Pop Archives

Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1973)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)
Australia Australia
#34 Sydney #10 Melbourne #25 Brisbane #14 Adelaide

Single on Impact by good-humoured oldtime jugband from Melbourne, formed 1969, featuring the Conway brothers, Jim and Mic, who had formed its precursor The Jelly Bean Jug Band at high school. Their repertoire was drawn from 30s and 40s jazz, blues and jugband sources, enhanced by a comical stage presence. In 1980, by then known as Matchbox, the band wound up after numerous personnel changes. The story didn’t end there: follow the links below to continue. 

References, further reading: 1. Ian Mcfarlane, The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (1999), pp 96-7. 2. Milesago’s Captain Matchbox page takes the Conway brothers’ story into the 80s, 90s and beyond,
3. Mic Conway’s site at MicConway.com. 4. Wikipedia articles on Mic Conway and Jim Conway

Summary of the early history of the song

Earliest known public performance of My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes
Marion Harris
Palace Theatre, New York, 3 January 1931

Earliest recordings of My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes: chronological order
Marion Harris
Recorded 17 March 1931.
Released no later than April 1931
Advertised in Evening Chronicle (Newcastle) 20 April 1931
Daily Telegraph 11 April 1931
Daily Mail 24 April 1931
Gramophone, May 1931

The Debroy Somers Band
Recorded 27 March 1931.
Released 31 May 1931?
Review [preview?]: Daily Mail 15 May 1931

Sophie Tucker
Recorded March or April 1931.
Released late May or early June 1931
Review: Gloucester Citizen 23 May 1931

Tommie & Willie
Recorded April 1931

Lawrence Welk And His Orchestra
Recorded April or May 1931

The Waldorfians [vocals by Al Bowlly]
Recorded May or June 1931

Elsie Carlisle
Recorded c.10 June 1931
Review: Gramophone July 1931

Randolph Sutton With Cabaret Orchestra
Released no earlier than June 1931
Review: Exeter & Plymouth Gazette 11 August 1931


Barr, 1992 is cited in several places on this page. It is Steven C. Barr’s The Almost Complete 78 rpm Record Dating Guide (1992 edition), an indispensable and extraordinary reference work no longer in print but accessible at The Internet Archive.

From ABC-TV’s discerning music show GTK (Get To Know) 1969-1975

The Limehouse Jazz Band - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1971)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)
Australia Australia

Track on self-titled LP, a custom pressing EAS51 by Melbourne independent label East (Elwood Audio Services), one of two LPs by the band on East.

The label’s small discography includes an LP by folk singer Glen Tomasetti (1960), two EPs by The Red Onions Jazz Band (1963 & 1964) and a single by 18CQ  (aka 18th Century Quartet) (1964).

References: 1. Jack Mitchell, Australian Jazz on Record 1925-80 (National Film & Sound Archive,1988), p.135. 2. Independent Australian Labels, discography at Australian Record Labels.

The Wesley Three - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1967)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)
Australia Australia

Single on CBS #BA-221439 by Adelaide folk group formed at university. The members, most of whom played several instruments, were twin brothers Peter and Martin Wesley-Smith with Keith Conlon . Personnel on a c.1965 album produced by Sven Libaek included Andy Sundstrom.

Martin Wesley-Smith is now known as an innovative and eclectic composer and teacher. Peter Wesley-Smith became a Law academic and writer who has collaborated with his brother as librettist. Keith Conlon was a prominent broadcaster in Adelaide on commercial, community and ABC outlets, including some years as nightly newsreader on ABC-TV.

References, further reading: 1. Liner notes to The Wesley Three’s 1966 self-titled EP at 45cat. 2. Martin Wesley-Smith at Wikipedia. 3. Wesley Three line-up at RateYourMusic. 4. Peter Wesley-Smith: biography and works. 5. Keith Conlan at Wikipedia. 6. Martin Wesley-Smith profile (2017), “The serious side of nonsense with a musical genius” at South Coast Register. 7. Album personnel c.1965 at NLA’s Trove.

This Adelaide group was not Melbourne’s Wesley Trio (1964, from Wesley College) which soon after became The Groop. Besides, it seems the Melbourne group was in fact called The Oxford Trio. [See David Johnston, The Music Goes Round My Head (2010), p.121. See also my notes on the two trios at 45Cat.]

Karl Denver - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1963)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

Single on Decca, B-side of #13 UK single Still.

Karl Denver: Glasgow-born singer (1931-1998), real name Angus McKenzie, best known by pop audiences for his wild version of Wimoweh (1961).

