In 1941, Ben Homer took bandleader, Les Brown a song on which he was working. Within a half hour, Brown changed the rhythm of the verse and added a bridge to complete the song. He gave the melody to his publisher, Buddy Morris, who had three different lyricists try their hands. Brown described what happened next: “Buddy was reading a travel book written by an Englishman and it was called Sentimental Journey, about this guy going all over Europe. He mentioned the inns he was staying in.” Morris thought it would make a good title for a song and mentioned it to Bud Green, who wrote a nice lyric. He even came up with a word to rhyme with “journey”: “Never thought my heart would be so yearny . . .”
Starting in 1940, Les Brown began altering his band’s sound by allowing room for his band soloists to go to work doing that they did best, and audiences liked the sound of “Les Brown and the Band of Renown” even better. Then Brown hired his first vocalist, a teenager named Doris Day, who sang with a depth and level of sophistication far beyond her seventeen years, and their popularity soared. Day’s first stay with the band was not long – less than a year – before she left to get married. The marriage soon soured when her husband began to abuse her. In 1943, Day had finally had enough; she divorced her husband and rejoined the band.
The result of that rejoining was one of the most enduring hits of World War II, Sentimental Journey. It not only became one of the defining hits of the big-band era, but also Les Brown’s signature tune (and, to a lesser degree, Doris Day’s signature tune). Even in the 21st century, the song is totally identified with both of them. The release of Sentimental Journey coincided with the end of World War II in Europe and was the homecoming theme for many veterans. Doris Day’s recording of Sentimental Journey became one of the defining anthems of return for soldiers taking a “sentimental journey home.”
This nostalgic tune evokes memories of the 1940s in a way few others do. The vocal was thoughtfully sung by Doris Day, despite unfounded fears of the extreme vocal ranges required. Some in the band first thought that the song was not going to connect with the younger generation, but at its debut in the Hotel Pennsylvania’s famed Cafe Rouge, the teen-agers went crazy! The song was finally recorded in 1945. The recording was released by Columbia Records, with the flip side Twilight Time. The record first reached the Billboard charts on March 29, 1945 and lasted twenty-three weeks on the chart, peaking at #1.
Like other train songs from this era, the 2/4 rhythm and strong beat fit the clickety-clack of a train, here punctuated by a line that echoes the whistle’s wail: “Seven, that’s the time we leave, at seven.”
Recordings that charted are:
Les Brown and his Orchestra Vocal by Doris Day (#1) Sentimental Journey
Hal McIntyre and his Orchestra (an instrumental version) (#3) Sentimental Journey
The Merry Macs (a close-harmony pop music quartet best known for the hit Mairzy Doats. On Sentimental Journey, they feature a bouncy arrangement where the group modulates (or augments) the verse eight times in the last half of the song, a vocal feat for any group attempting to record a song in one take without the benefit of tape editing in that era of modern recording.) (#4) Sentimental Journey
Les Brown/The Ames Brothers (In 1951, Les Brown’s orchestra re-recorded the song, with The Ames Brothers on vocals.) This was released by Coral Records as catalog number 60566, with the flip side Undecided. (#23) Sentimental Journey
Recordings that did not chart, but are worth mentioning are:
Paul Fenoulhet with The Skyrockets Dance Orchestra Vocal by Cyril Shane. Recorded in London on October 10, 1945. Sentimental Journey
Ella Fitzgerald recorded this song with Eddie Heywood and his Orchestra in 1947; it was later released on her Decca album “Ella and Her Fellas.” Sentimental Journey
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