Category Archives: 1940s

Mr Bing Crosby ‘Swings on a Star’

There are some problems for the 1944 chart details in that very few are available.  However, we do have the top five very clearly recorded.  These are:

At number 5 we have Ella Fitzgerald and The Ink Spots with ‘I’m Making Believe’ that entered the charts in November 1944 and for 2 weeks in December were at number 1.

Number 4 had Bing Crosby telling someone that ‘I Love You’.  It came into the charts in April 1944 and was 5 weeks at number 1 in May’.

Number 3 was also Bing – this time saying ‘I’ll be Seeing You’.  This hit the lists in May 1944 and was number 1 for 4 weeks in July

Number 2 has a slight change in that Bing here was accompanied with the Andrew Sisters who was asking Bing to ‘Don’t Fence Me In’.  This hit the charts in November and was number 1 for 8 weeks.

Number 1 had – surprise surperise – was Mr Bing Crosby ‘Swinging on a Star’.  That came to the charts in June 1944 and for 9 weeks in August 1944 and beyond was top of the list.

There was a link here.  ‘Going My Way’ was a 1944 movie that starred Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald and revolved around a young Priest played by Bing who comes, secretly, to the aid of an older priest who is about to lose his parish. The older Priest – Father Fitzgibbon – was played by Barry Fitzgerald and both asked “Would You Like To Swing On A Star?”. That and “Too – Ra – Loo – Ra – Loo – Ra”, were both part of this motion picture that was not a musical as much as a film that involved music.

The story of “Would You Like To Swing On A Star?” became the key to getting money to save the parish and the song has an interesting history. Jimmy Van Heusen, a song writer who was working on the film was at Crosby’s house for dinner one evening. One of the Crosby’s sons complained of not wanting to go to the school the next day. Crosby looked at his son and said to him, “If you don’t go to school, you might grow up to be a mule. Do you wanna do that?” The rebuke became the inspiration that would inspire an Academy Award Winning song!

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It’s One for my Baby – and I’ll have one myself!

“One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” is a hit song written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer for the 1943 movie musical ‘The Sky’s the Limit’.  It was first performed in the film by Fred Astaire and was popularized by Frank Sinatra. Harold Arlen described the song as “another typical Arlen tapeworm” – a “tapeworm” being the trade slang for any song which went over the conventional 32 bar length. He called it: “a wandering song’. Not only was it long – forty-eight bars – but it also changed key. Johnny made it work”. In the opinion of Harold’s biographer the song was “musically inevitable, rhythmically insistent, and in that mood of ‘metropolitan melancholic beauty’ that writer John O’Hara finds in all of Arlen’s music.”   So what was this HIT?

“One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)”

It’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place except you and me
So, set ’em up, Joe, I got a little story I think you should know
We’re drinkin’, my friend, to the end of a brief episode
Make it one for my baby and one more for the road

I got the routine, put another nickel in the machine
I’m feelin’ so bad, can’t you make the music easy and sad
I could tell you a lot, but you’ve got to be true to your code
Just make it one for my baby and one more for the road

You’d never know it but buddy, I’m a kind of poet
And I got a lot of things I’d like to say
And when I’m gloomy, won’t you listen to me
Till it’s talked away

Well that’s how it goes and Joe, I know your gettin’ anxious to close
And thanks for the cheer, I hope you didn’t mind my bendin’ your ear
But this torch that I found it’s gotta be drowned or it soon might explode
So, make it one for my baby and one more for the road
The long, it’s so long, the long, very long …

This classic drinking song was written for the 1943 film The Sky’s the Limit, where it was performed by Fred Astaire. The song is about a lovelorn guy who drinks away his girl problems at a bar – he has one drink for the girl, and another one for the ride home. In the movie, Astaire’s character gets tipsy but still manages a world class dance routine before smashing every piece of glassware for his big finish.  The most famous version of this song is by Frank Sinatra, who first recorded it in 1947 when he was at Columbia Records, and again for the Young at Heart soundtrack in 1954. His definitive version, however, was in 1958 for Capitol Records. Released as the last song on his album Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, he recorded it with arranger Nelson Riddle at Capitol’s studios on Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles.

When Sinatra performed the song in clubs, it was a dramatic moment: a single spotlight would shine on his face and he would sing it accompanied by just his piano player Bill Miller and a cigarette. For the 1958 session, a crowd gathered in the studio to watch Sinatra record, and Dave Cavanaugh at Capitol recreated the club atmosphere by turning off the lights except for one that shined on Sinatra. “The atmosphere in that studio was exactly like a club,” said Sinatra. “Dave said, ‘Roll ’em,’ there was one take, and that was that. The only time I’ve known it to happen like that.”

