The Roaring Twenties: Hits of '28 & '29 - 48 Original Hits by The Original Artists

Here is a double album that represents the apogee of the decade known as “The Roaring Twenties”. It contains no fewer than the 48 biggest hits of the final two years before the world plunged into the Great Depression: music of happy hedonism can be enjoyed with each track performed by the original artists. 20 discs topped the best-sellers – the biggest being Al Jolson’s Sonny Boy in 1928 and Nick Lucas’ Tiptoe Through The Tulips in 1929 – while 16 songs were at No.1 in the sheet-music charts, headed by Ramona (Gene Austin) in ’28 and The Wedding Of The Painted Doll (Leo Reisman) in ’29. Dance band records by such as Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring and Nat Shilkret still commanded huge sales, but they were being equalled by such popular solo singers as Ruth Etting, Gene Austin, Helen Kane, Rudy Vallée and Cliff Edwards – all music that truly brings that fabulous era alive once more.
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Tracks listed in new releases section of this issue 48 vintage tracks billed as 'original hits by the original artists', this is a fine example of how the Retrospective label have done so much to catalogue on CD what are now recordings of 90 years old and more, in such vibrant sound. The vocal styles of the period by now inevitably sound somewhat dated compared to the conventions of the post war period which initially might take some getting used to, but most of the names featured here will be familiar to listeners, such as Gene Austin, Helen Kane,Ethel Waters and Cliff Edwards. Of course, those whose style evolved with the changing times like Crosby and Armstrong enjoyed careers of great longevity well after the decade of the title. Ruth Etting is another well known female artist of the decade, probably still because of Doris Day's screen portrayal (LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is unsurprisingly one of her tracks featured here), but I must confess I hadn't come across Marion Harris before, described in the liner notes as her predecessor, so it was good to hear her version of THE MAN I LOVE. I suppose Helen Kane was the image of the quintessential '20s flapper and she gets a generous share of the spotlight here, turning up on four tracks. Paul Whiteman, dominant bandleader of the era, has six tracks, three of which have Crosby vocals. Bandleader Bob Haring is another obscure name who suffered from having his numerous recordings being issued under pseudonyms, the included track here, PAGAN LOVE SONG, being an example, credited to The Copley Plaza Orchestra. By the way, I only know that because of the excellent liner notes! Over two and a half hours of listening here which exerts a powerful grip after a few tracks to get accustomed to the ambience. Highly recommended. Intune International

Scott Fitzgerald gave jazz a scope beyond its ambition when he coined the term “Jazz Age”. Those who did most of the roaring in the Roaring Twenties were not particularly interested in jazz as such, only the milieu of which it formed a relatively small, intense and slightly displaced power source.

It was ever thus: flappers and their fashion-followers were, in terms of musical tastes, the 1920s middle-of-the-roaders. Not the least of Fitzgerald’s offerings to posterity was the implication that what his small coterie did was what everyone was doing. What he understood as jazz may not have been shared by jazz musicians.

Some of these issues are reflected on this double album. It’s a narrow area of interest – the final two years of Fitzgerald’s “lost decade” – but the collation by Retrospective’s Ray Crick, with the position reached by the songs in the hit parades of the day, demonstrates how musically busy it was.

The place of jazz in this arena of primarily songsters was typified by Paul Whiteman, its self-styled “King”, whose “Among My Souvenirs” was a number one hit in 1927-28. He “wore” a plastic crown and may privately have dismissed the monarchic title, but he knew where the fire was most intense in having Bix Beiderbecke and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey on the pay roll.

Jazz permeates a lot of these charts, albeit illustrating by default that the treatment by jazz musicians of standard songs from music theatre and elsewhere was not as popular as those versions by performers more besotted with the originals. “You’re the Cream in My Coffee”, from the Henderson/De Sylva/Brown musical Hold Everything!, and performed by violinist Ben Selvin and his Broadway Nitelites, is a good example. Selvin didn’t need pure jazz. He was prolific because his band performed the same kind of stuff under pseudonyms. Al Jolson was vaudeville, his “There’s a Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder”, by Dreyer & Rose from the film The Singing Fool, a number one hit and the flipside of “Sonny Boy”, no less. Louis Armstrong and Ben Pollack are here, but also Maurice Chevalier and Eddie Cantor.

This is not a survey of jazz; it’s a survey of the end of a decade in which jazz was preparing to enter a new and bountiful period. There’s not even a suggestion that much of the music had its source in pure jazz. It’s as complicated a historical picture as Crick’s assemblage is technicoloured, even given that several musicians make more than one appearance. Jazz devotees need to take in the wider picture. Nigel Jarrett, Jazz Journal


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