Shuffle Off To Buffalo and Other Parts Unknown

Sometimes we recognize old songs without realizing they were originally songs from a musical before they became radio hits.  I love songs by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics), and 42nd Street is a musical that spawned a number of Warren and Dubin radio hits (who also had cameo roles in the movie version of the musical).

In a nutshell, 42nd Street is about small-town Pennsylvania Peggy Sawyer (played by Ruby Keeler in the movie) who hits out by moving to New York City in the hopes that she’ll make her mark in Broadway.

Peggy Sawyer finds herself as a member of the chorus much to the dismay of Broadway diva Dorothy Brock (played by Bebe Daniels in the movie) who is romantically involved with the financial backer of the production, the very wealthy Abner Dillon (played by Guy Kibbee in the movie) who, unlike the director Julian Marsh (played by Warner Baxter in the movie), didn’t lose all his money in the stock market crash of 1929.  But behind Abner’s back, Dorothy is seeing her Pat Denning (played by George Brent in the movie) and thus the stage is set (pardon the pun).

The 42nd Street Special was a train that left Los Angeles on 20 February 1933, headed to President  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration on 4 March 1933 – the day after the movie version of the musical premiered in New York.  On board the train were stars such as Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Loretta Young, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  It was an amazing way to draw attention to the film and captured the attention of the country in the middle of a bleak period in American history.

 

The train trip extravaganza began as an idea courtesy of Warner Brothers studios publicity chief, Charlie Einfeld.  The Depression had seen the number of moviegoers drop by more than fifty percent in the three years since the Crash, and Warner Brothers studios was dealing with huge losses to the tune of $14 MILLION USD.  This publicity stunt was going to set the studio back another $400,000 USD.

During the election campaign, the Warner brothers had backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt while MGM studios’ Louis B. Mayer had backed Herbert Hoover.  The spectacle was promoted in the media as “the greatest train ride since Paul Revere.”

General Electric, seeing an opportunity to get in on the publicity, co-sponsored and fully equipped the six-coach express train with outdoor lights, speakers, and an all-electric kitchen with what was then considered to be a state-of-the-art electric oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher.  At every stop (which totaled 30 in the space of 17 days), the public was invited to tour the kitchen car and see for themselves what these amazing appliances looked like.

With so many wonderful songs to choose from to include in this entry, I’ve gone with these for this article.  “Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet” sung by Ruby Keeler is mesmerizing.

 

You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” sung by Bebe Daniels is fun and cheeky.

I’m Young And Healthy” sung by a very young Dick Powell (who in later years was known for his role as Nick Charles in the Thin Man movie series).

 

The song that first introduced me to 42nd Street was one I heard courtesy of the Bugs Bunny cartoons.  As a child, I had no idea where Buffalo was exactly, but the song was something I recognized and sang along to before I was old enough to attend kindergarten.    “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” was the kind of song that resonated with children as much as it did with adults.  The scene with this song in the movie version of 42nd Street makes the song even more fun than the Bugs Bunny segment (which was absolutely memorable and completely amusing).

The golden age of musicals may have been decades ago but the songs from that era still stand up to inspection in this generation, don’t you agree?

Elyse Bruce

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Ice Under Pressure

Back in 1981, David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016) and the members of Queen co-wrote “Under Pressure” that was included on Queen’s album “Hot Space” that was released the following year. It hit the top spot on the charts in the UK, but peaked at the 29th spot in the U.S. The song was a staple of Queen concerts until the band stopped touring in 1986.  Even though David Bowie was instrumental in the song’s creation, he chose not to include it in his live performances until 1992 when he sang the song as a duet with Annie Lennox at the tribute concert for Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury (5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991).

It’s never been a secret that American rapper Robert Matthew Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice sampled the bass line from “Under Pressure” for his hit, “Ice Ice Baby.”  The Vanilla Ice song was released on his 1989 debut album “Hooked” and a year later, on his national debut album “To The Extreme.”

Now this was back in the early days of sampling.  Legal precedent wasn’t carved in stone yet.  Things weren’t playing out very well in most of the industry’s opinion.

Neither David Bowie now Queen were credited as co-writers of the “Ice Ice Baby” and they saw none of the royalties … that is, until the lawsuit was settled. Vanilla Ice argued that he had added a beat between notes and because of that, the two songs were completely different songs. Of course, in later years, he admitted that he wasn’t serious about using that as a defense. Still, the situation was serious enough for Queen and David Bowie to threaten to sue Vanilla Ice for copyright infringement.

At the end of the day, Vanilla Ice thought it was more prudent to settle out of court for an undisclosed sum of money and to give David Bowie and Queen songwriting credits on the “Ice Ice Baby” track.  For Vanilla Ice, because “Ice Ice Baby” was making a name for him as a rapper, losing all rights to his song could prove disastrous to his career which is why he opted for the out of court settlement.

So whether you’re a fan of David Bowie or Queen, or a fan of Vanilla Ice, you have to admit that the bass line is catchy with enough punch to carry two songs to the charts.  What do you think?

What Do Cows and Capitol Records Have In Common?

Sometimes popular musicians and singers go out with great fanfare and fans remember them for decades.  Sometimes their names fade into obscurity despite a large catalogue of quality recordings.

Ella Mae Morse  (12 September 1924 – 16 October 1999) was a big band vocalist whose 1942 hit “Cow Cow Boogie” was responsible for giving Capitol Records (at that point, a new label) its first million seller.  Although Ella Mae was 18 years old at the time, she was already a veteran vocalist having sung in her father’s nightclub band since she was nine years old.

She had drive and ambition, and auditioned for the Jimmy Dorsey band when she was 14 years old (although she claimed to be 19 to make sure she was allowed to audition).  She passed the audition and got the job, but the jig was up when the school board informed Mr. Dorsey that as his band’s vocalist, he was responsible for her care.  He fired her instead.

When she signed with Capitol Records as a soloist when she was 18 years old, on the strength of the success of “Cow Cow Boogie” her path was set.

She remained with Capital Records for 15 years before taking time off to marry and start a family.  Lucky in her professional life, she wasn’t quite as lucky in her personal life and wound up marrying four times although most blogs and Wikipedia incorrectly state she was married twice.

She married pianist Richard “Dick Walters” Showalter in 1941.

Her next husband was U.S. Navy doctor Marvin Leonard Gerber.

Her third husband was Glen Kendall.

Her fourth husband and last husband (to whom she was married for forty years) was Jack Bradford — a carpenter by trade.

Her recordings stand the test of time, and to prove this, I’m including three YouTube videos of her other well-known hits.

 

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