Further readingTribute to Karl Denver at the Billy Fury website.

George Melly With Mick Mulligan And His Band - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1956)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

Single on Decca by George Melly, Liverpool-born trad jazz vocalist, surrealist artist, writer, film and music critic, and media personality (1926-2007). He had joined Mick Mulligan’s Magnolia Jazz Band in 1949.

In 1974 George Melly And John Chilton’s Feetwarmers released My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes on a Warner Brothers single [YouTube]

Further reading: George Melly biography by Jason Ankeny at AllMusic.

Billee Lockwood & Orchestra - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)
Australian artist, recorded in UKAustralian artist, recorded in UK Australian artist, recorded in UK

10″ 78 rpm disc on Filmophone, short-lived London label that issued its discs on flexible coloured celluloid. See the history and discography of Filmophone by Michael Thomas at his website. This was Catalogue No. 227. No. 226 was another Billee Lockwood disc.

Versatile entertainer Billee Lockwood (c.1905- ) was born in West Maitland, New South Wales but worked in Britain from around 1930 until 1947. She was an actor, singer, comedian and dancer, appearing in vaudeville as well as mainstream theatre.

Further reading: The Billie Lockwood page at Australian Variety Theatre Archive is thorough, and must be the definitive account of her life and career as far as it is known.

Fred Spinelly’s Band - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

78rpm disc on British label Empire, one of three Empire labels in 1930s Britain.*

Drummer and bandleader Fred Spinelly (c.1894- ) appeared on records from the late 20s to early 30s. He played in Harry Hudson’s bands on Edison Bell from 1927 including The Plaza Band and Harry Hudson’s Merry Men.

Fred Spinelly’s Lido Venice Band, also on Edison Bell (1928), included his brothers Charley on alto sax and Reg on drums. Around 1929-30 Fred was recording manager for the Worldecho label.

A sad footnote: In September 1937 a lawyer told a London court that his client Fred Spinelly had given up his musical career because “the wireless had killed gramophone recording”. In sentencing Fred to six months for his role in a case of fraud, the judge told him, “It is a thousand pities that you got drawn into this and did not follow your talents and the great gifts which you possess.” (Western Daily Press and Daily Mail, both 21 September 1937 via Newspapers.com and Gale.)

* Empire: See discographies and commentary by Michael Thomas. As he explains, there were three Empire labels in 1930s Britain and three others 1905-1915. Fred Spinelly’s record was #61 on an Empire label that issued flexible black discs, similar to the flexible coloured discs of Filmophone, another short-lived label that was around at the same time (see Billee Lockwood, below).

Leonard Henry - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

78 rpm disc on normal 10″ red-labelled Sterno … available between 1928 and 1935 (Michael Thomas). The run of Sterno discs at 45worlds places this in 1931 but I don’t have a month.

Leonard Henry (1890-1973) was a popular comic monologuist and singer of the 1930s, often on BBC Radio.

Further reading: The Leonard Henry Wikipedia article is a good overview with some useful links.

If the name seems familiar, you are probably thinking of Lenny Henry.

Randolph Sutton With Cabaret Orchestra - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

Released no earlier than June 1931 (see Barr, 1992).

Reviewed in Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 11 August 1931.

78 rpm disc on Edison Bell Radio #1514 by English singer and variety entertainer.

Radio broadcast by Randolph Sutton with Harry Hudson’s band, collected and posted by jackpaynefan

Elsie Carlisle - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

Recorded c.10 June 1931

Reviewed in The Gramophone, July 1931 edition.

I prefer the ingenuousness of Elsie Carlisle in My canary has circles under his eyes (Imperial 2489, Is. 3d.), which one might almost call in the Marion Harris tradition !

The Gramophone, July 1931

78 rpm disc on Imperial #2489 by popular Manchester-born singer Elsie Carlisle (1896-1977), often heard on British radio and as a band singer in the 1930s, notably with the Ambrose Orchestra. She appeared on experimental television as early as 1930.

Two of Elsie Carlisle’s recordings with Ambrose were lip-synched by actors (including Bob Hoskins YouTube) in the British TV series Pennies From Heaven (1978). She is heard singing The Clouds Will Soon Roll By in the TV series and in the 1981 American film adapted from the series.

Further reading: The fine Elsie Carlisle website is full of information, including a biography. Several of her songs have their own page, including My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes.

Transferred from the original 78 by Alexandros Kozák
Colorized from 1931 British Pathé film, posted at YouTube by Restore Old Videos. Original b&w film is here.

The Waldorfians - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

Recorded May or June 1931. See discographies here and here. See also Barr, 1992.

