Bands & Directors

“Alone and Afraid” (1931)

“Alone and Afraid.” Music by Jack Trent, with lyrics by Stan Leigh (1931). Recorded in London in May 1931 by Elsie Carlisle (under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur). Imperial 2489 mx. 5701-2.

Personnel: Jay Wilbur dir. Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-ts / Norman Cole-?George Melachrino-vn / Billy Thorburn or Pat Dodd-p / Bert Thomas-g / Harry Evans-sb / ?Max Bacon-d-vib

Elsie Carlisle - "Alone and Afraid" (1931)

Elsie Carlisle – “Alone and Afraid” (1931)

Elsie Carlisle recorded more than a few torch songs in her time, but “Alone and Afraid” stands out as a particularly noteworthy example of her efforts. I have argued elsewhere that one of Elsie’s foremost talents as a dance band singer was to establish the audience’s idea of her persona in a very limited time frame (often in under a minute of singing). In “Alone and Afraid” Elsie has more time, as it is not a dance band record, and so she uses most of one side of a record to produce the perfect vocal tearjerker. She sings of a deep disappointment, of unrequited love, or at the very least, of an asymmetrical relationship subject to unfortunate misunderstanding (“I gave my love, but his was lent”). The tune is memorable and can even be played as an upbeat dance number, as we find out near the beginning of the 1931 Stanley Lupino film The Love Race.

In the same year, Elsie recorded a short film of her singing “Alone and Afraid” and “My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes,” accompanied by Harry Rubens on the piano (this may or may not be the same pianist as the Harry Robens who played briefly for Ray Starita’s band):

Elsie Carlisle (1931)

Elsie Carlisle (1931)

Very little camera footage survives of Elsie Carlisle, so it is hard to place this particular performance in the context of her career as a musical actress, but I find this film short both mesmerizing and satisfying. The quality of the singing is excellent and comparable to that of the record, but Elsie’s acting is really delightful. Her intense gazes into the camera leave one with the impression that she is sharing something very sincere.

“Alone and Afraid” was also recorded in 1931 in Britain by Jerry Hoey and His Band (v. Joe Leigh), Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra (v. Jack Payne), and Arthur Lally and the Million-airs (v. Cavan O’Connor).

“Little White Lies” (1930)

“Little White Lies.”  Music and words by Walter Donaldson (1930).  Recorded in London c. September 10, 1930 by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur (Imperial 2346).

Personnel probably Jack Miranda-cl-ts / Eric Siday-vn / vn / Harry Jacobson-p-cel / Len Fillis-g

Elsie Carlisle - "Little White Lies" (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – “Little White Lies” (1930)

Prolific composer Walter Donaldson, also known for such jazz standards as “Makin’ Whoopee,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” and “My Blue Heaven,” published “Little White Lies” in 1930, and it became an instant hit.  Initially recorded by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, the song saw countless American recordings within months, including by such noted female vocalists as Marion Harris, Lee Morse, and Annette Hanshaw (“That’s all!”).

“Little White Lies” saw equal attention that year in Britain.  Notable recordings were made by the Rhythmic Eight and the Rhythm Maniacs (both with Maurice Elwin as vocalist), Harry Hudson’s Radio Melody Boys (Sam Browne, vocalist), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (Pat O’Malley, vocalist), Bert Madison’s Dance Orchestra (directed by Nat Star, with Cavan O’Connor as vocalist), and Jay Wilbur and His Band (vocals by Jack Plant).  Jay Wilbur was, of course, the musical director at Imperial at the time, so he would have overseen Elsie Carlisle’s recording the previous month.

Sir Paul McCartney has reported that “Little White Lies” was John Lennon’s favorite childhood song, and that this was a fondness that they shared, but it is assumed that it was the 1947 Dick Haymes version that they were familiar with.

“Why Waste Your Tears?” (1932)

“Why Waste Your Tears?” Words and Music by Valerie “Val” Holstius (arranged by Lynn Vaughan). Recorded by the Durium Dance Band with vocalist Elsie Carlisle in London, September or October 1932. Durium EN-34.

