Polka Dots and Moonbeams

Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Dick Fisher (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Jerry Gray, Bill Finegan (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 19, 1940, 1:00-4:30 PM

047067-1      Imagination (RE vcl)                         Bluebird 10622

047068-1      Shake Down the Stars (RE vcl)        Bluebird 10689

047069-1      I’ll Never Smile Again (RE vcl, JG arr)   Bluebird 10673

047070-1      Starlight and Music (RE vcl, JG arr)            Bluebird 10684

 

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 24, 1940, 2:00-5:15 PM

047093-1      Polka Dots and Moonbeams (RE vcl, JG arr) Bluebird 10657

047094-1      My, My (MH vcl, JG arr)        Bluebird 10631

047095-1      Say It (RE vcl, BF arr)           Bluebird 10631

047096-1      Moments in the Moonlight (RE vcl) Bluebird 10638

047097-1      Hear My Song, Violetta (RE vcl)       Bluebird 10684

047098-1      Sierra Sue (RE vcl, JG arr)    Bluebird 10638

Two Glenn Miller record sessions during the latter half of February 1940 produced ten record sides, all popular songs of the day. Nine of them had vocals by Ray Eberle, with one brief look-in from Marion Hutton. Churning out the commercial pops kept the music publishers happy; and several of these songs were hits, though not necessarily for Glenn!

gmimaginationIMAGINATION, by the prolific Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, was a major Miller success and became a standard. It’s a sweet, charming song well handled by Ray and the band. Unusually, there is no band intro, we are plunked right into the song, performed at a relaxed, medium tempo.

And who wrote the next song, SHAKE DOWN THE STARS? Jimmy Van Heusen again, this time with lyricist Eddie DeLange. The lyrics paint a pretty grim picture of thwarted love, but Miller gives it a more hopeful feel. A bluesy, Lunceford-style introduction sets the mood and Eberle’s vocal is plaintively effective.

I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN is known far and wide as a huge record hit for Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers. Their innovative, hushed chamber group approach with celeste backing was a fresh sound for the time and well suited the mournful song. In fact it was Sinatra’s first hit with the band. (Songwriter Ruth Lowe later wrote Frank’s theme song, PUT YOUR DREAMS AWAY.)

gmsmilgmgmsmiletdgmsmilefsThe story given at the time was that Ruth Lowe wrote it in the aftermath of her young husband’s death. Later it was reported that she had actually written it earlier. Whatever the case, the song certainly struck a chord with listeners.   Glenn got to it first, though. He recorded it two months before Tommy attempted it in April 1940. That first Dorsey recording was unissued; a remake a month later first hit the charts in July and was Number One for 12 weeks.

Glenn had a real head start, but his Bluebird disc was a major disappointment. Getting the standard Miller treatment, the song comes across as nothing out of the ordinary; it needed special handling, as Tommy realized.   Strangely, Glenn apparently sensed that the song had hit potential. On a March 4th broadcast, he took pains to introduce the song’s radio debut with a prediction that it would be a big hit. It was, but not for him!

STARLIGHT AND MUSIC, which concluded the February 19th session, is another forgettable recording. The song is unmemorable and it gets a decent performance, but that’s about all that can be said. Writers Maurice Hart, Al Hoffman and Walter Kent sound like nobodies, but Hoffman later wrote the score for Walt Disney’s CINDERELLA and Kent composed I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS and THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER.

gmpoladotsThe February 24th date opened with another Miller 78 hit, POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS. Whaddya know, once again the composers were Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. In the wrong hands, the cheerful lyric, referencing a “pug-nosed dream,” could border on treacle, but Glenn (and Dorsey-Sinatra) handled it well.

The lovely melody became a jazz standard, with Lester Young, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans and Johnny Hodges among those who performed it in later years.

gm1940 Buck Benny rides again (ing) 01Paramount Pictures must have had some kind of deal with RCA and/or Glenn, as Miller regularly recorded songs from their musicals. Here come two more, MY! MY! and SAY IT. The great Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh teamed up for these tuneful numbers from Buck Benny Rides Again, a Jack Benny musical Western. It featured his radio cast, taking place on his fictitious Nevada ranch that was a sketch favorite on the air.  Benny was so popular at the time that the film was one of the Top Ten moneymakers of 1940!

gmmymygmsayiteMY! MY! was a familiar catchphrase of Benny’s sidekick, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, making it an appealing title hook for a song.   Rochester sang it in the film, but here Marion takes her only vocal on these two sessions. Following Miss Hutton is the first recorded Miller solo by newcomer Ernie Caceres. This talented Mexican jazzman came to Glenn from Jack Teagarden’s band and was an important addition to the band’s jazz contingent with his spiky solos on alto and baritone sax, clarinet and even the occasional vocal.

gmsay itEberle takes a nicely relaxed vocal on SAY IT, the film’s lovely ballad. It’s a song that should have become a standard.   Ray is even more hushed and effective on a broadcast version of the song a few weeks later, part of a Something Old/New/Borrowed/Blue medley.

Society bandleader Richard Himber co-wrote the next song, MOMENTS IN THE MOONLIGHT. Himber apparently was a leader who actually wrote the songs he is credited with, including his popular theme song, IT ISN’T FAIR. Lyrics were provided by Irving Gordon and Al Kaufman. Their other hits include UNFORGETTABLE, BLUE PRELUDE and Duke Ellington’s PRELUDE TO A KISS.

It’s a pleasant number taken at the perfect medium tempo, but pitched at the high end of Ray Eberle’s range, giving his voice a strained quality. It took a long time before Glenn began to lower Ray’s keys, allowing him to sing at a more comfortable pitch. Tex Beneke peeks in briefly before the windup.

gmviolettaHEAR MY SONG, VIOLETTA had a strange lineage. It was a popular German ballad by composers Othmar Klose and Rudolf Lukesch, introduced in 1936. Somehow it made it’s way to these shores; Buddy Bernier and Bob Emmerich provided the English lyrics. It became a moderate hit, with recordings by Glenn, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey and Van Alexander. Later, in 1947, Irish tenor Josef Locke recorded it (with new lyrics by Buddy Pepper) in tango tempo and it practically became his theme song.

Glenn treats the melody as a fast ballad and Ray sings it unadorned, with slightly suspect intonation. The band swings it a bit in the final chorus, with nice cymbal work by Moe Purtill.

gmsierra s posterFinally, the six-tune February 24th session wraps up with SIERRA SUE, another Miller excursion into Western territory. Subtitled “A Song of the Hills,” it was written by Joseph B. Carey back in 1916. Dusted off 24 years later, it became the title song of a Gene Autry musical Western. Gene Krupa and Casa Loma also waxed it and it was performed by such diverse talents as soignee cabaret singer Doris Rhodes and jazzman Bud Freeman!

gmsierraThough the term “country-western music” didn’t exist in 1916, the tune is a typical prairie ballad, played in citified style by Glenn, who throws in some “boo-wah” brass phrases before Eberle’s vocal.

Ten songs in five days – that was a lot of recording in such a short time for Glenn.  It’s worth noting that of these ten, Tommy Dorsey would also record eight of them, all after Glenn did! It might simply be coincidence, but Tommy was feuding with Glenn at the time over money matters and it’s not unlikely that Dorsey wanted to cut into Glenn’s Bluebird record sales (at 35 cents a copy) by cutting the same songs for the prestigious full-priced (75 cents) Victor label.

More than a month would pass before we next join the band in the studio and a lot would happen in the interim!

gmsierrasue

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