Maurice Sigler Articles

Elsie Carlisle Medley (1937)

Elsie Carlisle committed her last Decca record to shellac on January 31, 1936 and would not start recording again with HMV until October 25, 1937 — a hiatus of one year and nine months in an otherwise consistently busy period of fifteen years (1926-1942). We must not assume a low point in her career, however, but much the opposite. Elsie’s status as “Idol of the Radio” was at an all-time high, as suggested by the evidence of newspapers and industry magazines, and her stage activities seem to have kept up unabated.

The BBC Genome project shows a fair number of radio appearances in 1936 and 1937. Importantly, a December issue of Melody Maker prints the results of a nationwide poll showing Elsie Carlisle as the most popular British female singer1. Meanwhile, a 1935 stage show featuring Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle (accompanied by pianist Ronnie Aldrich and Freddie Aspinall) morphed in 1936 into an act that featured solely Elsie. This act would continue into at least July 19372 and seems to have featured “Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses,” ending with “No, No, a Thousand Times, No!”

It should not be a surprise, then, that within days of returning to recording, Elsie recorded a collection including those two songs that went under the name “Elsie Carlisle Medley.” It was the first of two such medleys that would be released under her name in a three-month period. The medleys, which include songs that must have been perceived as somehow representative of her whole career up to that point, must reinforce her special status as a premiere vocalist.

“Elsie Carlisle Medley.” Part 1: “Gertie, the girl with the gong,” “Home James, and don’t spare the horses,” “No, No, a thousand times no.” Part 2: “Dirty hands, dirty face,” “Little chap with big ideas,” “Little man, you’ve had a busy day.” Arranged by Con Lamprecht. Recorded on November 8, 1937 in London at Studio No. 1A, Abbey Roads by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Ronnie Munro. HMV B.D. 476 matrices OEA 5869-1 and OEA 5870-1.

Elsie Carlisle - "Elsie Carlisle Medley" (1937)

Elsie Carlisle Medley (1937)

This medley, arranged, according to Richard J. Johnson, by Con Lamprecht,3 begins with Ronnie Munro’s own “Gertie, the Girl with the Gong” (Sonin-Munro; 1935), which Elsie famously recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra in 1935 (Decca F. 5486). The next two numbers were, as I have already noted, famously a part of Elsie’s stage show, but they had also been memorably recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra on Decca F. 5318 (“Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses” [Sherman-Lewis-Silver; 1934]; “No, No, a Thousand Times, No” [Fred Hillebrand; 1934]).

Part 2 of the “Elsie Carlisle Medley” is a group of songs with childhood themes. According to Richard J. Johnson,4, it was originally supposed to include “He’s an Angel” (Michael Hodges; 1936; recorded by Elsie Carlisle on Decca F. 5902), but that song was not ultimately recorded for the “Medley” session. Instead, Part 2 begins with “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” (Leslie-Jolson-Clarke-Monaco; 1923), which Elsie had never recorded. Perhaps it was part of her stage act, or perhaps she had broadcast it on the radio. The song’s popularity was long-lived, especially after Al Jolson featured it in The Jazz Singer (1927). Elsie had not recorded the next song, either: “Little Chap with Big Ideas” (Drake-Damerell-Evans) was a new song in 1937, and Elsie may very well have sung it on the radio. The last song, “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day,” was one that Elsie had recorded twice in 1934, first solo, and then with Ambrose and His Orchestra on Brunswick 01790.

Newspaper ads for the first “Elsie Carlisle Medley” described it as “Elsie Carlisle sing[ing] a medley of her successes,”5 and the tabloid Illustrated Police News (Thursday, February 10, 1938, p. 15) included the following delightful review:

Croonette

Elsie Carlisle is probably the ace girl vocalist of the radio—British radio, at any rate. She has made a record of some of her most popular hits under the heading “Elsie Carlisle Medley.”

Elsie croons through these numbers in just as delightful fashion as she does when heard “on the air….”

The success of this collection of songs may be gauged by HMV’s decision to have the “ace croonette” record “Elsie Carlisle Medley No. 2” in January 1938, which similarly included four songs that Elsie had recorded in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well as a couple that she had not recorded, but that she must have been associated with in some other way, whether through broadcast or stage.

Notes:

  1. Melody Maker 12.187 (Dec. 19, 1936) 11.
  2. The Stage issue 2,937 (July 15, 1937) 7.
  3. Elsie Carlisle: A Discography. Aylesbury, Bucks. (1994) 33.
  4. Ibid.
  5. In the Belfast News-Letter (Wednesday, February 2, 1938) 11 and elsewhere.

