78: “I’m Wild About Horns on Automobiles (That Go Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta)” b/w “Come On, Baby” by Fred “Sugar” Hall and his Sugar Babies. Okeh 41152. Recorded in New York City, November 12, 1928.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

This little number was recorded by one of at least half a dozen bands that were led by Fred Hall. He seemed to change the name each time he switched to a different label—Fred Hall and His Roseland Orchestra was used for the Bell Label, for example, and Fred “Sugar” Hall and his Sugar Babies was used for the Okeh label. Hall—a pianist, band leader and composer from New York City—worked with singer Arthur Fields throughout most of his recording career, which spanned from 1925 to 1932.

Like George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Lil Hardin Armstrong before him, Fred Hall started out as a song-plugger. In the early days of the recording industry, when music stores were still selling more sheet music than actual recordings, customers would hand the desired piece to in-house piano players called “song-pluggers,” who would then play a portion of the song for all to hear. One imagines that doing this every workday would be a great help in learning what makes the listener part with their cash and what makes them move on to the next song.

This song, to my ear, would have been worth the money. It’s a hoot, with a peppy Fields vocal that tells the listener about how his love life has improved dramatically ever since he got a car with a musical horn. Whether that actually worked on the flappers back then is irrelevant, because the song itself would have surely gotten them dancing. The tuba puts down a strong bass foundation, and Phillip D’arcy’s harmonica solo is a raucous, unexpected treat. The scatting that first comes in at 2:15, provided by Hall himself, gives a clever replacement for the horn noises that were, ostensibly, siren calls for the jazz age female.

“Come On, Baby!” also brings the swing and the scat in equal measures, with some hot trumpet solos to boot. This time the plea for female attention is a bit more direct, and one would imagine, probably more effective than musical car horns.

Not long after this single was released, Edison Records put out a different version of “I’m Wild About Horns On Automobiles,” this time by Jack Dalton and the Seven Blue Babies. The recording is longer, with a few extra verses, but it also feels longer because the sense of fun and vitality is just lacking, in my opinion. See if you agree:

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