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Around fifty years ago collectors eagerly awaited the latest Melachrino HMV 78 of show tunes. That great songwriting era is recaptured again on a new Living Era CD


Conducted by George Melachrino


The Classic HMV Selections

1 "CALL ME MADAM" (Irving Berlin)
Washington Square Dance; You’re Just In Love; Marrying For Love; The Best Thing For You; They Like Ike; Once Upon A Time Today; It’s A Lovely Day Today; The Ocarina; You’re Just In Love.

2 "KISS ME KATE" (Cole Porter)
Another Op’nin’ Another Show; So In Love; Too Darn Hot; Why Can’t You Behave?; Wunderbar; Bianca; Were Thine That Special Face; Always True To You In My Fashion; So In Love.

3 "SHOW BOAT" (Jerome Kern)
Cotton Blossom; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; Why Do I Love You; Make Believe; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; Bill; You Are Love; Make Believe; Ol’ Man River.

4 "CAROUSEL" (Richard Rodgers)
Carousel Waltz; If I Loved You; What’s The Use Of Wond’rin’; A Real Nice Clambake; Mister Snow; You’ll Never Walk Alone; June Is Bustin’ Out All Over.

5 "THE DANCING YEARS" (Ivor Novello)
Uniform; I Can Give You The Starlight; Wings Of Sleep; My Life Belongs To You; Waltz Of My Heart; Leap Year Waltz.

6 "THREE LITTLE WORDS" (Kalmar, Ruby)
I Love You So Much; Nevertheless; Who’s Sorry Now (Kalmar, Ruby, Snyder); Come On Papa; Thinking Of You; So Long! Oo Long; My Sunny Tennessee; All Alone Monday; Three Little Words.

Varsity Drag (De Sylva, Brown, Henderson); I May Be Wrong (Ruskin, Sullivan); On The Good Ship Lollipop (Clare, Whiting); Ain’t She Sweet Yellen, Ager); You’re My Everything (Dixon, Young, Warren); The Charleston (Mack, Johnson); Would You Like To Take A Walk (Dixon, Rose, Warren); California Here I Come (Jolson, De Sylva, Meyer).

Just One Of Those Things; What Is This Thing Called Love; You Do Something To Me; Easy To Love; Night And Day; Anything Goes.

9 GERSHWIN FANTASY (George Gershwin)
The Man I Love; Fascinating Rhythm; Embraceable You; Lisa; Summertime; Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off; Love Walked In; Rhapsody In Blue; I Got Rhythm. (Chappell, NCB, BIEM)

Living Era CD AJA 5469

In the years immediately following the end of the Second World War, and before long-playing records eventually found their way into most music lovers’ homes, 78 rpm discs were still being purchased in large quantities by keen record collectors. They offered a wide range of music but, because they were relatively expensive (and highly taxed as luxuries), they were bought mainly by people now regarded as ‘the older generation’. Teenagers had yet to bring their overwhelming influence to bear on the singles market, so the majority of the popular records that were issued featured what might be termed ‘straight’ singers and light orchestras and dance bands.

Music from the latest films and shows always attracted attention, and record companies were quick to bring out their own versions of the biggest hits. The Melachrino Orchestra produced a steady stream of 78s featuring tunes from the major shows, tastefully arranged and usually lasting over eight minutes – the playing time then available using both sides of a 12" disc. This collection features some of the best from that period, which produced melodies of such charm and quality that many of them are still remembered today, over half a century later. In the case of American musicals, there was often an embargo on their music being played in Britain until the show eventually opened in London’s West End, which explains why some of George Melachrino’s selections were recorded a year or two after the shows first appeared on Broadway.

"Call Me Madam" was just one of many successes by the prolific Irving Berlin. The show first opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in New York on 12 October 1950, where it ran for 644 performances. In London it opened at the Coliseum in March 1952 and lasted for 14 months. It told the story of Sally Adams, ‘the hostess with the mostest’, who became the US Ambassador to the tiny Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg, captivating the handsome Prime Minister, and encouraging the romance of her aide with an enchanting young Princess. Tunes such as It’s a Lovely Day Today and You’re Just in Love soon became very popular. The war hero General Eisenhower, who eventually became President of the USA, is remembered in the number They Like Ike.

"Kiss Me Kate" boasted words and music by Cole Porter, and it contains some of his most memorable melodies. The story revolves around the performance in Baltimore of a musical version of Shakespeare’s "Taming of the Shrew", with some of the characters in the play closely mirrored by the players. It was first seen at the New Century Theatre on Broadway on 30 December 1948 (1077 performances) but didn’t reach London’s Coliseum Theatre until 8 March 1951, where it notched up 501 performances; it has since enjoyed several successful revivals. The show’s big show-stopper is Brush Up Your Shakespeare which, for some reason, Melachrino omitted from his selection. But all the other hits are here, notably Wunderbar (a sarcastic ‘dig’ at middle-European operetta) and that great opening number Another Op’nin’, Another Show. When filmed by MGM in 1953 it was produced in 3-D, although the majority of audiences will have only seen the flat version. When 3-D television eventually arrives (surely it should have been invented by now?) the special effects will finally be appreciated by the millions for whom they were intended.

