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It almost certainly goes without saying that the great depression was difficult time for many people around the world, but in any reshuffling a few unexpected cards will come to the top of the deck. In this darkest year of the period, a few artists were at the apex of their success, and for whatever reason the music and films they made seem to have fixed themselves in the popular consciousness better than anything from the previous few years.
In our just-passed golden age, Cab Calloway hadn't been doing that well. After a few years of touring around the USA with his more successful band-leader sister Blanche, he'd set himself up in New York with his own group, but following a disastrous debut at the Savoy Ballroom, they split up. Forced to take a job as a singer in the musical Connie's Hot Chocolates, he found a new band, and by 1930 they were the star attraction at The Cotton Club, and about to release the first million-selling single by an African-American artist.
Minnie The Moocher was not entirely an original piece, in the way that nothing really is. The bulk of it was sourced from a much earlier song called Willie the Weeper, and many of the adaptations had already been made in a 1927 version by Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon. Even the sleazy, funky style of Calloway's band was lifted largely from his sister Blanche, who would also do scat singing not far from the "hi de hi de hi de ho" refrain. But there's no denying that Cab himself is an electrifying presence, even ninety years later - where Louis Armstrong is warm and welcoming, he's aggressive, preening and feline in a way we won't really get again until the birth of rock & roll. The song is pretty shocking too - beneath the flimsiest of euphemistic slang terms it's a story about cocaine and opium use and open displays of female sexuality, and you have to wonder how many listeners got that - I would wager the answer is "surprisingly many" – though perhaps not Al Bowlly, whose version I probably won't be including in the 1932 mix.
1931 was a bumper year for this sort of thing in Hollywood too. Though the censorship regimen The Hays Code was officially adopted in 1930, it wouldn't really be taken seriously until 1934, and it feels like producers were going as far as they could before someone stopped them. High profile movies this year include morally-ambiguous gangster pictures Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, stories about a secretary-turned-prostitute (Safe In Hell), lurid parties (Dance, Fools, Dance) and open mockery of religion (The Miracle Woman.) This was a massive year for horror movies too, with the release of the classic versions of Dracula, Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde and Frankenstein, the latter directed by James Whale, an openly-gay British man whose career would later be derailed by his open conflict with Hitler a few years before the rest of the western world joined in.
Hollywood might have been having a golden age, but the same cannot of course be said about the record business - in fact movie musicals were really the only growth area for musicians this year. While some companies had remained afloat in 1930, further economic shocks from Germany had now done for what was left of their business. Of course important bandleaders were still being recorded, but the expeditions to record across The South had mostly withered and died.
The vital exception to this is the guitar blues coming out of the Mississippi Delta. Skip James from Bentonia, Mississippi and Son House from Lyon, Mississippi both managed to make their way to Grafton, Wisconsin, to record for Paramount Records - the songs they recorded were some of the final echoes of the explosion of 1927, but they resonated more than almost any others, and after 30 years away from the microphone for both performers, their discovery by blues fans in the early 1960s would make them a vital piece in the development of music in the remainder of the century.
