I don’t know how it got into my brain that there was a British Invasion-ish version of the Hoagy Carmichael- Sidney Arodin 1930 standard “Up A Lazy River,” but once the idea took hold, I pondered it for a bit. Did The Beatles include it in their Hamburg repertoire? Was it an album cut by some third-tier U.K. band like Brian Poole & The Tremeloes or Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders or The Swingin’ Blue Jeans? Did, oh, Lulu or Cilla Black sing it on a TV show, Hollywood Palace maybe? It’s annoying when you believe that some singer-song combination exists and it turns out that the likelihood is that you made the whole thing up, especially now that you can spend a good deal of time searching the internet for that entirely fictional recording or live performance (way to waste time on the web, #306). Which naturally is what I did, so I’ve now listened to a few dozen versions of “Up A Lazy River,” and the closest thing I’ve come to something British Invasion-ish is this 1964 record by a Swedish band called Flamingokvintten, a thing I couldn’t possibly have ever heard before in my life, and certainly not when it was released, because Top 40 radio in New York City didn’t play a whole lot of Scandinavian pop music in the 1960s.
I do wish there were more Hoagy Carmichael music out there. Not old stuff, because God knows he was one of the most recorded songwriters of the 20th century, with “Stardust” alone maybe in the top 10 of heavily-covered tunes ever. But it seems — and I could be mistaken about this, because I don’t go to cabarets all that much — that his amazing repertoire is underexploited, and maybe that’s because he didn’t write revivable Broadway musicals, and people don’t go to him, even the people who venture into standardville, the way they go to Cole Porter or The Gershwins or Ellington, etc. Norah Jones jumped on “The Nearness of You” on her debut, and Buble has done “Lazy River,” and everyone still does “Stardust,” I suppose, but there are so many great Carmichael songs: “Two Sleepy People,” “Heart and Soul,” “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “One Morning In May,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Skylark,” “Memphis In June,” “How Little We Know” (from To Have and Have Not).
Here’s another sort-of-theory: maybe his music isn’t “City” enough; it feels rural and bucolic compared to, say, Porter’s sleek swank, and it doesn’t have the high society sophistication that singers who want to evoke the glamorous nightclub vibe want to convey. Which is strange considering that Sinatra, Darin, Ella, Sammy, all that crowd went down Hoagy’s unpaved road. The first Carmichael records I ever owned were Ray Charles’ definitive reading of “Georgia On My Mind,” and a swinging Bobby Darin single of “Lazy River” that Buble let’s say was “inspired” by (or “mimics”).
Back to the “River”: one recording of it that I’m a big fan of — and there are a lot, from Brenda Lee to Georgie Fame & Annie Ross to Gene Vincent to The Mills Brothers (the time capsule version) to Louis (Armstrong and Prima) — is on Hoagy Sings Carmichael, an LP on Pacific Jazz where he’s backed by a group including Art Pepper, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Jimmy Rowles, with arrangements by Johnny Mandel. It’s available on CD and MP3 now, and you should get it, but when I wanted to find a copy, I had to track it down on Japanese vinyl, with an inner sleeve that captures the lyrics as some listener heard them, thus the first line of the song is transcribed as “Up a lazy river where the oatmeal run meets lazy, lazy river in the new day sun,” so you have this place where the river, in the morning, intersects a stream of oatmeal? On another song, “Rockin’ Chair,” the lyric reads, “Fetch me that ginseng, ‘fore I tan your hide.” For the record, the singer is asking his son to fetch him gin. The album also includes this relaxed stroll through “Two Sleepy People”: