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HITS OF 1920

Twenty original mono recordings
Transfers and production by David Lennick and Graham Newton
NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120635 [61.24]



Crotchet Budget price

1) Whispering - Paul Whiteman
2) The Japanese Sandman - Nora Bayes
3) Swanee - Al Jolson
4) I'll See You In C.U.B.A. - Billy Murray
5) Alice Blue Gown - Irene Day
6) You'd Be Surprised - Eddie Cantor
7) Rose of Washington Square/Jazz Babies Ball - The Kentucky Serenaders
8) Apple Blossom Time - Campbell and Burr
9) The Saint Louis Blues - Marion Harris
10) After You Get What You Want.... - Van and Schenk
11) When My Baby Smiles at Me - Ted Lewis
12) The Love Nest - John Steel
13) Wait 'Till You Get Them Up In The Air, Boys - Billy Murray
14) Pretty Kitty Kelly - Charles Harrison
15) Saxophobia - Rudy Wiedoeft
16) The Moon Shines on The Moonshine - Bert Williams
17) Avalon - Al Jolson
18) Oh! By Jingo - Margaret Young
19) Let The Rest of The World Go By - Campbell and Burr
20) Dardanella - Ben Selvin

Here is another of Naxos Nostalgia's series presenting all the hits from one year. In this case it's 1920 and what a very good year it was, showing just how varied were the tastes and performance styles of the day.

Looking back to events of the early 1920s is no easy task. I remember a few of the many things that were happening then but I was only really interested in what actually affected my family. It didn't stop me from listening to the wireless as I didn't want to miss anything. I remember especially vague hints about how with the recent war over nothing would be the same again. What did alert me was talk of the Jazz Age and the movies. Charlie Chaplin introduced a child star called Jackie Coogan and someone called Mary Pickford had married Douglas Fairbanks. The name Caruso was talked of too and how he had sang at his last performance on Christmas Eve. We had a piano too and every Sunday there would be a piece of music on the stand of one of the popular songs of the time. We also had a gramophone on which, after winding it up, I would listen to the few records we had over and over again. Wireless was beginning to be the norm and I was around nine or ten when my father built a crystal set. I loved it and I would race home from school to listen. Every other afternoon dance music would be on and at night my Father would switch it on and we would hear many programmes. Then late at night there would be a show called "Vaudeville". It was too late for me to be up but I would creep out of my bedroom and listen from the top of the stairs. I began to know some of the performers by name this way began to become familiar with many of the tunes, some of them you can hear on this CD.

The song "Let The Rest Of The World Go By" is a good place to start. It was recorded in October 1919 by Albert Campbell and Henry Burr and was a great hit of the day. It has memories for me too. The sheet music was sent to an Aunt of mine during WW1 by the man she was engaged to marry. He was later killed, she never married and she never played that song again. It has beautiful words, the melody matches the lyrics and the two singers perform it beautifully. I always feel a lump in my throat when I hear this one. That's the kind of song it is and I suspect I am not the only one. Perhaps it's a good idea to follow this with a jazzy number. Try "Dardanella" with Ben Selvin and his Novelty Orchestra recorded in November 1919. This is one of the many numbers of the 1920's when music was there to reflect a yen for exotic places, very much the fashion then. When you hear this swinging number you will be in no doubt as to what was so often the kind of music listened to in the early 1920s. I enjoyed the banjos that feature prominently too. The orchestra plays at a brisk pace and ends with a loud twang from one of the instruments.

I wonder how many of you remember the comic Eddie Cantor. In "You'd Be Surprised" he sings in much the same way many of the comical songs in those days were sung, so this is a good example of the vocal style of the day. I do wonder what you will make of "The Moon Shines On The Moonshine" sung by Bert Williams, though. He sings and talks in a rather odd type of number. The deep sound of a trombone is heard frequently which adds to the strangeness. Not one I would want to hear a great deal of. The same applies to "I'll See You In C.U.B.A." with Billy Murray and his Orchestra. There is a certain lilt in the South American style that has a very distinctive sound and I imagine it was well received at the time.

It was relief to hear the young Al Jolson singing "Swanee". So many songs were coming to Europe from the USA in the early twenties and although a war had been fought and won people were looking forward to settling down and listening to the usual quiet simple songs they had always done. However, the pulsating rhythm of Jazz couldn't be ignored and Jolson certainly gives that here. Likewise with Ted Lewis with "When My Baby Smiles At Me". I liked this number and the distinctive sounds coming from the instrumentalists producing some quite weird sounds and it all comes together when Ted Lewis starts to sing and so makes a lively number. Not so Irene Day singing "Alice Blue Gown". Just a simple song and one that has lasted well. Day is a soprano of real merit. Her high notes are reached without effort, clear and strong, and all through this sweet song you can hear every word clearly.

Once again we come to a real Jazz number of the era, "Rose of Washington Square". This introduces the Kentucky Serenaders. Here we are entertained by just about every instrument in the band. A great number and one that made me feel like getting up and jigging around. It's difficult to describe the next recording, though. It's "Oh! By Jingo" with Margaret Young. Another odd song, although I wonder how many will agree with me that Margaret Young is reminiscent of Sophie Tucker. The orchestra accompanying her is amazing in how they use their various types of instruments. You can hear the bassoon playing at intervals throughout and this I have never heard before on a record like this. I liked it very much and found the whole number amusing and entertaining.

"The St. Louis Blues" is here too, popularised my Marion Harris and recorded by her in April 1920. Very evocative of the era with Harris drawling out the song in the manner you expect to hear in a blues number. A good song to follow this one is the real old time duet, "After You Get What You Want, You Don't Want It". A real gem sung by two characters that sound as though they are performing on a variety show bill, so alive do they sound. I have heard many comedians over the years sing in the same manner as Van and Schenck do. They are a pleasure to listen to and in doing so you will lose any worries you may have and join in the chorus.

Now for a recording for anyone who appreciates saxophones. It's actually called "Saxophobia" and is played brilliantly by Rudy Wiedoeft with his orchestra. After this is another of my all time favourites, "The Love Nest", a lovely song which became familiar many years later as the theme tune for Burns and Allen. It's sung beautifully and with much feeling and warmth by John Steel whose voice, pure and clear, rises and falls in time with the orchestra who never at any time swamp him. After this there is a pleasant Irish number", Pretty Kitty Kelly" which Charles Harrison sings softly and clearly, again just as such a song would have been delivered then. A nice song, but not one that has lasted. A melody that has certainly survived down the years is "Whispering" with Paul Whiteman and his Ambassador Band. A soothing tune, but it does have a certain swing to it played like this.

I think most of you will have heard this next song at sometime. It's "I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time". Albert Campbell and Henry Burr sing this straight with no embellishment and when you hear the recording today you certainly notice the distinctive arrangement favoured then. As I said earlier the music of the early 1920's reflected the tastes of the day including a yen for exotic places and I think "Avalon" fits with this. The tune is vaguely familiar but not with Al Jolson singing, who I barely recognised. Recorded in 1922, it's a pleasant, quiet number and one easy to listen to but it's not a song I would associate with Al Jolson. Another exotic song is the last song on the disc, "The Japanese Sandman" with Nora Bayes. I liked it, particularly the chorus where you can especially hear the faint sound of the exotic. A good number, even through there were times I had a little difficulty in recognising the words.

I've enjoyed listening to these very old tunes made possible by Naxos Nostalgia who have so cleverly transferred the old 78s into a superb new CD. Nostalgia for those who were there at the time, fascination for those who were not.

Joan Duggan

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