Personnel: Peter Rush-cl-as dir. Max Goldberg-t / Charlie Price or Jack Warne-t / Tony Thorpe-tb / Bill Rogers-as / Alf Zafer-ts / Ernest Wilson-p / Bill Tringham-g / Dave Axford-bb / Maurice Zafer-d-x

The Durium Dance Band (v. Elsie Carlisle) - "Why Waste Your Tears?"

The Durium Dance Band (v. Elsie Carlisle) – “Why Waste Your Tears” (1932)

Durium records were made of cardboard coated on one side with durium acetate resin. These inexpensive vehicles for frequently excellent recordings sold at newsstands between 1930-1933 and usually had two recordings on their one playable side.  On this disc, Elsie Carlisle’s “Why Waste Your Tears?” is paired with Sam Browne’s “The Night Shall Be Filled with Music,” and the list of personnel includes such well-known Ambrose men as Max Goldberg and Tony Thorpe.

Songwriter Valerie “Val” Holstius was the wife of writer Edward Nils Holstius. “Why Waste Your Tears?” appears to be her sole composition, but it is a good one. It takes the form of a response to, or even of a negation of, a torch song. It advises its addressee not to waste his or her tears on a lost love, but rather to move on. The arrangement used by the Durium studio band is decidedly upbeat, and Elsie uses her allotted 48 seconds of singing to deliver the song’s argument in a form that is light, bright, and memorable.

“Why Waste Your Tears?” has lyrics that can be altered to suit a male or female singer, and in addition to Elsie Carlisle’s recording with the Durium Dance Band there were versions by Nat Star (Tom Barratt, vocalist), Terry Mack and His Boys (with vocalist Jack Plant), and Lew Stone and the Monseigneur Band (with Al Bowlly).

“This Little Piggie Went to Market” (1934)

“This Little Piggie Went to Market” is a mock-lullaby based on the famous nursery rhyme and game of playing with an infant’s toes. One might, therefore, expect it to have had a fairly innocuous origin. Instead, one finds that the song was composed for the 1934 American movie 8 Girls in a Boat, which tells the story of a teenage girl at a boarding school in Switzerland who finds that she is pregnant and contemplates suicide.1

These unwholesome themes are typical of movies made in the period before the so-called “Hays Code” went into effect and ushered in an era of Hollywood self-censorship. All the more representative of the pre-Code period are the numerous scenes portraying teenage girls exercising in swimsuits, who at one point go so far as to blast each other with water from hoses and giggle with glee. The filmmakers seem to have sobered up from their gratuitous portrayal of the youthful feminine form at some point and had the girls of the school sing Coslow and Lewis’s “This Little Piggie Went to Market” as they have their evening glass of milk before bed (and instrumental versions of the theme can be heard at other points in the score). Perhaps we can take the lyrics “I dream and pray one day I’ll say / To a cute little piggie of my own, / ‘This little piggie went to market, / And this little piggie stayed home'” as a hint that this salacious and yet somehow quite forgettable film will have a happy ending, as it does? But only, of course, after considerably more rope-skipping and swimming.

“This Little Piggie Went to Market.” Lyrics by Sam Coslow, music by Harold “Lefty” Lewis. Composed for the Paramount picture 8 Girls in a Boat (1934). Recorded in London on February 2, 1934 by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocalist Elsie Carlisle. Brunswick 01694.

This Little Piggie Went To Market - Ambrose & his Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle)

This Little Piggie Went To Market – Ambrose & his Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle)

Video by David Weavings

The Ambrose version of “This Little Piggie Went to Market” features an impressive arrangement that gives the impression of a pastoral lullaby, although at points it grows so powerful and insistent that it almost jars with the simplicity of the vocal refrain. Elsie Carlisle’s cooing intonation of the latter is a sincere depiction of the hope of future motherhood. One can entirely understand why Ambrose chose her, only a few months later, to sing in his version of “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” (especially as she had already made a lovely version of that other nursery-themed song with her own name on the label). This is just one of many cases where the coquettish flapper Elsie of the late 1920s is converted to the more sentimental tastes of the new decade — but the conversion is not an entirely unhappy one. Her versatility as an artist who can evoke a convincing character in under a minute and twenty seconds is on display here, and one can enjoy it even while admitting that the song is rather saccharine.