Irvin Berlin, Bing Crosby and a White Christmas

Irving Berlin was an American composer and lyricist, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. Born in Imperial Russia he arrived in the United States at the age of five and published his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy”, in 1907.  He received 33 cents for the publishing rights!  Four years later – in 1911 – he had his first major international hit – “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” – and that sparked an international dance craze in places as far away as Berlin’s native Russia.  Over the years he was known for writing music and lyrics in an American uncomplicated, simple and direct style with the stated aim to “reach the heart of the average American,” whom he saw as the “real soul of the country”. 

He wrote hundreds of songs, many becoming major hits, which made him famous before he turned thirty. During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 20 original Broadway shows and 15 original Hollywood films.

It was in 1942 when words and music came from Irving Berlin and a response came from on Bing Crosby.  That response was because Bing had heard ‘White Christmas’ and wanted to use it!  However – it didn’t stop Berlin fretting about the song in the first few months of its life.  The often brash and always insecure Irving approached each new song as if his life depended on it.  He insisted on being in the room with Crosby to hear it for himself – but to make sure he got a genuine reaction, he stayed out of sight until he heard Crosby’s favorable comments.  Berlin had originally based White Christmas on his own memories of spending Christmas in the Beverly Hills’ sunshine, among the palm trees, longing to be with his family in snowy New York.  In an original draft the song dealt with

White Christmas” is a 1942 Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. The version as sung by Bing Crosby is the world’s is recorded as being the best-selling single with estimated sales in excess of 100 million copies worldwide.  Other versions of the song, along with Crosby’s, have sold over 50 million copies.

Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song. One story is that he wrote it in 1940, in warm La Quinta in California, while staying at the La Quinta Hotel, a frequent Hollywood retreat also favored by writer-director-producer Frank Capra, although the Arizona Biltmore also claims the song was written there. He often stayed up all night writing—he told his secretary, “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”

The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby on his NBC radio show ‘The Kraft Music Hall’ on Christmas Day, 1941. He subsequently recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers and for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78 rpms discs from the musical film ‘Holiday Inn. At first, Crosby did not see anything special about the song. He just said “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.” The song established that there could be commercially successful secular Christmas songs – in this case, written by a Jewish-American songwriter.

The song initially performed poorly and was overshadowed by Holiday Inn‘s first hit song: “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”. By the end of October 1942, “White Christmas” topped the ‘Your Hit Parade’ chart and remained in that position until well into the New Year. It has often been noted that the mix of melancholy—“just like the ones I used to know“—with comforting images of home—”where the treetops glisten”—resonated especially strongly with listeners during WW2. A few weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbour, Crosby introduced “White Christmas” on a Christmas Day broadcast. The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song. The recording is noted for Crosby’s whistling during the second chorus.

In 1942 alone, Crosby’s recording spent eleven weeks on top of the Billboard charts. The original version also hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade for three weeks, Crosby’s first-ever appearance on the black-oriented chart. Re-released by Decca, the single returned to the No. 1 spot during the holiday seasons of 1945 and 1946 (on the chart dated January 4, 1947), thus becoming the only single with three separate runs at the top of the U.S. charts. The recording became a chart perennial, reappearing annually on the pop chart twenty separate times before Billboard magazine created a distinct Christmas chart for seasonal releases.

The version most often heard today on the radio during the Christmas season is the 1947 re-recording. The 1942 master was damaged due to frequent use. Crosby re-recorded the track on March 19, 1947, accompanied again by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers, with every effort made to reproduce the original recording session. The re-recording is recognizable by the addition of flutes and celesta in the beginning.  Although Crosby dismissed his role in the song’s success, saying later that “a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully,” he was associated with it for the rest of his career.

In 1941 people were asking ‘How About You’.

How About You? was a popular song composed by Burton Lane, with lyrics by Ralph Freed that was introduced in the 1941 film ‘Babes on Broadway’ by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  Now the lyrics of the song are often changed depending on the recording artist but in its original form it was a humorous romantic duet, though rarely has it been recorded that way!

Certain lyrics, especially those with topical references, are often changed based on the time of the performance’s release. For example, the line “Frank Roosevelt’s looks give me a thrill” was changed to “James Durante’s looks” in a 1950s recording by Sinatra, though he did sing it in its original form with Dorsey back in the 1940s.

