NOHO BANJO AND UKULELE MUSING–“LULU’S BACK IN TOWN”

UKULELE MUSING 47, 7 DECEMBER 2019: “LULU’S BACK IN TOWN.” No regrets about this Hollywood, rather than Tin Pan Alley, tune!

Every once in a while, I run across an old favorite hidden in our Blue and Yellow Books that we’ve never chosen for any of our strum sessions—probably because the theme might be a bit too . . . well.    Anyway, it is 2019, and, after all, it even has been performed (sort of) by The Muppets! So, here goes another musing!

The Muppets:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2zq9APDeZM

The song is “Lulu’s Back in Town” written in 1935 by lyricist Alexander Dubin (1891-1945) and composer Harry Warren (1893-1981). 

The song was written for the movie musical “Broadway Gondolier” and sung by Dick Powell.  In simple phrases a man sings about getting ready for a date with “Lulu,” focusing all his attention on this awesome-in-his-eyes woman revisiting his home town—most likely Harlem.  We don’t know exactly who this Lulu is that has captured the gentleman—an old flame, a vaudeville queen, a burlesque star?  We don’t know, but our man is smitten. 

Dick Powell:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9lildd0DDI

The song was popularized by “Fats” Waller who’s 1935 recording topped the charts. It’s a standard today, and—like so many catchy tunes of the age—was recorded by dozens of performers in dozens of genres. 

It’s a true classic often performed as what some critics and reviewers in its day called a “rooster strut.”  Your guess is as good as mine.

Fats Waller:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2htyg_Hedc

Leon Redbone:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brjGl3sp7co

Nat King Cole:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypz94ACGwCY

Dubin collaborated with many composers on many, many songs—particularly in Hollywood—including that ukulele gem (?) “Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Me.” 

Dubin and Warren also wrote songs for the musicals “42nd Street” and “Gold Diggers of Broadway.”

They won the Academy Award for their song “Lullaby of Broadway;” Warren also won an Academy Award for “Chattanooga Choo Choo”—the first “gold record” in history!  So much musical history in our little song books.

Chattanooga:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTwy8ruyY40

Anyway, back to our song.  Once, again, our Blue book only gives us the chorus, so here are the verses that Dick Powell and a few others sang: 

Verse:

Where’s that careless chambermaid?  Where’d she put my razor blade?
She mislaid it, I’m afraid.  It’s gotta be foun’!
Ask her when she cleaned my room, what she did with my perfume;
I just can’t lose it, I’ve gotta use it.  ‘Cause Lulu’s back in town

Chorus:

Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed . . .  Lulu’s back in town!

Verse:

You can bet I’ve got it bad.  Best complaint I’ve ever had.
We’ll be stepping out tonight, an’ struttin’, an’ how.
We’re in for the swellest time.  Finish up without a dime;
Look here, you fellers, I’ll make you jealous.  My Lulu, she’s a wow!
Chorus:

Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed . . .  Lulu’s back in town!

As a bit of a digression, an interesting musical quotation in the chorus of our “Lulu” references the songwriter Cole Porter: “You can tell all my pets, all my Harlem coquettes; Mister Otis regrets, that he won’t be around.”  This refers to the macabre Porter song of 1934, “Miss Otis Regrets.” 

After hearing a maudlin “cowboy’s lament” song, Porter and his cocktail party pals were inspired to improvise a bluesy, Manhattany parody along similar musical lines about a butler who explains why “Madam” can’t keep her regular lunch appointment.  In their boozy tale, “Miss Otis” was jilted and abandoned, located and killed her seducer, was arrested, jailed, and about to be hanged.  (Whew!)  Her butler made a final, polite apology to her visitors at the door saying “Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.” 

Various forms of “Miss or Mister Otis regrets” entered the lexicon of American pop culture and became a punchline for sophisticates throughout the 1930s.  The song, needless to say, became a blues/jazz standard when sung by the likes of Ethyl Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, and–in a more modern version–Bette Midler.

Ethyl Waters, 1934:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP2UypjZbMo

Bette Midler, 1990:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qe26btsHHMs

So, whether or not we choose to strum (strut?) and sing “Lulu” in our Saturday sessions, it is still worth taking a look at if only to see what folks enjoyed and embraced eighty or so years ago. 

Cole Porter and friends enjoying and embracing . . .

What will folks think of 2019’s popular music eighty years from now?  We’ll just have to wait for our Purple (?) Book to come out!

Justice League:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjrA8B1Pd-Y

And, of course, Ukulele: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWG8xCW3NPw

So, sew that button on your vest and STAY TUNED!

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton, Mass.

Hi Fellow Strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. These are my personal thoughts, not those of any group or sponsor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: