Sam Coslow Articles

“This Little Piggie Went to Market” (1934)

“This Little Piggie Went to Market” is a mock-lullaby based on the famous nursery rhyme and game of playing with an infant’s toes. One might, therefore, expect it to have had a fairly innocuous origin. Instead, one finds that the song was composed for the 1934 American movie 8 Girls in a Boat, which tells the story of a teenage girl at a boarding school in Switzerland who finds that she is pregnant and contemplates suicide.1

These unwholesome themes are typical of movies made in the period before the so-called “Hays Code” went into effect and ushered in an era of Hollywood self-censorship. All the more representative of the pre-Code period are the numerous scenes portraying teenage girls exercising in swimsuits, who at one point go so far as to blast each other with water from hoses and giggle with glee. The filmmakers seem to have sobered up from their gratuitous portrayal of the youthful feminine form at some point and had the girls of the school sing Coslow and Lewis’s “This Little Piggie Went to Market” as they have their evening glass of milk before bed (and instrumental versions of the theme can be heard at other points in the score). Perhaps we can take the lyrics “I dream and pray one day I’ll say / To a cute little piggie of my own, / ‘This little piggie went to market, / And this little piggie stayed home'” as a hint that this salacious and yet somehow quite forgettable film will have a happy ending, as it does? But only, of course, after considerably more rope-skipping and swimming.

“This Little Piggie Went to Market.” Lyrics by Sam Coslow, music by Harold “Lefty” Lewis. Composed for the Paramount picture 8 Girls in a Boat (1934). Recorded in London on February 2, 1934 by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocalist Elsie Carlisle. Brunswick 01694.

This Little Piggie Went To Market - Ambrose & his Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle)

This Little Piggie Went To Market -- Ambrose & his Orchestra (w. Elsie Carlisle)

Video by David Weavings

The Ambrose version of “This Little Piggie Went to Market” features an impressive arrangement that gives the impression of a pastoral lullaby, although at points it grows so powerful and insistent that it almost jars with the simplicity of the vocal refrain. Elsie Carlisle’s cooing intonation of the latter is a sincere depiction of the hope of future motherhood. One can entirely understand why Ambrose chose her, only a few months later, to sing in his version of “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” (especially as she had already made a lovely version of that other nursery-themed song with her own name on the label). This is just one of many cases where the coquettish flapper Elsie of the late 1920s is converted to the more sentimental tastes of the new decade — but the conversion is not an entirely unhappy one. Her versatility as an artist who can evoke a convincing character in under a minute and twenty seconds is on display here, and one can enjoy it even while admitting that the song is rather saccharine.

“This Little Piggie Went to Market.” Recorded in London on February 7, 1934 by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment. Decca F. 3887 mx. GB6532-2.

Elsie Carlisle - "This Little Piggie Went to Market" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle -- “This Little Piggie Went to Market” (1934)

It seems highly likely that the orchestral accompaniment to Elsie’s solo version of “This Little Piggie Went to Market” consisted of members of Ambrose’s band, as they had been recording at Decca’s studios that day, and the two record matrices preceding this recording are theirs.2 The arrangement is comparatively subdued, leaving more room for Elsie’s gentle interpretation of the simple lyrics. All the same, the instrumental interpretation of the theme is quite beautiful and enjoyable.

“This Little Piggie Went to Market” was recorded in late December 1933 in Los Angeles by the Pickens Sisters on a Victor transcription, and in New York in early 1933 by Victor Young and His Orchestra (v. Jane Vance), Freddy Martin and His Orchestra (v. Helen Ward), and Chick Bullock and His Levee Loungers. In London it was recorded in early 1934 by Jack Payne and His Band (v. Jack Payne), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (v. Al Bowlly), Harry Leader and His Band (with an unknown vocalist), and Howard Flynn and His Orchestra (v. Harry Bentley).

