Monday, November 27, 2006

I'm Gonna Sit Right Down ...

In the pantheon of popular songsmiths, you've got your Gershwins, your Porters, your Berlins ... hmmm, I say that as though there could ever be more than one of any of those fellows. The fact that that we had even one of each is a miracle, of course. But I digress ... Pretty much everyone has at least heard those names, and their work is loved by millions. But there were a lot of other writers, who, although their songs continue to be recorded and performed today with great regularity, are not exactly household names. One such guy is Fred E. Ahlert, a composer who wrote (along with several lyricists, most commonly Roy Turk) some of jazz's most enduring standards.

Ahlert was born in New York, New York, September 19, 1892, and lived and worked there his entire life. He graduated from law school at Fordham Law, but then took a job with the music publishing house Waterson, Berlin and Snyder. He started work writing arrangements for popular bands, then began to write music for vaudeville acts. He soon was submitting his compositions to Tin Pan Alley publishers. One of his early hits (1922) was intriguingly titled "I Gave You Up Before You Threw Me Down." (I don't know that one, but will be seeking it out on the strength of that title alone!)

One of his smash hits was "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter" (lyric by Joe Young), immortalized by the one-and-only Fats Waller. Fats recorded it several times, and made the tune so much his own that many thought it was his own composition. It was covered by Billy Williams in 1957, and went to #3 on the charts that year and million+ sales. Williams' version can be heard on the soundtrack of the 1998 movie "You've Got Mail" (during the credits roll). Click here for one by Mr. Waller. This particular version is one of his more subdued performances.

Ahlert met Roy Turk in 1928, and that year they had success with "I'll Get By (As Long As I Have You)," at hit for Ruth Etting. And here's another version, from 1941 by the Harry James Orchestra (vocal Dick Haymes).

In 1929, Ahlert and Turk wrote one of my favorites, "Mean To Me."


Sweetheart I love you,
Think the world of you,
But I'm afraid you don't care for me.
You never show it,
Don't let me know it;
Everyone says I'm a fool to
Be pining the whole day through.
Why do you act like you do?

You're mean to me,
Why must you be mean to me?
Gee, honey, it seems to me
You love to see me crying.

I don't know why

I stay home
Each night when you say you'll phone.
You don't and I'm left alone
Singing the blues and sighing.

You treat me coldly
Each day of the year.
You always scold me
Whenever somebody is near, dear.

It must be great fun to be mean to me;
You shouldn't, for can't you see
What you mean to me?

Here's an nifty instrumental version by Napoleon's Emperors, and another by Ruth Etting. I prefer the more up-tempo Emperor's version, but I like the fact that Etting does the verse, which isn't performed too often.

1930 produced what is probably Ahlert and Turk's most recognized number for the casual listener, thanks in large part to the very popular recording by Nat "King" Cole in 1952, "Walkin' My Baby Back Home." It was also a hit in '30/'31 for Ted Weems and Nick Lucas. Here it's done by Annette Hanshaw; I love the was she starts out, especially -- once again -- the inclusion of the cute verse, but she gets a little too "creative" with the melody on the last couple choruses and spoils the effect, IMHO. Also, here's a version by Louis Armstrong's Orchestra.


I've an agreeable baby
Likes everything that I do.
Dances most ev'ry night
Movies are his delight -
I sorta go for them, too.
But when movies and dances are done
That's when we have real fun ...

Gee, it's great after bein' out late
Walkin' my baby back home.
Arm-in-arm, over meadow and farm
Walkin' my baby back home.

We go along harmonizin' a song
Or he's reciting a poem.
Owls go by and they give me the eye
Walkin' my baby back home.

We stop for a while, he gives me a smile
I snuggle my head to his chest.
And then when he pets, believe me, he gets
My powder all over his vest!

After I kinda straighten his tie
I have to borrow his comb.
One kiss, then I continue again
Walkin' my baby back home.

I'm afraid of the dark, so I make him park
Outside of my door till it's light.
I said if he'd try to kiss me, I'd cry -
He dries my tears all through the night.

Hand-in-hand to a barbecue stand
Right from my doorway we roam.
Eat and then it's a pleasure again
Walkin' my baby back home.

1931 also produced "Where The Blue Of The Night (Meets The Gold Of The Day)," a top-five hit for Bing Crosby. Here's a waltz-tempo version by Abe Lyman's California Ambassador Hotel Orchestra. Also during 1931, “I Don’t Know Why (I Just Do)”, the 1931 # 2 hit by Wayne King and 1946 # 16 hit by Tommy Dorsey. Here is a version by the Nat Cole Trio.

In 1933, Ahlert became a Director of ASCAP, a position he would hold for 20 years (except for the 1948-’50 when he was elected to the position of President). He continued to write songs, contributing numbers to Hollywood musicals. He died in 1953 at age 61. For a guy whose name does not roll trippingly off everyone's lips, he left behind a fine volume of work.


Trombonology said...

Fred Ahlert -- a great talented, to whom more people should be alerted!

I love the verse to "Walkin' My Baby Back Home;" you hardly ever hear it.

iamfelix said...

I love that "I sorta go for them, too" line.