Marty Symes Articles

“It’s the Talk of the Town” (Two Versions; 1933)

The lyrics of “It’s the Talk of the Town” present a delicate situation: a couple engaged to be married has broken up after having already sent out wedding invitations. The song could be considered a torch song, but it is an atypical one, insofar as the singer’s argument for reconciliation rests less on passionate desire than on feelings of personal embarrassment resulting from gossip, the refrain being “Everybody knows you left me: it’s the talk of the town.”

Elsie Carlisle recorded three takes of “It’s the Talk of the Town” with Ambrose and His Orchestra on October 10, 1933, but they were rejected by Brunswick. On the morning of October 13, she made a successful recording for Decca with an eight-person band whose makeup is unknown but which probably contained Ambrose men:

“It’s the Talk of the Town.” Music by Jerry Levinson, words by Marty Symes and Al J. Neiburg (1933). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment in London on October 13, 1933. Decca F. 3696 mx. GB6186-1.

Elsie Carlisle – “It’s the Talk of the Town” (1933)

In the early afternoon of the same day, Elsie would make her more famous and instrumentally more compelling recording of the song with Ambrose and His Orchestra. In this version, the emphasis on social awkwardness is highlighted by the band members’ snarling whisper: “IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN!”:

“It’s the Talk of the Town.” Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocals by Elsie Carlisle in London on October 13, 1933. Brunswick 01607 mx. GB6175-4.

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 / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g  / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d (also humming and speaking by members of the orchestra)

Ambrose and His Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle) – “It’s The Talk of The Town” (1933)

“It’s the Talk of the Town” was one of two hits written in 1933 by the team of Levinson, Symes, and Neiburg, the other being “Under a Blanket of Blue.” Neiburg had three years earlier penned the lyrics to “(I’m) Confessin’ (That I Love You),” and Levinson (under the name “Livingston”) went on in later decades to compose noteworthy music for movies and television, although his role in composing the 1943 novelty song “Mairzy Doats” should not be forgotten.

In the late summer of 1933 America saw versions of “It’s the Talk of the Town” recorded by Glen Gray’s Casa Loma Orchestra (with vocals by Kenny Sargent), Connee Boswell, Dick Robertson and His Orchestra, Will Osborne and His Orchestra, Annette Hanshaw, Red McKenzie and His Orchestra, and Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra.

As summer turned to autumn, British bands did their own versions. In addition to Ambrose’s recording and Elsie’s solo version on Decca, there were recordings made by the BBC Dance Orchestra (under the direction of Henry Hall, with vocal refrain by Phyllis Robins), Jay Wilbur and His Band (with vocalists Dan Donovan and Phyllis Robins), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with vocals by Eve Becke), Billy Cotton and His Band (Alan Breeze, vocalist), Jack Payne and His Band (with vocals by Billy Scott-Coomber), Joe Loss and His Band (with Jimmy Messini), George Glover and His Band (also with Jimmy Messini), Bertini and His Orchestra (Jack Plant, vocalist), and Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (as “Art Willis and His Band,” with vocals by Harry Davis).

“I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance” (1935)

“I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance.” Words and music by Marty Symes, Al J. Neiburg, and Jerry Levinson (1934). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with the Embassy [Rhythm] Eight in London on February 15, 1935. Decca F. 5456 mx. GB6978-1.

Personnel: Max Goldberg-t / Lew Davis-tb / Danny Polo-cl / Billy Amstell-ts / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d

Elsie Carlisle (with The Embassy Rhythm Eight) – “I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance” (1935)

“I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance” is the plaintive report of a woman who is reluctant to go to a party that might feature her ex-boyfriend (or possibly even fiancé), accompanied by a new sweetheart. Because she is hopeful for a possible reconciliation, her main concern is to prevent awkward gossip. The focus on idle talk in the context of a breakup might remind us of Elsie Carlisle’s 1933 recordings of “It’s the Talk of the Town,” and in fact that song had the same three composers.1

Elsie imbues the argument of “I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance” with poignancy while developing a vocal persona strong enough to make up for the vagueness of the lyrics. We do not know, for example, whom the woman blames for the breakup or any of its circumstances. Elsie seems to deliberate over each syllable to reveal what we do know about her character’s motivations, namely her desire to be reunited with her lover.

The melancholy  atmosphere is enhanced by the elegant but subdued playing of The Embassy Rhythm Eight (mentioned on the label simply as The Embassy Eight), a studio recording band made up of core members of the Ambrose Orchestra. I should note that on this record (unlike the one with “Whisper Sweet” and “Dancing with My Shadow,” songs for which The Embassy Rhythm Eight almost certainly played the accompaniment), both Elsie Carlisle and the band are credited on the label — a very rare occurrence. Elsie’s records are almost perfectly divided into groups that mention her name and not the band, or that mention the band and not her. Perhaps the Embassy Rhythm Eight, which had been recently formed, wanted the extra publicity.

“I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance” was recorded in America in 1934 by the Casa Loma Orchestra (with vocalist Kenny Sargent), Hal Kemp and His Orchestra, Paul Pendarvis and His Orchestra (with vocals by Eddie Scope), the Will Osborne Orchestra (with vocals by Will Osborne), Ruth Etting, and A. Ferdinando and His Orchestra.

British versions of “I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance” were made in 1935 by Roy Fox and His Band (with vocalist Denny Dennis), Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocals by Harold “Chips” Chippendall), Jay Wilbur and His Band (with singer Cyril Grantham), the New Grosvenor House Band (under director Sydney Lipton, with vocalist Gerry Fitzgerald), Lou Preager and His Romano’s Restaurant Dance Orchestra (with vocal refrain by Pat Hyde), and Scott Wood and His Orchestra (in a medley).


  1. In addition to composing “It’s the Talk of the Town” and “I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance,” Symes, Neiburg, and Levinson also collaborated on the 1935 “Star Gazing,” and Symes wrote the lyrics to “Somebody’s Thinking of You Tonight,” which Elsie would record in 1938.

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