Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Mills Brothers

I was 11 years old when Cab Driver was on the local top 40, and I had no idea that The Mills Brother were not just another vocal group, like The Sandpipers or The Vogues. Cab Driver, it happens, was to be the last hit for a group that had been around for about 30 years, starting out well before the rock and roll / rhythm & blues era.

This is a collection called The Best Of The Decca Years, with 3 more songs added. The Decca collection was from the Centennial Library, and Cab Driver was from the Cab Driver album, which mostly had remakes of their old repertoire. I got that at Sears. I’m not sure why I picked it up, but I did, and now I have the original Cab Driver. Lucky.

The Mills Brothers:

Paper Doll – The production is the definition of restraint. This song about the advantages of fantasy over reality was a number 1 hit for 12 weeks in 1943 – 1944.
Across The Alley From The Alamo – This historical footnote was a hit in 1947.
Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You) – A hit for Vaughn Monroe. The story, of course, is the familiar one: you’ll be sorry. Do we ever get the sequel?
Be My Life’s Companion – This is from 1951. Rosemary Clooney did it. Love as a preventative for aging. I always thought that it was having kids.
Lazy River – The style of this song comes as close as anything to defining the style of the group, title and all. This was originally recorded in the 30s for Brunswick, but I have every reason to believe that I have the rerecording they made for Decca
Glow Worm – More uptempo, with a fleshed-out jazzy arrangement. This was a number 1 hit in 1952.This joins that vast legion of pop songs about insects. • You Always Hurt The One You Love – A hit later for Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Another remake.
The Window Washer Man – I wonder if Van Morrison was listening to this when he came up with Cleaning Windows. This tribute to a man who makes the most of this life was recorded in 1952.
Daddy’s Little Girl – From a father to a daughter. A bit syrupy … ok, a lot syrupy. From 1950.
The Jones Boy – We learn about a rather dysfunctional individual, until the confession comes, it’s the singer, and he’s in love. Awww. This is from 1953, and, for the record, it’s with Sy Oliver & His Orchestra.
Till Then – A beautiful song of separation. The Decca recording was made in 1944. The Classics revived this in 1963.
In A Mellow Tone –This song is anything but. It’s one of the brassiest, jazziest songs on this collection. From 1955.
You Tell Me Your Dream, I’ll Tell You Mine – The song starts with a beautiful a capella verse. On the word mine we begin to hear the guitar strumming in the background, and the song floats on from there. Dreams in pop music are always so romantic; maybe it’s just daydreams they sing about. This is from 1949.
Opus One – This was originally by Tommy Dorsey. The Mills Brothers did it in 1952. It’s a swinging song about swinging. (Musical swinging – get your mind out of the gutter).
Yellow Bird – Here they are on Dot Records. This is from the winter of 1959. Thing is this. They’ve added a piano, they’ve removed the orchestra, and the style is very similar to what they were doing two decades earlier. But it doesn’t sound out of place among the top 40 songs from the late 50s. A wistful song of heartbreak.
Get A Job – This is a cover of The Silhouettes hit. They change “sha na na” to “sha la la,” and they leave out most of the lyrics. But it bounces along nicely. From the winter of 1958, more or less contemporary with the original.
Cab Driver – A pop classic from the late 60s. Our hero uses the cab metaphor to come to terms with a failed romance. “Better take me home” he says finally, after going up and down the street, round and round the block, reliving the whole affair from beginning to end. From the spring of 1968, this song represents my entire Mills Brothers history. It stands together with Tijuana Taxi and Harry Chapin’s Taxi as a subgenre all its own.

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