Edward Heyman Articles

“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. GB-6060-3.

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).

“Body and Soul” (1930)

“Body and Soul.”  Lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton, with music by Johnny Green (1930).  Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur in London c. March 1930.  Dominion C-307 mx. 1713-1.

Elsie Carlisle – “Body and Soul” (1930)

In 1929, American composer Johnny Green got together with lyricists Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton to write a number of songs for British actress Gertrude Lawrence to sing on the London stage.  One of them, “Body and Soul,” was to become a jazz standard par excellence.  Lawrence, to her credit, recognized the inherent merit of the song and bought a share in it before going on to introduce it on the London stage and sing it on the radio, where it was heard by British dance band greats Jack Hylton and Bert Ambrose.  Their renditions caught the attention of the public and of bandleaders, singers, and instrumentalists alike.  After a spring fever of “Body and Soul” in London, recording of the infectious tune subsided for the summer and then resurged in America.  In mid-October the song appeared as part of the Broadway revue Three’s a Crowd and was performed and later recorded by Libby Holman.

Elsie Carlisle sang many torch songs early in her recording career; unrequited love was a theme as much in vogue then as it is now, and Elsie’s delicate, sometimes quavering voice was a suitable vehicle for conveying pathos.  Her March 1930 “Body and Soul” stands out from the rest because of her especially touching rendering of its mesmerizingly sad motifs.  It might seem amusing that this recording is paired on its flip-side with the ribald “My Man O’ War,” which is a sort of sublime, extended series of sexual double entendres, but there is something a little gritty, too,  about the lyrics of “Body and Soul” and the intensity with which Elsie expresses them.

“Body and Soul” had been recorded in early February 1930 by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with vocalist Pat O’Malley, in a Billy Ternent arrangement).  Later that month Hylton’s group would do a longer “concert arrangement” of “Body and Soul,” also with O’Malley.  Soon after, Ambrose and His Orchestra recorded two takes of the song with Sam Browne; Ambrose and Browne would go on to issue two more versions of “Body and Soul” in 1933.  The Four Bright Sparks made a recording with singer Betty Bolton that was never issued, but their take with Lou Abelardo was.  Other February versions were done by Arthur Roseberry and His Dance Band (Harry Bentley, vocalist) and Bidgood’s Broadcasters (with vocalist John Thorne).

In March, in addition to that of Elsie Carlisle, there were British renditions of “Body and Soul” by Spike Hughes, Jack Payne and His Band (an unissued take with vocalist Jack Plant), Hal Swain and His Band, Marie Burke, Herman Darewski and His Famous Melody Band, and Gracie Fields.  As the spring went on, versions were made by Pete Mandell and His Rhythm Masters (three takes, including two with Jack Plant), Carroll Gibbons (on the piano, accompanied by violin and saxophone), Nat Star (as Bert Maddison and His Dance Orchestra, with vocalist Sam Browne), Jack Leon’s Dance Band (Jimmy Allen, vocalist), and Alfredo’s Band (with Sam Browne).

From America, starting in September 1930, we have an unissued take of “Body and Soul” by Helen Morgan.  Leo Reisman appears to have been quite fond of the song, and issued three recordings, one with Don Howard, one with Frank Luther and horn player Bubber Miley, and one with Frances Maddux. There were also records by Fred Rich and His Orchestra, Ruth Etting, Annette Hanshaw, Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra, Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra, Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (with vocalist Jack Fulton), Seger Ellis, Libby Holman, and Vee Lawnhurst (accompanying herself on the piano, of course).

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