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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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