0:00:23 Will Rogers - Bacon, Beans, and Limousines (Excerpt 1) 0:00:29 Cab Calloway and His Orchestra - Minnie The Moocher 0:03:36 James Cagney - The Public Enemy Piano Scene (Excerpt 1) 0:03:42 Harlem Footwarmers - Rockin' in Rhythm 0:06:03 Colin Clive - Frankenstein (Excerpt 1) 0:06:31 The Boswell Sisters - It's You 0:09:35 The Mills Brothers - Nobody's Sweetheart Now 0:11:57 Isaac Pitman - Pitman's Gramophone Course (Excerpt 1) 0:12:03 Jazz-Band Sam Libermann - Sandeman 0:14:26 Will Rogers - Bacon, Beans, and Limousines (Excerpt 2) 0:14:32 Hazekiah Jenkins - The Panic Is On 0:16:54 Will Rogers - Bacon, Beans, and Limousines (Excerpt 3) 0:17:13 Bessie Smith - Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl 0:18:40 Bessie Smith - Safety Mama 0:20:04 James Cagney - The Public Enemy Piano Scene (Excerpt 2) 0:20:10 Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra - Lazy River 0:23:14 Johnny Mack Brown - Berk Jarvis' Inspirational Speech from The Great Meadow (Excerpt 1) 0:23:23 Skip James - Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues 0:25:22 Johnny Mack Brown - Berk Jarvis' Inspirational Speech from The Great Meadow (Excerpt 2) 0:25:38 Duke Ellington Orchestra - Creole Rhapsody 0:30:13 Chants Populaires Tahitiens - Chant D´Amour 0:31:03 Sol K. Bright - Tomi Tomi 0:33:08 Ronald Colman - Arrowsmith (Excerpt 1) 0:33:14 Fatma El Chameya Sudaneya - Gawadallah 0:34:30 DJelouwei Wenike Ahlanon - Pantanon 0:34:57 Fredric March - Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Excerpt 1) 0:35:38 Kju Pora - Ke Tre Urat Për Matanë (Across Three Bridges) 0:36:19 Peter Lorre - Kangaroo Court Scene from M 0:36:48 Alexander Mossolov - Zavod, Symphony Of Machines 0:38:09 Colin Clive - Frankenstein (Excerpt 2) 0:38:22 Albert Whelan - My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies 0:41:08 Groucho Marx - Monkey Business (Excerpt) 0:41:17 Toña La Negre - El Cacahuatero 0:43:05 Mahatma Gandhi - 1931 Oct 20 - English (Excerpt 1) 0:43:14 Paul Robeson - River Stay Away From My Door 0:44:57 Beans Hambone & El Morrow - Beans 0:46:43 Laurel and Hardy - One Good Turn (Excerpt 1) 0:46:50 Gene Autry - Do Right Daddy Blues 0:48:53 Will Rogers - Bacon, Beans, and Limousines (Excerpt 4) 0:48:59 Willie Brown - Future Blues 0:50:19 James Dunn - Scene from 'Bad Girl' 0:50:29 Skip James - Cypress Grove Blues 0:52:24 Skip James - Devil Got My Woman 0:54:10 Rev. Emmet Dickenson - Hell and What It Is (Excerpt 1) 0:54:18 Bryant's Jubilee Quartet - I'll Be Satisfied 0:55:39 Mahatma Gandhi - 1931 Oct 20 - English (Excerpt 2) 0:55:52 Maddilla Satyamoorthy - Violin Instrumental- Parimala Rangapathey (Kambhoji) 0:57:04 Mahatma Gandhi - 1931 Oct 20 - English (Excerpt 3) 0:57:09 Jimmie Rodgers & The Carter Family - Jimmie Rodgers Visits The Carter Family 1:00:23 Jimmie Rodgers - Mississippi River Blues 1:01:49 Ramsay Macdonald - Speaks To The Nation (Excerpt 1) 1:01:54 Leroy Carr - Papa's On The House Top 1:03:22 David Lloyd George - Speaks To The Nation (Excerpt 1) 1:03:24 The Baltimore Bell Hops - Hot And Anxious 1:04:21 Don Redman - Shakin' The African 1:06:58 Claudette Colbert - The Smiling Lieutenant (Excerpt) 1:07:09 Mississippi Sheiks - Bed Spring Poker 1:08:51 Will Rogers - Bacon, Beans, and Limousines (Excerpt 5) 1:09:09 Slim Smith - Bread Line Blues 1:12:22 Arthur Henderson MP - General Election 1931 1:12:36 Al Bowlly accompanied by orchestra - I'd Rather Be A Beggar With You 1:14:23 Norma Shearer & Robert Montgomery - Private Lives (Excerpt) 1:14:29 Cab Calloway and His Orchestra - Kicking The Gong Around 1:16:57 James Cagney - The Public Enemy Piano Scene (Excerpt 3) 1:16:59 Noble Sissle and His Orchestra - The Basement Blues 1:20:11 Bela Lugosi - Scene from Dracula (Excerpt 1) 1:20:14 Seger Ellis - Montana Call 1:23:31 Jean Renoir - La Chienne (Excerpt) 1:23:42 Les Freres Péguri - Enivrante 1:25:00 René Clair - À nous la liberté 1:25:12 Uncredited Pinpeat Ensemble - Teb Bantom (Cambodia) 1:26:01 Pierre Laval - Speech About His Forthcoming German Visit 1:26:10 Fujiyama Ichiro - Sake ha Namida ka Tameike ka 1:27:40 FT Marinetti - Sintesi Musicali Futuriste 1:28:14 D. Busuttil u il Cumpanija Musica V.Ciappara - Festa ta Rahal 1:29:11 Carlo Satariano - Maddalena 1:29:25 Adolfo Carabelli Y Su Orquesta Tipica - Me Vuelves Loco 1:31:08 Fredric March - Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Excerpt 2) 1:31:15 Washboard Rhythm Kings - Call Of The Freaks 1:33:59 Wallace Beery - The Champ 1931 (Ending scene) (Excerpt 1) 1:34:15 Ted Lewis and his Band - Dallas Blues 1:36:34 Glen Gray and his Orchestra - Casa Loma Stomp 1:39:25 Albert Whelan - Pass! Shoot!! Goal!!! 1:41:31 The Mills Brothers - Tiger Rag 1:43:23 Laurel and Hardy - One Good Turn (Excerpt 2) 1:43:35 Bing Crosby And The Mills Brothers - Dinah 1:45:11 Ronald Colman - Arrowsmith (Excerpt 2) 1:45:20 Wilmoth Houdini - I Need a Man 1:47:34 Edward, Price of Wales (future King Edward VIII) - Speech on trade with Argentine 1:47:40 Cuarteto Flores - Cecilia 1:49:40 Ramsay MacDonald - General Election 1931 1:49:55 Julio J. Martínez Oyanguren - Jota 1:52:27 Adolphe Menjou - The Front Page Ending scene (Excerpt 1) 1:52:32 G.Cefai - Imhabba fuk il bahar 1:54:24 Rev. Emmet Dickenson - Hell and What It Is (Excerpt 2) 1:54:46 Sam Collins - Lonesome Road Blues 1:55:58 Wallace Beery - The Champ 1931 (Ending scene) (Excerpt 2) 1:56:06 Sexteto Okeh - Estrella De Oriente 1:57:35 James Cagney - The Public Enemy Piano Scene (Excerpt 4) 1:57:41 Clyde McCoy & His Orchestra - Sugar Blues 2:00:32 Marlene Dietrich - Jonny 2:01:41 Comedian Harmonists - Mein Lieber Schatz Bist Du Aus Spanien 2:04:25 Ambrose And His Orchestra - Yes, Yes ('My Baby Said Yes') 2:05:30 James Cagney - The Public Enemy Piano Scene (Excerpt 5) 2:05:35 Jacques Renard & His Orchestra - As Time Goes By 2:07:01 Isaac Pitman - Pitman's Gramophone Course (Excerpt 2) 2:07:18 Akropong Singing Band - Monyi Moho Adi 2:08:29 Marguerite and Razanatsoa - Dia Veloma I Said Omar 2:10:21 Rev. F. W. McGee - Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room 2:13:00 Silver Leaf Quartette of Norfolk - Daniel Saw the Stone 2:14:22 Rev. Emmet Dickenson - Hell and What It Is (Excerpt 3) 2:14:37 Willie Walker - Dupree Blues 2:16:21 Son House - My Black Mama - Part I 2:18:11 Ramsay Macdonald - Speaks To The Nation (Excerpt 2) 2:18:18 A. Kostis - I Filaki ine Scholio 2:19:21 Bela Lugosi and A Wolf - Scene from Dracula (Excerpt 2) 2:19:38 Josef Pizio - Pidkamecka Kolomyjka 2:20:15 Adolphe Menjou - The Front Page Ending scene (Excerpt 2) 2:20:29 Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1 - Bells of Love 2:21:48 Boswell Sisters - Shout, Sister, Shout 2:22:48 Clark Gable - Possessed (Excerpt) 2:22:49 Sato Chiyako - Kage o Shitaete 2:23:44 Winston Churchill - General Election 1931 (Excerpt) 2:23:51 Kyle Wooten - Choking Blues 2:25:37 Ted Lewis & His Band feat. Fats Waller - Royal Garden Blues 2:28:32 Mahatma Gandhi - 1931 Oct 20 - English (Excerpt 4) 2:28:46 Louis Armstrong - Stardust 2:32:18 The Charleston Chasers - Basin Street Blues 2:34:43 British Pathe - The Crisis! (1931) 2:34:46 Adolphe Menjou - The Front Page Ending scene (Excerpt 3) 2:34:48 Al Bowlly with Ray Noble & His Orchestra - Goodnight Sweetheart