Saturday Single No. 617

When we look for tracks recorded over the years on November 24, the RealPlayer brings us a few results, ranging through the years from 1924 to 1978.

The recordings from 1924 come from the Charleston Seven, a group recording for Thomas Edison’s National Phonograph Company, long defunct and historically significant. The record was likely one of the advanced Diamond Discs, made of Bakelite rather than shellac. According to Joel Whitburn’s Pop Memories, that manufacturing advance gave Edison’s records greater durability, longer running times, and better sound quality than those of rival companies. Those advantages were pretty much canceled by the fact that Edison discs could only be played on phonographs manufactured by Thomas Edison’s company (making Edison’s records the early 20th Century equivalent, I’d guess, of Betamax video).

Anyway, the Charleston Seven were in New York ninety-four years ago today, laying down “Nashville Nightingale” and “Toodles.” Neither of them made the charts of the time, a result – I would guess – of the record’s limited playability. The fact that both of them are still available – and I have no memory of how they ended up on the digital shelves here – is, I think, pretty remarkable.

Chronologically, the next tracks we can look at come from a busy day in New York City for Bessie Smith in 1933. There were likely more tracks recorded that long-ago November 24, but the four that show up in our files from that session are “Do Your Duty,” b/w “I’m Down In The Dumps” and “Gimme A Pigfoot” b/w “Take Me For A Buggy Ride.” The tracks were released on both the Okeh and Columbia labels in 1934, and a note a Discogs.com says that the four sides were the last Smith recorded before her death in an auto accident in 1937. None of the four sides charted, according to Pop Memories.

The next November 24 track on the digital shelves did chart, and in a big way: The Andrews’ Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (Means That You’re Grand)” was No. 1 for five weeks in early 1938. Released on Decca, it was the first charting hit for the sisters from Minneapolis. They’d have about twenty more hits on the more condensed charts of their times, but none were ever bigger.

Then, on this day in 1941, just thirteen days before the United States was pulled into World War II by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Glenn Miller & His Orchestra recorded their version of one of the most romantic songs of the war, “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover.” Probably better known through Vera Lynn’s 1942 recording, the song offers a vision of life after the war, using England’s iconic white cliffs and the prospect of bluebirds (a bird which lyricist Nat Burton mistakenly thought was indigenous to Britain).

Miller’s version of the tune went, I think, to No. 2 in 1942. At least, that’s the impression I get from the website playback.fm. (My reference library has a historical gap in it; Pop Memories gets me to 1940, and Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles picks things up in 1955. For the fifteen years in between, I’m on my own.)

From 1941, we jump ahead six years for a 1947 session in New York, as Sister Rosetta Tharpe laid down one of her signature tunes, “Up Above My Head I Hear Music in the Air.” The record was released on Decca late in 1948 and went to No. 6 on the Billboard Best Seller chart and to No. 9 on the magazine’s Jukebox chart. (Oddly enough, considering that the tune is relatively obscure, I have five covers of it in the digital stacks, including one by Sister Rosetta herself on a television show in 1964 or 1965.)

Our last stop this morning is in Glasgow, Scotland, where on this day in 1978, Eric Clapton offered a concert at the Glasgow Apollo. Two of the tunes performed there wound up on the live disc of the two-disc compilation Blues, released in 1999. One could quibble that “Wonderful Tonight” isn’t strictly a blues, but it’s mournful enough, I guess. (I’m reminded of a long-ago colleague in the music department at Minot State University who expressed skepticism when I offered Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla” for a desert island tape and categorized it as a type of blues. I got by with that one, so I’ll give Slowhand a break, too.)

The other tune from the November 24 Glasgow show that wound up on Blues certainly fit: A cover of Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman.” As the video below shows, the performance also ended up on the compilation Crossroads 2: Live In The Seventies.

And despite the attraction of the Glenn Miller and Rosetta Tharpe recordings (and even the lesser attraction of Bessie Smith’s “Gimme A Pigfoot”), I’m going to stay in the modern era and make Eric Clapton’s November 24, 1978, performance of “Kind Hearted Woman” today’s Saturday Single.

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