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?

Thanks, Buster!



Ernie said...

Cool, never heard of such. And amazing that you've managed to hold onto the record this long!

Buster said...

I've had a bad transfer of this for many years; yours is FAR better sounding. I've always thought it was pitched too high - even the 78 rpm version seems sharp, although it is much closer to the Fred we know from his later recordings. I hope you won't mind that I took it down even a little bit more - see what you think of this.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

I like your file! The slight drop in speed sounds right. About 1/4 tone, no? I've always been okay with 78 for this, but I was surprised at how cartoonish (for want of a better word) it sounds at 80 rpm. 80 rpm is flat-out wrong.

I'll link to your file in my post--I'm assuming you're okay with that. Very glad to have a savvy fellow blogger like you dealing with the speed issue, since I'm deliberately putting all my focus on sound quality. Playback speeds are a hideously complicated thing, and I'm not going there. I fret over sound like you wouldn't believe, and I'd be tipping the stress cart by taking on an extra concern. And, as you've shown, things are easily correct post-rip!

Lee Hartsfeld said...


You're correct. My 78 collection has gone through three versions. The original contained about 800 sides, most bought in Scotland (mostly, American dance bands on cool UK labels). I don't recall exactly how it happened, but I basically replaced most with new 78s (primarily 1920s stuff), and boy did I have a Whiteman collection, and at a time before eBay price-gouging. Lots of PW Columbias. This is the third edition of my 78 collection, and it's out of control. We all know how that goes. It's not a "We've all been there" thing--it's a "We're all there" thing. We have too much, and we keep adding.

Buster said...

Well, your fretting about sound definitely is producing some good sounding records!

Yeah, it's about a quarter-tone difference.

Pitch problems on vocal records especially drive me batty. I remember posting three different versions of a Jane Powell record trying to get the pitch right. The studio sped up her recordings drastically to make her sound brighter. (I believe they did the same thing with Kathryn Grayson.)

Thanks for not objecting to my tinkering!

Lee Hartsfeld said...

No, I appreciate it. Especially given how much better it sounds with that small change. I'm happy to outsource the 78 rpm speed problem!

By the way, I found that a slight reduction in the low freqs on these sides opened up the sound incredibly. My pre-treated file sounded pinched, and I knew that upping the treble wouldn't help, so I did the opposite. And it worked! I think it's the fault of all those Boomer-era stereo shops--our modern love affair with bass, I mean. I'll never forget the hilarious scene near OSU campus of a young couple listening to a clerk explaining a set-up in great detail--"blah blah blah percent harmonic distortion, etc."--as they listened quietly. Then came the part that mattered--cranking it up!! BOOM BOOM BOOM. The couple smiled, because they knew they were buying the best speakers in town. Because BOOM BOOM BOOM.

"Can I get a job at your shop?" "Does your wrist turn to the right?" "Um... yeah." "Okay, you can start tomorrow."

Buster said...

Lee - Thanks for your gracious response to my contribution! By the way, I believe most vinyl/shellac records suffer from rumble to a greater or lesser degree. A rumble filter sometimes does wonders in clarifying the sound, in my experience.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Yes, rumble is a royal pain, especially on 1920s Columbias, I guess since they were so thick. Uneven surfaces will produce rumble, of course, so you'd think the thicker 78s would be less subject to warping over time, but what do I know? I was just listening to a Whiteman CD on (I think) Naxos, and the rumble was bad.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Oh, and of course uneven playing surfaces aren't the sole cause of rumble. Much of it was in the recording process itself, I'm sure.

Buster said...

The sonic horrors that can be found on commercial transfers always amaze me.