Category Archives: Music

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.”

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.

My music of choice for 1940

Rodgers and Hart were an American song writing partnership between composer Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and the lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895–1943) that worked together on 28 stage musicals and more than 500 songs from 1919 until Hart’s death in 1943.  My favorite one is “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” – a show tune and popular song from 1940.   The song was first introduced on stage by Vivienne Segal on 25th December 1940. It was during Act I, Scene 6, and again as a reprise in Act II, Scene 4 during the Broadway production of Pal Joey.

The story was full of proper and literate rhymes as it explored a single moment of pure emotion without offering any psychological insight into the actual character.

‘I’m wild again; Beguiled again; A simpering, whimpering child again’

It was – it is – classic Lorenz Hart.

The story was actually based on a novella by John O’Hara about a night-club singer and the stage show was true to the spirit of the elegiac book.  The book was also felt to be a natural subject for Frank Sinatra and he bought the movie rights.

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!

War in Britain – great music in the US

Last week we were looking at three very different individuals and their music in the early months of the war – Noël Coward; Michael Carr (real name Maurice Alfred Cohen) and Hughie Charles an English songwriter and producer of musical theatre.   So, during the same time, what music was coming out from the USA music?

Well, Bing Crosby was the leading figure of the crooner sound as well as its most iconic, defining artist. By the 1940s he was an entertainment superstar who mastered all of the major media formats of the day, movies, radio, and recorded music.  Not too far behind Bing we can find Cabell Calloway – an American jazz singer and bandleader who was strongly associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem in New York City, where he was a regular performer.

Another man and performer of the times was Eddie Cantor (born Edward Israel Itzkowitz in January 1892). He was an American illustrated song performer, comedian, dancer, singer, actor, and songwriter.  Familiar to Broadway, radio, movie, and early television audiences, this “Apostle of Pep” was regarded almost as a family member by millions because his top-rated radio shows revealed intimate stories and amusing anecdotes about his wife Ida and five daughters. His eye-rolling song-and-dance routines eventually led to his nickname, “Banjo Eyes”.  His eyes became his trademark, often exaggerated in illustrations, and leading to his appearance on Broadway in the musical ‘Banjo Eyes’ in 1941.

I could carry on with regard to the USA and a possible war but the US ‘powers that be’ were watching what was happening there and across in Europe but not taking the next step.  That may well come next week but for this week we can look at the top 5 songs recorded via the limited chart positions by the USA watchers:

At number 5 in the ratings was Billie Holiday with ‘God Bless the Child’   

At number 4 was Jimmy Dorsey with ‘Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)’. Jimmy was also in place at 3 with ‘Green Eyes’

At number 2 we can find ‘A String of Pearls’ from Glenn Miller who was also in place at number 1 with ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.

Numbers two and one would be noted by, and listened to, by people all over the world and Glenn Miller would receive the praise – but who actually composed ‘String of Pearls and ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’?  They were Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.

Harry Warren was an American composer and lyricist and was the first major American songwriter to write for his composing primarily for film. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song eleven times and won three Oscars for composing “Lullaby of Broadway”, “You’ll Never Know” and “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe”.  Over a career spanning four decades, Harry was one of America’s most prolific film composers with his songs have been featured in over 300 films.

Mack Gordon was a Jewish-American composer and lyricist of songs for stage and film and was nominated for the best original song Oscar nine times in eleven years, including five consecutive years between 1940 and 1944, and won the award once, for “You’ll Never Know”.

So – let’s finish this week’s story with the number one of 1941 – the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.

Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
Track twenty nine, boy you can gimme a shine
I can afford to board a Chattanooga Choo Choo
I’ve got my fare and just a trifle to spare
You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham ‘n’ eggs in Carolina
When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga, there you are
There’s gonna be a certain party at the station
Satin and lace, I used to call funny face
She’s gonna cry until I tell her that I’ll never roam

 

In Britain the majority feel alone – but VERY determining.

Although the 2nd World War began with Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland in September 1939, the United States did not fully enter the war until after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, on 7th December 1941. The 1940 and 1941 conflict in Europe had received help and support from the USA – but mainly from a distance.  In Britain the majority felt alone – but VERY determining.  Music was a great support for all and as the conflict moved on into 1941 music was all around.  On 29th March Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem was premiered in Carnegie Hall conducted by John Barbirolli.  On Saturday 10th May 1941 London’s Queen’s Hall – the venue for the Promenade Concerts – was bombed by the Luftwaffe. The Proms re-locate to the Royal Albert Hall and carried on with their performances.

Let’s have a look at three – different – individuals

One key member of the community was an individual that could displays skill at wordplay and evokes a feeling of both good humour and patriotic pride.  He was Noël Coward and the song poked fun at the disorder and shortages of equipment, supplies and effective leadership that the Home Guard experienced during the Second World War. The song was “Could You Please Oblige Us with a Bren Gun?” – a humorous song written and composed by Noël in 1941.  The subject of the song was the Bren light machine gun – a weapon in high demand and short supply in wartime Britain, especially in 1941, when the British military was still recovering from the massive loss of materiel and supplies at Dunkirk. First priority was given to the British Army and the Royal Marines, with the result that the units of the Home Guard, the very last line of defence, were quite unlikely to get one. As a result, members of the Home Guard often had to make do with whatever they could get their hands on- frequently old and outdated weapons.

