Tag Archives: Music of the 1950s

Si el Señor será tan*

Cover illustration: Two mexican peasants pushing a horse-drawn cart and photo of Les Paul and Mary Ford

Cover illustration: Two mexican peasants pushing a horse-drawn cart and photo of Les Paul and Mary Ford

I have always been taught to say “the Lord Willing” whenever I spoke of future plans in my life. Over the years, I have grown to respect and to repeat the phrase. It is one of those phrases that hits me just about every time I hear it.

Well, it hit me again with the 1955 song Amukiriki, which is Spanish for “The Lord Willing.”

Amukiriki is a melodious little song written by Bob Russell and Jerry Livingston that charted in 1955, reaching the number thirty-eight position. The only charted recording was by Les Paul and Mary Ford. This song was not one of the duo’s greatest hits, certainly nothing like How High The Moon, Bye Bye Blues, The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise, and Vaya Con Dios. The song apparently was used in a film entitled Amukiriki that featured Les Paul and Mary Ford. The film was inspired by the true travel adventure of Senora Adriana de Zola in Baja California, Mexico. (I have not been able to find any other information about this film.)

Les Paul (birth name: Lester William Polsfuss) met country-western singer Iris Colleen Summers in 1945. They began working together in 1948, at which time she adopted the stage name of Mary Ford. They were married in 1949. The songs they recorded featured Mary Ford harmonizing with herself and Les Paul’s multiple guitars. Paul and Ford used the now-universal recording technique known as close miking, a system in which the microphone is less than six inches from the singer’s mouth. This produces a more-intimate, less-reverberant sound than is heard when a singer is one foot or more from the microphone. When implemented using a pressure-gradient (uni- or bi-directional) microphone, it emphasizes low-frequency sounds in the voice due to the microphone’s proximity effect and can give a more relaxed feel because the performer is not working so hard. The result is a singing style that diverged strongly from the unamplified theater-style singing, that was heard in musical comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.

Les Paul had hosted a fifteen-minute radio program, The Les Paul Show on NBC Radio in 1950, featuring his trio (Ford, rhythm player Eddie Stapleton, and himself) and his electronics, recorded from his home and with gentle humor between Paul and Ford bridging musical selections, some of which had already been successful on records, some of which anticipated the couple’s recordings, and many of which presented re-interpretations of such jazz and pop selections as In The Mood, Little Rock Getaway, Brazil and Tiger Rag.

The show also appeared on television a few years later with the same format, but excluding the trio and retitled The Les Paul & Mary Ford Show (also known as Les Paul & Mary Ford at Home) with Vaya Con Dios as the theme song. Sponsored by Warner Lambert’s Listerine mouthwash, it was aired on NBC Television during 1954-1955, and then syndicated until 1960. The show aired five times a day, five days a week for only five minutes (one or two songs) long, and therefore was used as a brief interlude or fill-in in programming schedules. Since Paul created the entire show himself, including audio and video, he maintained the original recordings and was in the process of restoring them to current quality standards until his death in 2009.

During his radio shows, Paul introduced the fictional “Les Paulverizer” device, which multiplies anything fed into it, such as a guitar sound or a voice. It was Paul’s way of explaining how his single guitar could be multiplied to become a group of guitars. The device even became the subject of comedy, with Ford multiplying herself and her vacuum cleaner with it so she could finish the housework faster. Later, Paul created a real Les Paulverizer that he attached to his guitar. The invention allowed Paul to access pre-recorded layers of songs during live performances so he could replicate his recorded sound on stage.

* Si el Señor será tan is Spanish for “If the Lord shall will it so.”

Amukiriki (The Lord Willing)
Words and Music by Bob Russell and Jerry Livingston

Amurkriki, amukiriki, amukiriki
The Lord willing I’ll be with you
A distant journey, a safe tomorrow
Then you’ll hold me as I always want you to

In Mexico, amukiriki is as old as Mexico
And it means the Lord be willing
If the Lord shall will it so
Only then will there be harvest
Only then will rivers flow
No more adios to you
I’ll be close to you
If the Lord shall will it so

So I say “amukiriki”
With you deep inside my heart
Knowing that the Lord be willing
We won’t always be apart
After many purple twilight’s
We will see a morning glow
And I will run to you
Bring the sun to you
If the Lord shall will it so


Les Paul and Mary Ford


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Nostalgia For a Lost Love

The Beatles’ 1965 song Yesterday may be the most recorded song according to The Guinness World Records, but Autumn Leaves has to rank up there pretty high, as evidenced by the number of recordings in this post. And these recordings are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Originally, Autumn Leaves was a 1945 French song entitled Les Feuilles Mortes (literally “The Dead Leaves”) with music by Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma and lyrics by French surrealist poet Jacques Prévert. The Hungarian title is Hulló levelek (“Falling Leaves”).