Burton Lane is said to have approached song writing ‘the way a carpenter approaches cabinet making’!  In doing some digging on the matter I find that he had dropped out of school at the age of 15 and was found playing the piano in an Atlantic City hotel where he was heard by George Gershwin’s mother Rose.  The tune that he was playing at the time was ‘S’wonderful’ by George Gershwin.  Rose allegedly said to him, ‘Not only do you play like George, you look like him’. Lane idolized Gershwin, so that was praised indeed.  Burton Lane later claimed that it was George who had encouraged him to start writing popular songs.   They certainly remained close friends for the rest of George’s short life – he died on 11th July 1937 just 39 years old.

A 1941 song that asked the question ‘How About You?’

How About You? was a popular song composed by Burton Lane, with lyrics by Ralph Freed that was introduced in the 1941 film ‘Babes on Broadway’ by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  Now the lyrics of the song are often changed depending on the recording artist but in its original form it was a humorous romantic duet, though rarely has it been recorded that way!

Certain lyrics, especially those with topical references, are often changed based on the time of the performance’s release. For example, the line “Frank Roosevelt’s looks give me a thrill” was changed to “James Durante’s looks” in a 1950s recording by Sinatra, though he did sing it in its original form with Dorsey back in the 1940s.

Burton Lane is said to have approached song writing ‘the way a carpenter approaches cabinet making’!  In doing some digging on the matter I find that he had dropped out of school at the age of 15 and was found playing the piano in an Atlantic City hotel where he was heard by George Gershwin’s mother Rose.  The tune that he was playing at the time was ‘S’wonderful’ by George Gershwin.  Rose allegedly said to him, ‘Not only do you play like George, you look like him’. Lane idolized Gershwin, so that was praised indeed.  Burton Lane later claimed that it was George who had encouraged him to start writing popular songs.   They certainly remained close friends for the rest of George’s short life – he died on 11th July 1937 just 39 years old.

To Which We Serve

There are times when ‘doing what you plan to do’ gets done – and there are also times when ‘what you planned to do’ didn’t get done – and today I am not sure which of these apply – so I’ll leave it to you to decide!  It’s a part of our ‘Music for Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’ story – but doesn’t specifically contain either!  Last week our 1942 story had two new singers on the scene. This week we are all at sea with the story of HMS Kelly- a K-class destroyer of the British Royal Navy and the flotilla leader of her class. She had served through the early years of the Second World War in Home Waters, off Norway and in the Mediterranean. Throughout the ships service it was commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten. The vessel was lost in action in 1941 during the Battle of Crete.

In 1942 a British patriotic war film, directed by Sir Noël Peirce Coward and Sir David Lean, with the assistance of Britain’s Ministry of Information, came on screen.  It was called ‘In Which We Serve’ with a screenplay inspired by the exploits of Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten.  In the Box Office the film was the second most popular movie at the British box office in 1943 and was one of the most successful British films ever released in the US, earning $1.8 million in rentals.  Noël Coward had composed the music as well as starring in the film as the ship’s captain. The film also starred John Mills, Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson and Richard Attenborough – it was Richard’s first screen role. ‘In Which We Serve’ also received a full backing by the Ministry of Information which offered advice on what would make good propaganda.  The film remains a classic example of wartime British cinema through patriotic imagery of national unity and social cohesion within the context of war.

However – there were ‘responses’. 

A New York Times writer observed, “There have been other pictures which have vividly and movingly conveyed in terms of human emotion the cruel realities of this present war. None has yet done it so sharply and so truly as In Which We Serve… For the great thing which Mr. Coward has accomplished in this film is a full and complete expression of national fortitude … Yes, this is truly a picture in which the British may take a wholesome pride and we may regard as an excellent expression of British strength.”

Variety called the film “a grim tale sincerely picturized and splendidly acted throughout” and added, “Only one important factor calls for criticism. It is that all the details are too prolonged. The author-producer-scriptwriter-composer and co-director gives a fine performance as the captain of the vessel, but acting honours also go to the entire company. Stark realism is the keynote of the writing and depiction, with no glossing of the sacrifices constantly being made by the sailors.”

Despite largely positive reviews by audiences and critics alike, the film was not well received by some within the Admiralty who dubbed it “In Which We Sink“.  None-the-less – on Christmas Eve 1942 in New York, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures honoured the film as the ‘Best English Language Film of the Year’ citing Bernard Miles and John Mills for their performances.  The film was nominated in the 1943 Academy Awards but lost to ‘Casablanca’ for Best Picture and ‘Princess O’Rourke’ for Best Original Screenplay. However, Noel Coward was presented with an ‘Academy Honorary Award for “his outstanding production achievement.”   In 1943 ‘In Which We Serve’ also won the ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award’ for Best Film’, beating Casablanca’, and the ‘Argentine Film Critics Association Award for Best Foreign Film in 1943.

1942 sees two ‘new’ singers on the scene

The war was now across the whole world but the music of the US in 1942 brought a top five tracks that would last long after the conflict had ended.  These were:

At number 5 was ‘A String of Pearls’ by Glenn Miller while, at number 4, Jimmy Dorsey was telling the story of ‘Tangerine’ with Vaughn Monroe’s version very close behind.

Glenn Miller was also at number 3 – this time with ‘Moonlight Cocktail’ – with Paul Whiteman ‘Traveling Light’ at number 2.

At number 1 was Alvino Rey – or Bing Crosby – or Horace Heidt – or the Merry Macs – but, which ever we chose, all will tell us the same story – the story that was ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’!

Meanwhile in Britain, without any question, the most popular vocalist of the time and place was Vera Lynn“the forces’ sweetheart”.  She sang just about every well-known wartime song in her concerts and in her travels to the troops.  I remember my Dad sending a message back to mum and me at home saying they had enjoyed ‘Vera Lynn singing and talking to everyone out in the desert one afternoon – but he could not say where it had happened’. I know he also had two or three more ‘shows’ from Ms Lynn – but he never did say where they were!

There was, however, more than one side to all of this – and that came to the fore in February 1942 when bandleader Tommy Dorsey said of an singer:  ‘He’s a great singer, but ya know, you can’t make it without a band.  Every singer has got to have a band behind him’. Tommy was talking about a twenty-six-year-old singer who was riding the crest of phenomenal popularity.  Wherever this singer appeared with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra he would be greeted with screams, sighs, and fainting spells from a faithful contingent of over-stimulated female bobby-soxers greeting his every phrase, motion, and intonation with loud and rapturous delight.

Having spent the previous seven years paying his musical dues – a tour with a Major Bowes’ amateur unit; a stint as a singing waiter, a year as vocalist with the struggling Harry James orchestra – one Frank Sinatra now felt he was ready for a solo career, even if his boss Tommy Dorsey said he was ‘a damn fool’ for considering it!

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on 12th December 1915 – an American singer, actor, and producer who would become one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century.  He became one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide and would find success as a solo artist after he signed with Columbia Records in 1943, becoming the idol of the “bobby soxers” when he released his debut album, ‘The Voice of Frank Sinatra’ in 1946.

Noel Coward and London Pride

Noel Coward wrote “London Pride” in the spring of 1941, during the Blitz. According to his own account, he was sitting on a seat on a platform in Paddington station, watching Londoners going about their business quite unfazed by the broken glass scattered around from the station’s roof damaged by the previous night’s bombing: in a moment of patriotic pride, he suddenly recalled an old English folk song which had been apparently appropriated by the Germans for their national anthem, and it occurred to him that he could reclaim the melody in a new song. The song started in his head there and then and was finished in a few days.

The song has six verses. The opening lines, repeated three times within the song, are:

London Pride has been handed down to us, London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us, and our pride it forever will be.

The flower mentioned is Saxifraga x urbium, a perennial garden flowering plant historically known as ‘London Pride’. The song was intended to raise Londoners’ spirits during the Blitz. It was also circulated after the July 2005 bombings.

Coward acknowledged one of the traditional cries of London – “Won’t You Buy My Sweet-Smelling Lavender” as the starting-point for the tune, but he also pointed out the similarity with “Deutschland uber alles”, which he claimed was based on the same tune. It contrasts with many of the major-key, grandiose melodies used to celebrate patriotism, including God Save the King and Land of Hope and Glory. Its orchestration also contrasts with those anthems, employing muted strings and a celeste, rather than a pipe organ and a choir.

The words above – the story above – are an introduction to today’s story line. In an hour or so time the full words for London Pride will appear for you – just as it would had done so many years ago!

Here are the lyrics for London Pride as promised a short time ago:

London Pride has been handed down to us.  London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us, and our pride it for ever will be.
Woa, Liza, see the coster barrows, vegetable marrows and the fruit piled high.
Woa, Liza, little London sparrows, Covent Garden Market where the costers cry.
Cockney feet mark the beat of history. Every street pins a memory down.
Nothing ever can quite replace The Grace of London Town.
INTERLUDE

There’s a little city flower every spring unfailing

  Growing in the Growing in the crevices by some London railing,
Though it has a Latin name, in town and country-side
We in England call it London Pride.
London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be.

Hey lady, when the day is dawning, see the policeman yawning on his lonely beat.
Gay lady, Mayfair in the morning, hear your footsteps echo in the empty street.
Early rain and the pavement’s glistening; all Park Lane in a shimmering gown.
Nothing ever could break or harm the charm of London Town.

