“On a Steamer Coming Over.” Words by Joe Goodman and Henry Bergman, music by Lou Handman. Composed for The Cotton Club Parade of 1933. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on December 19, 1933. Decca F. 3812 mx. GB6425-2.
“On a Steamer Coming Over” tells the story of a fortunate encounter between a woman and a man on a presumably trans-Atlantic ocean liner. Their romance quickly grows and thrives because the couple happily has lots of time and nothing else to do, and they seem destined for marriage. The song thus encapsulates a popular twentieth-century motif in which the confinement of a long ocean journey is taken as a source of happiness and not a mere modern nuisance. Elsie Carlisle’s rendition is marked by particular sweetness and earnestness. The studio band’s performance is complemented by an extraordinarily realistic simulated ship’s horn, as well as by sounds of splashing ocean water that the pianist appears to be dreamily imitating on his own instrument at the very end of the song.
“On a Steamer Coming Over” was introduced in New York by Aida Ward in The Cotton Club Parade of 1933. The only American recorded version that I have found is that of the Meyer Davis Orchestra (with vocalist Charlie Palloy). The song was widely recorded by British artists in December 1933, including the BBC Dance Orchestra (under director Henry Hall, with vocalists Phyllis Robins and Les Allen), Roy Fox and His Band (with vocalist Denny Dennis), Billy Cotton and His Band (with Alan Breeze), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Sam Browne), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Howard Flynn and His Orchestra (with vocals by Dan Donovan), Jay Wilbur and His Band (with Phyllis Robins and Sam Browne), and Jack Payne and His Band (with Jack Payne singing the lyrics). In January 1934 there were versions recorded by Charlie Kunz and the Casani Club Orchestra (with vocal refrain by Eve Becke), Harry Leader and His Band (as Joe Taub and His Melodians, with Sam Browne), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with Ivor Moreton), Peggy Cochrane, and The Three Ginx.