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“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)

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)

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).

“Tell Me More About Love” (1929)

“Tell Me More About Love.” Words and music by Bert Page. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle, accompanied by Jay Wilbur and His Orchestra (uncredited) c. late June 1929. Dominion A. 168 mx. 1363-3.

Personnel: Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-as-ts / Norman Cole-vn / vn / vn / Billy Thorburn-p / Dave Thomas or Bert Thomas-bj-g / Harry Evans-sb / Jack Kosky-d

Elsie Carlisle – "Tell Me More About Love" (1929)

Elsie Carlisle – “Tell Me More About Love” (1929)

“Tell Me More About Love” is a woman’s account of her love-making technique. Her approach is to seem innocent and to want instruction in the ways of love; hence the repetition of the title line “Tell me more about love.” She represents herself as a sort of student (“I don’t know what to do — / I can learn lots from you…”; “Teach me all — please don’t wait…”). She is “bashful” and “shy,” and explains that “love has never come [her] way,” but then she lets it slip that the various “lines” that she is rehearsing are ones that she practices every night with a different boy! In retrospect, her earlier request to have the lights dimmed or even turned off should have given her away.

Elsie Carlisle’s perky and chatty delivery in “Tell Me More About Love” showcases her talent for dramatizing a song and making it somewhat conversational, in spite of the absence of an interlocutor. Here Elsie’s delivery sounds a bit like that of Helen Kane, minus, of course, the exaggerated Bronx accent. Elsie’s romantic whimper at the end of the song is particularly precious, rivaled only by the primal girlish giggle in “Wasn’t It Nice?” (recorded the next year). A light  and upbeat piece of music, “Tell Me More About Love” contrasts nicely with Elsie’s decidedly plaintive rendition of “Mean to Me” on the flip side of the record.

“Tell Me More About Love” was also recorded that year by Mabel Marks, the Arcadians Dance Orchestra (under the direction of Bert and John Firman), Florence Oldham (accompanied by Sid Bright on the piano and Len Fillis on the guitar — Oldham  is sometimes portrayed on the sheet music), Kay and Kaye (a.k.a. Stanley Kirkby & Rita Bernard), and Billy Bartholomew, an English bandleader who recorded primarily in Germany from 1924-1938.

“My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes” (1931)

“My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes.” Words by Ted Koehler and Eddie Pola, music by Jack Golden (1931). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur on c. June 10, 1931. Imperial 2489 mx. 5717-3.

Personnel: Jay Wilbur dir. Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / George Clarkson-cl-ts / Norman Cole-?George Melachrino-vn / Billy Thorburn or Pat Dodd-p / Bert Thomas-g / Harry Evans-sb / ?Max Bacon-d-vib

Elsie Carlisle – "My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes" (1931)

Elsie Carlisle – “My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes” (1931)

“My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes” is a somewhat bizarre reflection on the topic of avian overindulgence. It begins with an introduction that marvels at a recent upheaval in social norms:

All this world is up to date —
Even children stay up late.
Things are not just what they used to be.
All this world is off its nut,
Going crazy, nothing but!
Just get this earful from me…

The singer proceeds to list off the ways in which 1931’s fast-paced, bibulous, dance- and sex-crazed society has affected the habits and health of a pet canary. The bird seems to have been infected with a passion for every form of loose living and pedestrian moral decadence. He dances “snake hips.” He is obsessed with some sparrow or another. He may be in some embarrassing sort of trouble (the reference in London recordings of this song to “look[ing] in Swaffer’s column” involves a notorious newspaper source of gossip). Finally, instead of responding favorably to birdseed, it is gin that he now likes — or harder stuff, in some versions.

The words of the song vary a good deal from singer to singer. Elsie Carlisle’s version for the Imperial label references a number of other songs: “Makin’ Whoopee”  (1928), which Eddie Cantor popularized and which provided Anglophone culture with a new term for sexual congress; “The Prisoner’s Song” (1925), which deals with a man who is to be jailed and who will be without his sweetheart — a useful comparandum for the formerly solitary canary in his cage; and “What Is This Thing Called Love” (1929), which only seems to be found in Elsie’s versions, probably out of respect for her having introduced the song two years earlier.

The success of Elsie’s Imperial recording of “My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes” rests in her realization of the fundamental silliness of the song’s underlying concept. She rattles off the catalogue of her pet’s newfound moral weaknesses fairly seriously, and the mock-solemnity of her complaint enhances the comic effect. We can see this approach to the song in her Pathétone short from the same year that also features it:

Elsie Carlisle (1931)

Elsie Carlisle (1931)

Video from British Pathé (YouTube)

“My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes” was recorded in 1931 by Sophie Tucker and by Marion Harris, two American singers then working in London. It was recorded in Wisconsin by Lawrence Welk and His Orchestra (with vocalist Frankie Sanders).  British artists who recorded the song that year were the Debroy Somers Band (with vocalist Dan Donovan), The Waldorfians (with vocalist Al Bowlly), Billie Lockwood, and Fred Spinelly.

“Deep Water” (two versions; 1933)

“Deep Water” was composed by Hungarian-born Tin Pan Alley composer Jean Schwartz, with words by Canadian lyricist Alfred Bryan. The song employs an extended metaphor of shipwreck to describe emotional distress and a feeling of desperate loneliness. The singer complains of being submerged in deep seawater and asks for an oar, a lifeline, or, failing those, prayers or sympathy. Her plight would appear to be entirely figurative, her ailment psychological depression, not drowning; so it is funny that the refrain ends with the complaint “Deep water never drowns my troubles for me!” Here the expression “drown your sorrows” (which usually refers to resorting to alcohol) is invoked, and it clashes with the larger theme of drowning from depression. The overall effect of the song is thus a playful, rather than a genuinely depressing, one.

