10 Unjustly Forgotten Songs of World War II

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I begin this entry by repeating a bit of what I wrote about the last Glenn Miller sessions by his civilian band in July 1942.

James C. Petrillo, the volatile head of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), made an announcement in June 1942. Due to a dispute over recording fees for musicians between the record companies and the AFM, Petrillo decreed that union musicians must stop all recording engagements starting August 1, 1942. Even a plea from President Roosevelt, arguing that wartime was not the moment to stop producing morale-building music, couldn’t sway Petrillo.

The record companies began a non-stop session schedule to get as many tunes on wax from their artists before the deadline. Since no one knew how long the ban would continue, even songs from films and shows that would not open until 1943 were fed into the pipeline. As it played out, younger companies Decca and Capitol, who depended heavily on current pop songs, caved in October 1943. RCA Victor and Columbia held out until November 1944, denying posterity the opportunity to fully document the Swing Era at its final peak and the early experiments in be-bop.

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Quixotically, during this terrible period in American history, pop and theater songwriting were maintaining a very high level of quality. Great new songs were flowing nonstop and fans clamored for recordings of them, but none were to be had from the major companies. The new Broadway show Oklahoma!, for instance, contained a batch of great Rodgers & Hammerstein songs that could only be heard live or on radio.   For awhile, Columbia, Decca and RCA experimented with a capella accompaniment, backing Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore and Perry Como with large choruses singing and humming in the background. These anemic-sounding discs included, of course, songs from Oklahoma!

When Decca and Capitol capitulated to Petrillo’s demands, one of the first sessions held by Decca was a recording of the original cast album of Oklahoma!, which sold over a million copies quickly.

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Some wartime hit songs managed to reach permanent standard status, despite the lack of quality recordings. These include YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY, SPEAK LOW, HAPPINESS IS A THING CALLED JOE, MY SHINING HOUR, IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, THEY’RE EITHER TOO YOUNG OR TOO OLD and even novelties like MAIRZY DOATS and MILKMAN, KEEP THOSE BOTTLES QUIET.

Other 1943-44 tunes weren’t so lucky and faded away before they were able to make much of an impression. Here are 10 favorite numbers, mostly from films, that deserved better.

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HOW SWEET YOU ARE (by Arthur Schwartz & Frank Loesser). A lovely, evocative ballad from Thank Your Lucky Stars, Warner Bros. entry into the all-star patriotic revue genre. Schwartz and Loesser wrote a full score that was performed by such stars as John Garfield, Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, Hattie McDaniel, Bette Davis and Eddie Cantor. Oddly, the worst singer among them, Bette Davis, scored big with THEY’RE EITHER TOO YOUNG OR TOO OLD, which hit just the right topical note, lamenting the loss of all the young, attractive men to the armed services.

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Radio singer Dinah Shore made a grand film debut here and creamily sang several songs, including HOW SWEET YOU ARE, one of many wartime paeans to absent lovers.

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THE CANTEEN BOUNCE (by Johnny Fortis & Max Spickol). This songwriting team wrote many forgettable songs, but this spritely swing number is not one of them. It’s a catchy number that got radio plays by Duke Ellington, Les Brown and Jerry Wald, but no recordings, which is a shame.

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MY HEART TELLS ME (by Mack Gordon & Harry Warren). The stellar songwriting team of the era crafted this gorgeous song for top Fox star Betty Grable to perform in Sweet Rosie O’Grady. Soaking in a bathtub and reading the damp sheet music with no orchestra in sight, Betty delivers an iconic rendition.

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The number had little longevity, unlike Gordon & Warren’s other big 1943 composition for a Fox blonde. Their YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, introduced by Alice Faye in Hello, Frisco, Hello won the Best Song Academy Award.

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I’M MAKING BELIEVE (by Mack Gordon & Jimmy Monaco). Benny Goodman introduced this rhythmic ballad in Sweet and Low-Down, a Fox band musical, with Linda Darnell and Lynn Bari, who sang the song with a dubbed voice as she had done in both Glenn Miller films. Eddie Sauter wrote a beautiful arrangement for Benny, which likely would have been a big hit had the band been able to record it. Harry James, Les Brown, Cab Calloway and Charlie Spivak all recognized a good tune when they heard it and played it on air, but only Hal McIntyre got to wax it after the ban ended. By then, the song had passed its chance for popularity.

