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Paper Doll: Their 56 Finest The
Mills Brothers rec. 1931-52 RETROSPECTIVE RTS4263
This double album surveys the career of the Mills Brothers from 1931 to 1952 in roughly chronological order. The group consisted of four actual brothers who adapted barber-shop singing by adding elements of close harmony and jazz as well as scat. Their biggest selling point was that they only used one accompanying instrument – the guitar played by John Mills, who also imitated double bass and tuba. The other brothers also imitated musical instruments, providing what often sounded like a whole orchestra.
They made numerous hit records – notably Paper Doll but also Tiger Rag, Dinah and The Glow-Worm.Paper Doll in 1942 revived their appeal, which had been in danger of flat-lining. Their popularity was enhanced by their appearances in many films.
The three performances with Bing Crosby are among the highlights of this compilation. All three have accompaniments by bands: an unusual situation for the brothers at this time. In Dinah, Crosby’s voice is endearing, and he joins in scatting with the brothers. They add the extra words “The name of this song is Dinah”, which is a jokey addition I have otherwise only heard in trad jazz bands. Shine has a neat switch when the Mills’ start singing at a fast tempo but Bing takes a more leisurely approach. My Honey’s Loving Arms is the jazziest of the three tracks because it has an accompaniment by an all-star jazz octet including Bunny Berigan and Benny Goodman.
The most notable tracks in this collection also include Tiger Rag, which illustrates their light-hearted attitude through some brisk scat. In Carry Me Back to Old Virginny, listeners may find it difficult to tell if the trumpet sound is made by Louis Armstrong or one of the brothers. Caravan dispenses with vocals and simply has the brothers imitating instruments, although one of them is slightly out of tune. Diga-Diga-Doo is with Duke Ellington’s band but the orchestra only plays before and after the brothers sing, not accompanying them.
Please Don’t Talk about Me When I’m Gone is one of the other selections here to include backing by a whole orchestra: Tommy Dorsey’s band. In fact the last three tracks all contain band accompaniments, with the brothers dropping their instrumental mimicry. Perhaps the novelty of the gimmick was finally wearing off after several decades. The Glow-Worm reached no. 10 in the British pop charts in 1953. I first encountered this song in the parody by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, which has made it hard for me to think of the song without Spike’s ridiculous duet featuring a soprano who holds the final note for too long, prompting her companion to shout “Turn the page, you fathead!”
The Mills Brothers had a tangible influence on later vocal groups and assisted the acceptance of Black entertainers in a segregated America.
1. Goodbye Blues
2. Nobody’s Sweetheart
3. Tiger Rag
4. You Rascal, You!
5. Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home?
8. I Heard
9. How’m I Doin’? Hey, Hey!
10. Chinatown, My Chinatown
11. Sweet Sue, Just You
12. St Louis Blues
13. Bugle Call Rag
14. The Old Man of the Mountain
15. It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing
17. My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms
18. Swing It, Sister
19. Money in My Clothes
20. Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet
21. Sleepy Head
24. Sweet Georgia Brown
25. Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider
26. Some of These Days
27. I’ve Found a New Baby
28. Rockin’ Chair
29. Dedicated to You
1. Paper Doll
2. Carry Me Back to Old Virginny
4. Sixty Seconds Got Together
5. Jeepers Creepers
7. Georgia on My Mind
8. Ain’t Misbehavin’
9. When You Were Sweet Sixteen
12. Lazy River
13. I’ll Be Around
14. Till Then
15. You Always Hurt the One You Love
16. I Wish
17. I Don’t Know Enough about You
18. There’s No One But You
19. Across the Alley from the Alamo
20. Is It True What They Say about Dixie?
21. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
22. Someday You’ll Want Me to Want You
23. Daddy’s Little Girl
24. Nevertheless I’m in Love with You
25. Please Don’t Talk about Me When I’m Gone
26. Be My Life’s Companion
27. The Glow-Worm
Donald Mills – Lead tenor
Herbert Mills – Tenor
Harry Mills – Baritone
John Mills – Bass, guitar (to 1936)
Bernard Addison – Guitar (from 1936)
Norman Brown – Guitar (from 1938)
Bing Crosby – Vocals (tracks I/6, 7, 17)
Duke Ellington’s Orchestra (track I/16)
Ella Fitzgerald – Vocals (track I/29)
Louis Armstrong – Vocals, trumpet (tracks II/2, 10, 11)
Al Jolson – Vocals (track II/20)