Torch songs Articles

“You’ve Got Me Crying Again” (1933)

“You’ve Got Me Crying Again.”  Words by Charles Newman, music by Isham Jones (1933).  Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocal refrain by Elsie Carlisle in London on May 5, 1933.  Brunswick 01523.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-cl-as-bar / Joe Jeannette-cl-as / Harry Hayes-as / Billy Amstell-cl-ts / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d

You've got me crying again – Ambrose with Elsie Carlisle

You’ve got me crying again – Ambrose with Elsie Carlisle

Transfer by Julian Dyer (YouTube)

“You’ve Got Me Crying Again” is a particularly good torch song, or “plaintive onion-ballad of the better type,”1 if you prefer.  It is an example of a genre that Elsie Carlisle had mastered (compare her renditions of “Mean to Me,” “Body and Soul,” “He’s My Secret Passion,” “Poor Kid,” and “Have You Ever Been Lonely”), and she handles this Isham Jones piece with dramatic dexterity, combining pathos with utter cuteness.  The lyrics are the words of a person frustrated by the vicissitudes of a love relationship, but the complaints are really rather generic, and so it is impressive that Elsie is able, in the 45 seconds allotted to her, to impart character to what is fundamentally just a snippet of a speech. She outdoes herself in this recording, but she is matched by the mesmerizing instrumentals of an arrangement outstanding even by the high standards one expects of Ambrose.

Elsie Carlisle would go on to perform “You’ve Got Me Crying Again” again in the film Radio Parade (1933), where she is accompanied by a number of Ambrose’s instrumentalists.2  That performance gives one a sense of Elsie’s acting abilities; she was, after all, a lauded stage performer admired by Cole Porter, no less.  The song would make another 1933 film appearance in a performance by Ruth Etting in the short Knee Deep in Music.  But perhaps more recent audiences will be familiar with Elsie’s Ambrose version of “You’ve Got Me Crying Again” from its inclusion in Dennis Potter’s 1978 television series Pennies From Heaven, where it is mimed by actress Cheryl Campbell in lieu of Psalm 35!

In America, “You’ve Got Me Crying Again” was first recorded on February 9, 1933 by Bing Crosby.  On Valentine’s Day it was recorded by its composer, Isham Jones, with vocals by Joe Martin, and by Adrian Rollini and His Orchestra (as The Rhythm Aces), with Dick Robertson as vocalist.  That spring versions were issued by the Dorsey Brothers and Their Orchestra (Lee Wiley, vocalist), Ruth Etting, and Judy Rogers.

The same year saw British recordings by the BBC Dance Orchestra (in an arrangement by director Henry Hall, with vocals by Les Allen), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (Ivor Moreton, vocalist), Scott Wood and His Orchestra (with Sam Browne), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with vocals by Pat O’Malley, in a Peter Yorke arrangement), Syd Lipton and His Grosvenor House Band (as Ben Fields and His Band, with singer Cyril Grantham), The Blue Mountaineers (with vocals by Sam Browne and Nat Gonella), and Ray Noble and His Orchestra, in a Daily Herald Contest Record medley.

Notes:

  1. The Gramophone, edd. Sir Compton MacKenzie and Christopher Stone.  London, UK, v. 48, p. 1371
  2.   Peter Wallace was able to identify for me Bert Read at the piano and Max Goldberg on the trumpet.

“Have You Ever Been Lonely?” (1933)

“Have You Ever Been Lonely?” Music by Peter De Rose, lyrics by Billy Hill (using the pseudonym George Brown; 1932). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle in London on February 14, 1933. Decca F. 3435 mx.  GB5586-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "Have You Ever Been Lonely?" (1933)

Elsie Carlisle – “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” (1933)

In the 1933 song “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” one can detect the musical sensibilities of composer Peter De Rose, who would write “Deep Purple” to great acclaim the following year. The lyricist deserves attention, too; it was Billy Hill who collaborated with Harry Woods to produce “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By,” which Elsie Carlisle recorded twice in 1932, and which for modern listeners might be her trademark song, in no small part due to Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven television series. “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By,” however, seems very much bound to the era of its composition and has inspired few interpretations by artists since the 1930s, whereas “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” has been recorded frequently and qualifies as a standard. Perhaps it is the latter song’s simple, timeless theme which makes it so attractive to different musical treatments.