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COME OUT WHEREVER YOU ARE (by Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn). Frank Sinatra’s first starring film for RKO, Higher and Higher, had produced three fine ballads for the singer – I COULDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT, THE MUSIC STOPPED and A LOVELY WAY TO SPEND AN EVENING. Sinatra recorded them for Columbia with choral accompaniment and composers Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson even got an Oscar nomination for WINK. For his next film, Step Lively, Frank insisted on hiring Styne and Cahn, who were personal friends. Their efforts produced several forgettable ballads and this charmer of a rhythm number. Sung in the film as a duet with lovely Gloria DeHaven, it should have become a Sinatra favorite, but without a recording, it went nowhere.

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HOW BLUE THE NIGHT (by Jimmy McHugh & Harold Adamson). Composers McHugh and Adamson also wrote for Sinatra’s biggest 1940s rival, Dick Haymes. The younger crooner made his film debut in Four Jills and a Jeep, another all-star patriotic effort from Fox, built around the real-life wartime USO tour taken by Martha Raye, Kay Francis, Carole Landis and Mitzi Mayfair. Haymes played a callow singing soldier, but didn’t really make an impression on film until 1945’s State Fair and Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe. A whole raft of bands broadcast this insinuating beguine, from Duke Ellington and Jimmy Dorsey to Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and Count Basie, but once again, no studio recordings.

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NOW I KNOW (by Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler). Another lightly Latin beguine, written for Danny Kaye’s lavish premiere vehicle for Samuel Goldwyn, Up in Arms. Danny took over the screen like he was born for it and the film was a solid smash. Somewhat lost along the way were several songs by Arlen & Koehler, reteaming the 1930s Cotton Club composers. Dinah Shore sang two of them, the catchy novelty, TESS’ TORCH SONG and NOW I KNOW. One of Arlen’s most inventive, rangy melodies, it only got recorded by Cootie Williams’ band for the tiny Hit label, with a vocal by young Pearl Bailey.

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SUDDENLY IT’S SPRING (by Johnny Burke & Jimmy Van Heusen). For the 1944 film version of the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin Broadway musical Lady in the Dark, Paramount dropped nearly all the original score (including the haunting MY SHIP) and only added one new number, the almost-equally haunting SUDDENLY IT’S SPRING. Sung by Ginger Rogers during an elaborate wedding dream sequence, the studio decided to cut Rogers’ vocal, leaving only a choral rendition. Without a full-out performance of the song, it went exactly nowhere with the public. Happily, in the 1950s, June Christy, Chris Connor, Stan Getz and George Shearing unearthed and recorded it.

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TIME ALONE WILL TELL (by Mack Gordon & James Monaco). Lyricist Mack Gordon scored yet again, this time with composer Jimmy Monaco, on another terrific ballad for a Betty Grable film, Pin-Up Girl. Betty didn’t sing it, however. It was given to Charlie Spivak’s band with June Hutton and the Stardusters, who performed it beautifully. Part of the number was covered by dialogue, which was a shame, since Spivak did not otherwise preserve it, even in a radio performance. Just about the only recording made was by Ella Fitzgerald, who also managed to cut I’M MAKING BELIEVE for Decca.

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SLOWLY (by David Raksin & Kermit Goell). Here’s another case of a worthy song that was excised from the film that was supposed to feature it. David Raksin had written the score for Otto Preminger’s popular 1944 Fox movie, Laura. With a lyric added by Johnny Mercer, the theme melody became a major success and a lasting standard. Preminger hired Raksin to score his next film, Fallen Angel. Desiring another hit song, he pushed Raksin and lyricist Kermit Goell to come up with one. SLOWLY was the result. Maybe it wasn’t another LAURA, but SLOWLY has it’s own definite charms. The song was heard in the background on a diner jukebox, played often by waitress Linda Darnell. Dick Haymes sang the jukebox record. Star Alice Faye also sang it in a scene while driving with Dana Andrews. For some reason, Preminger cut the Faye vocal before the film was released, in order to feature Linda Darnell more prominently. This was one of the reasons Alice quit the Fox studio as soon as the picture was completed. Aside from records by Haymes and Kay Kyser, the song faded rapidly without a boost from the movie, which also was not a success.