INTERLUDE
In our city darkened now, street and square and crescent,
We can feel our living past in our shadowed present,
Ghosts beside our starlit Thames Who lived and loved and died
Keep throughout the ages London Pride.
London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be.

Grey city, Stubbornly implanted, Taken so for granted For a thousand years.
Stay, city, Smokily enchanted, Cradle of our memories and hopes and fears.
Every Blitz Your resistance Toughening, From the Ritz To the Anchor and Crown,
Nothing ever could override The pride of London Town.

Songwriters: Noel Coward / Noel Pierce Coward   London Pride lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Two war-time happenings in one day in May 1941

Last week we were talking abought war in Britain and great music in the USA.  This week we have a surprise when a man from Germany arrived in Scotland with no music but had tea and chatter with a local family.

It was on the night of Saturday 10th May 1941 that David McLean, a Scottish farmer, found a German Messerschmidt airplane ablaze in his field and a parachutist who identified himself as Captain Alfred Horn.  The pilot had left an airfield near Munich in a small Messerschmidt fighter-bomber a little before 6 p.m., flying up the Rhine and across the North Sea. He used all his considerable skill by navigating such a course alone, using only charts and maps, on a foggy dark night over largely unfamiliar terrain – and all the while avoiding being shot down by British air defenses!  By 10:30, he was over Scotland, out of fuel, and forced to bail out just 12 miles from his destination.  He was injured and lying in a field so David took him to the house and his mum was soon serving him a cup of tea by the cottage fireside.  For nearly an hour the ‘visitor’ chatted with McLean, his mum and various relatives that had learned about the crash.

But – their surprise guest was no ordinary Luftwaffe pilot.  He was, in fact, Rudolf Hess, a long time Hitler loyalist!  He had joined the Nazi party in 1920, stood with his friend Adolf Hitler at the Beer Hall Putsch, and served in Landsberg prison.  It was in there that he had taken dictation for much of Mein Kampf.  As deputy Fuhrer, Hess was positioned behind only Hermann Goering in the succession hierarchy of the Nazi regime that had Europe firmly under the heel of its jackboot.  His appearance on Scottish soil was a self-described mission of peace just weeks before Hitler would launch his ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union, was one of the war’s strangest incidents.  We’ll take this a little further another day.

While this was happening in Scotland the worst air raid on London during the Blitz was taking place.  Destruction was spread out all over the city, with German bombers targeting all bridges west of Tower Bridge, factories on the south side of the Thames, the warehouses at Stepney, and the railway line that ran north from Elephant and Castle.  Over 500 bombers flew to London on the night of 10 May, the full moon lighting their snaking path along the Thames. The pilots had 15 minutes to locate and bomb their targets once they reached London.  However the bombing lasted nearly seven hours, starting at 11pm on 10 May and continuing until the all-clear sounded at 5.50am the next morning. The British anti-aircraft batteries and RAF night-fighters managed to shoot down 33 planes, but despite their best efforts, 10th -11th May 1941 was one of the most destructive raids of the war.

Meanwhile – on that same night – David McLean, a Scottish farmer, found a German Messerschmitt airplane ablaze in his field and a parachutist who identified himself as Captain Alfred Horn.  The pilot had left an airfield near Munich in a small Messerschmitt fighter-bomber a little before 6 p.m., flying up the Rhine and across the North Sea. He used all his considerable skill by navigating such a course alone, using only charts and maps, on a foggy dark night over largely unfamiliar terrain – and all the while avoiding being shot down by British air defences!  By 10:30, he was over Scotland, out of fuel, and forced to bail out just 12 miles from his destination.  He was injured and lying in a field so David took him to the house and his mum was soon serving him a cup of tea by the cottage fireside.  For nearly an hour the ‘visitor’ chatted with McLean, his mum and various relatives that had learned about the crash.

But – their surprise guest was no ordinary Luftwaffe pilot.  He was, in fact, Rudolf Hess, a long time Hitler loyalist!  He had joined the Nazi party in 1920, stood with his friend Adolf Hitler at the Beer Hall Putsch, and served in Landsberg prison.  It was in there that he had taken dictation for much of Mein Kampf.  As deputy Fuhrer, Hess was positioned behind only Hermann Goering in the succession hierarchy of the Nazi regime that had Europe firmly under the heel of its jackboot.  His appearance on Scottish soil was a self-described mission of peace just weeks before Hitler would launch his ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union, was one of the war’s strangest incidents.

I’ll come back to this – and the responses – later