NEEDLE DROP NOTES
November 23, 2021 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave “Screen Songs” 1932: More of Your Favorite Radio Stars

As the 1931-32 season ended, the Fleischer Screen Songs continued on their merry way. They were starting to feature more live action sequences with favorite radio stars and Broadway personalities, some of them making their film debuts. I hope the featured celebrities drew well when they appeared in Publix theaters the week following each cartoon show, so that the public could see them in the flesh.

However, during the season, some of the exhibitors started to have complaint concerning the subject matter of the cartoons. They notes that cartoons were a draw for the kiddies, and wondered if some of the gags were a bit too adult for such target audience. This was at a time when the “guardians of the public morals” were beginning to raise their voices against the movie industry. The industry had itself passed, but was not honoring, a code of conduct, which wouldn’t be enforced until 1934 (hence, pictures from thie 1930-35 period are often referred to as “pre-code”). And this attitude affected cartoons as much as it did features.

I Ain’t Got Nobody (6/17/32) – Featuring the Mills Brothers – Terry, Herbert, Donald and John all making their screen debut. The picture has a screen credit very similar to the labels of theor Bunswick records, highlighting that no musical instruments are used excepting one guitar. A lion king turns on his television set (TV was still experimental in 1932), and tunes in music and dancing from Jewish, Chinese, Spanish, and American Indian dancers, until he finally tunes in the Mills Brothers. The lion also possesses magical powers, which he demonstrates on a dog, turning him into various breeds, including hot dogs. He then turns to the audience, makes some magical gestures, and commands us to sing when we see the Mills Brothers and the bouncing ball. After a couple of choruses of the tite song, the lion and his TV are chased by his revivified tiger rug, as the Brothers perform their record hit, “Tiger Rag”, soon to be used in their appearance in Paramount’s The Big Broadcast of 1932. The lion’s magic must have been too powerful, as nobody can “hold that tiger”.

Songs include “Goodbye Blues”, the Mills’s theme song, heard over the opening credits, and recorded by them for Brunswick. The song was covered by Roane’s Pennsylvanians on Victor, and Fletcher Henderson’s Connie’s Inn Orchestra on Melotone> “Mahzel Tov”, is heard once again. “Some of These Days” was written by Shelton Brooks in 1910, and became immediately associated with Sophie Tucker who recorded it several times for various labels (including a 1927 Okeh version not issued until 1965, and a Victor version in 1929 listed in studio records as accompanied by a “colored orchestra”). The Coon Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra recorded it in 1925 for Victor – Ted Lewis, with Sophie Tucker as guest vocalist, for Columbia in 1926, and Fletcher Henderson in 1927 for Vocalion. Ethel Waters recorded a 1927 version for Columbia, and Cab Calloway (with one of his trademark screaming vocals and an amazingly fast tempo that dancers could never have kept up with) for Brunswik in 1930. The Kordt Sisters performed a swinging vocal on Danish Poluphon in occupied Copenhagen in 1942. Even Brenda Lee would revive it in the 1960’s for an album, “Grandma, What Great Songs You Had”. “Tiger Rag”, as mentioned, makes a reappearance, using the “Hold That Tiger” strain, The title song of the film was written in 1915, first recorded by Marion Harris on Victor, and remade in 1921 for Columbia. Bessie Smith would perform it in 1925 for Columbia race records, It became very popular with musicians, including the Coon-Sanders Orchestra in 1927 for Victor, the Golden Gate Orchestra on Edison (a polished up redo of the Coon-Sanders arrangement), Ted Lewis for Columbia in 1928, and Fats Waller in the 1930’s for Victor. A perennial medley with “Just a Gigolo” was recorded several times by Louis Priima, including versions on V-Disc and for Capitol records. The Prima version was itself revived by David Lee Roth, ushering in the neo-swing movement, on Warner Brothers Records.


You Try Somebody Else (7/22/32) – Featuring live performance by Ethel Merman. A home invasion robbery awakens Betty Boop. Her rifle must have a silencer on it, as it shushes the audience so she can capture the bandit. The do-badder gets sent to the rock pile, while some of his colleagues plot a jail break, leading to a ride on a trolley equipped with electric chair seats. Charles Gardner relates his experience when the film was publicly shown at a Fleischer retrospective in Los Angeles. Merman appears on screen and takes a chorus of the number by herself, without the bouncing ball, using her vocal pyrotechnics. Then, she asks the audience, “Now you sing with me.” A voice was heard from the rear of the auditorium, shouting back, “Oh, sure!”, which brought down the house with laughter. I myself attempted to sing the song at a Christmas party once before actually seeing the cartoon, but knowing of the film’s reputation, I added some bravura notes to the last 8 bars. A member of the audience responded, “Sing it, Ethel.” Songs include “The Prisoner’s Song”, “Pizzicato Mysterioso”, “Chicken Reel”, “The Skater’s Waltz”, ”Goodnight, Ladies”, “Wintermarscnen”, and the title song, the last hit of De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson, recorded in dance versions by Guy Lombardo on Columbia, Ted Black on Victor (copying Lombardo’s style), the Imperial Dance Orchestra on Perfect et al., Rudy Vallee on Hit of the Week, and vocal versions by Russ Colombo on Victor, Connee Boswell on Brunswick, Elsie Carlisle on English Zonophone, and Leslie Hutchinson on English Parlophone.