Movie poster for the film Les Portes de la Nuit

Movie poster for the film Les Portes de la Nuit

The Italian born, French singing idol Yves Montand introduced the song in the 1946 film Les Portes de la Nuit, a gloomy urban drama set in post World War II Paris. Scriptwriter and poet Jacques Prevért and director Marcel Carné had been responsible for a string of films spawning the French “poetic realism,” a genre upon that the American film noir movement was based. Although Les Portes de la Nuit was a commercial failure, it fared much better when released in the United States several years later under the title Gates of the Night.

As the 1940’s waned, so too did the public’s appetite for the Tin Pan Alley style ballad. With decreasing demand for his sophisticated talents, lyricist Johnny Mercer found himself penning words for instrumentals. In the case of Les Feuilles Mortes, Mercer would not have thought twice about renaming what was literally “The Dead Leaves” to “Autumn Leaves.” “The Dead Leaves” may have been an appropriate song title for the somber Les Portes de la Nuit, but it would not do for an American popular song.

Initially the public showed little interest in Autumn Leaves. Jo Stafford was among the first to perform the Mercer version. Autumn Leaves became a pop standard and a jazz standard in both in French and English, both as an instrumental and as a vocal number. There is also a Japanese version called Kareha sung by none other than Nat “King” Cole!

On December 24, 1950, French singer Edith Piaf sang both French and English versions of the song on the radio program The Big Show, hosted by Tallulah Bankhead. The Melachrino Strings recorded an instrumental version of the song in London in August, 1950.

In 1955, however, all that changed. Pianist Roger Williams recorded a million-seller, number-one hit rendition of the song that stayed on the Billboard charts for six months. Williams’ recording is the only piano instrumental to ever reach the number one position on the Billboard chart. Williams’ success opened the door for a second spate of covers by Steve Allen, Mitch Miller, Jackie Gleason, Victor Young, and the Ray Charles Singers. All of these versions charted on Billboard’s chart. These covers would be followed by hundreds of renditions in subsequent decades.

In 1956, Columbia Pictures produced a film entitled Autumn Leaves starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson. It is a generally well-reviewed tale of a spinster marrying a young man who has mental problems as a result of his ex-wife’s (Vera Miles) affair with his father (Lorne Green). Nat King Cole once again sang the song (this time in English) during the credits.

Frank Sinatra included a version of the song on his 1956 album Where Are You? Andy Williams released a version of the song on his 1959 album, Lonely Street. Raquel Bitton recorded a version in 2000 that appears on her album Raquel Bitton sings Edith Piaf. Jerry Lee Lewis released a version that is a real surprise. This version is from the unissued Caribou sessions from 1980, produced by Eddie Kilroy while Jerry Lee Lewis was with Elektra. Around forty tracks were taped at the Caribou ranch in Colorado in November and overdubs were made in 1981 and 1982, but no tracks were officially released. Listen to it and see what I mean.

In 1962, Serge Gainsbourg wrote a song entitled La Chanson de Prevert. This is a song about a song, for it is about Les Feuilles Mortes and how its power to revive memories kept dead loves alive. References to Verlaine’s Chanson d’Automne hint at its relation to classical French literature.

Greek-Cypriot recording artist Alexia Vassiliou recorded the song for her first 1996 album, In a Jazz Mood. The song also appears on Iggy Pop’s 2009 album Préliminaires as the opening track. A version by Eva Cassidy is one of the highlights of her seminal live album Live at Blues Alley (1996). The Electronic duo Coldcut recorded a cover of the song for their 1993 album Philosophy, featuring guest vocalist Janis Alexander on vocals.

And finally in the Pop field, British blues/rock guitarist Eric Clapton recorded a cover of Autumn Leaves in 2010.

In the jazz genre, this tune took almost ten years to catch on as a jazz number, and 1957 saw three excellent recordings. There were versions by Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington.

