“Honey-Coloured Moon.” Words by Desmond Carter, music by Mabel Wayne. Composed for the British film Music Hath Charms (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on November 29, 1935. Decca F. 5818 mx. GB7527-1.
The words of “Honey-Coloured Moon” convey a recollection of the beginning of a romantic relationship with its attendant circumstances: sea and moonlight. Elsie Carlisle brings to this song a mellifluous vocal sweetness to match its entrancing lyrics. It is worth comparing this recording to other Mabel Wayne songs that Elsie recorded in 1934-1935 (“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day”; “Who Made Little Boy Blue”; “His Majesty the Baby”). There is a similar sentimentality in all of these Wayne compositions that almost requires Elsie’s vocal style, insofar as she can deliver the tone of sincerity that makes listeners withhold judgment. With “Honey-Coloured Moon,” it is vital that the audience get honey and not treacle, and Elsie delivers.
“Cavalcade.” Composed by various artists, including Noël Coward. Recorded under the direction of Ray Noble (uncredited) in London on November 24, 1931, with narration by Henry Oscar and with uncredited soloists (including Elsie Carlisle), full chorus, orchestra, and organ. HMV C. 2330, matrices 2B-1546-2 and 2B-1547-1.
“Cavalcade (32 Years of England)” is derived from a stage play of the same name by Sir Noël Coward that was enormously successful in 1931 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with 405 performances. The play concerns the life of a British family and their servants and spans over the first three decades of the twentieth century. It was the inspiration for a 1933 Fox film.
The play “Cavalcade” includes music contemporary to each period it depicts that was either chosen by Noël Coward or even written by him (“Lover of My Dreams” and “Twentieth Century Blues” were both introduced in the drama). The musical revivals inspired a number of recordings, such as the HMV medley with Noël Coward as vocalist (side one and side two), one by The New Mayfair Orchestra (under the direction of Ray Noble, with prologue and epilogue spoken by Noël Coward), and medleys by Sam Greening’s Rhythmic Troubadours, Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (both in early November and in mid-December; you may hear side A and side B of the latter on YouTube), and Jay Wilbur and His Band.
The 1931 record labelled by HMV as “‘Cavalcade’–Descriptive Record (’32 Years of England’)” credits prolific British actor Henry Oscar as narrator, but leaves the “soloists, full chorus, orchestra, and organ[ist]” unnamed. Ray Pallett has identified Ray Noble as the leader and arranger and Max Goldberg as one of the trumpet players,1 but it is the audible presence of Elsie Carlisle as soloist (and presumably also as ensemble member) that interests me most.
The numbers performed on the record include
Soldiers of the Queen
Has Anyone Seen a German Band?
Knocked ‘Em in the Old Kent Road
I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside
The Merry Widow Waltz
It’s a Long Way to Tipperary
I’ll Make a Man of You
Our God, Our Help in Ages Past
Rhapsody in Blue
Pomp and Circumstance
Elsie takes the solos in “I’ll Make a Man of You” (5:29-5:58) and “Twentieth-Century Blues” (7:44-8:22). The former is a reprise of a WWI recruiting song that encourages young men to enlist by suggesting that they will get more dates. Elsie brightly sings out
On Sunday I walk out with a Soldier,
On Monday I’m taken by a Tar,
On Tuesday I’m out with a baby Boy Scout,
On Wednesday an Hussar;
On Thursday I gang out wi’ a Scottie,
On Friday the Captain of the crew —
But on Saturday I’m willing, if you’ll only take the shilling,
To make a man of any one of you!
Elsie’s great moment, though, comes just after an instrumental excerpt from that declaration of modernity, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The music of Gershwin gives way to that of Noël Coward, and Elsie bursts out with
Are getting me down!
Escaped those dreary
If there’s a God in the sky,
Why shouldn’t he grin?
Above this dreary
Elsie would record Coward’s music again one year later, with Mad About the Boy (recorded with Ray Starita and His Ambassadors).
Even though her role in this HMV recording is easily overlooked, Elsie distinguishes herself with gestures to music dating from the beginnings of her career as well as to current compositions. The brevity of her solos allows her to show her dexterity at summoning up a character at a moment’s notice. Bold, saucy, querulous, and comical, Elsie Carlisle shines as a talented singer on this strangely anonymous record.
Liner notes to Elsie Carlisle (with a different style), a CD issued by Memory Lane in 2011. ↩
The dark and moody song “Hangin’ On to That Man” has music written by Russian-born composer Josef Myerow, who later as Joe Myrow would compose the popular “You Make Me Feel So Young” (1946). “Hangin’ On to That Man” is recognizably a torch song, insofar as it involves a woman describing how she keeps loving a man in spite of all the misery that he causes her. The song is thus very much in the mold of Mistinguett’s “Mon homme” or its anglophone version “My Man” (made popular by Fanny Brice in the 1921 Ziegfeld Follies).
It is not clear to me if anyone other than Elsie Carlisle ever recorded “Hangin’ On to That Man”; Ethel Waters is mentioned on the sheet music, but I have no evidence that she ever committed the song to shellac (she probably performed it on stage). It is therefore interesting that Elsie recorded the song not once but three times. She made the first two recordings with Spike Hughes and His Dance Orchestra, and we are fortunate enough to have Spike Hughes’s own account of the genesis of his sessions with Elsie.
In 1935, Spike Hughes published an autobiography serialized in Swing Music. He recollects
In the days when I had had colourful visions of making a fortune writing blues and low-down songs, I had a great ambition to write a song that Elsie Carlisle would sing, perhaps even sing on the radio and record. I don’t think, as a matter of truth, that I had ever heard her sing in those days, but her face made a pretty picture on a song of which I was very fond around 1929, and I thought she would probably sing my masterpieces better than another other native singer.
