Abner Silver Articles

Elsie Carlisle Medley (1937)

Elsie Carlisle committed her last Decca record to shellac on January 31, 1936 and would not start recording again with HMV until October 25, 1937 — a hiatus of one year and nine months in an otherwise consistently busy period of fifteen years (1926-1942). We must not assume a low point in her career, however, but much the opposite. Elsie’s status as “Idol of the Radio” was at an all-time high, as suggested by the evidence of newspapers and industry magazines, and her stage activities seem to have kept up unabated.

The BBC Genome project shows a fair number of radio appearances in 1936 and 1937. Importantly, a December issue of Melody Maker prints the results of a nationwide poll showing Elsie Carlisle as the most popular British female singer1. Meanwhile, a 1935 stage show featuring Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle (accompanied by pianist Ronnie Aldrich and Freddie Aspinall) morphed in 1936 into an act that featured solely Elsie. This act would continue into at least July 19372 and seems to have featured “Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses,” ending with “No, No, a Thousand Times, No!”

It should not be a surprise, then, that within days of returning to recording, Elsie recorded a collection including those two songs that went under the name “Elsie Carlisle Medley.” It was the first of two such medleys that would be released under her name in a three-month period. The medleys, which include songs that must have been perceived as somehow representative of her whole career up to that point, must reinforce her special status as a premiere vocalist.

“Elsie Carlisle Medley.” Part 1: “Gertie, the girl with the gong,” “Home James, and don’t spare the horses,” “No, No, a thousand times no.” Part 2: “Dirty hands, dirty face,” “Little chap with big ideas,” “Little man, you’ve had a busy day.” Arranged by Con Lamprecht. Recorded on November 8, 1937 in London at Studio No. 1A, Abbey Roads by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Ronnie Munro. HMV B.D. 476 matrices OEA 5869-1 and OEA 5870-1.

Elsie Carlisle - "Elsie Carlisle Medley" (1937)

Elsie Carlisle Medley (1937)

This medley, arranged, according to Richard J. Johnson, by Con Lamprecht,3 begins with Ronnie Munro’s own “Gertie, the Girl with the Gong” (Sonin-Munro; 1935), which Elsie famously recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra in 1935 (Decca F. 5486). The next two numbers were, as I have already noted, famously a part of Elsie’s stage show, but they had also been memorably recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra on Decca F. 5318 (“Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses” [Sherman-Lewis-Silver; 1934]; “No, No, a Thousand Times, No” [Fred Hillebrand; 1934]).

Part 2 of the “Elsie Carlisle Medley” is a group of songs with childhood themes. According to Richard J. Johnson,4, it was originally supposed to include “He’s an Angel” (Michael Hodges; 1936; recorded by Elsie Carlisle on Decca F. 5902), but that song was not ultimately recorded for the “Medley” session. Instead, Part 2 begins with “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” (Leslie-Jolson-Clarke-Monaco; 1923), which Elsie had never recorded. Perhaps it was part of her stage act, or perhaps she had broadcast it on the radio. The song’s popularity was long-lived, especially after Al Jolson featured it in The Jazz Singer (1927). Elsie had not recorded the next song, either: “Little Chap with Big Ideas” (Drake-Damerell-Evans) was a new song in 1937, and Elsie may very well have sung it on the radio. The last song, “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day,” was one that Elsie had recorded twice in 1934, first solo, and then with Ambrose and His Orchestra on Brunswick 01790.

Newspaper ads for the first “Elsie Carlisle Medley” described it as “Elsie Carlisle sing[ing] a medley of her successes,”5 and the tabloid Illustrated Police News (Thursday, February 10, 1938, p. 15) included the following delightful review:

Croonette

Elsie Carlisle is probably the ace girl vocalist of the radio—British radio, at any rate. She has made a record of some of her most popular hits under the heading “Elsie Carlisle Medley.”

Elsie croons through these numbers in just as delightful fashion as she does when heard “on the air….”

The success of this collection of songs may be gauged by HMV’s decision to have the “ace croonette” record “Elsie Carlisle Medley No. 2” in January 1938, which similarly included four songs that Elsie had recorded in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well as a couple that she had not recorded, but that she must have been associated with in some other way, whether through broadcast or stage.

Notes:

  1. Melody Maker 12.187 (Dec. 19, 1936) 11.
  2. The Stage issue 2,937 (July 15, 1937) 7.
  3. Elsie Carlisle: A Discography. Aylesbury, Bucks. (1994) 33.
  4. Ibid.
  5. In the Belfast News-Letter (Wednesday, February 2, 1938) 11 and elsewhere.

