ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING–21 April 2023,”Guess Who’s Back in Town!”

Every once in a while, I have an earworm about an old favorite that we don’t hear played too often these days —probably because the theme might be thought by some to be a wee tad non-PC.   But, it is 2023, and, after all, it even has been performed (sort of) by The Muppets! Anyway, gentle readers, why not? So, here goes another musical musing!

Our 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 a movie musical “Broadway Gondolier” (slang for a Manhattan taxi driver) and sung by then heart-throb Dick Powell.  In simple phrases he sings about getting ready for a rendezvous with “Lulu,” focusing all his attention on this awesome-in-his-eyes woman who periodically revisits his home town.  We don’t know exactly who this Lulu is that has captured the gentleman’s ardor—an old flame, a vaudeville queen, a burlesque star, a lady of sterling (or easy) virtue, a you-name-it?  We don’t know, but our man is smitten.

Is she one of these?

Or is this her?

Who knows? Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to listen to the gondolier himself!

Alas, the film was not that great, but our song was popularized by Harlem’s own “Fats” Waller who’s 1935 upbeat (and a bit more risque) recording topped the charts. It’s a pop/jazz standard today, and—like so many catchy tunes of the age—has been recorded by dozens of performers in dozens of genres and interpretations with lyrical moderations suitable for different times and places. 

It’s become a true classic often performed in what some critics and reviewers in its day called a “rooster strut.”  (Your guess is as good as mine.) Anyway, click or tap on the triangle in the next image to pass judgement.

How about an instrumental jazz version with some real “Lulus” of the day! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen.

And, as promised, here is the Muppet’s take on this. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a PG treat!

Dubin and Warren collaborated with many other composers on many, many songs—particularly in Hollywood. 

They went on to win an Academy Award for their song “Lullaby of Broadway;” Warren also won an Academy Award for “Chattanooga Choo Choo”—the first “gold record” in history!  A bit off our theme this week, but–What the heck!–click or tap on the triangle in the next image for something not to miss.

As a further bit of a digression, there is an interesting musical quotation in the chorus of our “Lulu . . .”: “You can tell all my pets, all my Harlem coquettes; Mister Otis regrets, that he won’t be around.”  It borrows a phrase coined by another songwriter, Cole Porter, taken from his 1934 song “Miss Otis Regrets.” 

Late one night in a bar with a few of his cocktail party pals, Porter overheard a bartender’s frequent use of the word “regrets.” Porter, on a bet with his buddies , was inspired and improvised a bluesy, Manhattany, musical parody. He wrote about a butler who, politely, explains why his employer, a “Miss Otis,” can’t keep her regular ladies’ lunch appointment that day.  In Porter’s boozy ballad, she had been compromised and abandoned by a lover/seducer but had tracked down, confronted, and shot the cad in cold blood! She quite soon faced the consequences!

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to hear the Cole Porter bio-movie rendition of “Miss Otis… ” sung by none other than the famously bearded Monte Woolley! Oh yes, that’s Cary Grant at the piano in the Cole role.

Her butler’s understated but polite apology–“Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today”–soon entered entered the lexicon of American pop culture and became a punchline for sophisticates throughout the 1930s. Just about any “regret” or “unable” phrase had a “Miss (or Mister) Otis” tag, even in ads for gasoline! 

This song, needless to say, became a blues/jazz standard when sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and was even parodied by Fred Astaire himself. Click or tap on the triangles in the next two images for a look and listen.

So, whenever we have a chance to listen to someone sing (or strut) about “Lulu . . .,” it’s fun to take a look at those songs enjoyed, enhanced, and embraced by folks–in a variety of ways–over the past eighty or so years. 

So, gentle readers, what will folks think of 2023’s popular music eighty years from now?  We’ll just have to wait and see. I’m looking forward!

Let’s wind this musing up with–what else–a rather bizarre ukulele version of “Lulu . . .

So, find your razor and perfume, get your old tuxedo pressed, and STAY TUNED! Because . . .

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton and, now, Easthampton, Mass.

Hi friends, neighbors, and 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. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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