NEEDLE DROP NOTES
March 8, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: “Screen Songs” 1934

One could easily understand if the Fleischer brothers felt their plate to be full as 1934 arrived. Betty Boop was continuing on apace. Screen Songs continued as they had been. Popeye was proving extremely popular. And they must have been making their plans for the upcoming series of Color Classics. All of which suggests that the Fleischer plant was humming. Things may have been too busy in some respects, as there would be no Screen Songs produced during the upcoming 1934-35 season. But there was still enough output, using a number of radio stars of the day, to finish out the 1933-1934 roster.

Keeps Rainin’ All the Time (1/15/45) – Featuring Gertrude Niesen, who had emerged the year before on recordings for Columbia, and would also cut sides for Victor, Brunswick, and a series of show tunes for Decca. A cat decides to run away from home, after refusing meals his father has set out for him, and getting swatted on the behind for it. He writes a misspelled goodbye note on his mirror with toothpaste, then goes out into the rain. The storm is going hard and heavy, with clouds forming two lines of football players in a scrimmage. (This seems very similar to what fathers used to tell their kids in the day – that lightning was caused by two clouds bumping together.) Eventually, the kitten is frightened back home, while Miss Niesen performs her rendition of ”Stormy Weather”. Songs: The old standards, “William Tell Overture – the storm” and “Home Sweet Home”. “Good Morning, Glory” was a fairly new song from the feature Sitting Pretty with Jack Haley and Jack Oakie, performed on records by George Hall and his Hotel Taft Orchestra on Bluebird. The Pickens Sisters also had a vocal version on Victor.

The featured tune “Stormy Weather” was from one of the Cotton Club Revues, by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen. Leo Reisman performed it for Victor, Ted Lewis on Columbia, Guy Lombardo on Brunswick, and Duke Ellington on Brunswick. Columbia also recorded a vocal version by Frances Langford, only released in England. Paul Tremaine got in for Bluebird. A British version (label undetermined) appeared by George Scott Wood and his Orchestra with Sam Browne vocal. The song became associated over the years with Lena Horne, from the Fox feature of the same name. A 50’s version by the Five Sharps on Jubilee became the holy grail of Doo Wop collectors. The Leaders recorded it for Glory in 1955. Etta James recorded it on Argo in the late 50’s. A notable stereo instrumental by Michel Legrand appeared on the collection, “Twenty Great Songs of the Twentieth Century” on Bell.

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Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing (2/5/34) – More cats (three of them) leave home to start chasing birds, to very little avail. Les Reis and Artie Dunn provide the vocal harmonies and self-accompaniment on piano. Dunn would in later years become the organist for the Three Suns. Songs include reappearance of “Listen to the Mocking Bird”, and the title song (which we’ve covered before), sung with two ethnic choruses, one by Dunn in Italian dialect and another by Reis in Yiddish. The title tune is still heard, daily, in Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Here’s Billy Costello’s Popeye version:


Tune Up and Sing (3/9/34) – A girl is going through the forest, looking for a magic crystal, and eventually gets swallowed up by it. They resist an “Alice in Wonderland” takeoff, reserving that for Betty Boop in a film to be discussed in a future installment of this series. Circulating print of the film is shorn of its live action sequence, featuring Lanny Ross. Songs include reuses of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody”, “Mimi” (possibly included in the live action sequence, as the print still includes an animated “second chorus”), and “Home Sweet Home”.


Lazybones (4/13/34) – Featuring Borrah Minnevitch and hid Harmonica Rascals, as well as Les Reis and Artie Dunn. A jockey is trying to get his horse “Lazybones” awake enough to participate in a horse race. The horse would prefer to dream of fillies – one of whom gives him the Mae West invitation to come up and see her sometime. Eventually, the horse wins with odds of 500 to 1 – which should keep him in the finest quality hay money can buy. Song score includes reuses of “Please Let Me Sleep”, “Jolly Robbers Overture”, and “Yankee Doodle”. The title song was penned by Hoagy Carmichael with lyric by Johnny Mercer. The tune was a big hit in 1933, especially popular in England. Brunswick domestically had a dance version by Don Redman. Ted Lewis covered it for Columbia (below). Glen Gray recorded it for Victor, then remade it on Decca with Louis Armstrong. (Louis would also duet it with Bing Crosby on Decca in the 1950’s.) Joe Haymes did a version for Melotone, Perfect, et al. Rudy Vallee performed it for the new Bluebird label. There was a vocal version by Chick Bullock on Melotone, Perfect et al. Johnny Mercer himself would record a version on Crown in 1933, but it was not issued until 1939, when the master was purchased by Varsity Records. Hoagy would finally do his own version for Decca in the 1940’s and was still using the song as a stock in trade when he recorded an album, “Hoagy Carmichael’s Havin’ a Party” for Little Golden Records in the late 1950’s. Dance versions also appeared in England by Billy Cotton on Zonophone, Jay Wilbur on Rex, Bertini and his Tower Blackpool Orchestra on Eclipse, and a vocal version on HMV by Paul Robeson.