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A String of Pearls

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Alec Fila, Billy May (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Wilbur Schwartz, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke, Al Klink, Babe Russin (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – November 3, 1941, 12:00-5:30 PM

068066-1      Humpty Dumpty Heart (RE vcl, JG arr)      Bluebird 11369-A

068066-2      Humpty Dumpty Heart (RE vcl, JG arr)      first issued on LP

068067-1      Ev’rything I Love (RE & Choir vcl, JG arr)  Bluebird 11365-A

068068-1      A String of Pearls (JG arr)     Bluebird 11382-B

068069-1      Baby Mine (RE & Choir vcl, BF arr)             Bluebird 11365-B

068070-1      Long Tall Mama (BM arr)     Victor 27943-B

068071-1      Day Dreaming (RE & M vcl, BF arr)            Bluebird 11382-A

Glenn with newlyweds David Rose & Judy Garland - Hollywood Palladium, 1941

Glenn with newlyweds David Rose & Judy Garland – Hollywood Palladium, 1941

The stars aligned on November 3, 1941 as the Glenn Miller Band participated in one of their finest recording sessions – quality pop songs and memorable instrumentals, including one of their best-remembered hits.

Since the previous RCA session on October 20th, several events impinging on the Miller crew had occurred. First, the ASCAP radio ban ended on October 30th. Now Glenn could promote many of his recent recordings on the radio.  ELMER’S TUNE, CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO and the other Sun Valley Serenade songs started racking up airplays and began climbing the popularity charts.

The other interesting event took place within the band.  Glenn decided to restructure the reed section, moving Tex Beneke to lead alto and adding Babe Russin to split the hot tenor solos with Al Klink.  Glenn had known Russin since they both worked with Red Nichols in 1930.  Since then, Babe had become one of the most respected jazz tenor men, featured with Larry Clinton, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.  It was a coup for Glenn to snag him and Russin gets several prominent solos on this date.

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The first number was the featured ballad in Playmates, the latest film featuring Kay Kyser and his Band. As mentioned in a previous entry, Kyser and his troupe were the top moneymakers in the dance band field. This latest movie co-starred a tottering John Barrymore (in his last screen appearance) and “Mexican Spitfire” Lupe Velez, along with popular Kyser vocalists Ginny Simms and Harry Babbitt.

Kay Kyser's singers - Ginny Simms, Sully Mason, Harry Babbitt and Merwyn "Ish Kabibble" Bogue.

Kay Kyser’s singers – Ginny Simms, Sully Mason, Harry Babbitt and Merwyn “Ish Kabibble” Bogue.

These two vocal lovebirds introduced HUMPTY DUMPTY HEART, written by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. All the Kyser films featured good songs and this was one of the best.

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Despite the “novelty” title, HUMPTY DUMPTY HEART is a charming ballad. Jerry Gray’s exquisite arrangement slows the song into romance mode from the bouncy Kyser tempo. Ray Eberle delivers a tender vocal, one of his very best.  gm humpty

There is little difference between the 78 take and the alternate take 2, issued (likely by mistake) on a 1963 Camden LP.

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Eberle continues in the same hushed manner on EV’RYTHING I LOVE, the best-remembered song from Cole Porter’s hit Broadway musical, Let’s Face It.  Danny Kaye made his starring stage debut (after a featured role in Lady in the Dark) as a nervous draftee who gets involved with several hot-to-trot Army wives, played by Eve Arden and Vivian Vance.  This was the first of many wartime farces featuring namby-pamby soldiers being brutalized by drill sergeants and hungry women.  Abbott & Costello led the way on screen through a similar series of service comedies.

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Kaye jittered and twitched all over the stage, singing several of his patented tongue-twisting patter numbers and parlaying himself to top stardom. At one point, he slowed down long enough to duet EV’RYTHING I LOVE with Mary Jane Walsh, one of Cole Porter’s rare, totally sincere ballads.

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The full band (termed “Choir” on the label) backs Eberle, humming along on another finely crafted Jerry Gray arrangement.  Between vocal choruses, the unusual sound of Beneke leading the saxes is followed by his alto sax solo and Ray comfortably rising to the closing high note.

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The band strikes up a perfect dance tempo for Jerry Gray’s A STRING OF PEARLS, a Number One hit for Glenn and the band.  The simple riff leads to a series of exciting sax exchanges, first between Caceres and Beneke on altos and then Russin and Klink on tenors.  A brief lull ushers in Bobby Hackett’s exquisite gem of a cornet solo, which started as a rehearsal warm-up that Glenn persuaded Bobby to incorporate into the arrangement without alteration.

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Once more, a sympathetic microphone pickup allows the guitar (likely Bill Conway) to be heard within the rhythm section. Purtill is also in especially good form, catching every inflection with his rim shots.