Michael Carr – real name Maurice Alfred Cohen – was a British popular music composer and lyricist perhaps best remembered for the song ‘South of the Border Down Mexico Way’ for the 1939 film of the same name.  However – during World War II he served in the army and wrote “He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings” with Eric Maschwitz.  He was also ‘responsible for’ “Somewhere in France with Youin 1939.  He worked together with Jimmy Kennedy for ‘We’re Gonna Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line” and “A Handsome Territorial” in 1939; in 1941 with Popplewell on “The First Lullaby“; “A Pair of Silver Wings” (1941with Eric Maschwitz) and “I Love To Sing” (1943 with Paul Misrake & Tommie Connor)

Hughie Charles was an English songwriter and producer of musical theatre. Born Charles Hugh Owen Ferry in Manchester, he is best known for co-writing with Ross Parker the songs “We’ll Meet Again” and “There’ll Always be an England”. In 1938 he and Ross Parker had enjoyed their first hit, ‘I Won’t Tell A Soul (That I Love You)’ and followed that in 1939 with the defiantly optimistic ‘There’ll Always Be An England’ and ‘We’ll Meet Again’, both of which were successful for Vera Lynn, and many other artists.  Throughout the war years, Charles wrote more than 50 songs, mostly ballads, in collaboration with a number of other writers.

We’ll come back to these when the war has ended.

A British Prime Minister; a German Chancellor and a USA Ambassador in the background – and we can listen to music!

 

We now read and write today in the year 2018 – but for today I want to take you back 80 years to the year 1938 and see what was happening in Britain.

On 17th January 1938 Joseph P Kennedy had been appointed United States Ambassador to the UK while, on 20th February, Anthony Eden had resigned as Foreign Secretary over Chamberlain’s policy towards Italy.  Lord Halifax took over Eden’s role and just under 2 months later, on 16th April 1938, the Anglo-Italian Treaty and Britain recognised Italian government over Ethiopia in return for Italian troops withdrawing from Spain.

In a different field – from the 13th to 20th August 1938 – Great Britain and the United States contested the inaugural Amateur World Series in baseball, played in the north of England. Britain won every match! This was closely followed on 23rd August when English cricketer Len Hutton scored a record Test score of 364 runs in a match against Australia.

Let’s finish this look at 1938 from a different angle that we shall return to later.

On 13th September 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in an attempt to negotiate an end to German expansionist policies.  On 29th September Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement and a resolution with Germany determining to resolve all future disputes between the two countries through peaceful means. On 30th September Neville Chamberlain returned to the UK from Munich, memorably waving the resolution signed the day earlier with Germany, and later in Downing Street giving his famous ‘Peace for our time’ speech.

We’ll have to wait for the stories above for different places but we can clearly enjoy the musical delight that was available in the year of 1938…

Just outside the top 5 were “A Gypsy Told Me” by Ted Weems and his Orchestra with Perry Como; “Cry, Baby, Cry” by Larry Clinton and “Don’t Be That Way” by BennyGoodman.

In 5th place we have Roy Acuff with the ‘Wabash Cannonball’. – In 4th place are Bob Hope & Shirley Ross saying ‘Thanks for the Memory’ while in 3rd place has Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb telling us all about ‘A-Tisket A-Tasket’.   At number 2 we find, we find  the Andrew Sisters going German with ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’ and, at number one we have Artie Shaw telling us all to ‘Begin the Beguine’.

BUT – when we look at the music of 1938 in a different way – the creators – we get a different scene.  There we find: “The Biggest Aspidistra in the World” by Tommie Connor, W. G. Haines & James S. Hancock and “Boomps-A-Daisy”, with words and music by Annette Mills.  There is also “Cinderella, Stay in my Arms” with words by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Michael Carr.

“Dearest Love”;   “I went to a Marvellous Party”;   “The Stately Homes of England” and “Where are the Songs we Sung?” were in words & music by Noël Coward.

You’re what’s the Matter with Me” was on words and music by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr and was introduced by Harry Richman and Evelyn Call in the film ‘Kicking the Moon Around’

Next week we could be kicking something much more serious.

Music and other aspects of the 1930s

For a great many the 1930s were remembered for mass unemployment with unemployment in Britain at the start of 1933 at 22.8%.  However, by January 1936 it had eased to 13.9% and in 1938 it was down to around 10%.  There was still a semi-permanent depression area in the North of England, Scotland and South Wales but new industries, such as car and aircraft manufacture, and new electronics were prospering in the Midlands and the South of England where unemployment was relatively low.

The 1930s were the great age of cinema going in Britain with many people going at least once and sometimes twice a week. The early films were black and white but in the 1930s the first colour films were made – although it was decades before all films were made in colour.  Radio broadcasting had begun in 1922 in Britain when the BBC was formed and by 1933 half the households in Britain had a radio. Television began in Britain in 1936 when the BBC began broadcasting.

From the mid-1920s to 1946 the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands. The British bands never quite adopted the kind of USA “Swing” and “Big Band” jazz and during the 1930s the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands – quite tame compared to American jazz and was generally sweeter.  Non-the-less Billy Cotton began in the 1930s and still had a prime-time TV programme until the late ’60s and Ted Heath’s fame lasted until 1964. Many others carefully adjusted as time passed.  For instant – Jack Hilton’s band was “hot” until 1933, but then became sweeter as their success grew.  Some of the lead singers also enjoyed fame on their own. Most famous were Al Bowlly and Leslie `Hutch` Hutchinson.

I’ll close off for this week with something very different from music – but something that people could nibble while they listened their music of choice …..

This decade also saw sales of ice cream boom and many new kinds of sweets introduced. Jaffa cakes had gone on sale in 1927 and Twiglets and Crunchy Bars in 1929.  Milky Way had been on sale in 1923 in the USA and arrived in Britain in 1935. Other UK arrivals included:  Snickers (1930), Mars Bar (1932), Whole Nut (1933), Aero and Kit Kat (1935), Maltsters and Blue Riband (1936) and Smarties, Rolo and Milky Bar (1937).