Elsie Carlisle brings to this comparatively light torch song her talent for evoking pathos with a voice that quavers selectively and whose timbre (especially around the high notes) suggests an attractive vulnerability. Her delivery is dramatic but precise: when at 2:20 she asks “How can I go on living / Now that we’re apart?” there is the faintest hint of a mournful gulp when she pronounces the word “how.” The languid pace of the recording suits her melancholy interpretation (one might compare the excellent Ray Noble/Al Bowlly version for an example of a faster-paced, generally more upbeat rendition of the tune).

“Have You Ever Been Lonely was recorded in America in 1933 by Ted Lewis and His Band, Adrian Rollini and His Orchestra (with vocals by Dick Robertson), and Chick Bullock and His Orchestra. The song was more prolifically recorded by British bands, including Maurice Winnick and His Band (with vocalist Louis Spiro), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (with Al Bowlly), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with Pat O’Malley as vocalist, in a Billy Ternent arrangement), Henry Hall’s B.B.C. Dance Orchestra (with a vocal trio including Sam Browne, in a Sid Phillips arrangement), Sam Browne and Billie Lockwood (as “Jack and Jill”), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (Ivor Moreton, vocalist), Syd Roy and His R.K. Olians (with vocals by Sam Browne), Jack Payne and His Band (with a vocal trio of Billy Scott-Coomber, Bob Busby, and Bob Manning), and Jay Wilbur and His Band (with vocalist Val Rosing). “Have You Ever Been Lonely?” also appeared in medleys by Phil Green’s Studio Orchestra, Jimmy Campbell and His Paramount Band, and Ray Noble and His Orchestra (on a Daily Herald Contest Record).

“Body and Soul” (1930)

“Body and Soul.”  Lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton, with music by Johnny Green (1930).  Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur in London c. early March 1930.  Dominion C307 mx. 1713-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "Body and Soul" (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – “Body and Soul” (1930)

In 1929, American composer Johnny Green got together with lyricists Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton to write a number of songs for British actress Gertrude Lawrence to sing on the London stage.  One of them, “Body and Soul,” was to become a jazz standard par excellence.  Lawrence, to her credit, recognized the inherent merit of the song and bought a share in it before going on to introduce it on the London stage and sing it on the radio, where it was heard by British dance band greats Jack Hylton and Bert Ambrose.  Their renditions caught the attention of the public and of bandleaders, singers, and instrumentalists alike.  After a spring fever of “Body and Soul” in London, recording of the infectious tune subsided for the summer and then resurged in America.  In mid-October the song appeared as part of the Broadway revue Three’s a Crowd and was performed and later recorded by Libby Holman.

Elsie Carlisle sang many torch songs early in her recording career; unrequited love was a theme as much in vogue then as it is now, and Elsie’s delicate, sometimes quavering voice was a suitable vehicle for conveying pathos.  Her March 1930 “Body and Soul” stands out from the rest because of her especially touching rendering of its mesmerizingly sad motifs.  It might seem amusing that this recording is paired on its flip-side with the ribald “My Man O’ War,” which is a sort of sublime, extended series of sexual double entendres, but there is something a little gritty, too,  about the lyrics of “Body and Soul” and the intensity with which Elsie expresses them.

“Body and Soul” had been recorded in early February 1930 by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with vocalist Pat O’Malley, in a Billy Ternent arrangement).  Later that month Hylton’s group would do a longer “concert arrangement” of “Body and Soul,” also with O’Malley.  Soon after, Ambrose and His Orchestra recorded two takes of the song with Sam Browne; Ambrose and Browne would go on to issue two more versions of “Body and Soul” in 1933.  The Four Bright Sparks made a recording with singer Betty Bolton that was never issued, but their take with Lou Abelardo was.  Other February versions were done by Arthur Roseberry and His Dance Band (Harry Bentley, vocalist) and Bidgood’s Broadcasters (with vocalist John Thorne).

In March, in addition to that of Elsie Carlisle, there were British renditions of “Body and Soul” by Spike Hughes, Jack Payne and His Band (an unissued take with vocalist Jack Plant), Hal Swain and His Band, Marie Burke, Herman Darewski and His Famous Melody Band, and Gracie Fields.  As the spring went on, versions were made by Pete Mandell and His Rhythm Masters (three takes, including two with Jack Plant), Carroll Gibbons (on the piano, accompanied by violin and saxophone), Nat Star (as Bert Maddison and His Dance Orchestra, with vocalist Sam Browne), Jack Leon’s Dance Band (Jimmy Allen, vocalist), and Alfredo’s Band (with Sam Browne).

