“He’s a Good Man to Have Around.” Composed by Milton Ager, with lyrics by Jack Yellen, for the 1929 film Honky Tonk. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle (as “Sheila Kay”), with Cecil Norman and His Band, in London, October 16, 1929. World Echo A. 1013.
Personnel: Lloyd Shakespeare-t / Ben Oakley-tb / Les Norman-as / vn / Cecil Norman-p / __ Stanley-bb
Video by David Weavings (YouTube)
“He’s a Good Man to Have Around” is a torch song fashioned loosely after the model of Mistinguett’s “Mon homme” or its English adaptation “My Man” (introduced by Fanny Brice in the 1921 Ziegfeld Follies). The singer catalogues her “man’s” various faults and insists that she loves him in spite of them. One lyrical advantage that “He’s a Good Man to Have Around” has over comparable songs (such as “Hangin’ On to That Man”) is that the man’s moral deficits creep up comically in intensity; at first one expects the song to remain light, insofar as the man’s faults are merely not being good-looking, being a poor dancer and a poor speaker, and occasionally being mildly irritating. Indeed, the lyrics as used in Elsie’s August 23, 1929 recording of the song with Philip Lewis and His Dance Orchestra (a.k.a. the Rhythm Maniacs)1 stop at this point; they complement the comparatively upbeat instrumental interpretation nicely. In the October 16 Worldecho recording, however, Elsie sings the whole song, including the parts about how her lover is untrustworthy, unfaithful, and apparently such a dangerous fellow as to warrant her having bought a pistol — which she won’t use, for “He’s a Good Man to Have Around!” Elsie Carlisle recorded this record and three others with Worldecho under the name “Sheila Kay”; as she was recording under her own name for the Dominion label at the time, it may be that contractual obligations necessitated the use of the pseudonym.
Originally written for the 1929 film Honky Tonk starring Sophie Tucker (which does not survive as a movie, although the Vitaphone soundtrack is intact), “He’s a Good Man to Have Around” was first recorded by Tucker herself (with Ted Shapiro’s Orchestra). In 1929 versions of the song were also recorded in America by Herman Kenin and His Ambassador Hotel Orchestra, Lee Morse and Her Blue Grass Boys, The Cotton Pickers (both with Libby Holman and without), Kate Smith and the Harmonians, and Jimmy Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (with vocals by Helen Savage).
“He’s a Good Man to Have Around” was recorded in 1929 in Britain by Florence Oldham (accompanied by Len Fillis on the guitar and by Sid Bright on the piano), Lily Lapidus, the Rhythmic Eight (with vocals by Maurice Elwin), The Picadilly Players (Eddie Collis, vocalist), Mabel Marks, Belle Dyson, the Blue River Band (with vocalist Sybil Jason), and Mabel Lawrence.