"Show Boat" was Jerome Kern’s masterpiece, with the story centred on one of the many American riverboats in the 1880s that featured travelling shows. It was packed with hits including Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Why Do I Love You and Ol’ Man River. The original novel by Edna Ferber was ahead of its time, dealing with racial prejudice in the southern states of the USA. The show opened at Broadway’s Ziegfeld Theatre on 27 December 1927, and ran for 575 performances. It soon reached London’s Drury Lane Theatre, lasting 350 performances after its opening on 3 May 1928. George Melachrino’s recording was made in response to the 1951 MGM Technicolor film starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ava Gardner.

"Carousel" provided the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II with one of their biggest successes, although it took a while to gain its big reputation internationally, thanks to the 1956 film version by 20th Century-Fox starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. World War 2 was still in its dying throes when the show opened at New York’s Majestic Theatre on 19 April 1945, enjoying 890 performances. It did not reach London until June 1950, but had a good run of 566 shows.

"The Dancing Years" is the one British musical in this collection, written and composed by Ivor Novello, who (together with Noel Coward and Vivian Ellis) ensured that the pre-war theatre scene in Britain was not dominated by overseas productions. Unfortunately World War 2 was approaching when the show opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on 23 March 1939, resulting in its early closure after 187 performances. It was set in Vienna at the start of the century, and its frothy storyline was, perhaps, out of keeping with the times. But the music was captivating, and it gained a new lease of life when the show was filmed in 1949.

When the supply of Broadway shows occasionally dried up, Hollywood was quick to fill their shooting schedules with their own ‘biopics’ featuring popular composers. The storylines did not worry too much about factual accuracy, but the concocted plots usually allowed for the subject’s ‘biggest hits’ to be performed by the studio’s current stars (if they couldn’t sing, they were dubbed). "Three Little Words" featured Fred Astaire and Red Skelton in MGM’s 1950 story of the songwriting partnership of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. "Bert… and Harry who …?" asked cinemagoers; they didn’t know the names, but certainly recognised the tunes. BBC Television used Melachrino’s version of the title song as the signature tune for its quiz show "Down You Go". Apparently this 78 is now quite rare, so its inclusion on this CD should please keen Melachrino collectors.

"You’re My Everything" was filmed by 20th Century-Fox in 1949. Recalling those days, its star Dan Dailey said: "Musicals were probably one of the biggest grossing things they had at Fox, but they always did the Gay Nineties musicals and they always wanted you to do the same dance in every picture. You could change the wardrobe and the music, but that’s about all you could change." Dailey’s co-star in this film was Anne Baxter, and the music was selected from many different writers, all representative of the period covered by the unlikely tale of a Boston socialite who marries a dancer and becomes a movie star.

To complete this reminder of Melachrino’s great selections, we dip again into the works of the great Cole Porter, and then remember perhaps the most gifted songwriter of them all, George Gershwin. Cole Porter Fantasy emphasises the quality of Porter’s writing, when you note that all of the six main tunes featured have become standards. But there is far more in this selection than that; the arranger (it was probably William Hill-Bowen) has included snatches of many other Porter classics, some lasting only a second or two. The opening and closing moments are Begin the Beguine; linking Just One Of Those Things and What Is This Thing Called Love you’ll spot It’s D’Lovely; and just before You Do Something To Me there are snatches of Let’s Do It and Rosalie … and so on. Such gems can be spotted by alert listeners throughout this CD – perhaps a parlour game for music lovers?

Gershwin Fantasy only scratches the surface of the great body of work left behind by this musical genius, who died on 11 July 1937 aged

38. George Gershwin had been at the forefront of American shows and films for less than two decades, but his influence lasted long after he left us, in movies such as "An American In Paris" (1951). One wonders what he would have achieved, had he been allowed a normal life span.

The man behind all these vibrant selections was George Melachrino. Born in London in 1909, he became a professional musician, competent on clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone, violin and viola, and he worked with many British dance bands in the 1930s. He was also in demand as a singer, and can be heard on recordings with Carroll Gibbons and others. During World War 2 he became Musical Director of the Army Radio Unit, and his 50-piece ‘Orchestra in Khaki’ toured with the ‘Stars in Battledress’. When the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme of the BBC began broadcasting to Allied troops on 7 June 1944 (one day after D-Day), George Melachrino was featured conducting the British Band of the AEF; his colleagues were Glenn Miller and Robert Farnon, fronting the American and Canadian Bands.

After the war Melachrino built on his service band to form the magnificent orchestra that went on to achieve worldwide fame, mainly through its superb long-playing record albums which sold in millions. His busy schedule of composing and film work meant that he needed the assistance of a fine team of arrangers, and most of the selections on this CD were probably created by his right-hand man William Hill-Bowen; Arthur Wilkinson is another likely candidate. There are also touches of the maestro himself, and Hill-Bowen (who later went on to international fame with his own orchestra) is the featured pianist on many numbers.

George Melachrino died in his bath on 18 June 1965 at the early age of 56. He has left behind a superb legacy of recorded music, which is gradually being rediscovered in this new century.

 David Ades

A more complete biography of George Melachrino appears in JIM 148 (September 2001). This new CD has been compiled by David Ades from his own collection, and the excellent digital audio restoration and remastering has been in the capable hands of Alan Bunting. The CD can be obtained from all good record shops, and you can also purchase copies from the RFS Record Service for £8 [US $16].

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