The music you will hear below is is my new favorite experience. Because of it, I want to go back to 1932 and (respectfully) hug Marion Harris (so stylish, above) or at least invite her to dine, although my implausible devotion keeps on being interrupted by laughter. Please put down what you are doing and join me for three minutes and thirteen seconds:
I don’t know if I love this performance more because of its deadpan wackiness — which is to say, Ms. Harris’ complete sweet sincerity, making the verbal jokes more perilously hilarious — or is it because I taught college English for more than forty years to young men and women who blithely could say “Him and me”? Or is it the combination of those two elements? I also feel that Ms. Harris’ seriousness is truly adult: this is not baby-talk in a child’s voice (think of Dot Dare and Helen Kane and others of the time). I believe her completely, down to her sigh after the word “kiss,” even though, were she a student, I would have commended the sincerity of her ideas while walking her through the doors of the Writing Center for an extended stay.
Another wonderful aspect of this recording is its thoughtful, delicate tempo: other recordings I’ve heard, thanks to YouTube, take this song as a fairly quick one-step, emphasizing its comedy. The one film version, where ingenue Pat Paterson sings it in a 1934 Spencer Tracy Film, BOTTOMS UP, also presents it as a comic turn. Ms. Harris’s slower tempo permits the song to exist simultaneously as a love ballad where the singer is discovering these new emotions and as a verbal tour-de-force.
What I do know about this recording is, as we say, not much. Ms. Harris recorded the then-current pop song (music by J. Russel Robinson, lyrics by Mercer Cook) in May 1932 in England. No reference work on my shelves says anything about this dear recording — it’s not “jazz” enough for the chroniclers — so I know nothing about Ms. Harris’ accompanists, except my ears tell me that the unidentified guitarist has learned his Eddie Lang deeply and well.
But this just in! Informed evidence from the masterful guitarist Martin Wheatley:
As to the guitarist, I would say the most likely candidate is Len Fillis. Albert Harris and Ivor Mairants would have been contenders had the record been made a few years later. Even so Fillis would be favourite. In addition, the pianist sounds to me rather like Sid Bright, Fillis’ regular partner-in-crime. And in addition to that I found that Fillis recorded with Marton Harris in London on 2nd June that same year – Spring Is Here Again. It all points in one direction !
And, not incidentally, I think these lyrics would be fiendishly difficult to memorize and to perform without a piece of paper to glance at: the reasonably-literate singer would want to supply grammatically correct alternatives: think of Jo Stafford singing off-key and out-of-time as “Darlene Edwards.”
I would give a great deal to have been present at the collaboration of Robinson and Cook. Did either of them suggest, “Am I In Love? I Am,” and then find out how little relevant rhymes with “am,” and propose this comic alternative?
As for I, I is smitten.
So I will listen again. And if someone thinks, “Michael made this all up,” here’s empirical proof. Another sheet music cover has Ethel Shutta prominently featured, and more than a half-dozen other recordings by American and British bands and vocalists are on YouTube. But none so nice:
And that often overlooked but invaluable resource, the Internet Archive, presents 29 recordings by Ms. Harris — her complete electrical recordings from 1925-1934, with a less filtered copy of IS I IN LOVE? — here. Treasures.
May your happiness increase!