On Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market on Wall Street crashed, catalyzing an economic descent into a Great Depression. The economy had been in decline prior to the crash, but that event proved to be the point of no return, and the economy dipped continuously until hitting bottom in the winter of 1932-’33. Economists, historians, and economic historians can argue about what caused the crash ’til the cows come home, but whatever set it off, “that’s when we started sliding in the fall of ’29,” as the Light Crust Doughboys once put it, “‘Twas a fall of fifty-fifty, you lost yours and I lost mine, but it made us all more human since the fall of ’29.”
As always, the world of music adhered to the current events, and almost immediately responded to the crash with a wave of new songs. In an effort to cheer the Depression, peppy optimism filled many compositions of the day, such as 1930’s “Cheer Up (Good Times Are Comin’), or 1931’s “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “Headin’ for Better Times”. As the hard times dragged on however, the pep began to run out, and—although it always persisted in the music of Ted Lewis and a few others—the optimism began to turn to cynicism, exuded from such songs as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” from Americana and “Remember My Forgotten Man” from Gold Diggers of 1933 (not to mention the countless blues and hillbilly complaining songs). In 1931, the recently launched satire magazine Ballyhoo took that cynicism to a humorous extreme when they published their theme song, parodying the contemporary “cheer up” songs. Perhaps because its lyrics were quite inflammatory (“let’s hang the fat-head to a tree”)—or perhaps not—their song was recorded by the rather B-list Durium Products Corporation, makers of the fifteen cent Hit-of-the-Week paper records, albeit sung by very A-list talent, old Banjo Eyes himself: Eddie Cantor.
Durium De Luxe K6 was recorded in September of 1931 in New York City. The full personnel of Phil Spitalny’s Music is not known, at least by any source I’ve examined, but is said to include Bunny Berigan and Bob Effros on trumpets and Joe Venuti on violin. Its label is printed with a bold colorblock pattern matching that of the eponymous magazine; it originally came with a sleeve to match, which, unfortunately, has been separated from this copy by the passage of time. These Durium recordings had outstanding fidelity for their time, unfortunately, the paper and celluloid-like material on which they were pressed doesn’t always hold up as well as shellac, and this copy is not in pristine condition, causing some background rumble and some clicks and pops. Nonetheless, the music is still strong, and I hope you’ll find this transfer satisfactory.
On this one-sided, two track paper record, Eddie Cantor sings “Cheer Up”, Mischa and Wesley Portnoff and Norman Anthony’s theme song of Ballyhoo. Then, Phil Spitalny’s Music plays an absolutely fantastic instrumental arrangement of the same tune. Be sure to not confuse this song with “Cheer Up (Good Times Are Comin’)” from the previous year—doing that would be a grave mistake.
Updated with improved audio on March 31, 2018.
Thank you for this wonderful and timely post Conner! Really appreciate your recognizing my Grandpa Bob Effros recording with Bunny Berigan, Joe Venuti and Eddie Cantor. I too have researched who recorded when with Phil Spitalny. Too often the ledgers reflect ” collective personnel. In part this was due to multiple musicians showing up for a session. Record keeping for recordings was less important than getting paid!