“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” (Three Versions; 1932)

 “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” Words and music by Milton Drake, Walter Kent, and Abner Silver (1932). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with Elsie Carlisle as vocalist on December 1, 1932. Regal Zonophone MR-769.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t  / Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-Joe Jeannette-Billy Amstell-reeds / Harry Hines-as / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d / Freddie Bretherton-a

Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway, Ambrose, 1932

“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” (Ambrose and His Orchestra with Elsie Carlisle, 1932)

Transfer by Clive Hooley (YouTube)

“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” is a composition by notable songwriters Milton Drake (also known for “Java Jive” and “Mairzy Doats”), Walter Kent (most famous for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “The White Cliffs of Dover”), and Abner Silver (who would co-write “No! No! A Thousand Times, No!” — another Elsie Carlisle hit).  Elsie recorded “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” five times in November and December of 1932, more times than any other song in her career: first “solo,” then with Ambrose and His Orchestra (by far her best-known version), then in two takes with Rudy Starita and His Band (one on Sterno, the other on Four-in-One), and finally with Harry Hudson and His Melody Men.

“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” remains one of Elsie’s most popular songs, most likely on account of her impeccable comic delivery of its risqué lyrics — indeed, it is outdone in sexual suggestiveness only by her two recordings of “My Man O’ War” (perhaps “My Handy Man” would also qualify in this regard). It is the complaint of an attractive woman who admits to liking a bit of flirtation but who has apparently met someone who takes it too far: a certain “Mr. Hemingway.” As the song progress, her description of his impertinent advances escalates, with Mr. Hemingway’s behavior sounding increasingly physically rough. The culmination is justly famous:

And I don’t mind your osculations,
But my dear, my operation!
Oh, pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!

Two days before she recorded the version with Ambrose and His Orchestra, Elsie had committed to shellac a “solo” recording:

“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” Recorded by Elsie Carlisle on November 28, 1932. Decca F. 3312.

Personnel: probably Max Goldberg-t / t / tb / 2cl / as / 2 or 3 vn / Claude Ivy-p / g / sb / d

"Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!" Decca F. 3312A.

Elsie Carlisle -- “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!”

Transfer by Erik Høst

This version is at a slightly slower tempo, and Elsie’s delivery is more conversational. The arrangement is surprisingly similar to the one that Freddie Bretherton produced for Ambrose.

The last version of “Pul-eeze! Mister Hemingway” that Elsie would record was with Harry Hudson and His Melody Men:

“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” Recorded by Harry Hudson and His Melody Men (as Rolando and His Blue Salon Orchestra) with Elsie Carlisle as vocalist on December 20, 1932. Edison Bell Winner 5536.

 

 

Rolando and His Blue Salon Orchestra (a.k.a. Harry Hudson, w. Elsie Carlisle) -- “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” (1932)

Video by Tim Gracyk (YouTube)

Here the arrangement is a little different, and the orchestra is given a little more time to itself at the end. Elsie’s delivery is chatty, but perhaps not as much as in her solo recording.

There were a number of other artists recording “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” in late 1932. One problem they ran into was how to have a male singer deliver the song, which was risqué but not entirely unconventional in its sexuality. In America, George Olsen and His Music had male singer Fran Frey recount hearing a woman speak the lyrics, while Gene Kardos and His Orchestra (as Bob Causer and His Cornellians) had Dick Robertson rebuff a certain Mrs. Hemingway! In Britain there were versions by Billy Cotton and His Band, Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (with vocals by the Caryle Cousins, using the original lyrics), Ann Suter, Jay Wilbur and His Band (as Phil Allen’s Merrymakers, with vocalist Les Allen), and Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (in a Billy Ternent arrangement, with singer Pat O’Malley). Interestingly, the last two bandleaders mentioned did not seem to be bothered by having their male singers complain about being pestered by Mr. Hemingway! Gracie Fields recorded a version of the song that was only released in Australia, and Albert Whelan made one for Panachord accompanied by Harry Hudson’s Melody Men, but I have not been able to discover much about it.

Two final points need to be addressed. People often ask me if it is Ernest Hemingway that Elsie is singing about. I see no particular reason to identify the fictional masher with the American novelist. An open letter addressed to Ernest Hemingway entitled “Please, Mr. Ernest Hemingway” appeared in the American Criterion in 1935, but the addition of Hemingway’s first name would suggest that the letter’s author did not consider the song title that he was citing in jest to be originally about Ernest Hemingway.

And yes, there is a Steampunk Jazz version of “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” that samples the Ambrose recording. Pu-leeze!

"Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway" Sheet Music featuring Elsie Carlisle's photograph
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” Sheet Music featuring Elsie Carlisle’s photograph

“Oh, My Bundle of Love” (1926)

“Oh, My Bundle of Love.” Words by George Price, music by Abner Silver. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with piano accompaniment by Carroll Gibbons on October 6, 1926. Zonophone 2829.

Elsie Carlisle's "Oh, My Bundle of Love" on Zonophone 2829 (label). Image courtesy of Erik Høst.
Elsie Carlisle’s “Oh, My Bundle of Love” on Zonophone 2829. Image courtesy of Erik Høst.

Elsie Carlisle – “Oh, My Bundle of Love” (1926)

Original 78 rpm transfer by Erik Høst

Elsie Carlisle sang “Oh, My Bundle of Love”1 at her third recording session, for her third record, accompanied, as she always would be that year, by a 23-year-old Carroll Gibbons on the piano. The composition has a bubbly energy typical of the dance music of its period, and the lyrics express the goofy enthusiasm of a young lover by way of precious, cutesy colloquialisms (e.g. “sweetie-sweet”). For this song, Elsie dons a persona of somewhat mindless ebullience that reminds me of her 1930 version of “Wasn’t It Nice?”; she is the picture of pure, giggly fun. The recording is also a good example of Carroll Gibbons’s developing piano virtuosity (he would not be known as a band leader for another year).

“My Bundle of Love” was recorded in America in 1925 by Gene Austin (accompanied by Jack Shilkret on the piano) and by Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards. In 1926 there were versions by Mal Hallett and His Orchestra, Emerson Gill and His Castle of Paris Orchestra (with vocals by Pinkey Hunter), Ben Bernie and His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra, The Southerners (with vocalist Jack Kaufman), and Nick Lucas.  There is a piano roll of the song from that year by Ralph Reichenthal (a.k.a Ralph Rainger), the composer of “Moanin’ Low,” amongst other successful tunes.

Elsie Carlisle’s 1926 recording of “Oh, My Bundle of Love” was preceded that year in Britain by a take by Jay Whidden and His New Midnight Follies Band (rejected by Columbia) and by a version by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra.

Notes:

  1. “Oh, My Bundle of Love” more commonly has the simpler title of “My Bundle of Love,” and why not? The expression “Oh, My Bundle of Love” does not occur in the song.

“No! No! A Thousand Times No!” (1934)

“No! No! A Thousand Times No!” Words and music by Al Sherman, Al Lewis, and Abner Silver (1934). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra on November 20, 1934, with vocal chorus by Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle. Decca F. 5318 mx. GB6772-2 (also Decca F. 7204 and Brunswick A. 81929).

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-reeds / Sid Phillips-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Billy Amstell-reeds / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove-others?-vn / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Sam Browne & Elsie Carlisle) - "No! No! A Thousand Times, No!"

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Sam Browne & Elsie Carlisle) -- “No! No! A Thousand Times No!”

In “No! No! A Thousand Times No!” Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle evoke the spirit of Victorian stage melodrama with its stock heroes: the damsel in distress, the villain, the hero. By 1934 melodrama risked seeming hackneyed and passé, and this novelty waltz accordingly treats the genre as a source of bathetic farce. The orchestra serves as a competent background to a long series of dramatic lines almost belted out, or even shouted out, rather than sung, with Sam and Elsie employing strangely exaggerated pronunciations to emphasize their ridiculously stylized sentiments.

“No! No! A Thousand Times No!” seems to have made quite an impression on the public. The 1934 Wills’s and 1935 Ardath Elsie Carlisle cigarette card reverse sides suggest it as one of Elsie’s two most popular songs, which is interesting, as she sang quite a few memorable songs in those years, including other very good ones with Sam Browne. That this comical waltz had staying power is attested to by its appearing in Elsie’s top-two list in her 1977 London Times obituary.

“No! No! A Thousand Times No!” was recorded in America by Harry McDaniel and His Orchestra in November 1934. It seems to have been more popular with British artists, however, with versions done in late 1934 and early 1935 by the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (under the direction of Percival Mackey, with vocals by Bobbie Combier), Jan Ralfini and His Band, Phyllis Robins and Pat O’Malley, and Leslie Sarony and “Girl Friend” (identity unknown). In May 1935 Max Fleischer released a Betty Boop short film featuring the themes and music of “No! No! A Thousand Times No!” under the same title.

I discuss this song in greater detail in my article “Elsie Carlisle’s Top Hits, Then and Now” in the December 2014 issue of the Discographer Magazine.

"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.