May 10, 2013

Anita Restored, Heavy-Breathing Wolfs, Herrmann Swoons, Plus A Hollywood Cavalcade And An Aussie Mountain Secret Song!

If you've been following this blog over the past few years, then you know I love-love Anita O'Day. A trailblazing bebop and jazz singer - who refused to be anyone's mere "girl singer," as they were called in the day - her childhood was marked by an inattentive, gambling father, a coldly apathetic mother and a botched tonsillectomy which cut out her uvula. That left her unable to sing with vibrato, or hold a note much past two or three bars, if that. It didn't stop her. She learned how to hit notes like a percussionist - bullseye! - and scat-sing with machine-gun power. But she was far from a cold technician. If anything, she epitomized all the joy that a "dame" from a hard-scrabble life could create simply by singing. 

From grueling touring work as a marathon dancer during the Depression - some of the marathons went on for six days or more - to a stint as a singing waitress, to her pioneering work as a jazz singer, she lived a good long life, and remarkably, survived a decades-long heroin addiction. "When you shoot up," she once advised, "the trick is to have someone around in case you OD. You have to be found right away." She eventually quit cold turkey by locking herself down at a beach house, and then just kept going. What remains is her music, and happily, a lot of her best LPs are being remastered, including the two below. Listen to "Stompin' At The Savoy" from "Pick Yourself Up" - especially when she abandons the lyrics and just scats away. It's heaven. 

No, it's not Jessica Rabbit below, but rather, who she was based on:

Have you seen any of director Tex Avery's cartoons? Then you know his were the bawdiest, and I'll argue, funniest, in the 1940's and 50's. He directed the first Daffy Duck cartoon - Daffy is my favorite cartoon character. Of. All. Time - and turned Bugs Bunny into the superchill Brooklyn wesenheimer we all know today. Yes, Bugs' refrain, "What's up, Doc?", first appeared in the Avery-directed short "A Wild Hare." After Warners, he went to Paramount, then MGM, the latter where composer Scott Bradley scored his cartoons. 

Bradley isn't as well known as Carl Stalling, Warners' cartoon composer, but he was just as antic, and his orchestrations were more lush, befitting the "deluxe" MGM of the period. This 1992 CD brings a lot of his tunes together, and no, it's not the best compilation out there (some cuts include the cartoon dialogue) (which I find intrusive), but at least there's a few tracks here that really allow you to appreciate this little-known composer (plus the cover's pretty nifty, don't you think?).

Speaking of compilations, there's so many Bernard Herrmann collections that it's sometimes difficult to keep track. And truthfully, most of them are just thrown together, with no rhyme or reason for why music from one movie, for example, flows into music from another. And another. And another. In other words, they're money-grabs

But this 1976 compilation wisely chooses music from just three of Herrmann's efforts, and they compliment each other beautifully, starting with "Citizen Kane," his first feature assignment, then his Oscar-winning score for "The Devil & Daniel Webster," and on to one of his last, and best, for De Palma's "Obsession."

If you listen to the CD from start to finish (which I really recommend), it's like a dark musical portrait that starts out jaunty and cynical, turns fantastical and fiendish, then dives, beautifully, into thunderous, doom-laden romance. It's quite a ride.

Oh, Deanna, you're still missed, I swear. You were just so damn perky.

There's little Deanna and a host of other big-time Hollywood stars - like Dorothy Lamour! Harpo Marx! Marlene Deitrich! - singing and crooning in "Hooray For Hollywood!" a 1972 compilation LP which stretches from the 1930's to the 50's. Who can resist James Cagney singing "Mary's A Grand Ol' Name?' I know I can't. There's also Betty Hutton singing "Oh, It's So Quiet," which, depending on your mood, will either be the most irritating or joyous thing you've heard all day. And, yes, it's a Cheerful Exclusive! just for you.

The Secret Song File is feeling superpouty today. Too many hours on the set. Too many cigarettes and hootch. So how to relax, but not get all sloppy about it. Hmmm.

She knows just what to do (of course). Put on this slickly entertaining alterna CD from the land Down Under. No, really. It's all in good fun, and since they're good musicians and songwriters, you don't have to feel ashamed of yourself. Who are they? Let's just say that they put the "A" in Aussie. and they're one-word name is just another way to say say shaving jelly. Or, you know, have you met Al Pine? Nice guy. Smells funny, but nice guy.

I kid, of course. I've never taken a whiff of Al (but if I did, I'm not telling).

Talk to me below. You'll feel fresh and clean if you do!


Faze said...

Your news that Anita had a vocal handicap hit me with the same force of astonishment as when I learned that Django only had two usable fingers on his left hand. Talk about making the most of things! I'm looking forward to "Hooray for Hollywood". Did you ever see 80-year-old Betty Hutton's interview on TCM? She's as alarmingly bursting in conversation as she appears to be on screen and on record. A creature without guile.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I did see that interview on TCM and felt a multitude of things: happy that she was still alive and had energy; sad that she was undiagnosed with something - who knows what - which likely derailed her career. She was a force to be reckoned with, no doubt.

L'apprenti-poète said...

thanks for the beautiful Herrmann recording!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome! :D