The Ellington version, taken at a very slow tempo, and featuring Ray Nance on violin is a delight. Nance’s violin playing represented almost the total opposite of his trumpet playing, and he is at his soulful best on Autumn Leaves, where he plays an exquisite, emotional solo; he then fills along with vocalist Ozzie Bailey. The album, Ellington Indigos, offered a different, more sentimental side of the Ellington ensemble and has rarely been out-of-print since it was released.

Singer/pianist Patricia Barber mesmerizes with her version of Autumn Leaves. With her rendition, the song is refurbished with a torch singer’s touch.

The 1958 Cannonball Adderley recording of Autumn Leaves has inspired generations of jazz players. The arrangement, commonly credited to Miles Davis (who is also featured on trumpet here) actually comes mostly from Ahmad Jamal. Nonetheless, this is a recording that really caught on. The following year, Bill Evans made his recorded debut with his groundbreaking trio alongside bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. Their version of Autumn Leaves is comparably influential to the Adderley version and offers an essential look at the interplay of these three musicians.

Finally, Autumn Leaves has been included in at least these films: Les Portes de la Nuit (1946, Yves Montand), Autumn Leaves (1956, Nat King Cole), Hey Boy! Hey Girl! (1959, Keely Smith), Addicted to Love (1997, Stephane Grappelli), Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (1997, Paula Cole), and Sidewalks of New York (2001, Stan Getz)

Autumn Leaves [Les Feuilles Mortes]
Music: Joseph Kosma
French Lyrics: Jacques Prévert
English Lyrics: Johnny Mercer

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

C’est une chanson, qui nous ressemble
Toi tu m’aimais et je t’aimais
Nous vivions tous, les deux ensemble
Toi que m’aimais moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable les pas des amants désunis


Roger Williams
Steve Allen/George Gates
Mitch Miller
Jackie Gleason
Victor Young
Ray Charles Singers

Jo Stafford
Nat King Cole [Japanese Version]
Edith Piaf
The Melachrino Strings
Serge Gainsbourg: La Chanson de Prévert
Frank Sinatra
Andy Williams
Raquel Bitton
Jerry Lee Lewis
Alexia Vassiliou
Iggy Pop
Eva Cassidy
Coldcut [Janis Alexander, vocals]
Eric Clapton

Cannonball Adderley
Bill Evans Trio
Coleman Hawkins
Dizzy Gillespie
Duke Ellington
Patricia Barber

Yves Montand Les Portes de la Nuit (1946)
Nat King Cole Autumn Leaves (1956)
Keely Smith Hey Boy! Hey Girl! (1959)
Stephane Grappelli Addicted to Love (1997)
Paula Cole Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (1997)
Stan Getz Sidewalks of New York (2001)

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From the Front Door to the Back Door

at my front door2

At My Front Door is a R&B song from 1955 that was popular on both the R&B charts as well as the Pop charts. The song, written by John Moore and Ewart Abner is about a guy waking up one morning to the sound of knocking at his front door. The person knocking on the door is his “crazy little mamma” who had left him. From the lyrics of the song, this was not the first time that she had left and then came back knocking at his door.

The song first appeared on the Billboard R&B charts in 1955 with a recording by the doo-wop group, The El Dorados. The song reached number one on the R&B charts. Pat Boone later did a cover version that charted at number seven on the Pop charts.

The El Dorados were formed in Chicago in 1952, originally as “Pirkle Lee and the Five Stars.” The group was comprised of Pirkle Lee Moses Jr. (lead vocals), Louis Bradley and Arthur Basset (tenors), Jewel Jones (second tenor/baritone), James Maddox and Richard Nickens (both baritone/bass). When Moses Jr. was discharged from the United States Air Force in 1954, they changed their name to The El Dorados.

As the El Dorados, they were signed to a contract with the Vee-Jay Records label and made their first recordings in mid-1954. After a string of unsuccessful singles, they recorded At My Front Door (also known as “Crazy Little Mama”) in 1955, and it rose to number one on the Billboard R&B charts, and number seventeen on the Pop charts. At My Front Door was a landmark of the genre; it had every ingredient, from a simple, catchy theme to first-rate harmonizing and Pirkle Moses’ finest lead. The song featured Al Duricati’s pounding drum rhythm and a rousing sax solo. The so-called “baby talk” pre-finale by Moses Jr. made the record soar even further, and the lyrics about that “crazy little mama” became legendary. The El Dorados did not enjoy sustained success or notoriety and really were not a top-echelon doo wop group.