Elsie Carlisle first recorded “Deep Water” on a solo record, with an excellent but anonymous studio band:

“Deep Water.” Music by Jean Schwartz, lyrics by Alfred Bryan (1931). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle on March 3, 1933. Decca F. 3507 mx. GB5629-1.

Elsie Carlisle – "Deep Water" (1933)

Elsie Carlisle – “Deep Water” (1933)

This March recording of “Deep Water” is melancholy for its first few seconds but straightway becomes more upbeat. Elsie’s delivery of the song’s complaint is in every way fun and is complemented by a piano solo whose virtuosity drowns any idea that the song is meant to be depressing.

On May 9, 1933, Elsie recorded three takes of “Deep Water” with Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band: one on Sterno 1187, one on Four-in-One 44, and one that appeared both on Plaza P-103 (with the band identified as “Brockman’s Band”) and on Lewis L-4 (where the band is called “Phil Conrad’s Serenaders.” The arrangement that Oscar Rabin used is somewhat more morose than Elsie’s original recording but catchy nonetheless:

“Deep Water.” Recorded by Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (as Brockman’s Band) with vocals by Elsie Carlisle on May 9, 1933. Plaza P 103 mx. L995-1.

Personnel: Harry Davis-bj-g dir. Hamish Christie-t-tb / Johnny Swinfen-Raymond Doughty-cl-as / Sid Brown-cl-ts / Oscar Rabin-bsx-vn-ldr / Alf Kaplan-p / Cecil Walden-d

Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (with Elsie Carlisle) – "Deep Water" (1933)

Oscar Rabin and His Romany Band (with Elsie Carlisle) – “Deep Water” (1933)

The only other contemporary recording of “Deep Water” would appear to be the one that Maurice Winnick and his band made on May 12, 1933, with vocals by Sam Browne.

"Deep Water" Sheet Music featuring Elsie Carlisle
“Deep Water” Sheet Music featuring Elsie Carlisle

“Since I Found You” (1927)

“Since I Found You.” Words by Sidney Clare, music by Harry Woods. Recorded by Elsie Carlisle at Studio B, Hayes, Middlesex, on May 6, 1927. HMV B. 2489.

Since I Found You – Elsie Carlisle

Elsie Carlisle – “Since I Found You” (1927)

Video by David Weavings (YouTube)

“Since I Found You” is an effusive love song, but one vague on details: the song tells us very little about the “I” or the “you” of the title. Even the sex of the “I” is only implied by that of the singer; there is nothing internal to the song that suggests boy-loves-girl or girl-loves-boy, the two most obvious scenarios for a popular song of the early twentieth century. Ironically, the ambiguity of “Since I Found You” may be one of its strengths.

When I first began to listen carefully to different versions of popular songs from this period, I marveled that artists and arrangers were so adept at shifting the male and female pronouns in love songs around to suit the sex of the singer (and thus incidentally to preserve a heterosexual norm). At length I came to the conclusion that the lyrics were carefully written that way in the first place. A commercially ambitious Tin Pan Alley songwriter would never want to limit the number of artists who could record his music by using words that could not easily be swapped out. An example of success in this regard would be “I Can’t Get Over a Girl Like You (Loving a Boy Like Me)”; the pronouns in the title are simply begging to be reversed, as they were when Elsie Carlisle sang them.

“Since I Found You” is particularly ingenious in this regard, insofar as it mostly involves the first and second grammatical persons (“I” and “you”); there are no he‘s that need to become she‘s. In fact, the “I” of the song tells us practically nothing about himself (or herself) or about the “you” of the song, except to say that the former is absolutely ecstatic about having found the latter. The singer expresses his or her joy by insisting that the whole universe feels it, by transferring his or her feelings to heavenly bodies, birds, bees, and insects. This clever use of the pathetic fallacy renders the song simultaneously more general and even vague (and thus requiring no adaptations for sex) and yet entirely effective as an effusive emotional outpouring.

I do not mean to suggest that there is any doubt as to Elsie Carlisle’s identity in her version of “Since I Found You”; to the contrary, she is ebullient in a feminine and perhaps even girlish way. The lack of a real plot line does not prevent her from vocally caressing each of the lyrics’ hyperbolic claims regarding the transformation of the natural world by her love life. Elsie’s dulcet cooing is complemented in this 1927 recording by the piano playing of Carroll Gibbons.

“Since I Found You” was recorded in 1926 and 1927 in America by Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike) and His Hot Combination, Vincent Lopez and His Casa Lopez Orchestra, Jim Miller and Charlie Farrell, and Vaughn de Leath (in January with an orchestra and in February with piano accompaniment).

British recordings were made in 1927 by Bert Firman’s Dance Orchestra, Bert and John Firman (as Eugene Brockman’s Dance Orchestra), Teddy Brown and His Café de Paris Band (with vocalist John Thorne), Jack Payne and His Hotel Cecil Orchestra (with Jack Payne singing), and the Savoy Havana Band. In late 1927 Al Bowlly recorded “Since I Found You” with Arthur Briggs’ Savoy Syncopaters Orchestra in Berlin.

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

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