Jay Wilbur Articles

“More Than You Know” (1930)

“More Than You Know.” Lyrics by William Rose and Edward Eliscu, music by Vincent Youmans (1929). Composed for the film Great Day (unreleased). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with Jay Wilbur and His Orchestra (uncredited) in London in late September 1930. Imperial 2362 mx. 5510-1.

Personnel: Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-ts / Norman Cole-George Melachrino-vn / Billy Thorburn or Pat Dodd-p / Bert Thomas-g / Harry Evans-bb-sb / Jack Kosky-d-chm / Wag Abbey-x / Len Fillis-bj

Elsie Carlisle – "More Than You Know" (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – “More Than You Know” (1930)

In “More Than You Know” we have one of those eminently successful, perennial standards that originated in a Broadway flop (one might compare “Exactly Like You,” also recorded by Elsie Carlisle). It was introduced in the musical Great Day, set in the American Deep South, which saw only 36 performances over the course of a single month. The Vincent Youmans score was so catchy, though, that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer planned and almost completed a 1930 movie version starring Joan Crawford. Crawford was so personally disappointed with the results (including with her own acting) that she convinced the studio to rewrite and reshoot the greater part of the film and to release it in 1931, but this never happened, and a 1934 attempt starring Jeanette MacDonald also never came to fruition. The legacy of these failed shows, then, is in the songs “Without a Song” and “More Than You Know.”

“More Than You Know” shares the structure of many Broadway tunes of its time, consisting of an introduction that is melodically quite different from the verses. Its intro is even more melancholy than the rest of the song, which is sad in tone but which encapsulates an effusive expression of love for a man without respect to any flaws he might have. Elsie Carlisle’s version fully embraces the gushing quality of the lyrics while maintaining a sense of credibility and sincerity. One might compare it to her recording of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (which she had introduced on the London stage the previous year); in both, she evokes innocence and vulnerability of a sort that is immediately attractive to the listener. It is worth noting that the Imperial label of the disc on which “More Than You Know” is recorded mentions the film Great Day; there must have still been a keen expectation of the release of the film and a corresponding need for a tie-in.

“More Than You Know” was recorded in 1929 in America by Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting, Libby Holman, and Carmel Myers. It was recorded in London in 1930-1931 by Zaidee Jackson, The Million-Airs (Arthur Lally dir., v. Maurice Elwin), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Sam Browne), The New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (Ray Noble dir.; in a medley), Jack Payne and His BBC Dance Orchestra (v. Val Rosing; also in a medley), Gwladys Stanley, and Bert Maddison and His Dance Orchestra (Nat Star dir., v. Dan Donovan; in a medley).

“Wasn’t It Nice?” (1930)

“Wasn’t It Nice?” Words by Joe Young, music by Seymour Simons (1930). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with Jay Wilbur and His Orchestra (uncredited) in London c. late September 1930. Imperial 2362 mx. 5509-1.1

Personnel: Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-ts / Norman Cole-George Melachrino-vn / Billy Thorburn or Pat Dodd-p / Bert Thomas-g / Harry Evans-bb-sb / Jack Kosky-d-chm / Wag Abbey-x / Len Fillis-bj

Elsie Carlisle – "Wasn't It Nice?" (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – “Wasn’t It Nice?” (1930)

The lyrics of “Wasn’t It Nice?” describe an idyllic romantic relationship. They consist of fond recollections of the early days of that relationship and of the ensuing marriage (the refrain for each reminiscence is “Gee, dear, wasn’t it nice?”). There is a notable description of “canoedling” (cuddling in a boat, a common occupation in the years before motorcars were common enough to provide young couples with privacy). The lyrics also mention a wedding at which not only is the familiar rice thrown, but also shoes (an older practice) — one of which is said nonsensically to still have a foot in it! This last detail provides a suitable ending for a fundamentally goofy song.

Elsie Carlisle’s version of “Wasn’t It Nice?” is noteworthy for its evocation of a certain sort of almost infantile femininity. Elsie perfectly captures a mood of youthful glee which is worlds away from the squeaky protestations of her also childlike persona in the rather sinister “Dada, Dada.”  Particularly delightful is the primal girlish giggle that she emits at 2:09. The use of the chimes in the middle of the song adds to an overall feeling of simplicity and innocence, insofar as they recall the sounds of nursery toys.