After Basset and Nickens left the group, they continued to record as a quartet. The original group split up in 1957. Moses stayed in Chicago and formed a new version of The El Dorados with members of another group, The Kool Gents. Meanwhile, Bradley, Jones and Maddox moved to California, and renamed themselves The Tempos.

The label dropped The El Dorados in 1958, and Moses Jr. subsequently toured with a succession of backing vocalists. In 1969, he resuscitated the group name with new members, at the same time as a former member of The Tempos, Johnny Carter, also toured with another set of El Dorados. The two competing groups merged in the late 1970s, and subsequently continued to tour and record as The El Dorados until Moses’ death in 2000.

The El Dorados followed up their hit with an “answer song” entitled Bim Bam Boom. An answer song (or response song) is, as the name suggests, a song (usually a recorded track) made in answer to a previous song, normally by another artist. The concept became widespread in blues and R&B recorded music in the 1930s through 1950s. Answer songs were also extremely popular in country music in the 1950s and 1960s, most often as female responses to an original hit by a male artist. Sometimes an answer record imitated the original very closely and occasionally a hit song would be followed up by the same artist. Some examples of answer songs include It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, written by J. D. “Jay” Miller in 1952 and originally sung by Kitty Wells, was a response to The Wild Side Of Life, made famous that same year by Hank Thompson; That Makes It was Jayne Mansfield’s response to The Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace (1958), suggesting what the girl may have been saying at the other end of the line; Oh Neil! was Carole King’s response to Neil Sedaka’s Oh! Carol (1959); and my personal favorite, the little-known Where’s-A Your House?, Robert Q. Lewis’ response to Rosemary Clooney’s Come On-A My House (1951).

Rather than a song about a “crazy little mama” knocking on the front door in the morning, Bim Bam Boom is a song about someone who looked like “something from the Brookville Zoo” knocking at the guy’s back door about midnight.

At My Front Door
Words and Music by John Moore and Ewart Abner

Crazy little mama come knocking, knocking at my front door door door
Crazy little mama come knocking, knocking at my front door
Crazy little mama come knock, knock, knocking, just like she did before
Woke up this morning with a feeling of despair lookin for my baby and she wasn’t there
Heard someone knocking and much to my surprise
There stood my baby looking in my eyes
Crazy little mama come knock, knock, knocking, just like she did before
If you got a little mama and ya want to keep her neat
Keep your little mama off my street
Same thing will happen like it did before
She’ll come knock, knock, knocking atmy door
Crazy little mama come knock, knock, knocking, just like she did before
If you got a little mama and ya want to keep her neat
Keep your little mama off my street
Same thing will happen like it did before
She’ll come knock, knock, knocking atmy door
Crazy little mama come knock, knock, knocking, just like she did before
Crazy little mama come knocking, knocking at my front door door door
Crazy little mama come knocking, knocking at my front door
Crazy little mama come knock, knock, knocking, just like she did before

If you got a little mama and ya want to keep her neat
Keep your little mama off my street
Same thing will happen like it did before
She’ll come knock, knock, knocking atmy door
Crazy little mama come knock, knock, knocking, just like she did before
Yi yi yi yi yi yi
Crazy little mama come knock, knock, knocking, just like she did before
Oh oh oh oh oooooooooo

Bim Bam Boom
Words and Music by Jewel Jones

Someone come knocking at my back door
Somewhere along about midnight
Someone come knocking at my back door
Somewhere along about midnight
I wonder, yes I wonder
Yes, I really-really wonder
Who could that someone be

Somewhere along about 11:44
I heard someone knocking at my backdoor
Hurried to the kitchen to look what I could see
Behind a little sleep, I had a fairly good see
Someone come a-knocking at my back door
Just like they did before

She was a foxy little mamma with great big hips
Pretty long hair and ruby red lips
Five feet two and eyes of blue
And knew exactly what to do
She went, bam-bam-bam, boom-boom-boom
Knocking at my back door

No, you’re wrong, I had a ring-side seat
She great big ears and funny little feet
Six feet two, polka dot blue
And she looked like something from the Brookville Zoo
Bam-bam-bam and a-boom-boom-boom
Knocking at my back door
Bam-bam-boom, yeah, bam-bam-boom
Yeah, bam-bam-boom, yeah, bam-bam-boom
Yeah, bam-bam-bam and a-boom-boom-boom
Knocking at my back door

Six feet two, polka dot blue
She looked like something from the Brookville Zoo
Running wild, tried to smile
Her teeth fell out in a little while
Bam-bam-bam and a-boom-boom-boom
Knocking at my back door

