“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)
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.
Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes, British Dance Bands on Record (1911-1945) and Supplement, p. 25. ↩
“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” Words and music by Harry Woods and Billy Hill (the latter using the pseudonym George Brown; 1932). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra (with vocals by Elsie Carlisle) on July 13, 1932. HMV B6210 mx. OB3134-1.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Joe Crossman-Billy Amstell-Joe Jeannete-reeds / Harry Hines-as / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d-vib
Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle) – "The Clouds Will Soon Roll By" (1932)
Eighty-two years ago today, Elsie Carlisle recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra one of her two versions of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” It has become fixed in popular memory as one of her most representative recordings, and especially as a perfect example of her ability to project a persona of touching vulnerability — in this case employing optimistic lyrics set to a powerful but somewhat melancholy arrangement. Meteorological metaphors encouraging an upbeat attitude seem to have been a staple of the popular music of the time. It was in the same year that Irving Berlin composed his “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee”:
The child shall have it better than his parents; he shall not be subject to the necessities that we have recognized as prevailing in life. Sickness, death, renunciation of enjoyment, and restrictions on his own will shall not be valid for the child; the laws of nature, like those of society, shall come to a halt before him; he shall really be the center and heart of creation, His Majesty the Baby, as we once thought ourselves to be (emphasis mine).
Freud was writing in German, of course, but he wrote the expression “His Majesty the Baby” in English. He appears to have been alluding to a late Victorian painting by Arthur Drummond in the Royal Academy:
One can see that, in Drummond’s painting, the whole world seems to wait upon the ermine-clad infant center-of-attention. Of course, Freud uses the idea of “His Majesty the Baby” to refer to how the child sees things, not its parents — and he pulls in all sorts of notions about primary narcissism and auto-eroticism that need not concern us here.
In 1935, the phrase “His Majesty the Baby” resurfaces as the title of a slow foxtrot composed by American songwriters Neville Fleeson, Arthur Terker, and Mabel Wayne. Elsie Carlisle sang other Mabel Wayne songs involving childhood themes; in 1934 she recorded two versions of “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” that were issued and two versions of “Who Made Little Boy Blue.” “His Majesty the Baby” has lyrics describing a baby who seems regal, the object of constant awe. It is clear that it is the feelings of the adults surrounding the child that are being discussed, however, and that the imperious attitudes attributed to him are a mere transference of his parents’ reverence for his cuteness.
“His Majesty the Baby.” Words by Neville Fleeson and Arthur Terker; music by Mabel Wayne (1935). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocals by Elsie Carlisle on January 11, 1935. Decca F. 5379.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-Sid Phillips-Billy Amstell-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove-others?-vn / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d
His Majesty The Baby. Ambrose & His Orchestra. 1935.
The version of “His Majesty the Baby” that Elsie Carlisle recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra begins with a substantial instrumental introduction that seems stately enough. Elsie’s concise delivery of the lyrics leaves no doubt that the worship being demanded for the infant child is somewhat tongue-in-cheek; the song plays on the attitude of fawning obedience that people adopt when around a beloved baby.
Several days later Elsie would record (again for Decca) a solo version of “His Majesty the Baby”:
“His Majesty the Baby.” Words by Neville Fleeson and Arthur Terker; music by Mabel Wayne (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on January 14, 1935. Decca F. 5380 mx. GB6876-2.
This second interpretation of the song has a competent orchestral accompaniment, but it is Elsie’s voice that is the focus through the entire song, and one must admit that the piece suffers, not so much from “baby talk,” but from an exaggerated dramatization of infant bedtime.
Other notable British recordings of “His Majesty the Baby” were made in January 1935 by Billy Merrin and His Commanders (with vocals by Billy Merrin), the BBC Dance Orchestra under Henry Hall (with vocalist Kitty Masters), the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra under Percival Mackey (Jack Plant, vocalist), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with vocals by Ivor Moreton), twice by Jay Wilbur and His Band with Eve Becke, and by Lou Preager and His Romanos Restaurant Dance Orchestra (with vocalist Pat Hyde). Phyllis Robins made a solo recording of the song that year. The notable American recording is from July 1935 and is by Rudy Vallée and His Connecticut Yankees.
“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” 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
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.
“Let’s Make Love.” Words By Stanley J. Damerell, music by Tolchard Evans (1934). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocals by Sam Browne and with Elsie Carlisle in a speaking role on November 1, 1934. Decca F. 5297 mx. TB 1704-1.
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 / 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) – "Let's Make Love" (1934)
“Let’s Make Love (In Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter)” is a light waltz written by British songwriters Stanley J. Damerell and Tolchard Evans, who collaborated on such notable songs as “Lady of Spain” (1931) and “If (They Made Me a King)” (1934). There seems to be a general rule that whenever Damerell and Evans have collaborated on a song, Elsie Carlisle ends up with a speaking role. That would appear to be the case in the Ambrose recording of “Hyde Park Corner” (Hargreaves-Damerell-Evans; 1933), in which Sam Browne sings and Elsie and drummer Max Bacon have speaking parts, as well as in the Maurice Winnick version of “Da-Dar-Da-Dar” (also Hargreaves-Damerell-Evans; 1933), in which Sam Browne sings and Elsie is a mere interlocutor. So it is in this Damerell-Evans piece, “Let’s Make Love.”
Jack Payne and His Band had made, in late October 1934, a version of “Let’s Make Love” that relied for its entertainment value largely on comical Northern and Cockney voices provided by Jack Payne and Charlie Asplin; there was yet another version of “Let’s Make Love” in November by Jay Wilbur and His Band, with Fred Latham on the vocals. After an impressive instrumental introduction, the Ambrose recording has Sam Browne sing just the refrain and the first verse of the song. He then proceeds repeatedly to try to sing the first few words of the refrain (or something like them) in foreign accents which are intentionally abysmally done. His try at a Russian accent (“Letsky makesky loveskevitch”) is perhaps the least embarrassing. I cannot say whether his announcing the Russian lover a second time and then correcting himself to “a Spanish lover” is a feigned mistake or a real one. The cannibalistic Zulu with his war cry “Yum, yum, yum!” is awkward at best, as is the shivering Eskimo.
Elsie Carlisle, for her part, merely interjects on occasion that Sam’s “impressions are lousy,” or the like. Sam and Elsie had already played bickering lovers in the 1933 Maurice Winnick recording of “Seven Years with the Wrong Woman,” and it was only weeks after recording “Let’s Make Love” that they would berate each other in “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands with You” with Ambrose and His Orchestra. In “Let’s Make Love,” by contrast, it is not apparent that Sam really means it when he repeatedly sings “Let’s Make Love” to Elsie, nor that her rebuffing of him is anything more than a negative review of his talent. What is clear is that this song is one of the silliest things Sam and Elsie ever collaborated on in their years of working for Ambrose.
"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.