When she first started recording for Decca a contingent from the band used to accompany her, and I found that my dream-singer, whose picture I had liked so much in 1929, sang every bit as well as I had imagined. But I had no songs, no blue masterpieces to offer her. Obviously, she must appear in one of my records, for she was good company. After sessions she would entertain at a neighbouring public-house with unlimited Lancashire stories, which endeared her particularly to young William Walton, whose local the “Six Bells” was, and who, like Elsie, also came from Oldham.
Some time before the session of which I am writing, we had had a session from which no records resulted. For some reason everything had gone wrong. We had made Minnie, The Moocher, a long while before that epic became popular; we had tried a commercial number, To Whom It May Concern, in which Val Rosing made a fleeting appearance, but we made a mess of that; we had also recorded an Ethel Waters tune, Hangin’ On To That Man, but without vocal refrain and the solos had been bad, for it was a difficult tune to improvise upon. In short, it had been an unsuccessful session.1
The session that Hughes describes seems like a poorly remembered version of the June 18, 1931 session, at which the three songs mentioned were recorded and not issued; but Elsie did record a version of “Hangin’ On to That Man” that day, at least if eminent discographers Brian Rust and Richard Johnson can be trusted (I am not fortunate enough to own a copy of the unissued Decca recording with the matrix GB2920).
Of the second recording of “Hangin’ On to That Man,” Spike Hughes recalls
I decided, however, that if we were to do anything with the tune, it must have a vocal refrain to it. So Elsie Carlisle learnt it–not without some difficulty in finding the right key, I think she will confess. Apparently, Elsie liked it for she adopted it as her signature tune. For our part, we produced a record with the longest introduction that has ever gone on a ten-inch disc.
Here is the recording described by Hughes with his mixture of snark and admiration:
“Hangin’ On to That Man.” Lyrics by Frank Capano and Harry Filler, with music by Josef Myerow, alias Joe Myrow (1931). Recorded by Spike Hughes and His Dance Orchestra, with vocals by Elsie Carlisle, in London on November 18, 1931. Decca F. 2735 mx. GB3601-2.
Personnel: Spike Hughes-sb ldr. Chick Smith-Leslie Thompson-Jimmy Macaffer-t / Lew Davis-Bill Mulraney-tb / Harry Hayes-as / Billy Amstell-cl-as / Buddy Featherstonhaugh-ts / Billy Mason-p / Claude Ivy-chm / Alan Ferguson-g / Ronnie Gubertini-d
I am not sure exactly what Spike Hughes was referring to when he wrote that Elsie “adopted [‘Hangin’ On to That Man’] as her signature tune,” but certainly it is noteworthy that she recorded it a third time many months later:
“Hangin’ On to That Man.” Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment in London on June 23, 1932. Decca F. 3038.
In this version Elsie sings a languid introduction, and indeed the first half of the song is comparatively subdued. The contrast with the quicker and more impassioned second half gives Elsie the opportunity to engage in monodrama, which happens to be a specialty of hers. We can appreciate, with Spike Hughes, the attraction of Elsie’s pretty visage reproduced on sheet music, but we must admit that it was her ability to create a persona with nothing but her voice, in the small time allotted by the size of a shellac record, that will always define Elsie best.
“Making Conversation.” Words by Fred Ritz and Harry Carlton, music by Harry Carlton (1933). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment in London c. November 8, 1933. Decca F. 3737 mx. GB6298-2.
“Making Conversation” is sometimes known by the longer title “Just Making Conversation (When We Ought To Be Making Love).” The composer, Harry Carlton, was well known for his 1928 “C-O-N-S-T-A-N-T-I-N-O-P-L-E” and his 1930 “Mickey Mouse”; Fred Ritz was a pseudonym of Frederick Wright, who also collaborated with Carlton on “Sundown in Old Waikiki” and “You’ve Got to Blow Your Own Trumpet.”1 Carlton is the only songwriter credited on Elsie Carlisle’s recording of the song, and the royalty stamp of “The Harry Carlton Music Co. Ltd.” appears on the label.
The song’s words play on the contrast between what is denoted by the expressions “making conversation” and “making love,” casting the former as pedestrian and the latter as vastly preferable. The lyrics serve as an invitation to convert acquaintance into amorous encounter. One might expect the repetitive simplicity of the underlying concept to be mildly annoying, and yet I find this song pleasantly infectious. Elsie Carlisle makes her version particularly noteworthy for an overall impression of sweetness and sincerity.
“Come Up and See Me Sometime.” Words by Arthur Swanstrom, music by Louis Alter; composed for the motion picture Take a Chance (1933). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment in London on November 8, 1933. Decca F. 3737 mx. GB6297-2.
“Come Up and See Me Sometime” was written by Arthur Swanstrom and Louis Alter for Paramount’s 1933 musical comedy Take a Chance, based on the stage play of the same name. The movie apparently inherited little from the play other than a couple of songs, but it augmented what it did borrow with other, more memorable songs, including the perennial “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” “Come Up and See Me Sometime” is introduced by actress Lillian Roth, who sings it while performing a burlesque act. The title of the song presumably derives from a suggestive catchphrase of Mae West’s, which originally took the form “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” (in She Done Him Wrong ), but which soon became the rhythmically preferable “Come up and see me sometime” (as it occurs in I’m No Angel ).
Elsie Carlisle dishes out boldness in her version. The visual component of the movie’s burlesque scene is absent, but Elsie leaves no doubt as to the import of the song’s repetitive sultry invitations to get to know her better. As the song progresses, her intonation increasingly approaches that of the vamp, and her final “…any ti-i-i-IME!” finishes our impression of the self-consciously predatory showgirl.