Other bands picked up A STRING OF PEARLS, including Benny Goodman, who recorded an uptempo version, smoothly arranged by Mel Powell.  Jerry Gray said that he liked the Goodman rendition better than his own and would drop in to hear it at the Hotel New Yorker that winter of 1941, only a few blocks from the Miller band’s Hotel Pennsylvania.

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After three Jerry Gray charts, Bill Finegan turns his hand to BABY MINE, a gorgeous Ned Washington-Frank Churchill lullaby from Walt Disney’s DUMBO, which was about to open in theaters nationwide. This wonderfully endearing film was somewhat overlooked at the time, as the dark days of December 1941 were not the time to premiere a charming family picture.

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Fortunately, time has shown Walt’s flying elephant story to be one of his greatest achievements and it hasn’t dated one bit. Even today, the most stone-faced viewer will find himself tearing up when Dumbo’s mother, chained up as a punishment, cradles the crying tyke in her trunk while the song plays on the soundtrack.

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The disc opens with an impressionistic Finegan intro, with Chummy MacGregor’s piano tinkling in the background throughout. Ray Eberle continues his winning streak, sweetly interpreting the tune with the band choir once again offering an effective vocal cushion.

Changing modes once again, the band next tackles Billy May’s LONG TALL MAMA, a neglected swinger in the band’s library that apparently was only performed this one time, never on broadcasts. Additionally, the disc languished in the RCA vaults until the summer of 1942, when it was released on the full-priced Victor label, which the Miller band had been promoted to in April.

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Despite its obscurity, LONG TALL MAMA is a winner, fully showing off the band’s swing credentials.  Nearly all the hot soloists get a look-in – first Beneke’s cutting alto, then Ernie Caceres on clarinet (twice), a great Billy May solo, strictly in his Cootie Williams mode and lastly, Al Klink with his booting tenor.  There’s that patented Miller fade-out before a stentorian windup.  Too bad Billy May didn’t write a dozen more swinging originals for Glenn like this!

Lyricist Gus Kahn had been writing hit songs since 1914, with dozens in his portfolio. One thing Kahn hadn’t done was collaborate with Jerome Kern, the greatest composer of the era. He finally got his chance with DAY DREAMING, published as an independent song.  Ironically, it turned out to be Kahn’s last, as he died on October 8, less than a month before this recording.  DAY DREAMING is neither man’s best work, but it is a pleasant number, with the Modernaires showing up to accompany Ray, their only appearance on the session. Bill Finegan supplies a sympathetic framework.

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What a fine session! Fortunately, Glenn would be back in the studios just two weeks later, in what would be the band’s last peacetime record date.

The Spirit Is Willing

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Ray Anthony, Billy May (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); Jack Lathrop (g); Trigger Alpert (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Dorothy Claire, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 19, 1941, 10:00 AM-2:00 PM

060911-1      When That Man Is Dead and Gone (TB & M vcl, JG arr) Bluebird 11069-B

060912-1      The Spirit Is Willing (JG arr)            Bluebird 11135-A

060913-1      A Little Old Church in England (RE, M & Band vcl) Bluebird 11069-A

060914-1      Perfidia (DC & M vcl)           Bluebird 11095-A

 

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 20, 1941, 10:00 AM-2:00 PM

060915-1      It’s Always You (RE vcl, BF arr)       Bluebird 11079-A

060916-1      Spring Will Be So Sad (RE & M vcl, JG arr)             Bluebird 11095-B

060916-2      Spring Will Be So Sad (RE & M vcl, JG arr) first issued on LP

060917-1      The Air-Minded Executive (TB, DC vcl)      Bluebird 11135-B

060918-1      Below the Equator (RE & M vcl)     Bluebird 11235-B

The Glenn Miller Band concluded a sensational three-week engagement at New York’s Paramount Theater on February 18th, 1941. They spent the next two days in the RCA studio setting down eight new tracks before leaving town again.

First up were two of Irving Berlin’s less-familiar patriotic songs, the first truly World War II-influenced numbers in the band’s library. WHEN THAT MAN IS DEAD AND GONE is a not-so-subtle jab at Adolf Hitler, referred to in the lyric as “Satan with a small mustache.” It’s rather too grim a subject to swing lightly, as here. Tex Beneke and the Modernaires blend their voices for the first time and brief hot solos by Ernie Caceres and Billy May are effective, but this is not a fun disc for repeated playing!

