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The “Troubled” Song from 80 Years Ago Still Has Energy Today. December 11, 2014

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
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Eighty years and three weeks ago, a very seminal recording was produced by a band that legends in music who were up-and-comers at the time.

Of the many interesting parallels between the start of the Swing Era and the start of the Rock n’ Roll Era, one that readily stands out is the 20-year gaps between the two.  Rock’s era started in 1955, and most historians agree that Swing began in earnest in 1935.  But just because those are when the genres’ eras began does not mean that those forms of music did not exist prior to then.  Far from it.  Indeed, anybody remotely schooled in popular music from the 1950s would readily recognize a plethora of recordings from 1954 that would rightly have their place in the era that started the following year.  From “Sh-Boom” by the Chords to “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Big Joe Turner and “Sincerely” by the Moonglows, records like these contributed greatly to the energy that led to Rock’s explosion in 1955, even though they all date from the year before.

Similarly, key records from 1934 contributed to the build-up that led to the unleashing of Swing’s energy onto the scene in 1935.  One of the most important records, therefore, to come out of this year was “Troubled” by Frankie Trumbauer.  “Tram,” as he was known, was a key contributor to the early era.  His primary instrument was the C melody saxophone, a rarity unto itself, especially in the modern era of B-flat and E-flat saxes (tenor and alto, respectively).  But he also cut records with legends, both current and soon-t0-be, from Bix Beiderbecke to Bunny Berigan.

The first few, haunting notes at the instrumental’s beginning establish the record’s key signature tone.  After those notes, one experiences the establishment of a more upbeat tempo.  One thing that makes the record unique is that it is both upbeat with a minor key — no doubt reflecting the song’s intriguing title — something more of the exception than the norm.

The real strength of the record is its powerful solos, the largest plurality of which comes from the trumpet of the great Bunny Berigan himself.  His first brief solo teases the listener early in the tune, but Tram’s C-sax solos tide said listener over until he returns.  His (Berigan’s) return solo more than satisfies, for it immediately grabs both the audience’s attention and imagination with its sizzle and flare.  What one also comes to notice on the track are excellent clarinet solos, the keen talent thereof clearly shines.  Upon learning that the clarinetist in question is none other than the King of the Clarinet himself, Artie Shaw, all is explained!

The song’s title may have been “Troubled”, but its melody certainly was not.  Indeed, this important, seminal record foreshadowed the incredible, einmalig musical energy and genus that was soon to arrive, and soon to define an entire era of culture in America.

America’s Greatest Music: You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby August 15, 2013

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
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Whenever you meet a girl whom you instantly recognize as a cut above the rest, this tune instantly enters your mind.  You know that even further when this tune pops up on the radio (assuming you’re tuned in to the SiriusXM 40s on 4 channel) and without hesitation you start singing along to the record.  But the question becomes, along with which version do you sing?

Such is a valid question.  After all, like many legendary tunes in the Great American Songbook, it has been recorded by many a legendary artist throughout the ages.  At different times, Artie Shaw, Lee Wiley, Perry Como (1946), Rosemary Clooney, The Crew Cuts — who made their mark on the business by doing cover versions of early ’50s R&B and doo-wop hits — Vic Damone, Joni James, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra have all taken their individual cracks at this song.  Let us also not forget Bobby Vee, Bobby Darin (1961), The Dave Clark Five (1967), or Michael Bublé (2001, which, compared to the years of the previous records, might as well be literally yesterday).

But this does not even acknowledge the spate or recordings made of this song when it was written (1938) by Harry Warren (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics — figures!).  That year, Tommy Dorsey recorded his version with Edythe Wright on the vocals.  Chick Bullock — who provided the vocals for some of Bunny Berigan’s small group recordings on the Vocalion label in 1936 — also rendered his version that same year, as did Russ Morgan.

Yet the version that clearly stands out above all others was also recorded the same year the song in question was written (1938, in case you skipped the previous paragraph), and it was sung by none other than Bing Crosby (recorded on the Decca label, of course!).  It is this version that sticks out in one’s mind when a guy meets a girl that stands out from all the rest; it is this version that you joyous sing along with in your car when it comes on the radio….and it swings!

For anybody who doubts that Crosby owns the definitive version of this song, take a moment to notice its reference elsewhere in popular culture.  In the Looney Tunes cartoon “What’s Up Doc?” (1950) featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, an obvious reference to this record surfaces in the middle of the show.

A scene depicts Elmer Fudd coming across, by happenstance, a down-and-out Bugs.  Of the four characters that Fudd passes up before reaching Bugs, the first is a caricature of Al Jolson (“mammy” being a lyric often found in some of his songs), the third is a caricature of Eddie Cantor, and the fourth is obviously a satirical depiction of Der Bingle himself, singing a line of from the featured recording of this very article.  Watch for yourself!

Such humorous references to contemporary pop culture were a hallmark, and indeed, a distinctive competency (to borrow a business term) of the Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies cartoons!  But as hinted previously, this very reference also demonstrates that Crosby’s version stands apart from all others, much like that special lady.