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THE ANDREWS SISTERS

16 Great Performances
Rating: 4
   There are a lot of records I own which I can't recall obtaining, but this one I remember clearly. You may recall when Shannon Hoon died, but I didn't hear about it until I read an item in Time. Aghast at my complete lack of with-it-ness, I remarked to my parents, "Man, am I out of touch; you're supposed to hear about rock star deaths on MTV or the like." To which my mother replied, "You think you're out of touch; I go in a record store and when I look at an album I don't know which word is the band's name and which is the album title." So then I decided to write a song for the Pseudonyms which would have the same effect, and for reasons that escape me now, chose "The Andrews Sisters" as the title of my new song. If you want, I'll send you a copy of our cassette single with "The Pseudonyms" and "The Andrews Sisters" labeled indistinguishably on the front.
   Anyway, I didn't know anything about said Andrew Sisters, so I naturally had to hustle out and buy one of their albums. The one I picked up, 16 Great Performances (on MCA), appears to be a rerecording, as it's in stereo and features the same small combo on the all the tracks (too cheap to hire a trumpeter, they have a sax play reveille on "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.") Along with a little library research, this album provided me with enough info to write a moderately lame song about the Andrews Sisters, and I still occasionally dust off the album, but it keeps getting worse every time I hear it.
   If you don't know, the Andrews Sisters (Patty, Maxine, and Laverne) were one of the most popular musical acts of the 1940's, climbing the charts again and again and making several USO tours to entertain the troops - in fact, they were almost killed by a stray German shell in the winter of 1944. Their voices have an eerie similarity, so that I find it impossible to distinguish between them, but the timbre they share is brassy and strident. That tone was probably perfect for cutting 78's and appearing on AM radio, but it grates on my accustomed-to-high-fidelity ears.
    As to the tunes (all composed by professional songwriters), I can only say, thank God rock and roll came along, because another fifty years of this drivel would have surely destroyed the minds of several generations. Seriously, a couple of the songs are almost purely nonsense ("shrimps and rice, very nice, have a snack, you want some seafood?") but others are well-crafted romantic ballads ("I'll be with you in apple blossom time/ To change your name to mine") or simply high-spirited fun ("Bei mir bist du schoen / Please let me explain / Bei mir bist du schoen means you're grand"). And to my pleasant surprise, I learned that "In the Mood" has lyrics ("Who's the lovin' daddy with the beautiful eyes / What a pair of hips, I'd like to try 'em for size"). The melodies are usually pretty snappy but largely unremarkable: those folks who complained about rock and roll destroying the melodic content of pop music can't have been paying too much attention to the simple intervals of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" or "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar."
   I suppose true aficionados of 40's music (if any of them read this site) will blast me for rating the Andrews Sisters instead of Bing Crosby or whomever (it may be like judging the 70's based on the Partridge Family) but I don't really know any better. The Andrews Sisters are good for a few kicks but there's not a lot of substance behind the blare.

READER COMMENTS

  • From Hillary: I stumbled across your site while trying to find the lyrics for “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen” and wanted to tell you I think it's cool. Your review of BNL made me want to listen to Gordon again and it's one of my less favorite of their albums. Also, the lyrics to “In the Mood,” or at least the version I found in some very old choral files at school.

    (guy) Who's the living dolly with the beautiful eyes,
    What a pair of lips I'd like to try em for size,
    I'll just tell her baby won't you swing it with me,
    Hope she tells me maybe, what a wing it would be.
    So I said politely, darling, may I intrude,
    She said, don't keep me waiting when I'm in the mood.

    (girl) First he held me lightly and we started to dance,
    Then he held me tightly what a dreamy romance,
    Finally he said, baby, it's a quarter to three
    There's a mess of moonlight, won't you share it with me.
    So I told him darling, don't you know that it's rude
    To keep my two lips waiting when they're in the mood.

    (both) In the mood (hoy-doy) that's what s/he told me,
    in the mood, and when s/he told me
    In the mood, my heart was skipping
    Didn't take me long to say I'm in the mood.

    Great site!

  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Ah nyah." Steve says: "That's one swinging choir director you've got. Thanks for writing!"

  • From Bob Boyer:As a fan of the Andrews Sisters for nearly 50 years, I am curious to hear your response to listening to them for the first time on "Sixteen Great Performances." It must be difficult for someone of your age to transport himself back to the war (WWII) years and to identify with the music of those times. Though some of our classic standards were born during those years, many of the songs did, indeed, lack substance. Perhaps one reason for this was the war itself and all the horror that it brought with it. I don't think it is a stretch to say that people frequently wanted relief from the tragedies of the war in their music. Then, too, dancing was a rage -- as in the jitterbug, lindy hop, even the polka. Hence, the inclusion on the album of songs like “Hold Tight” which was a major hit for Fats Waller and the Andrews Sisters. In fact its lyrics "want some sea food mama" were considered none too subtle double entendre at the time. "Oh Johnny Oh Johnny Oh" was also a danceable number as were the polkas on the album. "Bei Mir Bist du Schon" was an adaptation of a song from Jewish theater which was revamped by the Andrews Sisters and it became their first big hit. "Apple Blossom Time" was actually written in 1920, a generation before the Andrews Sisters revised it and claimed it as their theme song. The originals of these and other ditties by the Andrews Sisters give a real feeling for the time. However, the songs on this album, as you suspected, were performed as revivals during the early 1960s, and, in my opinion, they pale compared to the originals. Nevertheless, in my opinion, they do give some indication what the Andrews Sisters brought to popular music: fun, spontaneity, swing, close harmony, flair and style. As for substance, it was generally not their forte. Their mere name now 50 years later tends to bring a smile to the faces of those who remember them. They were fun! After all, I'm not sure that music has to be substantive to be memorable and to be appreciated. "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog" isn't particularly substantive either, but it was a great performance.

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