Saturday, August 22, 2009

Aeolian Piano Roll - My Little Maid of Oz

It's "My Little Maid of Oz", from the bizarre 1902 stage musical production of The Wizard of Oz, played by that magical steampunk-robotic device known as a player piano, from a paper roll dated 1905.

The earliest player piano - that is, an automated piano-playing device that is programmed by interchangeable rolls of perforated paper - was invented by Claude Seytre, who patented one in France in 1842. Evidently the French patent office didn't require a functioning prototype, because although Seytre had the right idea, his machine didn't actually work. It wasn't until 1876 that John McTammany exhibited a working version of the device in Philadelphia.

Aeolian Piano Roll - My Little Maid of Oz (1905)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Maria Von Schmedes - Unter Einem Regenschirm Am Abend

The obscure Austrian cabaret-schlager singer Maria Von Schmedes singing "Unter Einem Regenschirm Am Abend" (Under an Umbrella in the Evening), a popular German tune that was also performed by Lale Andersen. Maria was born in 1914 in Vienna. Had musical and theatrical training, and performed at the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall in 1939. Her biggest hit was "Mein Sonntagsvergnügen" (My Sunday's Pleasure) in 1942.

Maria Von Schmedes - Unter Einem Regenschirm Am Abend

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Paul Whiteman & Johnny Hauser - Gloomy Sunday

In 1933, Rezső Seress composed the song "Szomorú Vasárnap", basing it on a poem written by his friend László Jávor. Javor was depressed because of a breakup with a woman, and it was he who suggested Seress set it to music.

That song was translated into English in 1935 as "Gloomy Sunday", and quickly became a phenomenon as the song was implicated in many subsequent suicides. From the Syracuse Herald, February 2, 1936:

Budapest police have branded the song "Gloomy Sunday" public menace No. 1 and have asked all musicians and orchestras to cooperate in supressing it, dispatches said today.

To its gloomy strains, the police attribute 18 suicides. It was the 18th suicide -- which moved police to action -- when Joseph Keller, a shoemaker, killed himself and in a note to police asked them to put on his grave 100 of the roses mentioned in the song.

Men, women and children are among the victims. Two people shot themselves while gypsies played the melancholy notes on violins. Some killed themselves while listeninig to it on gramophone records in their homes. Two housemaids cut their employers' linens and paintings and then killed themselves after hearing the song drifting up into the servant's hall from dinner parties.

The controversial "Gloomy Sunday" only grew in popularity as it became known as "the Hungarian Suicide Song", and then Billie Holiday rocketed the song to even greater heights of fame when she recorded it in 1941. A list of other important early versions would have to include ones by Pal Kalmar, Josh White, Hal Kemp, Paul Robeson, Artie Shaw and the French chanteuse Damia.

But this version, by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra with Johnny Hauser on vocals, is one of the better and creepier versions to these ears. Take a listen... but hide the razor blades and sleeping pills.

Paul Whiteman & Johnny Hauser - Gloomy Sunday

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Larry Vincent - The Freckle Song

Born in California, Larry Vincent (no relation to the horror host) moved around the country plying his musicianly trade for many years in many places, including Chicago's Alamo Cafe in 1926 before settling down in Covington, KY in the late 30s, early 40s.

Larry arrived in Northern Kentucky at the peak of its decadent period, when the area was ruled by mobsters, strippers, prostitutes, card sharks, burlesque halls, and other such glorious sleaze. He took up a residency performing at Jimmy Brink's Lookout House, a supper club that was actually a front for an illegal casino. This became Larry's second home for years to come.

He formed Pearl Records, an odd label whose artist roster consisted almost entirely of Larry himself performing under many pseudonyms. This particular recording, "The Freckle Song", is one of his tamer outings, an almost Benny Bell-like novelty song based around rhymes that you think you will go one way but then go another, and the fact that its chorus "She's got freckles on her, but she's nice" sounds rather uncannily like "She's got freckles on her butt, she's nice."

People were easily amused in those days. Other puerile Larry Vincent gems include "I Took My Organ To The Party", "Sarah Sittin' In A Shoe Shine Shop", and "I Grow Gooey over Chop Suey".

Near the end of his life, Larry told radio host Dr. Demento:

At a time when sale or possession of records with the f-word and other indiscretions could get you arrested, I made records that were just risque enough to be slightly scandalous to Middle Americans, yet discreet enough to be acceptable to at least some mainstream record stores.

I did have some regional success as a pop crooner in the 1920s. In the late 1930s I collaborated with several established Tin Pan Alley songwriters. With Henry Tobias and Moe Jaffe I turned out one song that eventually became a semi-standard, "If I Had My Life To Live Over."

Larry Vincent - The Freckle Song

Monday, August 3, 2009

Teddy Brown & His Orchestra - Fairy on the Clock

The amazing Mr. Creosote lookalike Teddy Brown, displaying his admirable xylophone prowess. This was taken from the soundtrack of the 1930 British film Elstree Calling, co-directed by Alfred Hitchcock. (which makes me wonder about his naming of Gavin Elster in Vertigo...)

Teddy Brown & His Orchestra - Fairy on the Clock

Want even more Fairyclockmania? Check out the Voraxical Theatre blog.