Here’s an interesting trivia question with which to entertain your holiday guests: Which musical act placed more songs (46) in Billboard’s Top Ten than either Elvis or the Beatles? The act also appeared in more Hollywood movies (17) than any other music group. The answer, as you have gathered if you peaked at the video below, is the Andrews Sisters. I don’t know about you, but that information truly surprises me, though perhaps it shouldn’t.
There is a wide-spread notion that America’s youth culture began in July of 1954 when “Rock Around the Clock” topped the charts and began the rock ‘n’ roll era, but this just isn’t so. The first “superstar” to use the post-War vernacular was Benny Goodman who played to sold out concerts where “the kids” (who would be in their 80s and 90s now) were dancing in the aisles. Girls were screaming over Frank Sinatra 15 years before their daughters swooned over Elvis Presley. Swing created rock stars before there was rock. In the middle of it all were the Andrews Sisters. Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne enjoyed their first hit in 1937 with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” which was the B side of record at a time when the teenagers were being paid $50.00 per recording session. (Not apiece; $50.00 to be split three ways.) In fact, the song was recorded November 24, 1937—77 years ago yesterday.
It’s remarkable that 73 years after its debut, even many youngsters know the song “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which is their most famous hit, although “Rum and Coca-Cola” was their biggest seller. Indeed, dress three women in ‘40s style, direct them to sing in harmony, and everybody thinks “Andrews Sisters,” and that would be the case even if they were singing “Inna Godda Davida.”
Their distinctive harmony is still influencing singers even now. The tight harmonies of the Puppini Sisters as well as their name (the girls are not actually sisters) are a tribute to the Andrews Sisters. Also, witness Christina Aguilera’s 2006 song, “Candyman” which Aguilera and co-writer Linda Perry stated was a tribute to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” While “Candyman’s” lyrics are suggestive (well, more like direct) they are perhaps no more so than “Rum and Coca-Cola,” a 1944 #1 hit for the Sisters that spoke of local women prostituting themselves to American servicemen (“Both mother and daughter/Working for the Yankee dollar”). Maxene told big band authority Fred Hall in a 1986 interview that the girls had no idea what the song even meant.
Indeed, the Andrews Sisters’ pleasant harmony and song selections evoke a more innocent time even as the horrors of World War II were unfolding. When the last surviving sister, Patty, died in July 2013, an era had truly passed. I hope that at some point during the upcoming holidays, when you’ve had your fill of football or you’ve heard “Run, Run Rudolph” for the 1,289th time, that you’ll click on some of the links contained herein and return to the boogie woogie world of the Andrews Sisters.