G. I. Jive

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(Pictured: singer Helen Forrest with trumpeter and bandleader Harry James, 1945.)

Well here’s a cool artifact: the first Cash Box Disc-Hits Box Score, dated October 30, 1944. It ranks 45 songs by title, and lists the various recordings of each. Originally, the magazine listed all of the versions of each song in current release; it looks as though the website compiling the lists is showing only the biggest versions, as determined by rankings on concurrent Billboard charts. Some observations follow about the hits from 75 years ago today:

—We do not always grasp just how popular Bing Crosby was during the Second World War, but this chart shows it. Crosby also has nine songs on the list, two with the Andrews Sisters and the rest solo. Among the solo selections are some positively iconic performances: “Swinging on a Star,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That’s an Irish Lullaby).” Bing displays his versatility on “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (Ma’ Baby),” which is also listed in a hit version by original soul man Louis Jordan with his Tympany Five. (Jordan’s is way better, though.) And Bing’s “Going My Way” is the title song from the movie that had come out in May, and which would earn Crosby an Oscar for Best Actor the next year.

—Helen Forrest had sung with the Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James big bands between 1938 and 1943, and she won Down Beat magazine’s award as best female vocalist in 1942 and 1943 before starting a solo career. On this chart, she has three songs, all in the Top 10, including “It Had to Be You” and “Together” with Dick Haymes. Haymes is actually on the chart four times, with Forrest and with his own “How Blue the Night,” and also singing uncredited with Harry James on “I’ll Get By.” James is on the chart three times himself, with “I’ll Get By” and “Estrellita,” plus “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me,” backing Frank Sinatra.

—The Stan Kenton Orchestra has three hits on the chart. Kenton was a successful sideman who had formed his own band in 1940, and eventually become famous for pushing the boundaries of jazz with the album Artistry in Rhythm and a number of records he dubbed “progressive jazz.” Not much sounds more like the 1940s than “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine,” with Anita O’Day singing the verses and the band, in ragged unison, singing the refrain.

—The Mills Brothers are on the chart twice, with “You Always Hurt the One You Love” and “Til Then.” They had a long string of hits starting in the early 1930s that didn’t slow much until the mid 50s. (They were still hitting as late as 1968, when they appeared on the Hot 100 three times, and “Cab Driver” went all the way to #23.) Also charting twice is the King Cole Trio, with “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You.” In addition to “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me,” Sinatra scores a second hit in this week with the far-better-known “Night and Day.” The top big bands of the day are represented twice as well, including Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, and Tommy Dorsey.

—Some of the lesser acts doing big business in 1944 include Betty Hutton, who is remembered today as a movie star; she had played opposite frequent Crosby co-star Dorothy Lamour in And the Angels Sing earlier that year and would co-star with Bing himself in Here Come the Waves at year’s end; the Merry Macs, a Midwestern harmony group that occasionally backed Crosby; and the Pied Pipers, who sang with the Tommy Dorsey band and Frank Sinatra, and who could count Jo Stafford (also with two hits on this chart) as a former member.

—This chart has a lot of World War II flavor: not just with “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Lili Marlene,” Louis Jordan’s “G.I. Jive,” and Johnny Mercer’s “Duration Blues,” but at #1: “I’ll Walk Alone,” with popular versions by Dinah Shore, Martha Tilton, and Mary Martin.

I’ll always be near you wherever you are each night
In every prayer
If you call I’ll hear you, no matter how far
Just close your eyes and I’ll be there

I’ve said before that hearing songs like these on the radio at home while a loved one was fighting far away must have been either an incredible comfort or completely unbearable. Given the wide popularity of “I’ll Walk Alone,” I’m betting on the former.

One response

  1. Having been born in the late 40’s, I grew up surrounded by a lot of folks a bit older who served in the armed forces, or family members who were left behind, hoping and praying for their loved ones’ safe return. I was told that these songs, while many were melancholy, were regarded as a comfort. As a fledgling musician in my mid/late teens, starting to play gigs with bands that actually played these tunes, I heard many people come up to the bandstand after a particular song and remark about how they loved hearing it, as it reminded them of the long nights, listening to the radio, and hoping/praying that their family member would “come home alive in ’45” or something similar.

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