“Fit as a Fiddle.” Words by Arthur Freed, music by Al Hoffman and Al Goodhart (1932). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on January 13, 1933. Decca F. 3411 mx. GB5467-2.
The lyrics of “Fit as a Fiddle (and Ready for Love),” penned by Arthur Freed, are an ecstatic expression of a happy anticipation of marriage somewhat in the mold of the classic 1925 Henderson/Lewis/Young song “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” (made popular by Al Jolson). “Fit as a Fiddle,” however, is marked by its peculiarly infectious rhythm and its reliance on nonsense words. “Hi, diddle, diddle” and “Hey nonny nonny and a hot-cha-cha!” stand out, although Elsie Carlisle apparently could not get the latter colloquialism quite right, in spite of its being very clearly written on the cover of the sheet music (although “Hainy nainy nonny and a HAH-chah!” is a very cute variant, I will admit). Baby words aside, Elsie’s “Fit as a Fiddle” is nothing if not ebullient, and she is complemented nicely by her band.
In America the year 1932 had seen versions of “Fit as a Fiddle” by The Three Keys, Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orchestra (with vocals by the Kahn-a-Sirs), Gene Kardos and His Orchestra (as Ed Lloyd and His Orchestra, with vocalist Chick Bullock), Will Osborne and His Orchestra with vocalist Annette Hanshaw (who naturally managed to sound not only fit as a fiddle, but a little bit naughty and lazy to boot), Paul Small, and The Ponce Sisters. In 1933 Phil Harris did a version with Leah Ray as the vocalist.
“Fit as a Fiddle” was recorded in London in January and early February 1933 by the Blue Mountaineers (vocalists Sam Browne and Nat Gonella), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Sam Browne), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with vocals by Pat O’Malley, Jack Hylton himself, and Billy Ternent, who arranged the song), and Rudy Starita and His Band, and by soprano Frances Maddux (with Carroll Gibbons on the piano and Len Fillis on the guitar).
Post-War listeners are most likely familiar with “Fit as a Fiddle” because Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor sing it in a flashback in the 1952 musical comedy film Singin’ in the Rain, which was in fact produced by lyricist Arthur Freed himself.