“My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes.” Words by Ted Koehler and Eddie Pola, music by Jack Golden (1931). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur on c. June 10, 1931. Imperial 2489 mx. 5717-3.
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 – "My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes" (1931)
“My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes” is a somewhat bizarre reflection on the topic of avian overindulgence. It begins with an introduction that marvels at a recent upheaval in social norms:
All this world is up to date —
Even children stay up late.
Things are not just what they used to be.
All this world is off its nut,
Going crazy, nothing but!
Just get this earful from me…
The singer proceeds to list off the ways in which 1931’s fast-paced, bibulous, dance- and sex-crazed society has affected the habits and health of a pet canary. The bird seems to have been infected with a passion for every form of loose living and pedestrian moral decadence. He dances “snake hips.” He is obsessed with some sparrow or another. He may be in some embarrassing sort of trouble (the reference in London recordings of this song to “look[ing] in Swaffer’s column” involves a notorious newspaper source of gossip). Finally, instead of responding favorably to birdseed, it is gin that he now likes — or harder stuff, in some versions.
The words of the song vary a good deal from singer to singer. Elsie Carlisle’s version for the Imperial label references a number of other songs: “Makin’ Whoopee” (1928), which Eddie Cantor popularized and which provided Anglophone culture with a new term for sexual congress; “The Prisoner’s Song” (1925), which deals with a man who is to be jailed and who will be without his sweetheart — a useful comparandum for the formerly solitary canary in his cage; and “What Is This Thing Called Love” (1929), which only seems to be found in Elsie’s versions, probably out of respect for her having introduced the song two years earlier.
The success of Elsie’s Imperial recording of “My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes” rests in her realization of the fundamental silliness of the song’s underlying concept. She rattles off the catalogue of her pet’s newfound moral weaknesses fairly seriously, and the mock-solemnity of her complaint enhances the comic effect. We can see this approach to the song in her Pathétone short from the same year that also features it:
“Deep Water” was composed by Hungarian-born Tin Pan Alley composer Jean Schwartz, with words by Canadian lyricist Alfred Bryan. The song employs an extended metaphor of shipwreck to describe emotional distress and a feeling of desperate loneliness. The singer complains of being submerged in deep seawater and asks for an oar, a lifeline, or, failing those, prayers or sympathy. Her plight would appear to be entirely figurative, her ailment psychological depression, not drowning; so it is funny that the refrain ends with the complaint “Deep water never drowns my troubles for me!” Here the expression “drown your sorrows” (which usually refers to resorting to alcohol) is invoked, and it clashes with the larger theme of drowning from depression. The overall effect of the song is thus a playful, rather than a genuinely depressing, one.
Elsie Carlisle first recorded “Deep Water” on a solo record, with an excellent but anonymous studio band:
“Deep Water.” Music by Jean Schwartz, lyrics by Alfred Bryan (1931). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle on March 3, 1933. Decca F. 3507 mx. GB5629-1.
This March recording of “Deep Water” is melancholy for its first few seconds but straightway becomes more upbeat. Elsie’s delivery of the song’s complaint is in every way fun and is complemented by a piano solo whose virtuosity drowns any idea that the song is meant to be depressing.
On May 9, 1933, Elsie recorded three takes of “Deep Water” with Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band: one on Sterno 1187, one on Four-in-One 44, and one that appeared both on Plaza P-103 (with the band identified as “Brockman’s Band”) and on Lewis L-4 (where the band is called “Phil Conrad’s Serenaders.” The arrangement that Oscar Rabin used is somewhat more morose than Elsie’s original recording but catchy nonetheless:
“Deep Water.” Recorded by Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (as Brockman’s Band) with vocals by Elsie Carlisle on May 9, 1933. Plaza P 103 mx. L995-1.
