Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

26 07 2012

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive—H. Arlen/J. Mercer, 1944 (Recorded July 26, 2012) Wikipedia reports that Johnny Mercer came up with this lyric after attending a sermon by Father Divine, where “you got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” is supposed to have been an actual quote by the (in)famous preacher.

The song was used in the Bing Crosby-Betty Hutton movie, Here Come the Waves. I yanked this arrangement by listening to the master himself, Johnny Mercer, in his recording with Paul Weston’s (aka Jonathan Edwards) band and the Pied Piper vocal group. I sang it through straight, playing the Glyph ukulele, and then added maracas and background vocals.

This song is dedicated to all my pals who, this very weekend, are attending the Hollesley Ukulele Festival, aka “Raystock,” over in Hollesley, Suffolk, England. Hope to see you guys there in 2013!


Last Night When We Were Young

10 07 2012

Last Night When We Were Young—H. Arlen/E.Y. Harburg, 1935 (Recorded July 10, 2012) Harold Arlen told Alec Wilder that he wrote this song expressly for opera singer/actor Lawrence Tibbett. Tibbett’s performance of the song was cut from the movie, Metropolitan, though, but the tune lived on in well-known pop versions by Sinatra and Judy Garland, among others.

I love the song, and tried my best to do it justice. Represented here is version 10 of my recorded efforts, so, yeah, I tried and tried! Since there is a loud vocal part toward the end, I kept getting the levels wrong, blowing out the recording during the lung-busting measure. This cut turned out ok, technically and performance-wise, although I still sing it better in the shower. ;°)

Satan’s Li’l Lamb

31 05 2012

Satan’s Li’l Lamb—H. Arlen/E.Y. Harburg/J. Mercer, 1932 (Recorded May 31, 2012) This is the first published song with Johnny Mercer’s name on it. In my research I could not get a sense of who contributed what between Mercer and Harburg in the writing of this lyric, although there are Mercerisms throughout. “Satan’s Li’l Lamb” was controversial when it appeared in the short-lasting Broadway show, Americana, and it never became a hit. In fact, during its time it was only recorded by a single artist—the great Ethel Merman. The tune also marks the beginning of Mercer’s fruitful musical relationship with Harold Arlen.

I sang and played this straight through using the Glyph Dias-replica soprano ukulele, then I went back and overdubbed drums, sound FX, ocarina, and kazoo.

Over the Rainbow

30 04 2012

Over the Rainbow—H. Arlen/E.Y. Harburg, 1939 (Recorded April 5, 2012) One of my favorite ukuleles is currently (almost) out of commission because, careless me, I let it stay too long in a dry environment, causing the bridge to begin to separate from the sound board. It’s my famous Glyph Dias-homage soprano uke, so excellently designed and fabricated by Dave Means of Annapolis, MD. Dave gives a lifetime warranty on all his instruments, and he offered to fix it for me if only I would ship the thing to him. Here enters another of my many foibles: I procrastinate. I might have sent the uke to Dave months ago. By now I would have had it back repaired and good as new, but, no…there it lies, still in its glorious, hand-made coffin case, awaiting the tender, loving care it so deserves—and one day shall receive, as soon as I find a way to increase my time-management skills, or with luck and fortune, even sooner than that.

Glyph Dias-replica soprano ukulele and hand-made case, created by Dave Means.

Anyway, back to this recording. My good friend, J Boy Shyne, requested that I do a version of “Over the Rainbow.” You’ll notice something unusual about the song. I used the hibernating Glyph ukulele, but in order to prevent the bridge from popping off all together, I tuned it 2-1/2 steps lower, from “C” to “G,” which decreased the tension of the strings. [“G” is the typical tuning for the largest member of the ukulele family, the baritone.] As a result, the uke has a slack, boingy sound that is quite different from its usual, bright, taught voice. I adjusted my singing lower to agree with the sub-tuned pitch. In effect, the whole thing sounds as if I reduced the pitch using a digital auto-tune filter. It’s real, though—rubbery, deep, and slightly mad.

“Over the Rainbow” often comes out at the top of lists of the greatest popular songs of the 20th Century. It won an Academy Award as best song of 1939 for Judy Garland’s standard interpretation in the film, The Wizard of Oz. In 1993, Hawaiian singer and ukulele master Israel Kamakawiwo’ole released a distinctive (and quite different-from-the-original) take on the old chestnut. The popularity of “Brudda” Iz’s “OtR” helped usher in the current wave of ukulele popularity.

Ill Wind

1 06 2011

Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good)—H. Arlen/T. Koehler, 1934 (Recorded April 27, 2011) Harold Arlen came up with this tune while he was visiting the woman who was to became his wife. The lyric, by Ted Koehler, is not the most romantic set of words ever written for a melody, and I puzzle whether Arlen had such a gloomy story in mind when he composed the tune in the company of his girlfriend. It was quite ordinary for Arlen’s songs to take on a tone of The Blues, so it doesn’t surprise me that here, one of his darkest songs, was inspired by romance. The song appeared in Arlen’s and Koehler’s last Cotton Club Parade show and was introduced by Aida Ward. Like most of Arlen’s songs, this one has a verse, which I did not record on this take:

How can I feel at ease
When you whine through the trees
Where blackbirds are singin’ the blues
You rattle my door, can’t stand it no more
Weary of hearin’ bad news
My bluebird would cheer me if you’d let him near me
But when you are around, ah, where he goes,
The Lord only knows my trouble and woes…

Yes, he wrote this song for his lover, I’ll betcha! Some day I must learn that verse.

(I recorded this back in April and originally planned to have a musician friend of mine add some accompanying instrumental material, but that fell through, so instead, I whistled.)