“Wasn’t It Nice?” was recorded in America in 1930 by Marion Harris, Tom Clines and His Music (v. Jack Carney), The Charleston Chasers, and Aileen Stanley. Other British bands who recorded it in 1930 were The Million-Airs (Arthur Lally dir., v. Maurice Elwin; in a medley), The Arcadians Dance Orchestra (John Firman dir.), Van Phillips and His Band (v. Billy Milton), Bert Maddison and His Dance Orchestra (Nat Star dir., v. Fred Douglas; in a medley), Nat Star and His Dance Orchestra (v. Fred Douglas and Jack Hodges; in a medley), and the Million-Airs (Arthur Lally dir., v. Fred Douglas).

Notes:

  1. The discographies do not mention take -1, but I would appear to own it.

“Shake Down the Stars” (1940)

“Shake Down the Stars.” Words by Eddie De Lange, music by Jimmy Van Heusen (1940). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur in London on August 8, 1940. Rex 9847 mx. R4937-2.

Elsie Carlisle – "Shake Down the Stars" (1940)

Elsie Carlisle – “Shake Down the Stars” (1940)

“Shake Down the Stars” was the creation of prolific songwriting duo Eddie De Lange and Jimmy Van Heusen (who also wrote the similarly atmospheric “Deep in a Dream”). Its singer addresses the aftermath of the dissolution of a romantic relationship. In doing so, she calls for a corresponding dissolution of the natural order:

Shake down the stars,
Pull down the clouds,
Turn off the moon….
I wish I had a high stepladder
So I could scatter the stars….

The singer really says very little about her relationship, but she makes it clear how devastating its cessation is to her through the use of impressive hyperbole; in this way, the song resembles closely the 1932 song “Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon,” which Elsie Carlisle also recorded. In addition to the calls for the the astronomical order to be disrupted, the singer turns to the smaller things in life: “Crush every rose, / Hush every prayer…. / I know I can’t go on without you.” The impression is of a person to whom life has become worse than worthless: its continued existence is a mockery in light of her loss.

“Shake Down the Stars” was recorded by many artists in 1940. Elsie Carlisle’s version stands out as perhaps the least swingy of the lot, which is natural, insofar as it is intended to showcase the vocalist, not the band. The result is refreshing: Elsie’s more dramatic interpretation of the unusually tempestuous lyrics is more impressive to me than the other excellent versions. The novel rhythms of the latter are so distractingly upbeat that one almost forgets that the song is about destroying the universe out of frustration.

“Shake Down the Stars” was recorded in 1940 in America by George Auld and His Orchestra (v. Kay Foster), Bob Crosby and His Orchestra (v. Bob Crosby), Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (v. Ray Eberle), Chick Bullock, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (v. Frank Sinatra)Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (v. Helen Forrest), and Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra.

In 1940, British bands who recorded “Shake Down the Stars” include Harry Roy and His Band (v. Kay Harding), Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (v. Anne Lenner), Oscar Rabin (v. Beryl Davis), and Mantovani and His Orchestra.

“Let There Be Love” (1941)

“Let There Be Love.” Music by Lionel Rand, words by Ian Grant. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur in London on May 22, 1941. Rex 9989 mx. R5782-2.

Personnel: Jay Wilbur dir. Alfie Noakes-Chick Smith-t / Paul Fenoulhet or Ted Heath or George Rowe-tb / Frank Johnson-Frank Weir-cl-as / George Smith or Cliff Timms-ts / Matt Heft-p / Jack Simmons-g / Billy Bell-sb / Jack Simpson-d

Elsie Carlisle – "Let There Be Love" (1941)

Elsie Carlisle – “Let There Be Love” (1941)

The output of songwriters apparently known for little else, “Let There Be Love” has exhibited unusual staying power, with a notable artist reviving it every decade or so: Nat King Cole (1961), Rosemary Clooney (1992), Cliff Richard and Matt Monro (2006). Bruce Forsyth even sang it as a duet in 1976 with Miss Piggy of Muppets fame.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should mention that I do not like this song, and that Elsie Carlisle’s version of it is my least favorite of her recordings. Some of my objection to it must stem, no doubt, from simple matters of personal aesthetic sensibility. I find the rhythm of the beguine moderately irritating: it is to dance genres what a cloying, fruity blended drink is to cocktails (I am referring to the kind with a paper umbrella in it). All the same, 1941 saw Elsie Carlisle release a recording of another beguine, “You’re in My Arms,” which seems in every way preferable to me.