“I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” (1935)

“I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter.” Words and music by Maurice Sigler, Al Goodhart, and Al Hoffman (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle, accompanied by The Embassy Rhythm Eight, in London on February 15, 1935. Decca F. 5456 mx. GB6979-1.

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'm Afraid to Open Your Letter" (1935)

Elsie Carlisle (with The Embassy Rhythm Eight) -- “I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” (1935)

Like the song on the reverse side of the record (“I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance”), “I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” is about a woman receiving a piece of mail and then deliberating, hesitating, and agonizing. In the case of this song, however, the conceit is even simpler, for as the song’s title and the singer repeatedly tell us, she does not open the letter that she has received from her lover, fearing that it is a breakup letter. She tells us nothing about her relationship or her reasons for expecting its dissolution.

Lyrics of such a basic and uncomplicated nature could prove a challenge for any singer; it is hard to repeat the same idea again and again, using virtually the same words, and still to seem sincere. Elsie Carlisle pulls it off, relying both on the inherent sweetness of her voice and on her uncanny ability to evoke with a quavering voice the idea of a weepy girl.  As is so often the case, Elsie’s success in evoking sympathy is rooted in her being not just a singer but a vocal actress.

It is rare for two songs so closely united in subject matter and tone as “I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” and “I’ve Got an Invitation to a Dance” to end up on either side of a 78 rpm record. For the most part, the pairing of songs on a record seems entirely serendipitous. On both sides Elsie’s elegant interpretation of simple lyrics is complemented nicely by the playing of The Embassy Rhythm Eight, a studio recording band consisting of members of the Ambrose Orchestra.

“I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” was written by three composers well-represented in Elsie Carlisle’s songbook. Maurice Sigler was a collaborator on “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day”; Al Goodhart co-wrote “Fit as a Fiddle” and “Who Walks In When I Walk Out?”; Al Hoffman contributed to all three songs, as well as to “My Darling”; and all three men collaborated on “Rehearsing a Lullaby,” which Elsie would record later in 1935.

“I’m Afraid to Open Your Letter” was recorded in America in 1935 by Don Bestor and His Orchestra. In Britain recordings were made by the Casani Club Orchestra (under the direction of Charlie Kunz, with vocals by George Barclay), Teddy Joyce and His Dance Music (with vocals by the Four Smith Brothers), Phyllis Robins, Ann Summers, and Primo Scala’s Accordion Band (in a medley).

“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” (1934)

“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day.”  Words by Maurice Sigler and Al Hoffman, music by Mabel Wayne.  Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on May 18, 1934.  Decca F. 3990.

Elsie Carlisle - "Little Man, You've Had a Busy Day" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle -- “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” (1934)

“Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day,” a 1934 hit that has seen revivals in every subsequent decade, is a lullaby both in theme and in mood and hence runs the risk of being hopelessly saccharine.  In spite of that basic handicap, the song met with truly excellent interpretations in its first year, no doubt because the tune is fundamentally quite beautiful and the lyrics pleasantly mesmerizing, as those of a lullaby should be.

Elsie Carlisle’s “solo” version of “Little Man” is quite complete in its lyrics and even includes some bedside chatter.  The version she was to do a month later with the Ambrose Orchestra (in which the band not surprisingly plays almost as sweetly as Elsie sings) is naturally more abbreviated and leaves open the possibility that she is cooing to a husband, but the earlier version really does seem directed to a child.  One might ask what the attraction of such a song would be to an adult audience, but admittedly there is something inherently attractive about the idea of being tucked into bed by Elsie Carlisle.  Out of a great many British versions of “Little Man” recorded in the middle of 1934, it would appear that Elsie’s versions were particularly successful.  A good indicator of that success would be the fact that it reappears in the 1937 “Carlisle Medley” (HMV BD 476), a sort of “best hits” compilation.

In America that year, “Little Man” was made popular by the Pickens Sisters, Isham Jones and His Orchestra (with vocals by Eddie Stone),  Connee Boswell, and Paul Robeson.  Interpretations by British orchestras include those by Roy Fox and His Band (with vocals by Denny Dennis, in a Jack Nathan arrangement; they would revisit the song later in the year in a “Fox Favourites” medley), Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocalist Alan Breeze), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Jack Payne and His Band (with Jack Payne providing the vocals), The Casani Club Orchestra (directed by Charlie Kunz, with vocalist Dawn Davis), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Elsie Carlisle), The BBC Danc Orchestra (directed by Henry Hall, with vocals by Kitty Masters, in a Phil Cardew arrangement), Harry Leader and His Band (with Dawn Davis), and Eddie Wood and His Band.  Other British vocalists who recorded “Little Man” that year include Phyllis Robins, Gracie Fields, and Donald Peers.

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