A Handful of Stars

Same personnel as June 13th.

RCA Victor Studios, New York – August 8, 1940, 11:15 AM-3:15 PM

05501-1         The Call of the Canyon (RE vcl, BF arr)    Bluebird 10845

05502-1         Our Love Affair (RE vcl)                              Bluebird 10845

05503-1         Crosstown (JL vcl)                                        Bluebird 10832

05504-1         What’s Your Story, Morning Glory? (TB vcl)   Bluebird 10832

 

RCA Victor Studios, New York – August 14, 1940, 11:00 PM-2:00 AM & 3:00-5:00 AM

055515-1      Fifth Avenue (MH & TB vcl, JG arr)    Bluebird 10860

055516-1      I Wouldn’t Take a Million (RE vcl)      Bluebird 10860

055517-1      A Handful of Stars (RE vcl, BF arr)     Bluebird 10893

055518-1      Old Black Joe (GM, ChM arr)              Bluebird 10913

 

Missouri, Kentucky, Iowa and then back to New York – the Glenn Miller band came off the road in early August 1940 for two recording sessions after nearly two months without a new disc being waxed. Song-wise, we first head out west again for THE CALL OF THE CANYON, with cowboy Ray in the saddle. Billy Hill, writer of so many Western hits, crafted this one for Gene Autry, who featured it in Melody Ranch, a 1940 Republic musical.

gmmelodyranchAutry’s Republic movies were usually pretty cheap endeavors, but this one got a budget boost, along with co-stars Jimmy Durante and Ann Miller, both somewhat out of sync with the rural setting. The film was a hit, and gave its name to Autry’s radio series and his later movie studio.

gmcalcanyonGlenn’s recording boasts an attractive Bill Finegan arrangement and a lovely opening solo by Tex Beneke. Ray sounds a bit strained and less effective than Frank Sinatra on the Tommy Dorsey rendition. The Miller chart is more imaginative than Dorsey’s, so you pays your money and you takes your choice!

OUR LOVE AFFAIR is another movie song, from the overblown Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland blockbuster, Strike Up The Band. The film costars bandleader Paul Whiteman as himself; Whiteman actually mentions Glenn in the dialogue, referring to Miller as one of the newer bands!

gm Strike Up the Band_01MGM’s all-around music guru Roger Edens wrote it, with lyrics by Arthur Freed (of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN fame). Freed was then transitioning from songwriter to film producer and would soon lead the Freed Unit at the studio, turning out some of the finest film musicals of the next two decades.

gm our love affairIt’s a sweet little song, handled well by Glenn and Ray, who sounds much happier than on the preceding track. In the film, the song acts as a lead-in to a sappy (and endless) sequence with real pieces of fruit dressed as members of a miniature symphony orchestra – no kidding!

CROSSTOWN is a forgettable novelty number, which brings Jack Lathrop back to the microphone.   Composer Nat Simon struck it big with POINCIANA and with his collaborators James Cavanaugh and John Redmond had also written THE GAUCHO SERENADE, recorded by Glenn earlier in the year.

gmcrosstownNow something really special, WHAT’S YOUR STORY, MORNING GLORY?, composed by pianist-arranger Mary Lou Williams (of the Andy Kirk band) and trumpeter Paul Webster (of the Jimmie Lunceford band). Versatile lyricist Jack Lawrence crafted a lyric to fit the meandering, bluesy melody and he sang it on the premiere recording by Andy Kirk in 1938. It sat around until mid-1940, when apparently Webster promoted an instrumental recording by the Lunceford band.

A few months later, it got to Glenn, who waxed it here with Tex Beneke on the vocal. The unfortunately uncredited arranger takes a fresh approach, giving the band a groovy “Lunceford lope,” with solos by Beneke and Johnny Best, along with Tex’s appealingly plaintive voice.

gm morning gloryyPost-Swing Era, the song was deservedly resurrected by Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’ Day and Julie London, among others.

Back to movie songs again for the August 14th session, this time from 20th Century Fox and superstar Shirley Temple’s last film there. Young People had Shirley as a 12-year-old vaudeville veteran, who, along with adoptive parents Jack Oakie and Charlotte Greenwood, leaves show business for life in a small midwestern town. The stuffy townspeople turn up their collective noses to these “show folk,” in extremely nasty ways, it must be added, until a local disaster allows the newcomers to show their worth. Personally, I would have told the smug residents to buzz off and headed back to Broadway on the first train, but that’s not how these films worked.

gm YoungPeopleThe picture was not too successful and Fox, seeing the handwriting on the wall as Shirley was reaching the awkward age, unceremoniously dumped her. The movie holds up well today, with fine performances all around and a superlative song score by veterans Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, teamed here for the first time. They would go on to write a batch of sensational songs for Fox musicals, including the scores for Glenn’s two films and the Oscar-winner, YOU’LL NEVER KNOW.

gm take a millionUnfortunately, neither of the Young People songs is handled especially well by the Miller vocalists. This might be due to the fact that this session was held in the middle of the night, between 11 PM and 5 AM! Both Marion and Ray sound pretty pooped on FIFTH AVENUE and I WOULDN’T TAKE A MILLION. Also, the Marion-Tex jive dialogue routine was starting to wear out its welcome and this turned out to be the last record that featured it.

Ray literally runs out of voice on the line, “the twinkle in your eyes” and the band sounds pretty enervated, too. An hour-long break was taken midway in the proceedings and this may have recharged the guys, as the next tune, A HANDFUL OF STARS, is an all-around winner.  Versatile Jack Lawrence also wrote these lyrics, to Ted Shapiro’s melody.  Few music aficionados are aware that this standard song came from an MGM B-musical, Hullabaloo, which reteamed Wizard of Oz co-stars Frank Morgan and Billie Burke.

gm handfulA new, more “mature” sound on Miller ballad arrangements started developing with THE NEARNESS OF YOU and now is heard on A HANDFUL OF STARS. Credit is due to arranger Bill Finegan, who wrote both. It’s a richer, slower, more thoughtful approach, providing a sympathetic frame for Ray Eberle’s vocals. A more congenial tempo and subtler backing now replace the relentless pumping rhythm of MOON LOVE and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON.

On his Chesterfield show, Glenn had a regular feature titled, “From the Album of Musical Favorites.” These included such ancient melodies as GOIN’ HOME, FLOW GENTLY SWEET AFTON, I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN KATHLEEN and Stephen Foster’s JEANNIE WITH THE LIGHT BROWN HAIR and OLD BLACK JOE. Only the last of these was recorded by Victor, almost as an afterthought at the end of the August 14th date.

Jointly arranged by Glenn and pianist Chummy MacGregor (like their DANNY BOY effort), the chart might have been around since the early days of the band. It’s a simple one-chorus performance of the theme, with MacGregor’s piano tinkling sweetly throughout.

Having these vintage public domain numbers in the band book would soon come in handy, as the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP), was starting to rumble with dissatisfaction over radio royalties paid for performances of songs they controlled. Before too long, nearly all post-World War I pop music would be off-limits for airplay, affecting everyone from Kate Smith to Duke Ellington to Glenn Miller.

gmoldblackjoe

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