(Bam-a-lam-a-lam… aaaaahh)

Bam-bam-boom, yeah, bam-bam-boom
Yeah, bam-bam-boom, yeah, bam-bam-boom
Yeah, bam-bam-bam and a-boom-boom-boom
Knocking at my back door


At My Front Door
The El Dorados</strong
Pat Boone
Dee Clark

Bim Bam Boom
The El Dorados

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Thank you, Sister Monica Joan

The older I have become, the more I have become a sensitive, sentimental, soppy emotional basket-case. I can get teary-eyed with little or no provocation these days. A case in point occurred recently as I was watching the PBS series entitled, Call the Midwife. The series is a warm-hearted BBC drama based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth (called Jenny Lee in the show) and the work of midwives and the nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent, part of an Anglican religious order, coping with the medical problems in the deprived Poplar district of London’s desperately poor East End in the 1950s, the same period that this blog celebrates with its music.

I must admit the show has a habit of opening my tear ducts. It is also capable of springing real surprises – and it did so in abundance in a recent episode because it not only opened my tear ducts, but also gave me a pleasant surprise. It was a serendipitous moment to say the least.

Never mind the plot – the unexpected surprise for me came when Jenny Lee (played beautifully by Jessica Raine), a pretty, prim, proper, and prissy midwife with perfectly permed dark hair was leaving Nonnatus House in a black cab and Sister Monica Joan came forward to bid her farewell.

Now in her nineties, Sister Monica Joan (played with perfection by Judy Parfitt) is a retired nun who lives full-time at Nonnatus House, cared for by her fellow sisters. She has an eccentric, mercurial personality, and is obsessed with cake, astrology and knitting, in no particular order. It is never entirely clear how much of Sister Monica Joan’s eccentricity is due to the frailty of age, or (as Jenny suspects) sheer wilful naughtiness. She is a well-read woman with a singularly well-furnished mind, but, now in its failing state, her mind is more of a disordered warehouse than of a well-ordered store. The result is that one never knows what will begin in her mind and end up coming out of her mouth. In bidding Jenny a tearful farewell, she reached back into that chaotic storeroom of hers and came out with this:
Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!

Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.

I must confess that Sister Monica Joan nearly broke my heart with that quote. She may be somewhat batty, but generally she is brilliantly astute and relevant and strangely enough, she comforts the person involved.

Nurse Jenny Lee is flanked by Sister Julienne on her right and Sister Monica Joan on her left in a scene from Call the Midwife

Nurse Jenny Lee is flanked by Sister Julienne on her right and Sister Monica Joan on her left in a scene from Call the Midwife

What a delightful surprise that those words should turn up in such an unlikely context. Those are the words of James Henry Leigh Hunt (best known as Leigh Hunt), an English critic, essayist, poet and writer. “Jenny Kissed Me” is one of Hunt’s most popular poems and celebrates a happy encounter with Jane Welsh Carlyle, whose nickname was “Jenny.” One of the stories behind the poem is that during one winter Hunt was sick with influenza and absent for so long that when he finally recovered and went to visit the Carlyles, Jane (Jenny) jumped up and kissed him as soon as he appeared at the door. Two days later one of the Hunt servants delivered a note addressed, “From Mr. Hunt to Mrs. Carlyle.” It contained the poem, “Jenny Kissed Me.” The poem was first published in November 1838 in the Monthly Chronicle.

The poem, “Jenny Kissed Me” has been described variously as whimsical, charming, simple, and unaffected. Many readers encounter it for the first time during their school-age years and remember it all their lives. I know that is what happened to me and I have loved that poem ever since. Numerous girls have been named “Jenny” as a result of the fond memory of the poem. The insightful ending to “Jenny Kissed Me” invariably brings a smile to the reader’s face.

In 1947, a version of the poem was sung by The Delta Rhythm Boys with music by Charles Green and Jordan Smith. In the 1950s, the poem was set again to music by Sid Tapper and Roy Brodsky. Both Eddie Albert and Guy Mitchell made recordings of this version of the song. None of these versions ever made it on the Billboard charts, but they were typical of the period.

Still another version was written by Eric Barnum especially for a cappella choirs. I have included each of these versions.



