"Driftin' Tide" (1934)

“Driftin’ Tide” (1934)

“Driftin’ Tide.” Words and music by Pat Castleton and Spencer Williams. Recorded in London on July 18, 1934 by Elsie Carlisle. Decca F-5122 mx. TB-1401-2.

Elsie Carlisle – “Driftin’ Tide” (1934)

Both bluesy and sophisticated, “Driftin’ Tide” is an unusually attractive tune by American Spencer Williams (composer of “Basin Street Blues” and “I’ve Found a New Baby,” among many other well known successes) and Pat Castleton (the stage name of British actress Agnes Muir Bage). Williams spent a lot of time working in England in the 1930s, and he and Castleton would go on to marry in 1936. The melody is one of those complex ones that defies the listener’s first attempts to hum it, and the lyrics are metrically unusual. On top of all of this, the title of the song appears a number of times in the lyrics, but in a grammatically jarring way — it would appear that the sea, the “driftin’ tide,” is being addressed by the singer in a moving expression of unrequited love — a “torch song.”

It seems appropriate that “Driftin’ Tide” should have been assigned to Elsie Carlisle, a veteran torch singer. She successfully applies her famous talent for sounding intermittently teared up to the song’s melancholy themes. I was surprised at how difficult it was to locate a copy of Carlisle’s record — it took me nine years — and it might seem that it did not sell very well. Perhaps it was overshadowed by the Ray Noble version of the song recorded the same day with Al Bowlly? The latter recording has a more interesting dance band arrangement, it must be admitted, but all the same I admire what the anonymous Decca studio band was able to do for Carlisle’s “solo” recording — it is an excellent example of the remarkable elegance one so often finds in her output from that time.

In Britain, in addition to the Elsie Carlisle and Ray Noble/Al Bowlly versions of “Driftin’ Tide,” there was a recording of the song by Pat Hyde, made two days later.

In America, an obscure trio named The Aces of the Air recorded “Driftin’ Tide” for radio broadcast in 1934. In 1935 versions were made by Alberta Hunter and Clark Randall (v. Clark Randall).

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