About this Recording
8.120550 - ANDREWS SISTERS: Hit the Road (1938-1944)


Original 1938-1944 Recordings

Between the two World Wars a trend for syncopated close-harmony vocalising flourished.  Deeply rooted in barbershop and further back still in Negro minstrelsy its more recent precursors had included the Revelers, the Comedy Harmonists, the Mills Brothers and, among the girls, the Boswell Sisters, the Andrews Sisters’ closest role-models.  The Andrews had their own characteristic style, however, allied to a rhythmic incisiveness which makes them still for many the Number One favourite close-harmony group, a partisanship borne out by record sales exceeding 60 million – making them the biggest girl-group success in popular recording history.  Like Glenn Miller and Vera Lynn, their sound is the very essence of wartime nostalgia.

The Sisters, who all hailed from Minneapolis, Minnesota, of part-Norwegian, part-Greek parentage, comprised Laverne (1915-1967), Maxene (1918-1995) and lead-singer Patricia (aka Patti or Patty, born 1920).   The girls began vocalising as a trio at a very early age and from local radio slots they progressed with professional determination, via vaudeville and nightclubs, to eventual stardom.  After winning a juvenile talent contest at the Minneapolis Orpheum, in 1931 they toured the RKO theatre circuit and by the following year were touring with the Larry Rich orchestra and later worked in vaudeville and Chicago nightclubs.  They made their New York debut with Leon Belasco’s New York Hotel Edison Orchestra and in March 1937, at the height of the Swing Era, while still in residence with the band they cut their first records – four sides for Brunswick (in actual fact two Patti solo vocals, and two trios) – and in October they were ‘discovered’ by Jack Kapp, then President of the US Branch of the English Decca Record Company, and signed to a contract.  With their second Decca master, “Bei mir bist du schön”, a rehash of a 1932 tune by Jewish musicals composer Sholem Seconda, the girls struck gold.  The equivalent of US No.1 in 1938 (the charts as we now know them were not set up until 1940), the song provided a lasting signature tune and their first million-selling record, thus kick-starting one of the most prolific, if often stormy, of partnerships in popular music history.

The Andrews Sisters’ popularity soon reached a peak on radio and the golden spring of the US Cold War was soon to give rise to some early Andrews Sisters boogie-style indispensables, including (in 1938) “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (from the 1937 RKO musical A Damsel In Distress), “Joseph, Joseph”, “Short’nin’ Bread”, “Tu-Li-Tulip Time”, “‘Sha-Sha”, “Lullaby To A Jitterbug”, Says My Heart (cover of the Burton Lane–Frank Loesser hit from the Paramount musical comedy Cocoanut Grove), Love Is Where You Find It (a Dubin–Warren-Mercer collaboration from 1938 Warner Brothers musical Garden Of The Moon) and María Grever’s Ti-Pi-Tin.

In 1939 their list of hits included “Hold Tight, Hold Tight (I Want The Seafood, Mama)”, “Beer Barrel Polka” and Chico’s Love Song and the following year their Silver Screen baptism (between 1940 and 1947 they were to appear in twenty-odd light-musicals, invariably as themselves) began when they were paired by Universal with the Ritz Brothers in Argentine Nights.  From this moderate box-office success came the two Don Raye songs Rhumboogie (US No.11) and Hit The Road (US No.27) while among their other 1940 record best-sellers were “Ferryboat Serenade” (their first US No.1 hit), “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar” (US No.2), “Say ‘Sí, sí’” (US No.4), “The Woodpecker Song” (US No.6) and Down By The O-Hi-O (US No.21).


Viewed essentially as escapist fodder to the propagandists behind the US war-effort, the Sisters were soon in demand to make more low-budget movies (all for Universal).  First, in 1941, came Buck Privates (featuring their revival of the 1920 Albert Von Tilzer standard I’ll Be With You In Apple-Blossom Time, US No.5) and its follow-up In The Navy and Hold That Ghost (in this last, a classic of the Abbott and Costello comedies, the Sisters sang “Aurora” (US No.10) and “Sleepy Serenade” – US No.22) while their record hit-list for that year included “Scrub Me, Mama, With A Boogie Beat” (US No.10), “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (US No.6), “The Nickel Serenade” (US No.22), a US No.22 revival of the 1928 Al Jolson song “Sonny Boy” and a No.11 cover-version of Harry Warren’s I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (created by Carmen Miranda in the 1941 20th Century Fox musical That Night In Rio).

In 1942 the Sisters made three more movies: What’s Cookin’, Private Buckaroo (another military farce, this aired their hits “Three Little Sisters” (US No.8), “That’s The Moon, My Son” (US No.18) and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree” – US No.16) and Give Out, Sisters (this last, in which the girls were rather unusually for reasons of plot cast as rich old maids, featured Pennsylvania Polka, US No.17) and among their other hits were “Strip Polka” (US No.6) and “Mister Five-By-Five” (US No.14).  Their partnership on disc with “Ol’ Groaner” Bing Crosby, which began in 1939 and lasted until 1947, was also to produce several sizeable hits, and some perennially popular non-hits, such as this 1943 cover-version of Al Dexter’s C&W favourite Pistol Packin’ Mama.

From 1943 and 1944 come a range of other classic Andrews Sisters tracks, including their US No.1 (their second) Shoo Shoo Baby, cover-versions of Tico-Tico (US No.24 – a Latin-American standard which was a bigger hit for rhythm pianist Ethel Smith) Nat ‘King’ Cole and Irving Mills’ Straighten Up And Fly Right (US No.8) and Rum And Coca-Cola (based on a Trinidadian melody of 1906 vintage entitled “L’année passée”, this was to provide the Andrews Sisters with their third US No.1 hit, in January 1945, and nominally their second million-selling record – or their fourth, counting two others meanwhile with Bing Crosby).

Peter Dempsey, 2003

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