“He’s the Last Word.” Lyrics by Gus Kahn, music by Walter Donaldson (1926). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with accompaniment by piano (Arthur Young) and violin at Studio B, Hayes, Middlesex, on May 6, 1927. HMV B. 2579 mx. Bb10689-2.
“He’s the Last Word” follows an argument familiar to aficionados of popular music: its singer goes through a catalogue of her “sweet somebody’s” various deficits (insufficient talent at dancing, for example), only to conclude that when it comes to romance, “he’s the last word” — he is the very best. In her recording of the song, Elsie Carlisle is pure enthusiasm, and her frequent nonsensical ejaculations remind us of the fun, popular genre that she is working in. She has excellent accompanists in this recording on the piano and violin. Richard J. Johnson identifies the pianist as Carroll Gibbons and does not attempt to name the violinist.1
Contemporary record reviewer and industry insider Edgar Jackson was under a very different impression as to the identities of the accompanists, writing that
Elsie Carlisle has a thoroughly good vocal record of “He’s the Last Word” [54 at 78] (B2579). She sings tunefully, and is one of the most stylish and rhythmical of all our English comediennes. She has been excellently accompanied by Hugo Rignold (violin) and Arthur Young (piano)—Young does one of the best piano solo choruses I have heard. I wish I could say as much for his effort in “What’s the Use of Crying?” by the same artists on the reverse side.2
As it turns out, the evidence of the Kelly Online Database, which is based on HMV’s ledgers themselves, is that it was Arthur Young on the piano for “He’s the Last Word” (see my discography for further discussion). The suggestion that the violinist is Rignold is interesting. Hugo Rignold was already famous for his exceedingly “jazzy” playing, and certainly the violinist in “He’s the Last Word” gives the impression of being lively and playful, employing double and triple stops.3
Other noteworthy early versions of “He’s the Last Word” include ones by Art Kahn and His Orchestra, Jack Pettis and His Band (with vocalist Billy Hillpot), Ben Pollack and His Californians (with the Williams Sisters), Ben Bernie and His Roosevelt Orchestra (with vocals by Scrappy Lambert), the Broadway Bellhops (with singer Irving Kaufman), Jane Gray, Vaughn de Leath (recording as “Gertrude Dwyer”), The Troubadors, Annette Hanshaw (with Irving Brodsky on the piano), and Jack Linx and His Birmingham Society Serenaders. American Josephine Baker recorded “He’s the Last Word” in Paris accompanied by Jacob’s Jazz, and in August 1927 the Merl Twins (“Syncopating Songsters”) sang it in an early Hollywood Vitaphone short film.
In Britain in 1927, in addition to Elsie Carlisle’s, there were versions of “He’s the Last Word” by The Savoy Orpheans (directed by Carroll Gibbons), Syd Roy’s Lyricals, and Bert Firman’s Dance Orchestra (as Eugene Brockman’s Dance Orchestra).
- Elsie Carlisle: A Discography. Aylesbury, UK, 1994, p. 6. ↩
- The names are emphasized in the original. “The Gramophone Review.” The Melody Maker and British Metronome 2.24 (Dec. 1, 1927): 1273. ↩
- See Bret Lowe’s comments below about the violin playing in this recording and his suggestion that the violinist might have been Eric Siday. ↩