Personnel: Harry Davis-bj-g dir. Hamish Christie-t-tb / Johnny Swinfen-Raymond Doughty-cl-as / Sid Brown-cl-ts / Oscar Rabin-bsx-vn-ldr / Alf Kaplan-p / Cecil Walden-d
Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (with Elsie Carlisle) – "Deep Water" (1933)
“Two Sleepy People.” Words by Frank Loesser, music by Hoagy Carmichael. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of George Scott-Wood on February 1, 1939 at Studio 1, Abbey Road, London. HMV B.D. 661 mx. OEA7516-1.
“Two Sleepy People” was composed by Tin Pan Alley greats Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser for the 1938 Paramount feature Thanks for the Memory, where it was introduced by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross. The song describes a young couple who, in spite of the late hour and an increasing lack of conversational topics, are nonetheless “too much in love to say goodnight.” Eventually we learn that they are married and that their late-night behavior predated their nuptials; their change in marital status appears to have done little to alter the long hours they keep. The idea of a married couple so happy together that they are willing to go through life rather exhausted is but the kernel of this excellent, perennial song’s success. For Elsie Carlisle, in the later years of her recording career, “Two Sleepy People” provides an opportunity to showcase the continuing and perhaps even increased sweetness of her voice and dramatic delivery. It also gives her the chance to describe herself as “me, your little snooks!” The payoff in cuteness is inestimable.
“Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” Originally titled “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?”; words and music by Hughie Cannon (1902). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocalists Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle in London on March 18, 1932. HMV B. 6162.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Billy Amstell-cl-as / Joe Crossman-cl-as-bar / Joe Jeanette-cl-ts / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-bj-g / Don Stuteley-sb / Max Bacon-d1
Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey? Ambrose & his Orchestra (with Sam Browne & Elsie Carlisle)
Now a jazz standard, “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” originated as a ragtime piece by American songwriter Hughie Cannon and predates Ambrose’s recording by thirty years. It has as its characters an emotionally desperate and abandoned battered wife and a smug husband who seems to think her situation serves her right. Somehow the song usually manages to sound upbeat, most often perhaps because musicians keep the refrain and omit the verses, leaving us to wonder who Bill Bailey is and why he is gone in the first place. In this her first recording session with Ambrose and His Orchestra, Elsie Carlisle plays the wife, who has ejected her husband from their home after he “took and throwed her down, / Bellowing like a prune-fed calf” — but she nevertheless blames herself. For this piece, Elsie adopts an attempt at negro dialect suited to her character:
Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey?
Won’t you come home?
I moans de whole day long.
I’ll do de cooking honey,
I’ll pay de rent!
I knows I’ve done you wrong!
‘Member that rainy eve that
I throwed you out
With nothin’ but a fine-toothed comb?
I knows I’s to blame —
Well, ain’t dat a shame?
Bill Bailey, wont you please come home?
The Ambrose recording lacks the second verse, in which it is revealed that Bill Bailey has somehow become rich and experiences Schadenfreude as he hears his wife moan for him.
“Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” had been recorded in Britain in late 1931 by Jay Wilbur and His Band (with vocalist John Thorne) and by Jack Leon’s Band — in both cases as part of a medley.
Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes, British Dance Bands on Record (1911-1945) and Supplement, p. 25. ↩
“Meadow Lark” takes its name from an ingenious solution two young lovers find for a problem presented to them. Their habit of “spooning” (cuddling amorously) in a public park meets with opposition from the authorities and is forbidden. They arrange to continue meeting in the park, but after close of day, and to identify one another with a whistle approximating the call of a meadow lark — which is how this “whistling song” gets its title. Part of the fun the two young lovers are having derives from an odd pleasure some people seem to experience when they risk being caught:
A policeman just went by
Pounding his beat;
Each little kiss we steal
Is ten times as sweet!
Elsie Carlisle imbues this catchy song with sweet, ebullient fun. I am particularly fond of the way that she emphasizes “With each hug we’re oh so snug, / Like a little bug in a little old rug!” This version of “Meadow Lark” fully realizes the potential of what was already an international hit, and the accompaniment provided by The Gilt-Edged Four could not be a better match to Elsie’s perkiness: they give the impression of unstoppable, upbeat energy throughout.