“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day.” Words by Maurice Sigler and Al Hoffman, music by Mabel Wayne. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on May 18, 1934. Decca F. 3990.
“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day,” a 1934 hit that has seen revivals in every subsequent decade, is a lullaby both in theme and in mood and hence runs the risk of being hopelessly saccharine. In spite of that basic handicap, the song met with truly excellent interpretations in its first year, no doubt because the tune is fundamentally quite beautiful and the lyrics pleasantly mesmerizing, as those of a lullaby should be.
Elsie Carlisle’s “solo” version of “Little Man” is quite complete in its lyrics and even includes some bedside chatter. The version she was to do a month later with the Ambrose Orchestra (in which the band not surprisingly plays almost as sweetly as Elsie sings) is naturally more abbreviated and leaves open the possibility that she is cooing to a husband, but the earlier version really does seem directed to a child. One might ask what the attraction of such a song would be to an adult audience, but admittedly there is something inherently attractive about the idea of being tucked into bed by Elsie Carlisle. Out of a great many British versions of “Little Man” recorded in the middle of 1934, it would appear that Elsie’s versions were particularly successful. A good indicator of that success would be the fact that it reappears in the 1937 “Carlisle Medley” (HMV BD 476), a sort of “best hits” compilation.
In America that year, “Little Man” was made popular by the Pickens Sisters, Isham Jones and His Orchestra (with vocals by Eddie Stone), Connee Boswell, and Paul Robeson. Interpretations by British orchestras include those by Roy Fox and His Band (with vocals by Denny Dennis, in a Jack Nathan arrangement; they would revisit the song later in the year in a “Fox Favourites” medley), Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocalist Alan Breeze), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Jack Payne and His Band (with Jack Payne providing the vocals), The Casani Club Orchestra (directed by Charlie Kunz, with vocalist Dawn Davis), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Elsie Carlisle), The BBC Danc Orchestra (directed by Henry Hall, with vocals by Kitty Masters, in a Phil Cardew arrangement), Harry Leader and His Band (with Dawn Davis), and Eddie Wood and His Band. Other British vocalists who recorded “Little Man” that year include Phyllis Robins, Gracie Fields, and Donald Peers.