“Exactly Like You” (1930)

“Exactly Like You.” Words by Dorothy Fields, music by Jimmy McHugh (1930). Recorded in London c. mid-August 1930 by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur. Imperial 2318 mx. 5448-2.

Personnel: Jay Wilbur dir. / Jack Miranda-cl / Eric Siday-vn / Harry Jacobson-p-cel / Len Fillis-g / sb

Elsie Carlisle – "Exactly Like You" (-2) (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – Exactly Like You (-2) (1930)

On February 25, 1930, Broadway writer and producer Lew Leslie opened his *International Revue* at the Majestic Theatre in New York City. One would have expected a show backed by the mastermind of the wildly popular *Blackbirds* revues, choreographed by Busby Berkeley, and with music by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, to be quite a success, but it had a comparatively short run of 95 performances, the last being on May 17, 1930. The lasting legacy of this well-funded flop consists of two songs: “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” introduced by Harry Richman, and “Exactly Like You,” sung in the revue by Richman and British actress Gertrude Lawrence.

In “Exactly Like You,” the singer describes the joy of having had an ideal preconception of love that has suddenly become realized in the form of the song’s addressee. The lyrics use turns of phrase suited to dramatic interpretation:

You make me feel so grand,
I want to hand the world to you.
You seem to understand
Each foolish little scheme I’m scheming,
Dream I’m dreaming.

The music is extraordinarily catchy but presents the singer with quite a challenge in its range (an octave and a fifth).

Elsie Carlisle was up to the task. A veteran of musical theater, she had, of course, introduced Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” just the previous year, and it has an identical range. She works her way through the melody’s fourth intervals with dexterity, all the while giving the impression that she is on the verge of faltering. Hers was never a weak voice, but she was an actress who knew the power of the semblance of vulnerability. In the end, while the lyrics argue that we should be impressed by her lover, her overall vocal performance might lead us to admire the character that she has created, some anonymous small person who, prone to sadness, has the sudden opportunity to express great joy. I have argued elsewhere that Elsie did not simply interpret songs; she augmented them by creating comparatively advanced vocal personas that change greatly from song to song.

Elsie’s virtuoso performance is nicely complemented by the memorable instrumental accompaniment put together by Jay Wilbur, a bandleader who was also musical director at Imperial at the time. This was, incidentally, Elsie’s first recording session at Imperial, but she had worked previously with Wilbur at Dominion Records before it went bankrupt. She and the band recorded three different takes of “Exactly Like You” at their session in August 1930. It is worth comparing the slightly different instrumentals of take 2 (above) with take 1:

Elsie Carlisle – "Exactly Like You" (-1) (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – Exactly Like You (-1) (1930)

“Exactly Like You” saw many recorded versions in 1930, some of them quite commercially successful, on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, in addition to a recording by Harry Richman himself, there were versions by Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orchestra, Merle Johnston and His Ceco Couriers, Seger Ellis, The Casa Loma Orchestra (v. Jack Richmond), Sam Lanin and His Orchestra (v. Smith Ballew), Ruth Etting, Grace Hayes, and Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra (v. Louis Armstrong).

The song must have been equally popular in Britain. A London recording was made as early as January by Lou Abelardo. Jack Harris and His Orchestra did a version that was rejected by Decca. Successful issues were made by Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra (v. Jack Payne), Florence Oldham, Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), The Rhythmic Eight (directed by John Firman), Bidgood’s Broadcasters (as Ted Summer’s Dance Devils, v. Patrick Waddington), Harry Hudson’s Radio Melody Boys (v. Sam Browne), Sir Robert Peel, Bart., and His Band (v. Sam Browne), and Nat Star and His Dance Orchestra (as Syd Kay’s Orchestra; v. Fred Douglas-Cavan O’Connor). London-based Americans Layton and Johnstone recorded the song as a piano duet that year.