From America, starting in September 1930, we have an unissued take of “Body and Soul” by Helen Morgan.  Leo Reisman appears to have been quite fond of the song, and issued three recordings, one with Don Howard, one with Frank Luther and horn player Bubber Miley, and one with Frances Maddux. There were also records by Fred Rich and His Orchestra, Ruth Etting, Annette Hanshaw, Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra, Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra, Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (with vocalist Jack Fulton), Seger Ellis, Libby Holman, and Vee Lawnhurst (accompanying herself on the piano, of course).

“He’s My Secret Passion” (1930)

“He’s My Secret Passion.” Composed by Arthur Young, with lyrics by Val Valentine (1930). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment (probably under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur) c. September 3, 1930. Imperial 2333.

Personnel:  ?Jay Wilbur dir. Jack Miranda-cl-ts / Eric Siday-vn / Harry Jacobson-p-cel / Len Fillis-g

Elsie Carlisle – "He's My Secret Passion" (1930)

Elsie Carlisle – “He’s My Secret Passion” (1930)

“He’s My Secret Passion” was written for a British crime drama called “Children of Chance” (1930) starring Elissa Landi and John Stuart. Elsie Carlisle’s September 1930 versions of the song appear on Imperial 2333 mx. 5464 with the take numbers -3, -4, and -5, and discographers Richard Johnson and Ross Laird have deduced from the high take numbers that recording spanned over more than one session. Elsie had begun to record for Imperial, where Jay Wilbur was musical director, the previous month after a four-month hiatus following the closing of Dominion Records (whose music Wilbur had also supervised).

One might reasonably call “He’s My Secret Passion” a torch song, insofar as it involves a longing lament over an unrealized romance, but the lyrics involve enough amorous boasting (e.g. “I’ll burn him up when I sit on his knee”) that perhaps the song transcends the genre. Elsie conveys her yearning with a slightly quavering voice, and her delivery becomes more confident as the argument of the lyrics becomes stronger. The studio band plays in a subdued and mellow fashion, nicely showcasing Elsie’s voice.

1930 saw British versions of “He’s My Secret Passion” (often turned into “She’s My Secret Passion,” as suggested in the original sheet music, when sung by male vocalists) by the Rhythm Maniacs (vocalist Ella Logan), Ambrose and His Orchestra (Sam Browne, vocalist), the Four Bright Sparks (vocalist Queenie Leonard, with Arthur Young on the piano), Harry Bidgood’s Broadcasters (Tom Barratt, vocalist), Bert Madison and His Dance Orchestra (Nat Star, again with Tom Barratt doing the singing), Len Fillis’s Phantom Players (vocalist Al Bowlly), and Jay Wilbur and His Band (with Les Allen as vocalist).

In America, the song was recorded in 1930 by Doris Robbins, Danny Yates and His Orchestra (with vocals by Smith Ballew), Lee Morse and Her Blue Grass Boys, Marion Harris, and in February 1931 by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (with vocals by Donald King).

“Poor Kid” (1931)

“Poor Kid.” Music by Jesse Greer, lyrics by L. Wolfe Gilbert. Recorded in London by Elsie Carlisle c. August 1, 1931 under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur. Imperial 2532 mx. 5770-2.

Elsie Carlisle – "Poor Kid" (1931)

Elsie Carlisle – “Poor Kid” (1931)

This melancholy 1931 torch song saw American versions  by Don Bigelow, Ben Selvin, and Ben Bernie. In Britain there were versions by Ambrose and His Orchestra (Sam Browne, vocalist), Jack Payne, Roy Fox and His Band (Al Bowlly, vocalist), Eddie Gross-Bart and His Café Anglais Band (Eddie Gross-Bart doing the vocals), Harry Hudson (Al Bowlly, vocalist), and Howard Godfrey’s Aldwych Players (Les Allen, vocalist).  Betty Bolton did a solo version under the pseudonym Gracie Collins.

"Poor Kid" sheet music featuring Ben Bernie
“Poor Kid” sheet music featuring Ben Bernie

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