Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 22: The Andrews Sisters, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"

Artist: The Andrews Sisters
Song: "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"
Album: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (single)
Year: 1941

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (Original Recording) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (1957 Re-Recording) (will open in new tab)

When one discusses the most famous and successful acts in the entire history of music, it is often forgotten than many artist who should be in such a conversation made their names in the 1940's and 1950's.  However, in most cases when such a discussion occurs, any artist from the "pre-rock and roll" era are left out, though in some cases they easily out-performed later acts.  From the tail-end of the "ragtime" era to early folk to the beginnings of jazz music, there are countless singers and bands that made a massive impact on the world of music to this day, and few performers from any era have been as important as The Andrews Sisters.  Charting with more than one hundred individual singles and selling more than seventy-five-million albums, there is no arguing that they stand as one of the most commercially successful acts in history, and yet their contributions are often tragically overlooked or downplayed.  The reality is that over the course of their career, The Andrews Sisters set the standard for many recording styles, mixing together blues, folk, r&b, and jazz in fantastic fashion, and it was the stunning way that their voices combined that turned the trio into absolute icons.  With so many memorable singles, it is impossible to cite just one as their "definitive" recording, and yet one can easily argue that in terms of both representing their sound, as well as historical significance, The Andrews Sisters never bested their iconic 1941 song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

While history boasts a number of memorable musical arrangements, that found on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" may very well be the most famous, if for no other reason, than the fact that it has been in existence far longer than almost any other contender.  Fittingly enough, the song opens with a lone bugle playing what sounds to be a variation on the traditional "Taps," and one can make the argument that such a performance may have been a bit controversial at the time.  But once this progression gives way to the entire orchestra, the song becomes absolutely unforgettable in both tone and arrangement.  It is the way that "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" manages to swing in a completely unique style that makes it such a fantastic track, and one is almost instantly transported to an "Officer's Club" in the 1940's.  Every instrument is in perfect sync with the others, and it is the slightly softer way that they move behind the vocals that makes the sound so superb.  The double-bass gives a subtle, yet captivating groove, and the rest of the band seems to take their cues off of his playing.  The way that the horns seem to "pop" and accentuate the down-beats is nothing short of perfect, and even in modern times, it is almost impossible to not swing along with the orchestra's rhythm.  In every aspect, the arrangement on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" is the ultimate crossover between blues and jazz, and the song defines the term "classic" in every sense of the word.

Working in perfect harmony with both the orchestra and one another, it does not take long to understand why The Andrews Sisters had such a long and successful career.  One would be hard pressed to find an act with a greater level of sheer vocal talent than one finds here, and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" in many ways redefines who the "jazz vocal" could be approached.  Seamlessly mixing together scat-style singing with delicately gorgeous verses, there is simply no parallel for the performance of the trio, and it is not surprising that this song dominated the charts for a rather lengthy period of time.  Whether they are taking brief moments on the lead or working together in harmony, there is not a note out of place, and one can easily hear how this performance played a vital role in the development of the "girl group" sound that would appear almost two decades later.  But one cannot ignore the rather timely nature of the song as an aid in its overall success, and yet it was actually written, recorded, and released before the United States "entered" World War Two.  Following the tale of a top Chicago horn player who was drafted into the Army, the story attempts to put a positive spin on "Army life," as the musicians' superior officer finds a way to surround him with other musicians, allowing him to be a far more content bugler.  The lyrics also suggest the impact that his sound has on the his fellow soldiers, as the line, "...and now the company jumps, when he plays reveille..." seem to paint a somewhat more light-hearted image of life in the Army.  Yet throughout the entire song, it is the magnificent combination of voices that have turned "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" into the iconic recording that it remains to this day.

In reality, there are actually two distinctive studio recordings of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" made by The Andrews Sisters.  The original, recorded in 1941, is the one that is most often heard, as the full, swinging orchestration perfectly captures the mood of the nation at the time.  Nearly twenty years later, in 1957, the trio recorded the song again, and this time, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" has a slightly faster, more jazz-based sound.  Much of the swing and "big band" sound is missing, and there is a bit of an echo on the vocals that makes this take unique.  However, when compared, there is little question that it is the original which stands as superior, as it highlights the vocals more directly, and in themselves, the vocals sound stronger and more balanced.  As the years passed, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" received a number of cover versions, the most famous being recorded by Bette Midler in 1973, introducing the song to an entirely new generation.  However, even without these covers, the fact of the matter is that "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" stood as not only a brilliant musical recording, but the sign of a shift in what was acceptable to the general public.  At its core, the song is a rather pro-military type of song, and the fact that this did not hinder the song, nor does it cast a negative light on it to this day is a testament to the exceptional power within the performances.  Simply put, there is not another song in the entire history of music that stands as historically significant and as musically stunning as The Andrews Sister's flawless 1941 single, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

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