"Exactly Like You" sheet music
“Exactly Like You” original sheet music

Elsie Carlisle’s 122nd Birthday

Elizabeth Carlisle was born on January 28, 18961 in Manchester, England to James Carlisle and Mary Ellen Carlisle (née Cottingham). Elsie was not the only member of her family to show a knack for show business; her brothers James (“Jim”) and Albert (“Tim”) were both singers who worked with the great composer, publisher, and impresario Lawrence Wright. By her own account, Elsie was encouraged to learn singing by her mother, who paid for her to have lessons when she was only a small girl.2 It was her brother Jim who got her her first theatrical role at the age of 12,3 and by the time of her marriage in 1914 she could be described as a “musical hall artiste” on the wedding certificate. By 1919 she was appearing in the West End in a show whose cast included Betty Bolton, and the next year she merited her own show, entitled Elsie Carlisle – With a Different Style, in which she performed as a solo vocalist.

How “different” her style was would quickly be made known to larger and larger audiences. Her stage career grew, only to be eclipsed, starting in 1926, by her broadcasting and recording efforts. Elsie’s 38 recordings made with Ambrose and His Orchestra between 1932 and 1935 are among the best remembered, but one should remember that she made at least 342 recordings between 1926 and 1942 — a prolific output. The British public would have known her better still from her broadcasts on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. She was often billed as the “Idol of the Radio,” a well-earned epithet. By the mid-1930s she was ranked amongst the top vocalists who could be heard on the British airwaves, and she had film and television credits to her name as well. Her dulcet delivery of themes both comic and plaintive continues to attract listeners over a century after her first performance in a Manchester music hall, and the world is much richer for her having lived in it.

Notes:

  1. January 28, 1896 is the date that Elsie Carlisle’s mother provided when she registered her daughter’s birth on March 3, 1896. The same birthday appears on Elsie’s baptismal certificate, which is dated April 15, 1896, so the date “21 January 1897” found on Elsie’s death certificate must be erroneous. People are not generally baptized before they are born, and one would assume that Elsie’s mother was a better source of information regarding her own daughter’s birth than Elsie’s son Wilfred, the informant for the death certificate.
  2. Ralph Graves. “Radio Sweetheart No. 1.” Radio Pictorial 251 (November 4, 1938): 8.
  3. According to Richard J. Johnson in “Elsie Carlisle (with a different style).” Memory Lane 174 (2012): 25.

“The ‘Daily Herald’ Dance Medley” (1933)

“The Daily Herald Dance Medley.” Selection from Elsie Carlisle (credited) singing “Snowball” (on Decca F. 3696). Dubbing session on December 7, 1933. Decca F. 3790 mx. GB6408-1.

The "Daily Herald" Dance Medley (Decca F. 3790 mx. GB6408-1)

“The ‘Daily Herald’ Dance Medley” (1933)

In December 1933, the Daily Herald newspaper announced a holiday season contest for its readers: The Daily Herald Dance Tunes Contest. Readers were to pick out 12 dance songs from a list of 28 as their “best programme of dance music.” A group of “experts” would arrive at their own ideal line-up of tunes, and whoever had mailed in a list closest to that of the experts would win a staggering £2,500 (in the event of a tie, the money would be divided evenly among the winners).

As a commercial tie-in, two records were released with selections from each of the 28 songs, one recorded by George Scott-Wood and His Orchestra (“Dance Parade”; Regal Zonophone M.R. 1170), the other dubbed by Decca from records by its various artists (“The Daily Herald Dance Medley”).

I include the second record on my website because of the dub of Elsie Carlise’s “Snowball” (Decca F. 3696). The titles of all the songs are announced before each selection. The artists are not individually credited by the announcer, but their names are listed in a general sort of way on the label. Jack Hylton, Roy Fox, and Lew Stone are on both sides of the label, with the addition of Elsie Carlisle on side A and of Alfredo Campoli, Olive Groves, and the Britannica Piano-Accordion Band on side B. Members of the Facebook Golden Age of British Dance Bands group were kind enough to help me identify the source of each song excerpt:

  1. Isn’t It Heavenly? – Lew Stone and His Band (Decca F. 3630)
  2. Let’s Call It a Day – Roy Fox and His Band (v. Peggy Dell; F. 3631)
  3. Night and DayJack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3698)
  4. It’s the Talk of the TownJack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3687)
  5. The Wedding of Mister Mickey MouseJack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3669)
  6. Lazy Bones – Lew Stone and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3644)
  7. Snowball – Elsie Carlisle (Decca F. 3636)
  8. Trouble in ParadiseJack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3663)
  9. Reflections in the Water – Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3671)
  10. Somebody Stole My Gal – Roy Fox and His Band (Decca F. 3618)
  11. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? – Lew Stone and His Band (Decca F. 3697)
  12. Dinner at Eight – Roy Fox and His Band (Decca F. 3685)
  13. Don’t Blame MeJack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3659)
  14. Hold MeJack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3600)
  15. In the Valley of the Moon – Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3672)
  16. Sweet Dreams, Pretty Lady – Britannic Piano-Accordion Band (Decca F. 3683)
  17. We’re in the MoneyJack Hylton and His Orchestra (Decca F. 3672)
  18. The Last Round-Up – Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (F. 3687)
  19. I Can’t Remember – Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (F. 3612)
  20. Shadow Waltz – Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (F. 3672)
  21. Alice Blue Gown – Olive Groves (Decca F. 2361)
  22. The Saint Louis Blues – Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Billy Munn; Decca. F 3239)
  23. Destiny – Alfredo Campoli and His Salon Orchestra (Decca F. 3679, side two: “Memories of the Ball – A Medley of Pre-War Waltzes”)
  24. WhisperingRoy Fox and His Band (Decca K. 713)
  25. Nights of Gladness – Alfredo Campoli and His Salon Orchestra (Decca F. 3679, side one: “Memories of the Ball – A Medley of Pre-War Waltzes”)
  26. Learn to Croon – Jack Hylton and His Band (Decca F. 3633)
  27. ThanksLew Stone and His Band (Decca F. 3722)
  28. Under a Blanket of BlueRoy Fox and His Band (Decca F. 3632)

Scorecard: 3-8, 10-21, and 23-28 identified by Terry Brown; 1-2 by John Wright; and 9 by Peter Wallace.

The original £2,500 prize was claimed and split in February 1934 by five winners whose ideal dance band programs matched those of the Daily Herald‘s panel of experts.  The winning combination?

3. Night and Day
5. The Wedding of Mister Mickey Mouse
6. Lazybones
9. Reflections in the Water
11. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
12. Dinner at Eight
14. Hold Me
17. We’re in the Money
18. The Last Round-Up
20. Shadow Waltz
22. The Saint Louis Blues
27. Thanks1

Notes:

  1. The Daily Herald. Friday, February 16, 1934, p. 9.

“I Cover the Waterfront” (1933)

“I Cover the Waterfront.” Music by Johnny Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with instrumental accompaniment in London on August 2, 1933. Decca F. 3628 mx. 6060-3.

Elsie Carlisle – "I Cover the Waterfront" (1933)

Elsie Carlisle – “I Cover the Waterfront” (1933)

The song “I Cover the Waterfront” was inspired by a 1932 book of the same name by Max Miller, a San Diego newspaper reporter, which is a collection of factual observations about the noteworthy events and criminal intrigues of that city’s waterfront. A pre-Code film, very loosely based on some events in the book, was released in 1933, and at the last minute the already popular Green-Heyman composition was included in it. Johnny Green and Edward Heyman are, of course, most famous for their collaboration with Robert Sour and Frank Eyton on Body and Soul.

“I Cover the Waterfront” references a book whose details are not really evident in the lyrics. The sentences “I cover the waterfront / I’m watching the sea” do not unequivocally convey to an audience the idea that the singer is impersonating a newspaper reporter (which is the premise of the book). The remainder of the lyrics repeatedly explain that the singer is waiting for a lover to return. The vagueness and repetition of the words create an attractive dreaminess that fits nicely with the atmospheric melody. The overall sound of “I Cover the Waterfront” is very much of its time; the song expresses the musical sensibilities of the early 1930s as well as “Ain’t Misbehavin'” does those of the late 1920s. Elsie Carlisle’s version of “I Cover the Waterfront” is exemplary of her ability to inject sincerity and character into any song, and in this case her plaintive tone makes us feel almost as if we knew its backstory — which we don’t.

“I Cover the Waterfront” was recorded in 1933 in America by Abe Lyman and His Orchestra (v. Grace Barrie), Freddy Martin and His Orchestra (v. Will Osborne), Bert Lown and His Biltmore Orchestra (v. Mac Ceppos), Eddie Duchin and His Orchestra (v. Lew Sherwood), Joe Haymes and His Orchestra, Annette Hanshaw, Connie Boswell, and The Washboard Rhythm Kings (v. Ghost Howell). Louis Armstrong was filmed directing and singing it in a performance in Copenhagen.

