The Potemkin Picks: Our Favorite Music from 1933
Our Spotify playlist for March 1933 features selections from the year's Billboard chart, popular (and not so popular) musicals, the blues, and music from King Kong. It's difficult in '33 to pin music popularity or release down to the month, so these are selections from the entire year.
Popular Hits, Tracks 1-17
Totally unnecessary note about "Have you Ever Seen a Dream Walking?": This song has long haunted this writer who saw the 1988 film Lady in White (with Lukas Haas, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco, and a creepy turn from Katherine Helmond) at an impressionable age. That's the one where Lukas Haas gets locked in his school's coatroom on Halloween and witnesses a red-haired ghost girl in a frilly pink smock sing this song to an invisible companion right before he violently murders her and carries her crumpled little-girl ghost-body through a closed door. You can watch the whole damned thing on YouTube, or just that crazy scene here. You're welcome.
I included the song twice here. Both the Lew Sherwood with the Eddie Duchin orchestra version (pictured top), and the Bing Crosby version were popular in 1933, as was Guy Lombardo's, but two's enough, because truly this song gives me the creeps and will forever be tied to my nightmares. Horror movies now obviously know that featuring singing or dancing ghost children in old-timey outfits is enough to give most of us the creeps (I'm looking at you, Insidious), but Lady in White was an early example. And I won't spoil the end or the murderer's identity for you, but that cast list fairly gives it away, especially for you musical theater fans.
Musicals, Tracks 18-31
We include selections here from Let 'em Eat Cake, As Thousands Cheer, 42nd Street (film), and The Threepenny Opera.
Note on The Threepenny Opera. The tracks here are from the 1954 Off-Broadway revival featuring John Astin, Charlotte Rae, Bea Arthur, Gerald Price, and Lotte Lenya (Kurt Weill's wife, who had appeared in the original German production, BUT who you may know better as playing Rosa Krebb in From Russia with Love!).
The songs chosen are those that best feature these actors, and which uncoincidentally are both amazing and hilarious. In particular, John Astin's performance in "Wedding Song" and Charlotte Rae's in "Ballad of Dependency" are not to be missed. But look, it is a strange show, and not for everyone, so we've thrown in the arguably more palatable versions of “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong to close.
The Blues, Tracks 32-43
We are indebted in this playlist to Big Road Blues at sundayblues.org for featuring blues of 1933 in its March 3, 2012 show, "It's Hard Time -- The Year 1933" and for including the playlist from that show online. Selections from this show make up the entirety of our blues section of the playlist. We would not have been able to put this section together without Big Road Blues. I defer entirely to their expertise in these matters. Please check out the article we link to above.
The last three songs in the blues section of our playlist, Jeff, the voice of Big Road Blues, informs us, were part of John Lomax's Library of Congress recordings begun in June 1933. Lomax, along with his son, toured Texas farms, prisons and rural communities. Perhaps their most important find was Leadbelly, but they also recorded James Iron Head Baker, Moses Clear Rock Platt, and Washington (Lightnin'), who we include here. Big Road Blues airs on Sundays 5 to 7 PM (EST) on WGMC Jazz90.1 and streams live on the web.
Max Steiner's Music for King Kong, Tracks 44-64 (end)
Finally we feature a complete 1997 re-recording of Steiner's King Kong orchestration, restored by John Morgan, performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conducted by William T. Stromberg, and released on the Marco Polo label. It's a magnificent orchestral performance of Steiner's score, about which we are ill equipped to say much more. A gentleman (and a scholar!) named Michael Pratt has an incredibly informative essay on his own site on the contributions of Steiner to "King Kong and more: The Film Music of Max Steiner with Emphasis on King Kong (1933) and Gone With the Wind (1939)
For a different kind of King Kong purist, another recording of note is the Rhino soundtrack re-released in 1999, which features a combination of Steiner's unmixed pre-mastering tracks, and "a beautifully assembled edit of the entire 100-minute movie's soundtrack, with dialogue and music, into a 30-minute audio summary of the plot, dramatic essentials, and action--the perfect 'radio' King Kong" (Bruce Eder, allmusic review of Rhino's King Kong: Original Soundtrack). So if you need your Steiner score accompanied by the incredible foley work, the roaring of zoo animals, or Fay Wray's screams, you'll need to find a copy of the Rhino recording. For our part, we're quite happy with the album we feature here.
We hope you enjoy our playlist, and that you join us again next month for a new one.