Cocktails For Two is a pop song by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow. The song was originally introduced by Danish singer Carl Brisson, Paramount Pictures’ replacement for Maurice Chevalier in 1934’s Murder at the Vanities. This romantic ode to legalized liquor became immensely popular when it materialized after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment that banned alcohol in 1933. The song was later used in the 1947 Paramount film, Ladies Man, starring Eddie Bracken and Cass Daley. Duke Ellington’s version of the song was recorded in 1934. Other covers include Zarah Leander’s Swedish version for Odeon in 1934, Tommy Dorsey’s swing version for Victor on 31 October 1938, and Bing Crosby’s performance for CBS radio on 20 June1955. Over the years, the song inspired several parodies, including the immaculately off-key reading from 1960 by Jo Stafford and Paul Weston (as Jonathan and Darlene Edwards).
The opening moments of the song speak to the song’s origin. Mentioned discreetly in the song’s introduction is the line that people could be “carefree and gay once again” and “No longer slinking, respectfully drinking/Like civilized ladies and men.” The song seems to imply that it is the availability of liquor that makes the world safe and calm, painting a quiet picture of lovebirds enjoying their cocktails. As originally intended, the song played like a sigh of relief.
Of all the many versions of the song, however, Cocktails For Two is best remembered today due to the irreverent, comic, and sound effects-laden version by Spike Jones and His City Slickers. The City Slickers first recorded the song in 1944 with Carl Grayson supplying the vocal. It was their biggest all-time hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard charts. Cocktails For Two may just be Spike Jones’ finest moment – a rare example of where popular music and novelty overlap and are embraced by the record-buying public.
Spike Jones obviously had great fun with this song that featured the vocalizations of “glugmaster” Carl Grayson. Jones was quick to showcase Grayson’s comic vocal talents and ability to make weird sound effects, one of which was known as the “glug.” The best way to describe this sound is that it is the closest a human can come to swallowing his tongue without having to be hospitalized afterwards. The first use of this effect on record is on the tune Siam, although this is considered only a mild glug. The glugmeister took over a great deal of the vocal duties from Del Porter, who had been singing most everything in the band’s repertoire up until then. Of the six gold records earned by Spike Jones, two have vocals by Grayson, namely Cocktails For Two and Der Fuehrer’s Face. Carl Grayson is a model of how to sing while grinning.
It is often said that in order to properly satirize something, one must first reach the level of the original. Spike Jones already knew how a pop song was supposed to sound, and the first forty seconds or so of Cocktails For Two sound as if he had hired Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians to sing this section of the piece. Tightly-harmonized women sing the opening lines over soft strings, met by a crooning male singer, who set the scene. For those opening moments, the song sounds remarkably like any other record from that period – neat, polished, and insufferably boring.
And then all Hell breaks loose!!
Picking up the tempo, the crooning male singer sings: “In some secluded rendezvous” – a whistle blows, a man screams, a gunshot fires, “That overlooks the avenue” – honking car horns in traffic, “With someone sharing a delightful chat” – nonsense babble is heard, “Of this and that and cocktails for two,” – everything stops for the light “clink-clink” toast of the cocktail classes. Even when things slow down a bit for the lyrics that are harder to illustrate sonically, the madness is back in full force for the musical break, turning from an orchestra of rude mouth noises and hiccups to a searing Dixieland jazz band.
No matter how many times I listen to this record, it still strikes me how busy and varied of a sound Jones is able to create. Every honk, every whistle, every hiccup, and every clink is right where it should be, creating a sound that, while sonically silly, is musically flawless.
Spike Jones did not so much ridicule or destroy the song as he turned it completely inside-out. In his hands, Cocktails For Two is a fast, tight, and very precise record that manages to sound loose, funny, and carefree. While the composers of the piece probably would disagree, to accomplish that feat, Jones had to be some kind of a musical genius. There is simply no other word to describe what he created.
Here are the lyrics to the song (without the sound effects, of course)
Oh what delight to be given the right
To be carefree and gay once again
No longer slinking, respectfully drinking
Like civilized ladies and men
No longer need we miss
A charming scene like this:
In some secluded rendezvous,
That overlooks the avenue,
With someone sharing a delightful chat,
Of this and that,
And cocktails for two.
As we enjoy a cigarette,
To some exquisite chansonette,
Two hands are sure to slyly meet beneath a serviette,
With cocktails for two.
My head may go reeling,
But my heart will be obedient,
With intoxicating kisses,
For the principal ingredient,
Most any afternoon at five,
We’ll be so glad we’re both alive,
Then maybe fortune will complete her plan,
That all began
With cocktails for two
The song was recorded by several artists, but three versions (Duke Ellington, Johnny Green, and Will Osborne) charted on the Billboard charts in 1934 and the Spike Jones version charted in 1945. (Sorry, I do not have the Osborne version.) To listen to a song, click on the song title. To download a song, right click on the song title, then right click on Save target as
Duke Ellington and his Orchestra Cocktails For Two
Johnny Green and his Orchestra, vocals by Howard Phillips Cocktails For Two
Spike Jones and His City Slickers, vocals by Carl Grayson Cocktails For Two
Carl Brisson (from the 1934 movie Murder at the Vanities) Cocktails For Two
Zarah Leander (1934) Cocktails For Two
Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (1938) Cocktails For Two
Bing Crosby (1955 radio show) Cocktails For Two
Jonathan and Darlene Edwards Cocktails For Two