This Little Piggie Went To Market (5/23/34) – One of the first of the newsreel parodies in the series – a format that would become standard fallback for numerous subsequent productions, and also be mirrored by films at many competing studios as well. If you’re familiar enough with this kind of cartoon, you know the drill. Spot gags with tongue-in-cheek headlines and funny datelines. Usually not much of a plot, but who cares. Here, what plot there is allowed Fleischer to make fun of the logos of several studios’ newsreels, including Paramount’s own. Featuring “Singin’ Sam” (real name Harry Frankel), a singer who, after several years, found a successful persona. Prior personalities had included am attempt to copy Wendell Hall, among other singers. Frankel discovered the Singin’ Sam image when he got a gig to advertise Barbersol shaving cream over the radio. He would retain this moniker for the rest of his life, into the 1940’s. Songs: “She Reminds Me of You”, which I will cover below with the next cartoon, and the title song, a hit of 1934 – from the Paramount feature Eight Girls In A Boat – recorded by Ambrose & his Orchestra for Brunswick (with Elsie Carlisle vocals), Eddy Duchin for Victor, and as a vocal by Annette Hanshaw on Vocalion (from her very last session before retiring from broadcasting).


She Reminds Me Of You (6/25/34) – Featuring the Eton Boys. Another newsreel spoof, this time mixed with a parody of the gilded splendor of the new Roxy Theater. This is not the only cartoon to make fun of Samuel Rothafel’s latest venture (Van Buren would have Cubby Bear do a similar takeoff in Opening Night). One memorable gag has a character receive a ticket the size of a movie poster, which gets torn in half by every usher he encounters, until his final stub is the normal size you would expect. The theater itself is a replacement for the “Old Boxy”, and the “Cigar Boxy”. The building also has a unique means of changing audiences – turning the theater over from the inside, and dumping all the patrons down a chute. The title song is about the only new tune, introduced by Bing Crosby in We’re Not Dressing, and was recorded by him for Brunswick. Eddy Duchin covered it for Victor, and the Dorsey Brothers recorded it on Vocalion under the pseudonym, “Paul Hamilton and his Orchestra”.


Love Thy Neighbor (7/20/34) – Featuring Mary Small (age 12 years old), who was making her name in what was left of vaudeville and then radio. Newsreel spoof (again), with one gag about cameramen who put themselves in danger. A cameraman gets too close to a charging lion, with the camera view diving down the lion’s throat – then we see a sign, reading, “Cameraman wanted,” Ends with a gag about a parade of dogs, finishing with a Dachshund bringing up a long string of signs for “the end”. Songs include a return for “When I Take My Sugar To Tea.” “Love Thy Neighbor” was introduced by Bing Crosby again in We’re Not Dressing, and recorded by him on Brunswick (below). Tom Coakley and his St. Francis Hotel Orchestra (who became a respected judge in San Francisco in his later years) also recorded it for Victor.


Though not technically a Screen Song, mention should also be made of a short sing-along reel specially produced for Popeye Fan Clubs, called Let’s Sing With Popeye (released in 1934, precise date unknown). It was a definite cheater, running only about two minutes, reusing the opening and closing moments from “Popeye the Sailor”. It was never included in television packages, and most prints tend to be home movie editions from Official Films. Its only song is Popeye’s theme (complete with indications on when to toot his pipe in the sing along lyrics). One can only imagine a theater audience of the day, with all the kids wrapping their larynxes around the garbled lyrics in their own chosen key.

Next Time: Betty Boop 1934 – The Code Cracks Betty.

4 Comments

  • There’s a story that Harold Arlen was riding in a taxi when he noticed the driver whistling “Stormy Weather” to himself. Feeling very proud, Arlen asked him: “Do you know who wrote that song?”
    “Sure. Irving Berlin.”
    “Um… no.”
    “George Gershwin?”
    “No.”
    “Rodgers and Hart?”
    “No! It was me! Harold Arlen! I wrote that song!”
    “Gwan! No foolin’! So you really wrote ‘Misty’, huh?”

    I read that many years ago in one of those allegedly humorous blurbs that fill the space at the end of articles in Reader’s Digest, which means that it almost certainly isn’t true.

    A notable feature of the “Tune up and Sing” soundtrack — besides the nifty viola solo that the tree plays on its branches — is the presence of a cimbalom, or Hungarian hammer dulcimer. They might have been easier to find in New York in the 1930s, but nowadays good cimbalom players are few and far between. A number of important orchestral works call for a cimbalom (e.g., the Hary Janos Suite by Zoltan Kodaly, and Stravinsky’s ballet Renard), and the player has to be booked well in advance, usually travels a fair distance, and charges a lot of money. That failing, a reasonable facsimile of a cimbalom can be obtained by winding a sheet of wax paper through the strings of a piano.

    It’s good that the live-action portion of “Lazybones” still survives with its entertaining performance of the title song by the Harmonica Rascals. The little fellow in the group is Johnny Puleo, who later led his own harmonica ensemble, the Harmonica Gang; they used to appear on Ed Sullivan, Hollywood Palace, and other variety shows in the early days of television. The Gang adopted much of the Rascals’ shtick, but without their class. Like Spike Jones, Borrah Minevitch was an excellent musician and a very good conductor with high musical standards. For all the horseplay and monkeyshines in their performances, I’ll bet their rehearsals were very serious and focused. It’s worth mentioning that Dick Hayman, longtime in-house arranger for the Boston Pops Orchestra and hands down the greatest ever arranger of popular music for symphony orchestra, began his musical career with the Harmonica Rascals. (Hayman isn’t in the Fleischer film, having been just 14 at the time; he joined the group a few years later.)

    I love the state-of-the-art New Roxy Theatre in “She Reminds Me of You”, but those ushers — ! Now I know where Devo got the idea for their costumes.

  • “nowadays good cimbalom players are few and far between”

    Go here for The Boss Of The Cimbalom:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oIo5DOjNNU

    • He’s good, all right. But can he follow a conductor?

  • Note Stormy Whether lyrics are by Ted Koeler (not Yip Harburg).

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