“Calliope Jane” (1941)

“Calliope Jane.” Composed by Hoagy Carmichael for Road Show (1941). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment, probably under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur, on June 24, 1941. Rex 10008 mx. R5917-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "Calliope Jane" (1941)

Elsie Carlisle – “Calliope Jane” (1941)

Hoagy Carmichael composed “Calliope Jane” for a 1941 musical comedy called Road Show, starring Adolphe Menjou, Carole Landis, and John Hubbard. The movie features a musical number by a four-part close-harmony group named The Charioteers, former Vocalion gospel recording artists who were trying their hand at pop music with some success. Playing carnival workers, they sing to an absent party, “Calliope Jane,” asking her to ply her trade:

Calliope Jane,
Put on your bonnet and “ploop!” again,
For when you go “Ploop, ploop!”
You “ploop” all my cares away.

To their credit, The Charioteers lessened the awkwardness of this strange little song by singing the “ploops” in a very high register, so as to make it perfectly clear that they were imitating the sound of a calliope.

Not so Elsie Carlisle. I will concede that Elsie applies her most dulcet delivery to “Calliope Jane” in an arrangement that lets her play both the part of the interested audience (“Johnny”) and that of Calliope Jane herself, who explains that when she plays her calliope, she likes”to give it a dash of that swing.” But Elsie utters her “ploop, ploops” in the same register as the rest of the words, and I had to listen to her recording more than once to realize that the sounds were meant to be onomatopoetic. The overall impression made by her version is one of extreme silliness that verges on being somewhat embarrassing.

Not one of Elsie Carlisle’s finest moments, nor Hoagy Carmichael’s for that matter, and it would appear that few other artists took the bait and recorded “Calliope Jane.” The one exception was Arthur Young and His Swingtette, who had recorded it in London the previous day.

“Ploop, ploop!” indeed!

“With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” (1934)

“With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming.” Words and music composed by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel for the Paramount film Shoot the Works (1934). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on August 23, 1934. Decca F. 5173 mx. TB1491-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle – “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” (1934)

“With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” was written by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel for the Paramount film Shoot the Works.1 They had composed “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” (which Elsie Carlisle also recorded) the previous year for another Paramount picture, and the two songs have similar conceits: the singer expresses surprise at finding herself in a love relationship so ideal that it seems more like a dream than reality. Elsie’s recording of “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” seems dreamy to me mostly because of Elsie’s dreamy delivery; it lacks the otherworldly introduction that the earlier song has. Its atmosphere is greatly augmented by the short  but exceedingly beautiful clarinet and violin interlude. I will admit that Elsie’s voice goes pitchy in the last note of the song; it would stretch credulity if I tried to argue that she did that for effect.

“With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” was recorded in America in 1934 by Ruth Etting, Isham Jones and His Orchestra (v. Joe Martin), Ted Hanson and His Normandie Orchestra (v. George Gould), Gene Kardos and His Orchestra (v. Dick Robertson), and Leo Reisman and His Orchestra (v. George Beuler).

In addition to Elsie Carlisle’s, there were recordings made of “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” in Britain later that year by Lew Stone and His Band (v. Al Bowlly), the BBC Dance Orchestra (dir. Henry Hall, v. Les Allen), Jay Wilbur and His Band (v. Cyril Grantham), Madame Tussaud’s Dance Orchestra (dir. Stanley Barnett), Jack Payne and His Band (v. Billy Scott-Coomber), The Casani Club Orchestra (dir. Charlie Kunz, v. Phyllis Robins), Bobby Howell’s Band, and Phyllis Robins.

Notes:

  1. It was released in Britain as Thank Your Stars, presumably because “shoot the works” (referring to the making of a large expenditure or effort) was indecipherable American slang; the expression appears to have faded from use in recent decades.

“When a Woman Loves a Man” (1934)

“When a Woman Loves a Man.” Words by Johnny Mercer, music by Bernard Hanighen and Gordon Jenkins (1934). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on June 14, 1934. Decca F. 5071 mx. TB1321-2.

Elsie Carlisle – "When a Woman Loves a Man" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle – “When a Woman Loves a Man” (1934)

It must first be noted that the song “When a Woman Loves a Man” recorded by Elsie Carlisle for Decca is not the Billy Rose/Ralph Rainger composition that Fanny Brice introduced in the 1930 film Be Yourselfbut rather a later composition by prolific American songwriters Johnny Mercer, Bernard Hanighen, and Gordon Jenkins. Both songs describe women in love as being wholly different from their male counterparts and in most ways more admirable in terms of tenacity and loyalty, but the Mercer lyrics have a sentimental quality that poses a special problem for the singer. How can one make such bold generalizations about half of the human population without seeming disingenuous? Fortunately, one of Elsie’s many talents was to add sincerity to her material by way of measured pathos, and in this recording the beauty of her delivery allows us to suspend disbelief.

