Archive for Sunday, August 27, 2000

Hit’ parade helped shape musical tastes

Pickett Line

August 27, 2000


A big box arrived a dozen or so years ago from a woman whose husband used to listen to my radio program. She had sent me books and tapes, and I was delighted to see that several of the tapes were labeled "Hit-of-the-Week." How I remembered those hits-of-the-weeks.

From 1929 to 1932 my older sisters had bought, each week, these little brown cardboard Depression-era phonograph records that cost, maybe, a quarter. We played the records endlessly on our "graphophone," one of those old wind-up jobs. I don't know what happened to those records; I think many of them just warped and got old. But this man whose wife sent me the tapes apparently had kept the records, and had put them onto reel-to-reel tapes.

How they carried, and still carry, me back. I listened to a lot of these recently, and I realized that they had helped shape my tastes for popular music back in the early '30s.

"Betty Coed is loved by all the college boys, but I'm the one who's loved by Betty Coed." You old-timers remember that one? "I'm dancing with tears in my eyes," a hit I remember from a dance for little folks about 1930. "Wake with the buttercup, come on, get up, get up, here comes the sun!"

I obviously memorized a lot of these. "When shadows fall, and trees whisper day is ending, my thoughts are ever wending home." "When your hair has turned to silver, I will love you just the same." "Because I still get a thrill thinking of you." "Moonlight on the river Colorado, how I wish that I were there with you."

These weren't recorded by the big names of the day, but I did find that one of the bands with an obscure name was that of Duke Ellington. Those fellows did "Sing You Sinners." Rudy Vallee also is here, asking "Was that the human thing to do?" (Rudy wouldn't have treated a dog that way.) Sam Lanin, Dick Robertson, Scrappy Lambert. And a lot by Ted Fio Rito. This was pre-swing era time, you know, and the numbers have that ricky-ticky sound carried over from the 1920s.

Most of these songs are numbers that became standards. "I found a million dollar baby, in a five-and-ten-cent store." That one seems to go on forever. "Just around the corner, there's a rainbow in the sky, so let's have another cup of coffee, and let's have another piece of pie." "Three little words, oh what I'd give for that one little phrase." "If a nightingale could sing like you, they'd sing much sweeter than they do, for you brought a new kind of love to me." The last of these isn't Maurice Chevalier (or even the Marx Brothers), but it's pleasant to listen to.

One of the numbers is "When It's Springtime in the Rockies." There's a bad skip on this one, but I still used it on a radio show once. It will always seem a song of my Utah-Idaho background.

Sentimental songs marked the Depression years and the brief life of Hit-of-the-Week records. "When the Organ Played at Twilight" is a really sentimental one. "I'd love to spend one hour with you," another Chevalier song, became Eddie Cantor's signature. "I'd love to spend each Sunday with you."

The one I like best in the whole set is called "When I Take My Sugar to Tea." This is a dandy recording, with a great growly saxophone on it. "So I never take her where the gang goes, when I take my sugar to tea." I also like "My Baby Just Cares for Me." This was one that Woody Allen used so delightfully in his movie "Everyone Says I Love You."

Back in '30 and '31 we really liked "Sweet Jennie Lee, from sunny Tennessee." There was a girl in our neighborhood named Jennie, and how we teased her with that hit song.

Do you remember "You came to me, from out of nowhere"? "Soft lights and sweet music, and you in my arms"? That was an Irving Berlin song. "Just give me something to remember you by, when you are far away from me." Sob. "Ninety-nine out of a hundred wanna be kissed, why don't you."

And a couple few will remember. "Sing a new song, sing a new song, sing of blue skies not of gray." "I've got nobody to hear my song, so I'm hummin' to myself." And a gloomy one from gloomy 1932 called "My Silent Love." Nobody sings these old songs any more. But after I've played a cassette with these grand old songs I go around the house singing them half the day.

Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His column appears Sundays in the Journal-World.

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