Today I'm going to share two terrific versions of one of my favorite early Depression-era songs, "Cheerful Little Earful". This wonderful little number was the product of a collaboration between music writer Harry Warren and lyricists Billy Rose and Ira Gershwin. It was introduced in the 1930 Broadway musical Sweet and Low starring James Barton, George Jessel, and Fanny Brice (who was Mrs. Billy Rose).
First up is a neat and tidy, danceable version of the song provided by the Vincent Lopez Orchestra, recording for Hit of The Week records in December 1930. Lopez was a piano-playing bandleader based in New York who became famous as a radio entertainer. Hit of the Week certainly can't be faulted for the big-name talent that they managed to sign to their fledgling independent record label, but in the end such efforts proved futile. In the ugly climate of Depression-wracked America, the company lasted barely two years. Maybe their cardboard, one-sided records didn't help much either. Download Vincent Lopez - Cheerful Little Earful.mp3
Our second version of this song is by Fred Rich, originally recorded for Columbia and presented here under the pseudonym 'The New York Syncopators" on a British Parlophone pressing that was concurrent with the American Columbia issue. Rich's band recorded prolifically during this time and was the de facto house orchestra for Columbia Records. Rich's personnel roster also boasted a considerable amount of talent. On this recording we hear from Eddle Lang on guitar, Joe Venuti on violin, Tommy (trombone) and Jimmy (alto sax) Dorsey, Cornell Smelser on accordion and Manny Klein on trumpet. Download Fred Rich - Cheerful Little Earful.mp3
The vocalist on both these records is Smith Ballew, who worked as a studio contract singer in addition to leading a moderately successful dance band in the early 1930's. It was common practice in those days for singers to work with many different bands, following recording/broadcast contracts wherever they led. But it is a treat to hear a polished singer like Ballew on two strongly-differing versions of the same good song. Like Dick Robertson and Chick Bullock, Ballew is largely forgotten as a Depression-era singer today. He is mostly remembered for his later career as a Hollywood actor, appearing in numerous westerns and dramas in the late 1930's through the early1950's.