“Two Sleepy People” (1939)

“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.

Elsie Carlisle – "Two Sleepy People" (1939)

Elsie Carlisle – “Two Sleepy People” (1939)

“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.

“Two Sleepy People” was recorded in late 1938 and early 1939 by Kay Kyser and His Orchestra (with vocalists Ginny Simms and Harry Babbit),  Fats Waller and His Rhythm (with Fats himself singing), Hoagy Carmichael and Ella Logan (accompanied by Perry Botkin and His Orchestra), Chick Bullock, and Bob Crosby. It was broadcast four times by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (the final time with vocalist Helen Forrest) and once by The Benny Goodman Quintet. Composer Hoagy Carmichael sang it in the 1939 short film Hoagy Carmichael with Jack Teagarden and His Orchestra.

The song was recorded around the same time in Britain by Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (with singers Anne Lenner and George Melachrino), Geraldo and His Orchestra (with vocals by Al Bowlly), Joe Loss and His Band (with vocalist Chick Henderson), Victor Silvester and His Ballroom Orchestra, Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Vera Lynn and Denny Dennis), Brian Lawrance and His Orchestra (with Brian Lawrance doing the singing), M. Pierre and His Strict Dance Tempo Orchestra (directed by Harry Leader), Nat Gonella, Josephine Bradley and Her Ballroom Orchestra, and Maxwell Stewart’s Ballroom Melody (in a Paul Jones medley).

“Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” (1932)

“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)

Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey? Ambrose & his Orchestra (with Sam Browne & Elsie Carlisle

Video by David Weavings (YouTube)

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.

Notes:

  1. Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes, British Dance Bands on Record (1911-1945) and Supplement, p. 25.

“Meadow Lark” (1927)

“Meadow Lark.” Words by Hal Keidel, music by Ted Fiorito (1926). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle, accompanied by The Gilt-Edged Four, on February 4, 1927. Columbia 4275.

Personnel: Al Starita-as / Ray Starita-ts / Sid Bright-p-cel / Len Fillis-g / Rudy Starita-x

Meadow Lark – Elsie Carlisle w. The Gilt Edged Four

Meadow Lark – Elsie Carlisle w. The Gilt-Edged Four

Video by David Weavings (YouTube)

“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.

“Meadow Lark” was recorded in America in 1926 by Adrian Schubert and His Salon Orchestra (with vocalist Irving Kaufman), the Isham Jones Orchestra (with vocals by Frank Munn), Bill Wirges and His Orchestra (as Phil Hughes and His High Hatters, with vocalist Tom Stacks), the Jack Albin Orchestra, Cole McElroy’s Spanish Ballroom Orchestra (with vocals by George Eichhorn), Wendell Hall, Jesse Crawford (on the organ)Duke Yellman and His Orchestra, George Olsen and His Music, Harry Reser’s Night Club Orchestra, Cliff Edwards (Ukelele Ike) and His Hot Combination, and Frances Sper. A version was broadcast by Sam ‘n’ Henry (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, who would later create the characters Amos ‘n’ Andy).

In Britain in 1927 versions of “Meadow Lark” were recorded by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with vocals by Jack Hylton), The Piccadilly Revels Band (under the direction of Ray Starita, with vocals by his brother Al), the Edison Bell Dance Orchestra (with vocalist Tom Barratt), Bert and John Firman (as Eugene Brockman’s Dance Orchestra), and the Savoy Havana Band (in a “Blue Skies Selection”).

Photographs of Elsie Carlisle in the 1930s

Terry Brown was kind enough to share these photographs of Elsie in the 1930s with me. Click or tap on any of them to open the gallery:

 

“I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” (1935)

“I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter.” Words and music by Maurice Sigler, Al Goodhart, and Al Hoffman (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle, accompanied by The Embassy Rhythm Eight, in London on February 15, 1935. Decca F. 5456 mx. GB6979-1.

Elsie Carlisle (with The Embassy Rhythm Eight) – "I'm Afraid to Open Your Letter" (1935)

Elsie Carlisle (with The Embassy Rhythm Eight) – “I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” (1935)

Like the song on the reverse side of the record (“I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance”), “I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” is about a woman receiving a piece of mail and then deliberating, hesitating, and agonizing. In the case of this song, however, the conceit is even simpler, for as the song’s title and the singer repeatedly tell us, she does not open the letter that she has received from her lover, fearing that it is a breakup letter. She tells us nothing about her relationship or her reasons for expecting its dissolution.

Lyrics of such a basic and uncomplicated nature could prove a challenge for any singer; it is hard to repeat the same idea again and again, using virtually the same words, and still to seem sincere. Elsie Carlisle pulls it off, relying both on the inherent sweetness of her voice and on her uncanny ability to evoke with a quavering voice the idea of a weepy girl.  As is so often the case, Elsie’s success in evoking sympathy is rooted in her being not just a singer but a vocal actress.

It is rare for two songs so closely united in subject matter and tone as “I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” and “I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance” to end up on either side of a 78 rpm record. For the most part, the pairing of songs on a record seems entirely serendipitous. On both sides Elsie’s elegant interpretation of simple lyrics is complemented nicely by the playing of The Embassy Rhythm Eight, a studio recording band consisting of members of the Ambrose Orchestra.

“I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” was written by three composers well-represented in Elsie Carlisle’s songbook. Maurice Sigler was a collaborator on “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day”; Al Goodhart co-wrote “Fit as a Fiddle” and “Who Walks In When I Walk Out?”; Al Hoffman contributed to all three songs, as well as to “My Darling”; and all three men collaborated on “Rehearsing a Lullaby,” which Elsie would record later in 1935.

“I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” was recorded in America in 1935 by Don Bestor and His Orchestra. In Britain recordings were made by the Casani Club Orchestra (under the direction of Charlie Kunz, with vocals by George Barclay), Teddy Joyce and His Dance Music (with vocals by the Four Smith Brothers), Phyllis Robins, Ann Summers, and Primo Scala’s Accordion Band (in a medley).