The Delta Rhythm Boys
Eddie Albert
Guy Mitchell
Baylor A Cappella Choir

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Adieu, Ciao, Sayonara, Auf Wiedersehen – In any language, it is still “Goodbye”


The song Adios was written by Eddie Woods, set to music penned by Enric Madriguera and was first released by Tony Pastor & His Orchestra in 1941. In that same year, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra recorded a hit version of the song. As far as the Billboard charts are concerned, the song did not surface again until 1952 when Gisele MacKenzie recorded the song, backed by Buddy Cole and his Orchestra.

The song tells of the anguish of saying “Adios” – goodbye. The person leaving (it could be either a man or a woman) speaks of the fond memories of what used to be in their relationship. At he end of the song, there is a note of hope that the person who left and said “Adios” will return and there will be no more goodbyes.

Enric (sometimes Enrique) Madriguera wrote the music for the song. He was a violinist of Catalan origin who was playing concerts as a child before he studied at the Barcelona Conservatory. In the late 1920s, Madriguera played in Ben Selvin’s studio orchestra at Columbia Records in New York, and served briefly as that company’s director of Latin music recording. In 1932, he began his own orchestra at the Biltmore Hotel, which recorded for Columbia until 1934. His music at this period was mostly Anglo-American dance or foxtrot, frequently jazz-inflected, although he had a modest hit with his rumba rendition of Carioca (1934). By the 1940s, he was recording Latin American music almost exclusively. (His composition Adios became a national hit in 1941.) Madriguera appeared in a number of “musical shorts” including Enric Madriguera and his Orchestra in 1946 where he performed a number of songs including some that featured his vocalist-wife Patricia Gilmore.


Words by Eddie Woods
Music by Enric Madriguera

Adios, in leaving you, it grieves me to say adios,
I’ll be so lonely, for you only
I sigh and cry my adios,
Adios to you.

And in this heart, is mem’ry of what used to be
Dear, for you and me set apart
Moon watching and waiting above
Soon it will be blessing our love.

Adios for happy endings I’ll return, dear to you
With a love true, no more bid you adios.


Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (instrumental version, charted in 1941 and again in 1948)
Gisele MacKenzie (Buddy Cole Orchestra –Buddy Cole, organ solo)


Enric Madriguera and His Orchestra
Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra
Stan Kenton and His Orchestra (vocals by Jerri Winters)
Billy May and his Orchestra
Esquivel and his Orchestra
Don Costa and His Orchestra
Paul Weston and His Orchestra
Carmen Cavallaro
Julie London (Ernie Freeman and His Orchestra)
Rosemary Clooney and Perez Prado Orchestra
The Andrews Sisters (Skip Martin and His Orchestra)

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Who Murdered Chlo-e?

Swamp by Aleks Dush

by Aleks Dush

It has always puzzled me why a 1927 show tune would make the Billboard charts in 1945. After all, the song had already charted in 1928 with an elaborate version by Paul Whiteman and his Concert Orchestra. The song in question is Chloe and in 1945, it made the Billboard charts with a version by Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Spike Jones was famous for adding gunshots, bells, whistles and other effects into songs, making them sound crazy. He would also parody songs, (as he does with Chloe) although usually this would consist of singing a song in a different mood, e.g. a happy love song might be sung in a sobbing tone. So this old sentimental song, Chloe was murdered as only Spike Jones could!

I believe that I found an answer – not necessarily the answer – to my question as to why the song became popular in 1945. In my research, I found tucked away on page A-5 of the 7 April 1945 edition of the Lewiston (Maine) Journal Magazine Section, the following short article:

The highly individual playing of Chloe by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, which has been heard only by American men at the battle fronts and never heard or seen by any member of the public, is the highlight of the orchestra’s appearance in Bring On the Girls, the Paramount Technicolor musical starring Veronica Lake, Eddie Bracken, Sonny Tufts, and Marjorie Reynolds.

“Paramount obtained the rights to use the song in the picture and now that Spike Jones and his boys have executed the number in their own arrangement, it will mark the ending of an interesting story.

“Two Christmases ago, Spike and the lads appeared in a “Command Performance” short wave radio program to be heard only by U.S. fighting forces. They chose to play Chloe, burlesquing it all the way through. Merely being heard and not seen, they were a sensation as they sang the interludes, gags and strange sounds. A few recordings were struck off from the program’s transcription for Spike and the boys. They have never recorded it commercially, or used it on any subsequent radio program.

“Signed by Paramount for a stint in Bring On the Girls, Spike brought along his Chloe. A set was built, a routine worked out and the number is comically pictorial as well as auditory.”

