About this Recording
8.120829 - BERLIN, Irving: Say It Isn't So - Songs of Irving Berlin (1919-1950)

'Say It Isn't So' - Songs of Irving Berlin
Original 1919-1950 Recordings

Irving Berlin once wrote a song called 'Say It With Music' and even though it's not one of the 21 selections on this recording, its title does serve as a kind of mission statement. Berlin always did 'say it with music' and this selection of tunes provides some revealing insights into the life and career of the man born Isadore Baline in Russia in 1888.

Alexander's Ragtime Band
At the age of 23, Berlin had his first big hit. He claims the melody 'came to him out of the air' in 1911 and he wrote it first as an instrumental. Then he set words to it, vaudeville star Emma Carus launched it, numerous other entertainers picked it up and it sold over 2,000,000 copies. This 1947 version features Al Jolson & Bing Crosby.

A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody
This was written during the tryout of the 1919 Ziegfeld Follies. The 'great glorifier' wanted a song to link five interludes where his finest showgirls appeared in stunning costumes, each to a piece of classical music. Berlin penned this as a throwaway tune, but it endured and became the anthem of the Follies.

What'll I Do? / All Alone
Both of these songs are from 1924 and were used in Broadway and touring editions of Berlin's popular series, The Music Box Revues, often thought of as the intimate antidote to Ziegfeld's excess. These reflections of deep personal longing came from the period after Berlin's first wife, Dorothy, tragically died of typhoid during their honeymoon in Cuba.

This was written in 1925 to socialite Ellin Mackay, whom Berlin fell in love with despite her father's objections. The elder Mackay sent his daughter to Europe to get her away from Berlin, but love triumphed and the two finally married. He gave her this song as a wedding present.

Also from 1925, this number initially failed to catch on, but Berlin's song-plugger, partner and friend Max Winslow kept circulating the piece. By the end of the year, three separate recordings of it were all on the charts simultaneously, including this one by 'Cliff Edwards and His Hot Combination'.

Blue Skies
In 1926, vaudevillian Belle Baker was starring in a show called Betsy, but unhappy about the songs Rodgers and Hart had written for her. She turned to Berlin for help and Baker herself claims he penned the tune the very night before the opening. Copyright information indicates he actually wrote it a few weeks earlier than the 28 December première, but it makes a good story - and a great song.

Puttin' On the Ritz
Harry Richman made this a No. 1 hit for Berlin in 1929. Its lyric about 'Lenox Avenue' refers to the custom of Broadway denizens heading up to Harlem for late-night merriment. Later on, Berlin would eliminate the topical (and racial) tinge from the song by changing the locale to 'Park Avenue'.

Say It Isn't So / How Deep is the Ocean?
Berlin often suffered from periods of depression and inactivity in his life. The early 1930s found him in such a state until crooner Rudy Vallee made 'Say It Isn't So' a surprise hit in 1932, and Ethel Merman followed soon after with 'How Deep is the Ocean?'

Easter Parade / Heat Wave
Both of these songs are from the smash 1933 Broadway revue, As Thousands Cheer, based on the various sections of a newspaper. 'Easter Parade' was for the Sunday rotogravure color picture section and depicted the annual 'walk of fashion' on Fifth Avenue each Easter Sunday. The tune was rescued from a 1917 effort by Berlin called 'Smile and Show Your Dimple'. 'Heat Wave', of course, was Berlin's response to the weather report. A sizzling saga in which Ethel Waters attributed a major tropical weather condition due to a saucy lady who 'started a heat wave by making her seat wave'. Marilyn Monroe also made a lasting impression with her rendition in the 1954 film catalogue of Berlin's songs, 'There's No Business Like Show Business'.

Cheek to Cheek
Berlin spent most of the late 1930s in Hollywood, writing songs for the charming series of films featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This is from 1935's Top Hat, often considered the classic of the series. The number won Berlin his first of seven Oscar nominations for best song.

I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
This has remained one of Berlin's most popular creations over the decades, being reinterpreted by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Rod Stewart. But it was first written as a minor number for Dick Powell and Alice Faye in a nearly forgotten 1937 film called On the Avenue.

This was initially penned by Berlin as the theme for a 1928 Vilma Bankey film called The Awakening. It did well enough then, but it wasn't until Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra recorded it in 1937 that it really took off and reached No. 1 on the charts.

God Bless America
Berlin wrote an early version of this song in 1918 after his Army service, but it seemed too earnest to him at the time. But in 1938, with the threat of World War II becoming imminent, Berlin created a new set of lyrics and, thanks to Kate Smith's tireless performing of it, the inspiring number became one of his most lasting hits. The version on this recording features Berlin himself in a concert of ASCAP composers from 1940. All the royalties went to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls of America because Berlin 'refused to make money off of patriotism'.

White Christmas
Another Berlin classic, this was written in 1940 and first heard in the 1942 film, Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby. But some biographers have suggested that the underlying melancholy in the melody can be traced to the fact that Berlin's son, Irving Jr, died of crib death in the early hours of 25 December 1928 and the date would always be haunted with sadness for the composer.

Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning
Berlin originally wrote and performed this in the 1918 soldiers' revue, Yip Yap Yaphank. He admits this is how he truly felt about army life. The song acquired even greater fame when he revived it in the 1942 military revue This Is The Army, and performed it again, wearing his uniform from World War I.

I've Got the Sun in the Morning
The 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun was the greatest stage hit in Berlin's career, but he wasn't even supposed to have been the composer. Jerome Kern was originally slated, but he died of a stroke before the show went into production. Berlin quickly turned out a score containing many durable hits, including this one, given a zippy reinterpretation by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra, with Mel Tormé and the Mel-Tones providing the vocals.

You're Just in Love
The 1950 musical Call Me Madam had a weak second act on the road until star Ethel Merman suggested Berlin write a number for her and costar Russell Nype. He fell back on the 'quodlibet' style he had used ever since 1914's 'Play A Simple Melody'. Two distinctive tunes are heard separately, then together, usually to show-stopping effect. The voices here belong to Mary Martin and her son Larry Hagman.

There's No Business like Show Business
Although now known as the anthem of the theatrical profession, the song as first written for Annie Get Your Gun was intended as a mere scene-changing number. It also nearly got lost forever, when Berlin thought that director Joshua Logan wasn't enthusiastic enough about it and asked his secretary to throw his manuscript out. She didn't listen, the song survived and here's how it sounded in the 1950 film version of the show, with Betty Hutton and the cast.

Richard Ouzounian

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