Rudy Vallee Melodies (8/5/32) – Betty Boop is throwing a party at her house, and trying to get some of the partygoers to show off with singing, playing, or dancing. She gets no help whatsoever, until Rudy Vallee, upon a sheet music cover, offers to sing some of his favorites. It features three songs with the bouncing ball. Eventually, all of Betty’s partygoers go home. One gag depicts what appears to be a lone station wagon, which divides up into three separate cars carrying Betty’s guests. Betty goes to bed, still serenaded by Rudy’s picture in her room, singing, “Goodnight, Sweetheart.”

Songs: “Keep a Little Song Handy”, an original by Sammy Timberg, which made its a debut in a live action short, Musical Doctor – which featured onscreen appearances by both Rudy Vallee and Mae Questal – and would later be reused in the Boop series in Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions. I know of no commercial recordings of the number. “Betty Co-Ed” is used in the track, though not sung again by Vallee. “One Hour With You”, from the picture of the same title, was introduced by Maurice Chevalier who recorded it on Victor. Victor also released a dance version by Jimmie Grier’s Orchestra. The three songs that Rudy sings with the ball are “Deep Night” (quite widely recorded, including by Rudy for Victor, the Ipana Troubadours on Columbia (Sam Lanin conducting), a cover version by Jack Miller on Harmony, and English versions by Jack Hylton on HMV, Alfredo and his Band on Edison Bell Radio, and later version by Bas Shiva on Capitol and Frank Sinatra for Columbia), “A Little Kiss Each Morning” (Cut by Vallee for Victor, Joe Ryan in a dance version on Perfect et al., Guy Lombardo on Columbia, Vincent Lopez on Grey Gull et al., Scrappy Lambert (as Ralph Haines) on Perfect et al., and Carl Fenton on Q.R.S.), and a return of the “Stein Song”, already covered in discussion of the prior short of the same name. “Goodnight, Sweetheart” was not recorded by Vallee for Victor. The New Mayfair Dance Orchestra recorded it for HMV with Al Bowlly vocal, which was concurrently issued here for American Victor. It was also featured in one of the same orchestra’s “puzzle records” in a short one-chorus version – a puzzle record being triple grooved, so that it would play one of three songs depending upon where the needle was dropped. It was also cocvered by Wayne King on Victor, Guy Lombardo for Columbia, and vocal versions by Bing Crosby on Brunswick and Russ Columbo on Victor. and in England by Jack Payne and the BBC Dance Orchestra for Columbia, and Jack Leon for Piccadilly. A German version, “Schlaf, Mine’ Liebling”, was recorded by the Comedian Harmonists on Electrola in Germany. And Ray Noble (former head of the New Mayfair Orchestra), would remake the number in America in the 1940’s for Columbia.


Down Among the Sugar Cane (8/26/32) – Featuring “the inimitable” Lilian Roth, who had made her name on radio out of New York over the previous year and a half, but was not all that active in the recording studio. She was the subject of a bio-pic, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, in the 1950’s. A scarecrow is planting sugar cane seeds, which sprout up as peppermint candy canes. This attracts most of the local fauna, Including beavers and bees. Songs include revisits of “When I Take My Sugar To Tea”, and “Baby’s Birthday Party”. The title song was from 1928, and recorded by Johnny Marvin on Victor, The Diplomats (a vocal quartet) on Columbia, Harry Reser’s Jazz Pilots on Okeh (below), and by Henry Starr, issued by Columbia only on the West Coast.


Just a Gigolo (9/9/32) – Featuring Irene Bordoni. Things are jumping at a cabaret, where Betty Boop serves as both cigarette girl and mistress of ceremonies. A couple keep trying to get out on the dance floor, but are repeatedly expelled as the floor is packed. A pig, who identifies himself as “Mr. Pig to you”, buys one of Betty’s cigars, and then collapses (They must be strong). Betty introduces Irene Bordoni, who sings the British lyric, “Handsome Gigolo”, then after the alter call for the audience, sings the American lyric written by Irving Caesar. Over the opening titles of the film, she also sings the piece in French! An animated coda has a battle between alley cats over a female, leading to a prodigious throwing of old shoes by the neighbors, and the cats parading off wearing the new foot attire.