“This Little Piggie Went to Market.” Recorded in London on February 7, 1934 by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment. Decca F. 3887 mx. GB6532-2.

Elsie Carlisle - "This Little Piggie Went to Market" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle – “This Little Piggie Went to Market” (1934)

It seems highly likely that the orchestral accompaniment to Elsie’s solo version of “This Little Piggie Went to Market” consisted of members of Ambrose’s band, as they had been recording at Decca’s studios that day, and the two record matrices preceding this recording are theirs.2 The arrangement is comparatively subdued, leaving more room for Elsie’s gentle interpretation of the simple lyrics. All the same, the instrumental interpretation of the theme is quite beautiful and enjoyable.

“This Little Piggie Went to Market” was recorded in late December 1933 in Los Angeles by the Pickens Sisters on a Victor transcription, and in New York in early 1933 by Victor Young and His Orchestra (v. Jane Vance), Freddy Martin and His Orchestra (v. Helen Ward), and Chick Bullock and His Levee Loungers. In London it was recorded in early 1934 by Jack Payne and His Band (v. Jack Payne), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (v. Al Bowlly), Harry Leader and His Band (with an unknown vocalist), and Howard Flynn and His Orchestra (v. Harry Bentley).

Notes:

  1. Henry Parsons has pointed out to me that 8 Girls in a Boat is also the origin of the song “A Day Without You.”
  2. Johnson, Richard J. Elsie Carlisle: A Discography. Aylesbury, UK, 1994, 25.

“I Heard” – Ray Starita with Elsie Carlisle (1932)

“I Heard.”  Words and music by Don Redman (1931).  Recorded by Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band with Elsie Carlisle on September 1, 1932.  Four-in-One 5 mx. X149-2.

Personnel: Ray Starita-cl-ts dir. Nat Gonella- t/ t / tb / ?Chester Smith-cl-as-bar-o / Nat Star-cl-as / George Glover-cl-ts-vn / George Hurley-vn / Harry Robens-p / George Oliver-bj-g / Arthur Calkin-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x

Ray Starita and His Ambassadors (v. Elsie Carlisle) - "I Heard" (1932)

Ray Starita and His Ambassadors (v. Elsie Carlisle) – “I Heard” (1932)

“I Heard” is a novelty song written by the American musician, bandleader, and composer Don Redman.  It involves interlocutors who discuss a piece of apparently scandalous  gossip, but who cut each other off so as to leave the listener in the dark as to the real nature of the rumor.  A reference to “the birds in the spring, and the rabbits,” and the threat that “They’re gonna name it after you!” suggest a love affair with an illegitimate offspring. This 1932 British recording was made by the great American-born bandleader Ray Starita and his Ambassadors’ Band.  Elsie Carlisle plays the person who has heard the rumor, and there is a male speaker who questions her, doubts her, and eggs her on.  The latter was once thought to be Ray Starita himself, although it is now more generally supposed that it is Les Allen.

This recording of “I Heard” appears on a Four-in-One record.  As the name would suggest, Four-in-One records pushed the limits of technology by fitting two songs onto each side of the disc, the result being a bargain for the record buyer.  The downside of their concept is that the grooves are a bit narrower than usual and thus more prone to being scratched up by repeated playing.  In the same recording session, Starita and Elsie did a separate take for the Sterno label, which used the more typical one-song-per-side approach.  The Sterno recording is quite similar for the most part, but the violin solo is rather different and does not reach into such a high register.

The composer, Don Redman, recorded two versions of “I Heard” in late 1931 (here and here), and in 1933 appeared in a Betty Boop short of the same title.  In 1932 it was recorded by Harlan Lattimore and His Connie’s Inn Orchestra, as well as by Chick Bullock.  The Mills Brothers did a particularly popular 1932 version that led to their appearance singing it in the 1934 film Twenty Million Sweethearts.

In Britain in 1932, other recordings of “I Heard” were made by the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (Al Bowlly, vocalist), Billy Cotton and His Band ( Cyril Grantham, vocalist), Nat Gonella, and Harry Roy and His R.K. Olians (with vocalists Harry Roy, Bill Currie, and Ivor Moreton).

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