Surely there must be firmer grounds for my dislike of “Let There Be Love.” I locate those grounds in the insipid lyrics, which aim for cuteness and end up with stupidity verging on the repugnant. The rhymes are facile and seem to be the driving force behind the lyrics, rather than any detectable thematic cohesion:

Let there be you,
And let there be me.
Let there be oysters
Under the sea.

The moment of maximum bathos comes early in the song:

Let there be birds
To sing in the trees,
Someone to bless me
Whenever I sneeze.

The blessing-sneezing moment is no doubt the most carefully thought-out part of the lyrics. “…[O]ysters / Under the sea,” for example, only rhymes and does not contribute to a love theme, but “Someone to bless me / Whenever I sneeze” is a preconceived notion that the lyricist actually had to work to put into words — it is not there simply for the sake of rhyming.

One might hope that, as is usually the case with weak underlying compositions, Elsie Carlisle (assisted by some musical luminary such as Jay Wilbur) could redeem the piece in some way, but I cannot hear it. The arrangement contains one too many wacky woodwind flourish for my taste. It is all just too regrettable: Elsie’s voice seems to have acquired strength over the course of her career, and the improved recording techniques of the early 1940s (putting the Rex label’s infamous “crackle” aside) capture every bright moment, every delicious quaver in her voice. That they captured this particular song is perhaps unfortunate, but it provides us with something like an absolute zero on the thermometer of Elsie Carlisle songs. Everything else is better, even “Calliope Jane.”

Noteworthy 1940-1941 American recordings of “Let There Be Love” are those of Sammy Kaye, Kay Kyser and His Orchestra (v. Harry Babbit), Maxine Gray, Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm Orchestra (v. Hal Derwin), and Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra (v. Bob Eberly).

The song was recorded in Britain by Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Anne Shelton and Sam Browne), Joe Loss and His Band (v. Bob Arden and Bette Roberts), Victor Silvester and His Ballroom Orchestra, and the Savoy Orpheans (dir. Carroll Gibbons, v. Anne Lenner).

“Is There Anything Wrong in That?” (1929)

“Is There  Anything Wrong in That?” Words by Herb Magidson, music by Michael H. Cleary (1928). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with accompaniment by Jay Wilbur’s Orchestra in London c.  February 1929. Dominion A. 83 mx. 1148-2.

Personnel: Max Goldberg-Bill Shakespeare-t / Tony Thorpe-tb / Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-as-ts / Norman Cole-vn / Billy Thorburn-p / Dave Thomas or Bert Thomas-bj-g / Harry Evans-bb-sb / Jack Kosky-d

Elsie Carlisle – "Is There Anything Wrong in That?" (1929)

Elsie Carlisle – “Is There Anything Wrong in That?” (1929)

A 1929 review of Dominion A. 83 explains

Little Elsie has tried two extreme opposites this month. “Dreaming of To-morrow” is a rhythmical but sentimental number. The other one is of the “Naughty” type; it fits Elsie like a glove and is just the thing for everyone (except your maiden aunt).1

In “Is There Anything Wrong in That?” the singer repeatedly expresses hesitance, doubt, and more than anything, ignorance with regard to basic questions of morality. She explains, “I can’t tell the bad things from the good,” and “I can’t tell the naughty from the nice.” Her misdeeds appear to consist of taking gifts in exchange for sexual favors; she also seems to use her attractiveness to facilitate the theft of a fur-lined coat and a Cadillac!

The most familiar recordings of this song are by Helen Kane and Annette Hanshaw, both of whom use the persona of a Bronx-accented baby vamp. Their exaggerated little girl voices complement their bogus claims of ignorance and innocence. Elsie Carlisle, by contrast, uses an adult voice, so the comic effect is more subtle. Elsie sings mostly in a parlando style, where the delivery of the lines is close to natural speech. Her more natural intonation gives her leeway to emphasize the lyrics’ ridiculous statements.

“Is There Anything Wrong in That?” was recorded in 1928-1929 in America by Helen Kate, Beth Challis, Annette Hanshaw, Ermine Callway (with the Seven Blue Babies), and Helen Charleston (with Ken Murray). In Britain it was recorded in 1929 by Lily Lapidus and The Rhythmic Eight.

"Is There Anything Wrong in That?" original sheet music

Notes:

  1. “Elsie Carlisle.” The Melody Maker. (The Gramophone Review). 4.40 (April 1, 1929): 376.

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