Perhaps the most prolific of all the swing bands, the output of the Kay Kyser Orchestra is mind-boggling, With over 400 recordings on the Brunswick, Columbia and Victor labels, one has a strong temptation to list favorites, but will instead let the numbers speak for themselves. (psssst- read on, the favorites list might be at the bottom...)
As was the rule in the 30s and 40s, the performances were recorded with vocals and instruments both at once, direct to disc. No going back and replacing mistakes or flat notes like today. George Duning arranged and rehearsed the songs with the band after he and Kay decided which best suited the band's style, with Kay often showing up just before recording to okay everything. The results were 35 top ten and 11 number one records, listed below as they appeared in Billboard Magazine:
Count 'em chillen... 11 Number Ones...
- The Umbrella Man - 1939
- Three Little Fishies - 1939
- (Lights Out) Til Reveille - 1941
- (There'll Be Bluebirds) Over the White Cliffs of Dover - 1941
- Who Wouldn't Love You - 1942
- Jingle, Jangle, Jingle - 1942
- He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings - 1942
- Strip Polka - 1942
- Praise the Lord and Pass the Amunition - 1942
- Old Buttermilk Sky - 1946
- Woody Woodpecker - 1946
The author's favorite recordings were from the 1938-42 period. As we all know, '39 was a banner year for film, but also for music. The body of these recordings featured songs that were sprightly, with the emphasis on fun, followed by effective ballads. Much has been made of the "singing song titles", a hallmark of all Kyser band recordings during this period (originating in '34 ).The band would play an instrumental chorus to start, with Harry (usually) singing the title, followed by a four (sometimes six) bar melody of the KK theme song, "Thinking of You". During this section, Kay would introduce the vocalist. The origin of this is listed in the KK
TIMELINE, on the "About Kay" page.
Some of the lesser known (and borderline bizarre) titles are my favorites, such as "Honest John" and "Monstro the Whale", both from the Disney film, Pinocchio. After '42, the band updated its music to a more generic, harder swing style. After '45, most of the "fun stuff", as I call it, ceased to exist. There were still occasional novelties, but as Harry Babbitt told me, "After the war I came back to the band, but it wasn't fun anymore. The spontanaiety was gone." Which is not to say there weren't some great recordings left, such as "On a Slow Boat to China", but one could feel Kay's presence fading. Many of the earlier recordings are hard to find, but well worth it. There are some interesting stories behind some of the hits, but they're too long to tell here. Email me!