Songs: “The Scat Song”, which was a fairly new piece at the time of the film’s release, almost performed as if a 78RPM needle drop played at 100 RPM. Cab Calloway’s version is the best known (and would later be included in “The Old Man f the Mountain”), recorded for Brunswick. Billy Banks also cut it for Victor. “The Girl I Left Behind Me” is re-featured. And the title tune, first published in Vienna in 1929. It was recorded in Berlin by the dance band of Dajos Bela on Odeon, and Marek Weber for Electrola/HMV. The song then traveled to France, receiving its French lyric, which was recorded by Damia on Columbia, and Berthe Sylva on Odeon. From there, the song went to England, where it received its first Englisg lyric, “Handsome Gigolo”. Jack Hylton recorded a 12″ concert version on HMV, which was also released here in Victor, and became a steady seller. It was also released by English house bands Jay Wilbur on Edison Bell Winner, and by Harry Bidgood (under a pseudonym, “Rod Rudy’s Talkie Boys”), for Broadcast Twelve Superdance. It came to America with a third lyric, and was recorded by Leo Reisman for Victor, Ben Bernie for Brunswick, Ted Lewis for Columbia, and as a vocal record by Al Shayne for Columbia, and by Bing Crosby for Victor. It was recorded in later versions by Raymond Scott and his Orchestra on Columbia, and by Louis Prima, first on V-Disc (together with “I Ain’t Got Nobody”), and by itself in a later version on Majestic. A late version was recorded by Acker Bilk on British Columbia.


School Days (9/30/32) – Featuring Gus Edwards and children from his stage review. Surviving print currently circulating appears to be trimmed of its bouncing ball sequence, but still includes substantial footage of Edwards and the kids. A collection of gags set around school, including the trip from home, where one student who appears to be studying a geography book is actually more interested in a Western novel concealed within it, “Dick Diamond’s Last Shot”. The session in school eventually winds up in a free for all fight. A pair of goats outside swallow stray school books as they fly out the window, then sing the last line of the song, “When we were a couple of kids”. Songs include “In the Little Red School House”, a 1922 song recorded by the American Quartet for Victor, and by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare for Edison, Brunswick, and Banner et al. “Business in F”, sounding like another speeded up needle drop, was recorded by Gene Kardos on Victor, Fletcher Henderson on Columbia, Joel Shaw on Crown (actually the Kardos band recording under the name of its pianist), and Gene’s Merrymakers on Perfect et al (the Kardos band again with Dick Robertson taking a vocal chorus). “The Girl I Left Behind Me” also reappears. The title song is from 1908, written by Gus Edwards, and has already been discussed in its earlier use in the Talkartoon, Teacher’s Pest.


Romantic Melodies (10/22/32) – A very urban plot. A German band is entertaining on the street. Every time someone throws a penny, Schultzenheim (aka Bimbo) runs off “to the bank, to the bank” to make a deposit, until a third trip finds the bank now shuttered, and the bank president sitting on the street corner with a tin cup, asking “Help the poor”. The band’s bloopy off-key renditions of such chestnuts as “Ach Du Lieber Augustin” are not generally appreciated by the neighbors, but Betty Boop seems to like them. Then in the distance, Betty hears an accordion and a tenor. It’s the “street singer”, Arthur Tracy, performing a medley of melodies. Schultzenheim and his combo resume their assault on “Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”, and fire hydrants and police call boxes react by summoning the paddy wagon, which gobbles the whole band up to take them off to the hoosegow. This leaves Betty broken hearted, but she is consoled by the street singer for the closing. An interesting visual blooper in the production is that Tracy is shown in the live-action sequences of the film playing a concertina, but the audio track gives every indication that we are hearing him play on his large piano accordion, which was his signature instrument in all publicity photos, indicating that the track is overdubbed. Songs: “Marta” (Tracy’s theme song) reappears again. Bimbo’s repertoire is referenced above. “Silver Threads Among the Gold”, and “Under Your Window To-night” make reappearances. A newcomer is “(Here Am I) Broken-Hearted” (with special lyrics). For dancing, it was recorded by Paul Whiteman for Victor, Cass Hagan for Columbia, Arden and Ohman on Brunswick, and in vocal versions by Vaughn De Leath on Victor, Seger Ellis on Columbia, and Noble Sissle on Okeh. It was revived in the 1950’s by Johnny Ray on Columbia. Tracy also reprises “Goodnight, Sweetheart”, previously covered by Rudy Vallee in his film discussed above.


