Music! Music! Music!
Remember that song? Are you too young? Well, it’s one that I remember well. I was 4 years old when it came out in December 1949, and my family had just moved from Chicago to New Jersey earlier that year. In case you don’t remember it, or have never heard Teresa Brewer‘s signature version, here it is:
I remember songs from long before we moved. Some were sung to me by my mother or father or one of my aunts, both traditional children’s songs and popular songs of the time, many of which were humorous novelty songs, such as Mairzy Doats, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, Swinging On a Star, and Three Little Fishies. Here’s the original 1939 Kay Kayser recording of one that I used to ask to be sung over and over.
There is one song I remember my father singing often when I was young, a 19th century popular song written about the French acrobat Jules Léotard who developed the art of trapeze, and also popularized the one-piece outfit which now bears his name. There have been several different versions of the lyrics. William Saroyan wrote a short story in 1934 inspired by the song, a Popeye musical cartoon satirized it, and the following year W.C. Fields starred in a film on the same topic. Numerous recordings were released, including a typically outrageous Spike Jones version.
Of course, the song is The Man on the Flying Trapeze. The words that I remember my father singing were slightly different from the published version, and he only sang one verse and the chorus:
Once I was happy, but now I’m forlorn
Like an old coat that is tattered and torn;
Left on this world to weep and to mourn,
Betrayed by a maid in her teens.
Oh – he’d float through the air with the greatest of ease,
That daring young man on the flying trapeze.
His movements were graceful, all girls he could please,
And my love he has stolen away.
Here’s one of many recordings made of the song. This version was recorded by comedian Eddie Cantor:
In addition to those songs that I remember being sung to me were many on 78 rpm records which were played on the big console radio and record changer that sat in the living room of our Chicago apartment, and later in the house in Fair Haven.
Some of my earliest memories are of that record changer, and the records that were played on it. I remember the Spike Jones records, which I loved. I grew up on a steady diet of Spike Jones, & my parents regularly bought new singles to add to our record albums. My almost obsessive appreciation of Spike Jones’ music probably says a lot about me. Here’s an example of one of the more outrageous and delicious parodies he put out. The song is I’m in the Mood for Love, a standard from 1935 which has been covered by literally dozens of singers. This 1954 version, unlike many of Jones’ recordings, starts right in with the shenanigans, and then goes from the ridiculous to the sublimely outrageous with a takeoff on the flamboyant pianist Liberace (parodied by Billy Barty.
I remember sitting on the love seat across from the console, probably about three years old, staring at the speaker, which was hidden behind a screen, wondering how those people managed to fit inside the cabinet, and how playing the record summoned them to perform. This isn’t the exact same console, but it’s very close, with the radio behind a door, the record changer in a slide-out drawer, and doors in the lower part of the cabinet concealing room for records and albums on either side of the speaker.
Before long I learned that the grooves on the record preserved the sound, and the needle transferred those recorded sounds to the speaker. This lesson was one that few kids would have been able to learn. My father’s father was a technophile. He had a fine Zeiss 35mm camera, and a Bell & Howell movie camera. He also had a phonograph record recorder – a huge machine with a turntable and a heavy cutting arm. Everything picked up by the microphone was tranferred to a blank disk as it turned under the needle, leaving a stream of shavings that had to be brushed away as the record turned. I know that recordings were made of me as a young boy, but I have no idea what became of them.
Once I learned how records worked, I wanted to see if I could play them without the record player. I remember one Sunday morning sitting on the love seat with one of my albums. I had taken out a record, and had gotten a needle from my mother’s sewing box, & tried running the needle around the grooves while turning the record on the love seat cushion. Of course I ended up breaking the record. Fortunately, we were able to go to a store and buy a replacement disk for the album.
We had several albums of songs and stories for young people. There was one featuring stories of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, & Porky Pig, taken from some of the Looney Tunes cartoons. Others included Danny Kaye‘s Tubby the Tuba and The Little Fiddle, Ray Bolger‘s The Churkendoose, and Johnny Mercer and other cast members telling Uncle Remus stories and singing songs from the Disney film Song of the South. My favorites were the Academy Award-winning hit song Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah and Everybody’s Got a Laughing Place. Here’s the story of Tubby the Tuba, lyrics by Paul Tripp and music by George Kleinsinger, sung by Danny Kaye, the heartwarming tale of a tuba who wanted his own song to sing.
Of course, my parents had nujmerous records of popular songs and classical music, both of which I enjoyed as much as those intended for kids. Among the popular songs were some which I always have loved: Don’t Fence Me In and The Three Caballeros, both by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, and Civilization, by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters.
When we moved to New Jersey, my brother had just turned 3 and i was about to turn 5. Before long, my mother had joined the Women’s Club in neighboring Red Bank. They produced the play based on the book The Littlest Angel, and I was cast in the lead role. The man who directed the performance was named John Toland. Yes, that John Toland, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author – although that came later. In those days, he and his wife Dorothy had a studio where she taught dancing and he gave dramatics lessons. My brother and I joined their dance company, along with the two Toland daughters, and several other kids and adults, and we put on musical reviews for the USO. veterans’ hospitals, and the like. We did tap dance routines, as well as musical numbers, which generally consisted of pantomimes to selected songs. One of the numbers we used was an Arthur Godfrey recording, a rather silly novelty song called Heap Big Smoke (But No Fire). We bought a copy of the record to practice with at home, so we discovered the flip side, which was a very bizarre, funny song, also by Arthur Godfrey, often called The Old Redhead, that I still laugh at: The Man With the Weird Beard.
I plan to bring more of these nostalgic music posts to you from time to time. There’s lots of music to share, and my tastes in music are wide and eclectic. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. This is a song from 1951, performed by Rosemary Clooney. It was written by the Armenian-Americans William Saroyan and Ross Bagdasarian, who was better known as the creator of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Based on an Armenian folksong, it was a huge hit. Of course, I’m talking about Come On-A My House.
Let this song be a reminder to come on-a my blog any old time. You’re always welcome!