> Hits of 1930 "Happy days are here again!"[JD]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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HITS OF 1930
"Happy Days Are Here Again!"

Original recordings by Rudy Vallee, Maurice Chevalier, Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, Gus Arnheim, Harry Richman, George Olsen, Al Jolson, Ben Selvin, Isham Jones, Bert Lowen, Ted Lewis, Victor Arden/Phil Ohman, Waring’s Pennsylvanians.
NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120634 [63.23]


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What a splendid idea by Naxos to release a CD containing so many great songs recorded in just one year - 1930. So many songs were coming out of America at that time anyway. The joy of the twenties, when people were disregarding old customs and changing their way of living, seemed filled with them and how they provided the soundtrack to the changing times of nights out, short skirts, girls with short hair and girls dancing even closer to their partners. Oh yes, they enjoyed themselves in the ’20s. Not many saw the depression that was approaching in the thirties but when that arrived it hit hard. We all came down to earth with a resounding bump, making the title song of this CD that much more moving because, when it was recorded, days were not all that happy. Even America after the Wall Street Crash a year before these recordings were made felt the cold blast of depression. But America recovered. Happy days came back before war brought another shadow in 1939 and even during what must have been a disastrous time for so many people there had been others who were churning out great songs for a pittance. And what songs they were, and how we in Britain loved them. I was only thirteen in 1930 but even at that impressionable age I would avidly listen to these songs, many of these very recordings, on our old gramophone that needed winding up first. We had a good selection of records but such care had to be taken with them as they broke very easily. We had a wireless too. I watched my Father build a Crystal Set whilst I listened to the records on the gramophone and he would tell me I would soon be able to sit and listen to dance music by just turning a tiny switch – no records, no needles, no winding up. To have them on one CD is, for someone of my generation, still thrilling.

So more "Happy Days Are Here Again" and I am sitting back and finding myself drifting back to those days, long ago days, when the soft sounds of Walter Donaldson playing "Little White Lies" slowly washed over me for the first time. Like a lot of artistes on this CD he is less known today so it’s good to hear him again accompanied here beautifully by Clara Hanlon and The Waring Girls, every word clearly heard, the music soft but distinct. Though I think I was a real romantic even in 1930 when I first heard this recording, too romantic for my age perhaps, but I do remember wondering just who had told those "Little White Lies". Both then and now I have always liked songs that told a story and the music always appears to be joining in the telling as it does here.

I have always enjoyed the music of Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, and when Jack Fulton recorded "Body and "Soul" with him he did so with patent sincerity. "It Happened in Monterey" is another Paul Whiteman number. I remember thinking at the age of thirteen: "What did happen in Monterey?" and never being able to work it out.

"Beyond the Blue Horizon" is also a favourite of mine and here I really appreciate George Olsen and his Music in this recording. The way he leads his orchestra into sounding like a real train slowly moving out of the station, smoke puffing from the engine to a place "Beyond the blue horizon", tooting merrily until it disappeared … until all you can hear are the toots getting fainter, is marvellous. As Olsen’s vocalist Bob Borger sings, my over-active imagination is even now happy to react dreamily to being on that train and imagine myself somewhere "Beyond the Blue Horizon". I think you will too.

Maurice Chevalier sings "You bought a new kind of love" with the orchestra conducted by Leonard Joy. I have to say Chevalier was never a favourite. I suppose I have always appreciated the reason why he was popular with so many and even that he does have a certain something. Though I can never decide what that something is. This particular track I truthfully listened with an open mind, but felt that he was, as usual, more intent on making sure his accent was centre-stage rather than he. Did this really endear him to the people?

I loved the University of Maine’s "Stein song" even back in 1930 and still love this great song now hearing it again for the first time in many years. Perhaps even more so when crooned here by Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees. I can remember all that time ago dancing round the room on my own to this. As so often on these recordings, the accompaniment never swamps the singer, which is how it should be. Vallee also sings "Betty Co-Ed" and this is music to make you leap up and dance too.

I thought Ruth Etting’s version of the great number "Ten Cents a Dance" a super recording, sung as only Etting could. Again the arranger’s art is evident in how the singer is allowed to be centre-stage even when the music of the band is louder. Ruth also sings "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" and brings just the right amount of pathos in her voice.

Hoagy Carmichael’s matchless "Stardust" is equally well sung, soft and soothing, by Isham Young who might be an unfamiliar name for many. This has always been music to slowly dance to (with someone special) and as I sit in my chair, eyes closed, I was dreamily imagining myself gliding round as the music softly played. I was still in a romantic frame of mind when the recording changed again and was delighted to hear again "Bye-Bye Blues". How could I feel anything else but romantic, when the voice of Frank Luther sang this as a quiet, slow song with such feeling and the orchestra quietly playing along with him.

"You’re Driving Me Crazy" soon made me sit up, though. This is a recording to make anyone start to hum gently along with the singer, Carmen Lombardo with the inimitable Guy in charge of the accompaniment, then as the music "revs up" a little, you find yourself humming louder. It’s as though the music is telling you to wake up, and no-one was driving you crazy at all. "Confessin’ That I Love You", also from the great Guy Lombardo with Carmen on vocals, is not a recording I remember as being that wonderful even then. However, it was pleasant to hear and like all the others the accompaniment is always in its right place.

"On The Sunny Side of the Street" has Ted Lewis partly singing and partly speaking as he tells you a short story but he’s in complete accord with the orchestra and so vocals making the story almost believable.

To me there is only one Bing Crosby and never will he be forgotten although perhaps "It Must Be True" is not one of his most well known songs. Nevertheless, the magic of his particular style of singing, which had made him so popular even in 1930, is here. You feel, as you did right through Bing’s career, he is singing to you alone. There will never be another Bing Crosby so far as I am concerned. Al Jolson was, in his day, at least as big a star as Crosby and I enjoyed his version of "Let Me Sing and I’m Happy". Many find his style mawkish. I always felt it came from the heart with the impression that he means every word. But then this is also a great Irving Berlin hit - always a winner. As, of course, is "Puttin’ on the Ritz", delivered here with all the snappy style so typical of Irving Berlin. The music is of a quality that I was hardly aware of the first time round, but now it’s easy to hear why songs like this last.

I sat for a while when the disc finished and my thoughts drifted back again to those days when these hits were first recorded. Would the people of that generation of which I too belong have ever believed what marvellous advances in technology were going to happen later? Technology that would make reissues like this one possible? I warmly recommend this CD taken from those original, cumbersome records just to hear the great difference resulting from this new technology. It is amazing to me that after all those years these records, so cherished then, could now be made to sound even better by David Lennick and yet still retain that special magical way of playing, just sounding even better. I was amazed how the different instruments of the accompanying orchestras could be so easily recognised now, especially so when the vocalists were singing and yet never sacrificing the words they sang. In those days the musicians knew their place and these recordings reflect that.

I have over the years heard many different versions of these old songs sung over the radio and television, many of them hardly recognisable as the original versions. This disc is one to buy and keep no matter what age you are. But as a reminder of the days of 1930, to hear what it was like in the musical world then, it cannot be bettered.

I love this new disc depicting those good old songs and look forward to many more.

Joan Duggan

 


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