Sleepy Time Down South (11/16/32) – Featuring the Boswell Sisters. It’s hard to get the local firemen out of bed when there’s a fire alarm, but through various contraptions, the deed is done, and they roll out of the station to the blaze. Bimbo is one of the fireman, and upon receiving the call, tells the caller “Don’t let it go out. We’ll get there.” Three girls are living in the house, harmonizing their calls for help. (We’ll call them the Boop sisters, based on their family resemblance.) Eventually, Bimbo is battling a trio of his own of anthropomorphic flames with his fire hose. The house framework remains, but only as a shell, by film’s end. The Boops meanwhile have transformed into the Boswells to perform their live action bits. They open with part of their arrangement of “Shout, Sister, Shout”, commercially recorded for Brunswick and used as their radio signature (embed below). Clarence Williams did a cover version for Columbia. They also perform the title song, introduced on record by Louis Armstrong on Okeh, which became his theme song. The Boswells never commercially recorded the piece, but notable others included Paul Whiteman on Victor with vocal by Mildred Bailey, and Phil Spitalny for Hit of the Week with vocal by Helen Rowland. Benny Goodman further revived it for a “Swing Classic” Victor release.

Next Post: The Betty Boop series, 1932-33: A Talkartoon by any other name…

8 Comments

  • The third Mills brother was named Harry, not Terry. He was the one who sang the “trumpet” obligato with his hands over his mouth.

    I’ve never heard of “puzzle records” before. Interesting concept, though I have a feeling that the needle would never fall into the groove of the song you really wanted to hear. I wonder how they were pressed.

    I’ve never heard of Irene Bordoni either, but back in the early 1700s there was a very famous singer with the same surname. Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni were the first two successful female operatic sopranos; before their time, soprano roles had been played by either boys or castrati, which means exactly what you think it does. Both women were huge stars on the stage by the time they were twenty, and they hated each other. Their fans used to riot whenever they performed in the same city, and their rivalry was satirised in John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera”. Faustina married Johann Adolph Hasse, composer to the court of Saxony, and became an important patroness of the arts in Dresden and, later, Venice. Francesca wasn’t so lucky; she lost her fortune and wound up in a slum on Bologna, making buttons in a sweatshop. I doubt that Faustina and Irene Bordoni were related, but it’s quite a coincidence.

    I’m sure that’s Eddie Lang playing the guitar accompaniment in “Sleepy Time Down South”; those ascending scale runs played on one string were a signature move of his. Lang, one of the first great jazz guitarists, recorded with the Boswell sisters as well as violinist Joe Venuti, and he was Bing Crosby’s favourite accompanist. Unfortunately he died very suddenly after having a tonsillectomy at the age of 30.

    • According to Wikipedia;
      Also known as concentric grooves, it is possible to master recordings with two or more separate, interlaced spiral grooves on a side. Such records have occasionally been made as novelties. There were so-called Puzzle Plates produced by the Gramophone Company in London in 1898 and 1899: these were discs with two interleaved tracks, issued as E5504, 9290, 9296.[23] Their most famous was a three-track Puzzle Plate (9317) given as prize for a competition in 1901, for which many master recordings had to be made, distinguished by suffix letters against the catalogue number.[24][25] Victor made one as early as 1901.[citation needed] Depending on where the needle is dropped in the lead-in area, it will catch more or less randomly in one of the grooves. Each groove can contain a different recording, so the record “magically” plays one of several different recordings. Victor marketed a few 10-inch 78s with two concentric grooves (called Puzzle Record). Columbia also issued a few 10-inch 78s in 1931 with concentric grooves for their cheap Harmony, Clarion, and Velvet Tone labels. In the blank edge of the record, there was a stamp ‘A’ and ‘B’, which indicated where each of the concentric grooves started.

      • Multiple grooves have been used for years; Monty Python did one. It’s also what pull-string dolls like Chatty Cathy (and Sheriff Woody) used.

    • Thank you, that’s very interesting information, and I’m impressed that puzzle records were manufactured as far back as the late 19th century! I wonder if they tended to skip from one song to another as the discs wore out from repeated playing.

  • Also, barbershop legends the Buffalo Bills recorded “When I’m Walking with My Sweetness” (“Down Among the Sugar Cane” is actually the subtitle) as their first single for Decca in 1951. It was also the final track on their debut album “Barbershop Gems”, released the same year.

  • So, when do we start to “Strike Up the Band for Popeye the Sailor”?

    • Taking the studio’s chronology into account, I’d guess in maybe six to eight weeks. I wish Needle Drop Notes appeared more often than fortnightly!

  • Rudy Vallee is my dreamboat, lover boy, sweetheart !

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