – “His Majesty the Baby” (1935)

This second interpretation of the song has a competent orchestral accompaniment, but it is Elsie’s voice that is the focus through the entire song, and one must admit that the piece suffers, not so much from “baby talk,” but from an exaggerated dramatization of infant bedtime.

Other notable British recordings of “His Majesty the Baby” were made in January 1935 by Billy Merrin and His Commanders (with vocals by Billy Merrin), the BBC Dance Orchestra under Henry Hall (with vocalist Kitty Masters), the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra under Percival Mackey (Jack Plant, vocalist), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with vocals by Ivor Moreton), twice by Jay Wilbur and His Band with Eve Becke, and by Lou Preager and His Romanos Restaurant Dance Orchestra (with vocalist Pat Hyde).  Phyllis Robins made a solo recording of the song that year.  The notable American recording is from July 1935 and is by Rudy Vallée and His Connecticut Yankees.

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