Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Helen Forrest's birthday

I looked up Helen Forrest's birth date (April 12, 1917 - July 11, 1999) quite awhile ago, so I could do a blog post for it, and didn't realize at the time that it coincides with Easter this year. Well, a happy and blessed Easter to all, and if you like the Big Band sound, consider this a holiday treat that has no sugar or calories. If you're not into Big Band then go listen to something else. 8~)

Helen sang with three of the greatest bands. She found Benny Goodman rather a pill to work for, as did quite a few others. She thought Artie Shaw was a terrific boss, and she was in love with Harry James, though she lost him to Betty Grable. Her bio is here.

In honor of her birthday, here's my Helen Forrest YouTube playlist of some of the best that they have. There's not much to see in most of these, just music to listen to. Several use the same slideshow for their visuals, or have no visuals at all, though a couple have nice footage.

These are old recordings. SOUND QUALITY VARIES from track to track, and I'm sorry for it, because it would be nice to be able to just "play all" without the volume variations, or the scratches and pops.

Because some of the rougher tracks have pops, scratches and hum that some listeners might find painful, I've made a second "short list" that leaves off the ones with the poorer sound quality.

I found that starting with the volume control at about 75% makes the rougher tracks listenable, and allows the low-volume "You Made Me Love You" to sound clear enough -- but that one is better if it's jacked up a bit. I couldn't resist putting it in.

Here's the full playlist, 11 tracks. The red asterisks indicate tracks with quality problems that have been left off the 7-item "short list."

Perfidia - with Benny Goodman

I've Heard that Song Before - with Harry James

All the Things You Are - with Artie Shaw

You Made Me Love You - with James

Then a two-fer, 2 songs in one Goodman/Forrest clip:
* Taking a Chance on Love (SCRATCHY, but I like it so much!) and
* Cabin in the Sky (equally scratchy)

I Don't Want to Walk Without You - with James.

*Deep Purple - a Shaw/Forrest standard. This choppy clip leaves something to be desired, but I thought it was the better choice. The only other complete version I could find on YouTube is a 78rpm that has such a jarring skip that I couldn't stand it. So I used this very good but truncated version from the film Symphony of Swing (with a silly bit of film drama. That lady would have to be 100 years old in 1939, to clothe her reminiscence in that antebellum dress, but Gone with the Wind imagery was the big thing that year.)

Comes Love - with Shaw. I love this song! "See your dentist right away."

Skylark - with James

*I Had the Craziest Dream - with James. Terribly scratchy, but with some great "G. I. Jive" broadcast material. I wanted to close with this one because Forrest used it as the title of her autobiography.


If you have time or desire to listen to only one, I'd say, make it Skylark. A less perceptive singer would have overdone that plaintive quality, but she uses a subtle hint of it, and I find it kind of haunting. And she makes it sound easy, which it ain't!


Mike said...

Oddly enough, I was talking about originals vs. re-mastered or re-recorded versions of old songs this past week with one of our columnists. When Linda Ronstadt brought out her Nelson Riddle albums, I gave one to my mother, who shrugged and pronounced it "nice" without a capital-N. At this stage of life, I realize that half the appeal of an old song is the associations that come with the right version -- for all its pops, clicks, scratches and imperfections. I can't speak for the 1930s and '40s, but, in the 60s, we were either listening to distant radio stations or to our own feeble stereo-in-a-suitcase equipment. Pops, clicks and scratches were part of the experience! (Great selection!)

Ronnie said...

I pronounced it "nice" because it was several notches higher than many I would call "unacceptable," to say nothing of those which are downright "blasphemous."

Helen Forrest was my husband's favorite, and, as he was going off to war, it was "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" that he especially liked.

Mike's Mom

Ronnie said...

No no no - that wasn't Helen. I meant I Don't Want To Walk Without You.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

60's music had to sound engaging on a tinny transistor radio the size of a deck of cards on your beach-or-picnic blanket! When i hear clear remastered versions, even of originals, they sound...different.

If i've learned anything, it's that the studio recording is only one of many versions of a lot of these Big Band songs. Some, i heard first on 1980's LP's of then-newly released radio broadcasts, and only discovered later that the "real" version was by somebody else.

Swing music movies seem to be another source for alternate versions - i don't think Helen ever made a studio recording of "You Made Me Love You," but they had her do it in that (unknown) movie i found excerpted on YouTube.