Elsie had made a recording of “When a Woman Loves a Man” on June 1 with Ambrose and His Orchestra, but it was rejected. Other notable versions of the song were made in America by Eddy Duchin and His Orchestra (with vocals by the DeMarco Sisters) and by Art Tatum; British versions were recorded by Pat Hyde (accompanied by Edgar Jackson and His Orchestra), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with vocals by Harry Roy himself), and Phyllis Robins.

“Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” (1933)

“Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” Words by Mack Gordon, music by Harry Revel. Composed for the Paramount film Sitting Pretty (1933). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on December 19, 1933. Decca F. 3812 mx. GB6424-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?" (1933)

Elsie Carlisle – “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” (1933)

“Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” begins with a suitably dreamy introduction that is full of words such as “strange,” “mystic,” and “weird,”  and its music evokes an atmosphere of wonderment. The singer reveals that something unexpected and even perhaps otherworldly has happened to her, and then follows with the question, “Did a thing like this ever happen to you?” The rest of the song is a long series of questions that slowly reveal the nature of the apparently ecstatic experience: the singer has fallen in love with someone that she describes as a “dream,” and even as “heaven.” Elsie Carlisle’s version is an effusive description of the states of entrancement and adoration, and the studio band’s attractive accompaniment matches nicely their performance in the song on the reverse side of the record (“On a Steamer Coming Over”).

“Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” was introduced in the Paramount movie Sitting Pretty (1933) by Art Jarrett, Ginger Rogers, and a chorus of women who dance in impressive geometric formations closely resembling the ones directed by Busby Berkeley at the time. There followed that year American recordings by The Pickens Sisters, Adrian Rollini and His Orchestra (v. Chick Bullock), Meyer Davis and His Orchestra (with The Three Rascals), Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (v. Carmen Lombardo), Eddy Duchin and His Orchestra (v. Lew Sherwood), and Bing Crosby (accompanied by the Lenny Hayton Orchestra).

British recordings of the song from late 1933 and early 1934 include those of Frances Day, the BBC Dance Orchestra (directed by Henry Hall, with vocals by Les Allen), Roy Fox and His Band (v. Denny Dennis), Billy Cotton and His Band (v. Alan Breeze, with Billy Cotton in a speaking part), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (v. Al Bowlly), Joe Loss and His Band (v. Jimmy Messini), Jack Payne and His Band (v. Jack Payne), the Casani Club Orchestra (v. Harry Bentley), Bertini and His Band (v. Sam Browne), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (v. Harry Roy), Scott Wood and His Orchestra (as the Silver Screen Orchestra, with vocalist Sam Browne), and Sidney Lipton’s New Grosvenor House Band (v. Ronnie Ogilvie).

“On a Steamer Coming Over” (1933)

“On a Steamer Coming Over.” Words by Joe Goodman and Henry Bergman, music by Lou Handman. Composed for The Cotton Club Parade of 1933. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on December 19, 1933. Decca F. 3812 mx. GB6425-2.

Elsie Carlisle – "On a Steamer Coming Over" (1933)

Elsie Carlisle – “On a Steamer Coming Over” (1933)

“On a Steamer Coming Over” tells the story of a fortunate encounter between a woman and a man on a presumably trans-Atlantic ocean liner. Their romance quickly grows and thrives because the couple happily has lots of time and nothing else to do, and they seem destined for marriage. The song thus encapsulates a popular twentieth-century motif in which the confinement of a long ocean journey is taken as a source of happiness and not a mere modern nuisance. Elsie Carlisle’s rendition is marked by particular sweetness and earnestness. The studio band’s performance is complemented by an extraordinarily realistic simulated ship’s horn, as well as by sounds of splashing ocean water that the pianist appears to be dreamily imitating on his own instrument at the very end of the song.

“On a Steamer Coming Over” was introduced in New York by Aida Ward in The Cotton Club Parade of 1933. The only American recorded version that I have found is that of the Meyer Davis Orchestra (with vocalist Charlie Palloy). The song was widely recorded by British artists in December 1933, including the BBC Dance Orchestra (under director Henry Hall, with vocalists Phyllis Robins and Les Allen), Roy Fox and His Band (with vocalist Denny Dennis), Billy Cotton and His Band (with Alan Breeze), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Sam Browne), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Howard Flynn and His Orchestra (with vocals by Dan Donovan), Jay Wilbur and His Band (with Phyllis Robins and Sam Browne), and Jack Payne and His Band (with Jack Payne singing the lyrics). In January 1934 there were versions recorded by Charlie Kunz and the Casani Club Orchestra (with vocal refrain by Eve Becke), Harry Leader and His Band (as Joe Taub and His Melodians, with Sam Browne), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with Ivor Moreton), Peggy Cochrane, and The Three Ginx.

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

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