Movie poster for Bring On the Girls

Movie poster for Bring On the Girls

Spike Jones recorded the song featuring a vocal by Red Ingle for RCA Victor and the recording debuted on the Billboard charts on 28 April 1945. It seems as though Spike Jones’ version is based on the Paul Whiteman record of Chloe of 1928 and that Red Ingle’s vocal is also a kind of a parody of Austin Young’s on the Whiteman record, with a bit of Ted Lewis thrown in for good measure. (Listen for yourself, as both the Spike Jones and Paul Whiteman’s recording can be heard below by clicking on them.) Another humorously murderous version was cut by singer (?) Leona Anderson in 1957 for her aptly-titled 1957 album, Music to Suffer By. Ms. Anderson, it should be noted here, was from the same vocal school as Mrs. Miller, Florence Foster Jenkins and Mme St Onge. (You haven’t lived until you hear songs murdered, (excuse me – sung) by these fine ladies. Anderson reveled in the limitations of her voice and her publicity proudly proclaimed her as “the World’s Most Horrible Singer.”

Spike Jones lyrics

Someone’s calling

Hello! You don’t say? You don’t say? You don’t say?
Who was it?
He didn’t say.

No reply
nightshade’s falling, hear him sigh

Where are you, you old bat
Empty spaces meet his eyes
Empty arms outstretched
He’s crying
Through the black of night
I’ve gotta go where you are

Whether it’s here, whether it’s thar
I wanna be thar, wherever you are

If it’s wrong or right
I’ve gotta go where you are

Hello, Chloe, waddayouknowy
I just got back from a vaudeville showy

I roam through the dismal swamplands
Searching for you
Cause if you have lost it
Let me be there too (three, four, hup)
And through that smoking flame
I’ve got to go where you are

Thunder or lightning, shower or snow
When I get a call, I’ve gotta go

For no place can be too far
Where you are
Ain’t no chains can bind you
And if you live, I’ll find you
Love is calling me
I’ve got to go where you are

Ain’t no chains can bind you
And if and if you live, ha-ha, I’m gonna find you, my pretty baby
Love is calling me

Hello! You don’t say? You don’t say?
Who was it?
Same guy!

You can see the scene in which the song is performed in the film Bring On the Girls on YouTube.

On a more serious note, Chloe (sometimes spelled Chlo-e) is a 1927 show tune with music by Charles N. Daniels, writing under the pseudonym of “Neil Morét.” and lyrics by Gus Kahn. It is now regarded as a jazz standard.

The show from which the song comes was an Ethel Walters vehicle entitled, Africana. This marked the Broadway debut of Waters, and began her rise to stardom. Produced by Earl Dancer and principally written by Donald Heywood, the show opened on 11 July 1927. Chloe – to which the title is frequently, and usefully, modified, and is used hereafter – may have been placed in this revue as a later addition to the production. Unfortunately, Waters’ never recorded Chloe, and it is not listed among the known songs that she sang in Africana. In 1934, Heywood re-fashioned Africana into an operetta, but it did not include Chloe or any other external number. It closed after just three performances.

Chloe tells a story. The verse is sung by an omniscient narrator, describing the struggle of a lonely character, conducting a long and determined search for a character named “Chloe” in the “dismal swampland.” The searcher then picks up the chorus, with its line of “I got to go where you are,” declaring that “If you live, I’ll find you.”

The score is marked “In a tragic way” and while—owing to its narrative opening — it is not necessarily gender-specific, its range and melodic line suggests that it was designed for a low voice. While its topic hearkens back to the milieu of minstrel-type material, the music is uncharacteristically rich, dark hued, expressive and atypical of the Jazz Age, looking forward to the more muted and reflective sound of depression-era songwriting.

Among serious recordings, the first recording of Chloe was made for Columbia in Los Angeles in September 1927 by singer Douglas Richardson, a vocalist with ties to Charles N. Daniels; it was followed by another Columbia by The Singing Sophomores made in November of 1927. The first female vocal versions of Chloe were made by Valaida Snow and Eva Taylor, and Bessie Brown. The first instrumental recording of Chloe was made by the All-Star Orchestra for Victor, with a vocal chorus by Franklyn Bauer in December 1927. This is identified in the Victor ledgers as “the Fud and Farley Orchestra, directed by Nat Shilkret,” indicating the probable participation of Fud Livingston and Max Farley. Nat Shilkret recorded another arrangement of it for Victor with his Rhyth-Melodists in March 1928.

