Wednesday, November 07, 2018
George Gershwin, Fred and Adele Astaire--"Fascinating Rhythm," The Half of It Dearie, Blues" (1926)
This 78 was recorded in the UK in 1926, and it features George Gershwin plus Fred and Adele Astaire in two selections from Gershwin's Lady Be Good. I was thrilled to find this copy in Scotland circa 1980 (while I was stationed in that country), and I paid a mere five pounds, or about $12. Fred and sister Adele sing as George Gershwin hammers the ivories on Fascinating Rhythm, and it's just an amazing side. Life-altering, if you ask me. Prior to finding this in the now-closed Gramophone Emporium in Edinburgh, I'd heard a snatch of it on the radio (BBC Four, I think), and of course I was dying to hear the rest. As you'll notice, the designated speed is 80 rpm, and I adjusted my turntable as close to that speed as possible. It's close enough. The music really moves at 80 compared to 78 rpm--much moreso than I would have expected. I think I'll feature both speeds so you can hear the difference. Interestingly, that difference amounts to approximately a semitone. (Helps to have a synth keyboard next to the PC desk.)
The flip is fluff (always wanted to type that) by comparison, though I am right now revising my take on it. I originally described Gershwin's piano work as clunky on this number (Half of It Dearie, Blues), but, at least at 80 rpm, it's not only not clunky, it's impressively fast.. And I talked about too many Rhapsody in Blue quotes--specifically, the double-time chords George throws in a few times too often--but now I'm not positive they're actual RIB quotes. They're standard parallel "big city" chords of the type we expect from George. Maybe they're meant to evoke RIB, maybe not.
And Astaire's singing on the Dearie number, which I described as pretty bad, is actually perfectly adequate. The song is silly, but that's the job of novelties. It's not the dud side I judged it to be, unless we're comparing the song and its performance to the magnificent flip, and that would be setting an unfair bar.
Bottom line is, this version of Fascinating Rhythm changed the way I hear Twenties pop music, and Twenties pop is my favorite pop. So it's awesome to have it in my collection.
First up, the sides at the proper 80 rpm. Then, for comparison, my two 78 rpm rips. Enjoy!
Fascinating Rhythm/The Half of It...--Fred and Adele Astaire, then Fred only, with piano by George Gershwin, at 80 rpm.
Fascinating Rhythm/The Half of It...--78 rpm Lee
UPDATE: Buster and I both agreed that 80 rpm is way too fast a playback speed, despite the label indication--namely, that, for some reason, the label sped things up by recording at a slower speed, as American Columbia accidentally did with Bing Crosby and Al Rinker's I've Got the Girl of the same year. It could have been accidental in the case of UK Columbia, too, or the label may have done it deliberately to alter the sound of Astaire's singing or George's piano tinkling--to make things sound brighter and, to use a period term, snappier. Tho knows? Anyway, Buster took my 78 rpm rips and slowed them down about 1/4 tone, and here are the results: GG, FA, Corrected speed. I agree with Buster that his speed corrections sound just right. What do your ears think?