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A LITTLE OLD CHURCH IN ENGLAND references the terrible destruction of the London Blitz in an oblique manner. The entire band acts as a vocal choir here, adding their voices effectively to Ray and the Modernaires. Though she gets label credit, new gal singer Dorothy Claire is not audibly present. It’s another depressing song that couldn’t have been too welcome in those dark days of the war. Since both of these Berlin tunes were published through ASCAP (Berlin was one of the founders of the organization, back in 1914), they got no radio exposure, which perhaps is just as well.

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THE SPIRIT IS WILLING is a more cheerful opus and totally instrumental, though “voices” are to be heard. A witty Jerry Gray original, it offers a spirited (!) conversation between Billy May and likely Mickey McMickle, alternating muted and open trumpets. They each preach the gospel, eventually resolving their differences in a plaintive coda. Another underrated disc, the number catches Gray in an Ellington-Lunceford groove and was often featured on radio by Glenn.

1940 edition of PERFIDIA with ASCAP lyric.

1940 edition of PERFIDIA with ASCAP lyric.

1941 edition of PERFIDIA with BMI lyric.

1941 edition of PERFIDIA with BMI lyric.

Next up is another biggie – PERFIDIA, one of Miller’s best-remembered hits. It had a similar history to FRENESI, another of Mexican composer Alberto Dominguez’s songs. Xavier Cugat recorded it in 1940 and co-wrote an English lyric with Will Heagney. Retitled TONIGHT (PERFIDIA), it was recorded by Gene Krupa, Ozzie Nelson and Jimmy Dorsey. This version was ASCAP-licensed, so in 1941, Milton Leeds penned a new BMI lyric, which is the one famously recorded by Benny Goodman and Glenn. Benny swung it nicely with Helen Forrest singing, but Glenn slowed it down, as he had done with FRENESI.

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Set in a lush arrangement (likely by Jerry Gray), the insinuating melody is crooned romantically by Dorothy Claire and the Modernaires, with the full band once again providing vocal support. The final instrumental chorus alternates blaring brass with hypnotic reeds, building to a completely satisfying finish – another Glenn Miller mega-hit for the grateful fans!

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Back in the studio the very next day, the band set down four more typical performances, leading off with IT’S ALWAYS YOU, a lovely Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen ballad from the second Bob Hope-Bing Crosby film, Road to Zanzibar. Glenn’s own Crosby, Ray Eberle, sings the intensely romantic lyrics in a charmingly ardent manner and Bill Finegan’s sinuous arrangement is another plus. The Miller band was earlier criticized for playing ballads too fast, but by 1941 this was no longer the case. The competing Tommy Dorsey-Frank Sinatra recording is noticeably speedier than Glenn’s. Unfortunately, being an ASCAP tune, neither of these worthy versions got any airplay.

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Glenn had recorded two songs written by his guitarist, Jack Lathrop, the preceding fall. Now he turned to a new Miller bandsman, Modernaire Hal Dickinson, for a tune, SPRING WILL BE SO SAD. Dickinson had recently composed two good numbers that Glenn played on the air but didn’t record, A LOVE SONG HASN’T BEEN SUNG and THESE THINGS YOU LEFT ME.

Ray and the Mods warble SPRING WILL BE SO SAD smoothly, backed by an able Jerry Gray chart. It’s another downer of a lyric, alluding to “this troubled world” and wartime unhappiness. The only bright spot is the exquisite coda, as the sun breaks through, via a lovely clarinet passage.

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Johnny Mercer takes us away from current events with THE AIR-MINDED EXECUTIVE, a delightful collaboration with Bernie Hanighen. Hanighen is forgotten today, but he and Mercer had teamed up for a number of 30s hits, including THE DIXIELAND BAND, BOB WHITE and FARE-THEE-WELL TO HARLEM. By this time, Hanighen had moved away from composing to become a producer at Columbia Records, working most effectively with John Hammond on Billie Holiday’s sessions.

Dorothy Claire

Dorothy Claire

THE AIR-MINDED EXECUTIVE tells the improbable tale of a forward-looking businessman who “dearly loves to fly” and romances his secretary on his “stratos-ferry.” The Miller version gives us our main chance to hear perky Dorothy Claire on record with the band, as she and Tex neatly revive the cross-talk routine that Marion Hutton had done so often with Mr. Beneke. The wordy song doesn’t give the band much to do, but it should be noted that the “airplane revving up” effect that opens the disc would be reused by Jerry Gray on KEEP ‘EM FLYING later in the year.