However, the record that appears to have popularized Chloe is an elaborate 4 minute, 24 second version by the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra recorded in 1928 with vocals by Austin Young. The Whiteman version was not the only popular version in 1928. Other 1928 recordings of the song included Bob Haring and the “Colonial Club Orchestra,” the Tracy Brown Orchestra of Chicago with a vocal by Sam Coslow, and Sam Lanin under the name of The Gotham Troubadours. It was also sung on record by Henry “Red” Allen in 1936.

However, instrumental versions far outdistance the vocal ones. The most respected instrumental version is the 1940 recording by Duke Ellington’s Famous Orchestra, featuring solos by Tricky Sam Nanton and Jimmy Blanton; Ellington’s arrangement makes a radical overhaul of Daniels’ harmony, and places the verse after the chorus. Among other notable pre-war instrumental versions of Chloe is Benny Goodman’s from 1937, Art Tatum’s piano solo from 1938 and those by Tommy Dorsey and John Kirby, both from 1940.

After the war, it was recorded by such jazz and R&B artists as Kenny Graham, Sonny Thompson, The Ravens, Charlie Mariano, Cal Tjader, Ray Anthony, and Eddie Heywood.

George Melachrino arranged Chloe for string orchestra; Bunk Johnson – in his last session in 1948 – recorded it in a traditional jazz setting, and Ry Cooder has performed it as a guitar solo. A non-jazz oriented recording of Chloe was made by guitarist Mickey Baker in 1962.

The most well-known vocal version of Chloe is that by Louis Armstrong, who did not record the piece until 1952. Ray Conniff included it with a chorus on his 1965 LP Love Affair and Dinah Shore released her version that same year.

Traditional lyrics

Chloe! Chloe!
Someone’s calling, no reply
Nightshade’s falling, hear him sigh
Chloe! Chloe!

Empty spaces in his eyes
Empty arms outstretched, he’s crying

Through the black of night
I’ve got to go where you are
If it’s dark or bright
I’ve got to go where you are

I’ll go through the dismal swampland
Searching for you
For if you are lost there
Let me be there too

Through the smoke and flame
I’ve got to go where you are
For no ways can be too far
Where you are

Ain’t no chains can bind you
If you live, I’ll find you
Love is calling me
I’ve got to go where you are

In order to hear how Chloe has evolved, I have arranged the recordings as best as I can determine in chronological order. To listen to a version of the song, click on the song title. To download a song, right click on the song title, and then right click on Save target as

Chloe (the 1945 charted version)
Spike Jones and his City Slickers, vocals by Red Ingle Chloe

Chloe (all the above versions listed chronologically)
1927 The Singing Sophomores (Male Quintet with Piano) Chloe
1927 Harold “Scrappy” Lambert, orchestra unidentified Chloe
1927 All-Star Orchestra, vocals by Franklyn Bauer Chloe
1928 Eva Taylor Chloe
1928 “The Original” Bessie Brown Chloe
1928 Shilkert’s Rhythm-Melodists (organ solo by Fats Waller) Chloe
1928 Paul Whiteman and His Concert Orchestra, vocals by Austin Young Chloe
1928 The Colonial Club Orchestra, vocals by Bob Haring Chloe
1928 Tracy-Brown’s Orchestra, vocals by Sam Coslow Chloe
1928 Sam Lanin (The Gotham Troubadours), vocals by Irving Kaufman Chloe
1936 Henry “Red” Allen and his Orchestra Chloe
1937 Valaida Snow (The Queen of the Trumpet) Chloe
1937 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra Chloe
1938 Art Tatum Chloe
1940 Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra Chloe
1940 Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra Chloe
1940 John Kirby and his Orchestra Chloe
1948 Bunk Johnson Chloe
1951 Kenny Graham Afro-Cubists Chloe
1952 Louis Armstrong, with Gordon Jenkins, his Chorus and Orchestra Chloe
1952 Sonny Thompson Chloe
1952 The Ravens Chloe
1954 Charlie Mariano Chloe
1955 Cal Tjader Mambo Quintet Chloe
1955 Ray Anthony and his Orchestra Chloe
1956 Eddie Heywood Chloe
1957 Leona Anderson Chloe
1962 Mickey Baker Chloe
1965 Ray Conniff and the Singers Chloe
1965 Dinah Shore Chloe
Date unknown George Melachrino and his Orchestra Chloe
Date unknown Ry Cooder Chloe

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