Notes:

  1. Henry Parsons has pointed out to me that 8 Girls in a Boat is also the origin of the song “A Day Without You.”
  2. Johnson, Richard J. Elsie Carlisle: A Discography. Aylesbury, UK, 1994, 25.

“The Show Is Over” (1934)

“The Show Is Over.” Words and music by Sam Coslow, Con Conrad, and Al Dubin (1934). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on May 18, 1934. Decca F. 3990 mx. TB1259-2.

Elsie Carlisle - "The Show Is Over" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle -- “The Show Is Over” (1934)

“The Show Is Over” is a “fox trot ballad” in which the singer expresses disappointment and a sense of disillusionment over a love relationship that has been dissolved. It relies on an extended theatrical metaphor: the singer has “played the part of the fool in the play” by being taken in by her former partner, who was “just acting a part in the play” when he pretended to be in love. Realizing that their relationship has been more like acting than real life and that in reality her lover is in love with someone else, the singer suggests that the two put away any pretense of being friends, concluding that “the show is over.”

The song had three songwriters, but I detect most in it the sensibility of Sam Coslow. Elsie Carlisle recorded four songs in 1934 for which Coslow had written words, music, or both, the others being “This Little Piggie Went to Market,” “A Place in Your Heart,” and “My Old Flame.” All are excellent songs, in spite of the fact that they take the risk of being saccharine, sentimental, or overly serious. All four songs, therefore, benefit from Elsie Carlisle’s skills as an actress; even while singing that “the show is over,” she impersonates perfectly the disillusioned lover and lends sincerity to what could otherwise be a somewhat artificial role.

“The Show Is Over” was also recorded in 1934 by the BBC Dance Orchestra (directed by Henry Hall, with songwriter Sam Coslow on the vocals), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with vocals by Ivor Moreton), Roy Fox and His Band (with singer Peggy Dell), Alex Freer and His Band, Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocal refrain by Alan Breeze and Harold “Chips” Chippendall), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Jay Wilbur and His Band (with vocalist Leslie Douglas), the Casani Club Orchestra (under the direction of Charlie Kunz, with singer Harry Bentley), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Sam Browne), Bertini and His Band (with Leslie Douglas), and Larry Brennan and the Winter Gardens Dance Band (with Ken Beaumont singing “The Show Is Over” as part of a medley).

“A Place in Your Heart” (1934)

“A Place in Your Heart.” Words and music by Sam Coslow. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on June 14, 1934. Decca F. 5071 mx. TB1320-2.

Elsie Carlisle - "A Place in Your Heart" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle -- “A Place in Your Heart” (1934)

“A Place in Your Heart” is a comparatively conventional love song whose lyrics feature the singer’s professed wish to inhabit a metaphorical dwelling place in her lover’s heart (“Some secret little corner where I’d stay, / Lock the door and throw the key away….”). The tune is pleasant and catchy, but the strongest point of Elsie Carlisle’s version of the song is her passionate yet sincere interpretation of its themes. The extent to which she made the song her own can be gauged by comparing her version to that of composer Sam Coslow himself.

“A Place in Your Heart” was also recorded that year in Britain by Ambrose and His Orchestra (with vocalist Sam Browne), the BBC Dance Orchestra (under the direction of Henry Hall, with vocals by Les Allen, in a Van Phillips arrangement — at a recording session which also featured vocals by composer Sam Coslow himself, singing another of his songs, “Cupid”), The Masterkeys (vocals by Leslie Douglas), Jack Payne and His Band (with Ronnie Genarder), and Louis Freeman and His Playhouse Band.

“My Old Flame” (1934)

“My Old Flame.” Composed by Arthur Johnston (who also wrote “Pennies from Heaven”), with lyrics by Sam Coslow. Elsie Carlisle with Ambrose and His Orchestra (Embassy Club, London, November 1, 1934). Decca F 5293.

My old flame - Ambrose and his orchestra with Elsie Carlisle

“My Old Flame” -- Ambrose and His Orchestra with Elsie Carlisle

Video by Julian Dyer (YouTube)

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