Concluding the February session, we go BELOW THE EQUATOR with Ray and the Mods. Its bolero rhythm suggests another song of South American origin, but Americans Charlie Tobias and Cliff Friend wrote it. Atmospheric and moody, this fine disc would be the last Glenn Miller disc for quite a long time. The band wouldn’t find themselves before a Victor microphone again for two and-a-half months. What were they doing during that period? Why, they were making a movie, in Hollywood!

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Isn’t That Just Like Love?

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Ray Anthony, Billy May (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); Jack Lathrop (g,vcl); Trigger Alpert (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Bill Finegan; Jerry Gray (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – November 8, 1940, 1:30-4:30 PM

057610-1      Fresh As a Daisy (MH, TB, JL vcl, JG arr)          Bluebird 10959

057611-1      Isn’t That Just Like Love ? (JL vcl, BF arr)         Bluebird 10936

057612-1      Along the Santa Fe Trail (RE vcl)                         Bluebird 10970

057613-1      Do You Know Why ? (RE vcl, BF arr)                  Bluebird 10936

 

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Marion Hutton, in the first of several colorful Chesterfield promotions, 1940.

Romance was running rampant in the Glenn Miller family during the fall of 1940. Marion Hutton and Ray Eberle got married (not to each other). Also tying the knot was Glenn’s personal manager, Don Haynes, to Polly Davis, Glenn’s secretary/office manager.

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FRESH AS A DAISY is a rarity for Miller – an honest-to-goodness current Broadway show tune, from Cole Porter’s Panama Hattie. Starring Ethel Merman, the rowdy show ran over a year, but produced no lasting hits. Coincidentally, DAISY was sung in the show by Betty Hutton, Marion’s sister! The Miller record is warbled by the trio of Marion, Tex and Jack Lathrop. A Porter “list” song, along the lines of LET’S FALL IN LOVE and YOU’RE THE TOP, it has none of the wit of the earlier numbers.

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There isn’t much that Glenn can do with the wordy opus, except let the singers sing and then wrap it up. One obvious lyric change – for the line, “mild as a cigarette,” Glenn’s Chesterfield broadcast versions substituted, “mild as a Chesterfield.” Gotta keep the sponsor happy!

Radio stars Jack Benny and Fred Allen had an on-air “feud” going on in the late 30s and early 40s that spilled over from their starring programs to other shows and finally, to the movies. Love Thy Neighbor was the cinematic version of the quarrel, starring Benny, Rochester, Allen and lovely Mary Martin, thrown in for songs and romantic complications.

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In addition to the new songs by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, Mary Martin also performed MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY, which had put her on the Broadway map a few years earlier.

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Jack Lathrop croons ISN’T THAT JUST LIKE LOVE, which was sung in the film by the Merry Macs vocal group. It’s pleasant, but not nearly long enough. Tex barely gets started on his solo after the vocal and is cut short by the sudden coda. As with a number of the rhythm tunes Glenn recorded during this period, there was plenty of room for an additional chorus or more.

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DO YOU KNOW WHY takes its time, at a comfortable ballad tempo. It’s a superior song, aside from the questionable “until the cows come home” lyric line. Once again, Ray Eberle gets a better showcase in Bill Finegan’s plush arrangement than Frank Sinatra’s on the rather formulaic Tommy Dorsey disc. Sinatra is in great form, however. For those Miller detractors that complain about Glenn’s fast ballad tempos, let it be noted that the Dorsey recording is taken more rapildy, as are many of the other 1940 Frank/Tommy records.

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Back to the prairie again for ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL, a tie-in with the epic motion picture, Santa Fe Trail. This was a fanciful retelling of the pre-Civil War hunt for abolitionist John Brown.  Brown was portrayed by Raymond Massey and historical figures Jeb Stuart, George Custer and Kit Carson were enacted by Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan and Olivia DeHavilland. The story was mostly historical hogwash, but the film was exciting and very successful.

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The title song was woven through the musical score and became quite popular.  Composer Will Grosz was by now dead for nearly a year, but apparently was still turning out hits! Veteran lyricist Al Dubin wrote the words and this right combination resulted in a first class recording of a lovely song. There’s nothing formulaic about this (uncredited) Miller ballad chart, which frames Ray Eberle at his very best.

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While events within the Miller band were running smoothly and successfully, the outside world was steadily encroaching on America’s isolationist bubble. War news from Europe was getting increasingly worse and the nation’s first peacetime draft was enacted at the end of October 1940,  Closer to home, another war was brewing between the radio networks and ASCAP that would have more immediate effects on Glenn and the orchestra.

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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

A Paramount October

Tommy Mack (tb) replaces Toby Tyler; Benny Carter (arr) added

RCA Victor Studios, New York – October 3, 1939, 11:30 AM-2:30 PM

042780-1     Blue Rain (RE vcl)       Bluebird 10486, Victor 20-1536

042781-1     Can I Help It ? (RE vcl)           Bluebird 10448

042782-1     I Just Got a Letter (MH vcl)   Bluebird 10448

RCA Victor Studios, New York – October 9, 1939, 11:30 AM-4 PM

042923-1     Bless You (RE vcl)     Bluebird 10455

042924-1     Bluebirds in the Moonlight (MH vcl, BC arr)   Bluebird 10465

042925-1     Faithful Forever (RE vcl)       Bluebird 10465

042926-1     Speaking of Heaven (RE vcl)             Bluebird 10455

ParamountTheaterTimesSquare1940s8x10Glenn Miller and his band got massive on-air exposure during their spring and summer gigs at the Meadowbrook and Glen Island, but didn’t make much money. Now that they were hitting the road, the money was pouring in. Their September-October three-week engagement at the New York Paramount alone would wind up grossing them $150,000, an amazing quantity of money for 1939!

How they managed to squeeze in two record dates while playing all day at the theater is a wonder.   The October 3rd date begins with two Ray Eberle vocals, both songs composed by Jimmy Van Heusen, with different wordsmiths, Johnny Mercer and bandleader-songwriter Eddie DeLange. Van Heusen would contribute close to a dozen songs to the Miller discography and later teamed with Sammy Cahn to become Frank Sinatra’s “house” composer.

gm blue rainBLUE RAIN is not one of Mercer’s more inspired lyrics, but the Miller arrangement is so charming that it carries the performance along. It was enough of a hit that it was reissued in 1943, as the backing for one of the band’s final recordings, CARIBBEAN CLIPPER.

gmcan i help itCAN I HELP IT? is totally forgotten, both as a song and as a Miller recording, never reissued until the 1980s. A standard-issue pop tune of the era, it does capture the band and Eberle at their most relaxed.

I JUST GOT A LETTER is a welcome swinger after a surfeit of ballads. Dave Franklin’s song (he was the composer of THE MERRY-GO-ROUND BROKE DOWN and WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME) isn’t much, but the Miller crew mixes it into quite a tasty salad, with a nice Marion vocal, touches of Hal McIntyre’s sax and Moe’s drums. Some loose riffing winds it up. Somehow, the great Ethel Waters, who rarely handled this type of novelty, also waxed it for Bluebird!

Only three tunes were captured at the October 3rd session, but nearly a week later, the band set down its usual allotment of four songs, with Ray, once again, getting the majority of them.

BLESS YOU sounds very unpromising, as either a benediction or the response to a sudden sneeze. It’s one of the few songs written by Don Baker, then the featured organist at the Paramount Theater. Glenn likely got the tune from him during this engagement. Eddie Lane’s lyrics are pretty unimaginative, but the song is quite melodic and the chart shows off the reed sound at its lushest. Ray sings a lower ending here, but on an aircheck issued by RCA, he makes an octave jump and goes way high for the final notes.

By accident or design, Glenn managed to record a number of songs from kid-friendly films – THE WIZARD OF OZ, PINOCCHIO, DUMBO, MR. BUG GOES TO TOWN and here, two songs from Max Fleischer’s cartoon feature, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS.

gm gulliverParamount Pictures’s dependable house composers, Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, wrote both. FAITHFUL FOREVER was the movie’s hit ballad and features tightly muted brass and one of Eberle’s sweetest vocals. Great for romantic fox-trotting and holding your best gal close.

gmfaithfulGT sheet musicWe get a welcome dose of Marion on BLUEBIRDS IN THE MOONLIGHT, which is also distinguished by a Benny Carter arrangement. A bit of Chummy’s boogie-woogie piano starts it off, with some imaginative reed backgrounds, as one would expect from Carter. After Marion’s twinkly vocal, with her sounding more self-assured than usual, Clyde Hurley, who has been barely in evidence for the last few sessions, gets an excellent half-chorus solo. A real winner all around.