In Britain it was recorded by Howard Flynn and His Orchestra (v. Phyllis Robins), the BBC Dance Orchestra (directed by Henry Hall; one version with vocals by Les Allen in July 1933, followed by an instrumental medley in August 1933), Roy Fox and His Band (v. Peggy Dell), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (v. Ivor Moreton), Bertini and His Band (v. Cavan O’Connor), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), Jack Payne and His Band (v. Billy Scott-Coomber), Debroy Somers’ Band (v. Cecile Petrie), Nat Star and His Dance Orchestra (three takes with Tom Barratt in August 1933, as well as in an instrumental medley in October 1933), Freddy Gardner and His Mess-Mates, Maurice Winnick and His Band (v. Brian Lawrance), and Geraldo and His Orchestra (in a medley).

“It’s the Talk of the Town” (two versions; 1933)

The lyrics of “It’s the Talk of the Town” present a delicate situation: a couple engaged to be married has broken up after having already sent out wedding invitations. The song could be considered a torch song, but it is an atypical one, insofar as the singer’s argument for reconciliation rests less on passionate desire than on feelings of personal embarrassment resulting from gossip, the refrain being “Everybody knows you left me: it’s the talk of the town.”

Elsie Carlisle recorded three takes of “It’s the Talk of the Town” with Ambrose and His Orchestra on October 10, 1933, but they were rejected by Brunswick. On the morning of October 13, she made a successful recording for Decca with an eight-person band whose makeup is unknown but which probably contained Ambrose men:

“It’s the Talk of the Town.” Music by Jerry Levinson, words by Marty Symes and Al J. Neiburg (1933). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment in London on October 13, 1933. Decca F. 3696 mx. GB6186-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "It's the Talk of the Town" (1933)

Elsie Carlisle – “It’s the Talk of the Town” (1933)

In the early afternoon of the same day, Elsie would make her more famous and instrumentally more compelling recording of the song with Ambrose and His Orchestra. In this version, the emphasis on social awkwardness is highlighted by the band members’ snarling whisper: “IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN!”:

“It’s the Talk of the Town.” Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocals by Elsie Carlisle in London on October 13, 1933. Brunswick 01607 mx. GB6175-4.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-reeds / Sid Phillips-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Billy Amstell-reeds / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g  / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d (also humming and speaking by members of the orchestra)

Ambrose and His Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle) – "It's the Talk of the Town" (1933)

Ambrose and His Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle) – “It’s The Talk of The Town” (1933)

“It’s the Talk of the Town” was one of two hits written in 1933 by the team of Levinson, Symes, and Neiburg, the other being “Under a Blanket of Blue.” Neiburg had three years earlier penned the lyrics to “(I’m) Confessin’ (That I Love You),” and Levinson (under the name “Livingston”) went on in later decades to compose noteworthy music for movies and television, although his role in composing the 1943 novelty song “Mairzy Doats” should not be forgotten.

In the late summer of 1933 America saw versions of “It’s the Talk of the Town” recorded by Glen Gray’s Casa Loma Orchestra (with vocals by Kenny Sargent), Connee Boswell, Dick Robertson and His Orchestra, Will Osborne and His Orchestra, Annette Hanshaw, Red McKenzie and His Orchestra, and Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra.

As summer turned to autumn, British bands did their own versions. In addition to Ambrose’s recording and Elsie’s solo version on Decca, there were recordings made by the BBC Dance Orchestra (under the direction of Henry Hall, with vocal refrain by Phyllis Robins), Jay Wilbur and His Band (with vocalists Dan Donovan and Phyllis Robins), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with vocals by Eve Becke), Billy Cotton and His Band (Alan Breeze, vocalist), Jack Payne and His Band (with vocals by Billy Scott-Coomber), Joe Loss and His Band (with Jimmy Messini), George Glover and His Band (also with Jimmy Messini), Bertini and His Orchestra (Jack Plant, vocalist), and Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (as “Art Willis and His Band,” with vocals by Harry Davis).