Composer Jimmy Van Heusen returns with SPEAKING OF HEAVEN, another celestial ballad. Lyricist Mack Gordon would later play a very important part in the Miller pantheon, as the wordsmith for both of Glenn’s feature film scores. Tex Beneke is featured on the unusual intro and Ray takes a very smooth vocal.

And that’s it, recording-wise, for October 1939. However, between these two sessions, Glenn made a prestigious appearance at another important venue, which luckily was recorded – we’ll cover it next time!

“Ain’t Cha Comin’ Out?”

Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Mickey McMickle (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Al Mastren (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz (cl,as); Hal Tennyson (as,bar); Tex Beneke, Al Klink (ts); Chummy MacGregor (p); Dick Fisher (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – June 22, 1939, 12:15-2:15 PM

037675-1      Oh! You Crazy Moon (RE vcl)          Bluebird 10329

037676-1      Ain’t Cha Comin’ Out? (MH, TB vcl)            Bluebird 10329

RCA Victor Studios, New York – June 27, 1939, 1:30-4:00 PM

037699-1      The Day We Meet Again (RE vcl)    Bluebird 10344

038200-1      Wanna Hat with Cherries (MH vcl)            Bluebird 10344

038200-3      Wanna Hat with Cherries (MH vcl)            first issued on LP

038201-1      Sold American (GM arr)       Bluebird 10352

038202-1      Pagan Love Song (GM arr)   Bluebird 10352

038202-2      Pagan Love Song       first issued on LP

038202-3      Pagan Love Song       first issued on CD

 

Six more Miller tunes to gladden the fans and jukeboxes!  Eberle ballads, Hutton rhythm tunes, hot instrumentals – all bases covered on these two sessions.  Ray leads off with a big Miller favorite, OH, YOU CRAZY MOON, by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. The team wrote many hit songs for Bing Crosby films, but this was a stand-alone effort which Bing did not record at the time.  Taken at a brisk “businessmen’s bounce” tempo, the band and Ray sound relaxed, with some nice Miller trombone in the last chorus.

OhYouCrazyMoon-2

AIN’T CHA COMIN’ OUT? is an odd swing ditty, by Marx Brothers’ composers Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. The tempo takes two dramatic pauses during the vocals, which likely threw dancers off. As Marion and Tex do their thing, the rhythm section percolates nicely, with Purtill flashing front and center.

June 27th leads off with a stinker – THE DAY WE MEET AGAIN is a lesser effort from Will Grosz, a Viennese avant-garde classical composer, who settled in Britain after the Nazi takeover. He turned to pop songwriting and produced hits like HARBOR LIGHTS, RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET and ISLE OF CAPRI. Grosz died at the end of 1939, so this must have been one of his last compositions. Too bad it wasn’t a better song . Ray sounds rather leaden and the performance is pretty listless.

As a song, WANNA HAT WITH CHERRIES is no better, but the whole performance sparkles and swings. Marion Hutton is saddled with the dopey lyrics, but tosses them off in her usual effervescent manner. Written by bandleader Larry Clinton, who recorded the song four days before Glenn, it was enough of a hit for Mr. Miller that he was still playing it on broadcasts more than a year later.

gm sold american

One of the very few tunes Glenn remade on record, SOLD AMERICAN comes off much better than the Brunswick version from 1938. The improvement in the rhythm section is immediately noticeable. Tex’s solo is markedly less corny than the first time around, Glenn sounds nearly the same and Clyde Hurley on hot trumpet is pretty much an equal swap for Johnny “Zulu” Austin on the first version.

paganlovesong

We wind up with PAGAN LOVE SONG, a huge hit back in 1929 from composers Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, the SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN guys.  Originally a dramatic waltz song performed by MGM hunk Ramon Novarro in the part-talkie, THE PAGAN, it had been swung in more recent years by Bob Crosby and Glen Gray.  Glenn had been playing his hot version since 1937 and finally waxed it here. It’s one of his best swing arrangements, full of good solos.

Glenn leads off in a brash manner and Al Klink makes his first solo appearance with a typically fleet-fingered effort.  An excellent tightly-muted Hurley chorus follows, then Tex who is somewhat less effective than usual at this killer tempo. Purtill winds it up with blaring brass in the foreground.  In a rare occurrence, all three preserved takes of the PAGAN LOVE SONG have been issued, with different solo improvisations between them and a clinker here and there on the later takes.

paganposter

Songs from a more recent MGM musical film would figure in Glenn’s next session, two weeks later!