78 rpm disc on Piccadilly #780, vocals by Al Bowlly, directed by Howard Godfrey.

Releases of My Canary by the Fifth Avenue Dance Band (on May-Fair) and as The Cosmopolitan Syncopators (on Simcha) are apparently by the same band of Howard Godfrey and in at least one case a re-release.

Al Bowlly (1898-1941) was a popular band singer and prolific recording artist. His records have become known in recent decades through reissues, and in other media where a song from the 30s is called for. This can be traced back to the TV series Pennies From Heaven (1978) which used several of Bowlly’s songs, and since then he has been heard on numerous soundtracks.

Bowlly was born in Mozambique and brought up in Johannesburg, but flourished in Britain and the USA in the 1930s, notably with the bands of Lew Stone and Ray Noble. When Noble moved to the US to lead a new band, Bowlly went with him.

Al Bowlly died in 1941 when a German bomb exploded near his London flat. 

Discographic sources: 1. Detailed (and probably definitive) Al Bowlly discography at Al Bowlly: a fan’s website. 2. Michael Thomas’s Piccadilly discography.

Sophie Tucker - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

With Ted Shapiro And Orchestra.

78 rpm disc on Broadcast Super Twelve #3042

Recorded March or April 1931. Released late May or early June 1931 (see Barr, 1992).

Review in Gloucester Citizen 23 May 1931.

Certainly, this is one of the earliest recordings.

It was recorded in March 1931 (Laird) or April 1931 (Rust).* The first British press mention I’ve found is in the Gloucester Citizen on 23 May 1931, 45worlds has the release in June 1931, and Barr’s range of releases places Broadcast Super Twelve #3050 in June 1931, all of which are in the same ballpark.

Versatile American vaudeville, nightclub, radio and musical stage singer and comedian Sophie Tucker (1887-1966), known as The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, was born Sofya Kalish in Ukraine, but grew up in Boston and Hartford after her parents emigrated to the USA.

Ted Shapiro (1899-1980) was Sophie Tucker’s accompanist and musical director for over 40 years.

*Recording dates from Ross Laird, Moanin’ low : a discography of female popular vocal recordings, 1920-1933 [read at Internet Archive] and Brian Rust, The complete entertainment discography, from the mid-1890s to 1942  [read at Internet Archive]

Further reading: Sophie Tucker biography by Steve Huey at AllMusic.

Lawrence Welk And His Orchestra - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

Recorded April or May 1931

Recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin, vocals by Frankie Saunders.

78 rpm disc on Broadway #1461 as Lawrence Welk And His Orchestra.
Also on Lyric #3370 (Australia) as Paul’s Novelty Orchestra

This is Lawrence Welk (1903-1992) years before he became a star conductor of easy listening music on his TV variety show [YouTube]. 

This is one of several aliases used by Lawrence Welk’s Novelty Orchestra depending on the gig or the label. Dennis Pereyra has also listed George Tucker And His Novelty Band, Lawrence Welk And His Hotsy Totsy Boys, Lawrence Welk And His Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra (a sponsorship tie-in), Paul’s Novelty Orchestra, Gus Winsom’s Orchestra, and Stafford Clay And His Orchestra.

Further reading: 1. Lawrence Welk’s Novelty Orchestra by Dennis Pereyra from redhotjazz.com [archived page]. 2. Lawrence Welk biography by Steve Huey at AllMusic.

Tommie & Willie - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

78 rpm disc Champion #16259.

The Champion label was in Richmond, Indiana, a budget subsidiary of the Starr Piano Company’s Gennett Records. The label name was briefly used by Decca 1935-36.

Recorded April 1931, release date unknown. 

Reference: 1. Four different Champion record labels are briefly outlined at Wikipedia. 2. Champion discography at Online Discographical Project.

The Debroy Somers Band - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

Recorded 27 March 1931, released 31 May 1931 [Columbia UK discography at Michael Thomas’s site, from Jim Hayes, 1970s]

Review in Daily Mail (London) 15 May 1931.
(A preview, or should we fine-tune our release date? It is still later than Marion Harris’s Daily Mail review on 24 April.)

Vocals by Dan Donovan.

78 rpm disc on UK Columbia #CB261 by major British danceband leader and arranger, founder of the Savoy Hotel Orpheans, born William Henry Somers (1890-1952). Debroy was a stage name, possibly chosen to suit the Jazz Age because it sounded African-American.

Further reading: Debroy Somers profile and commentary at Richard Gilbert’s website. Highly recommended.

Two versions on UK Columbia: which came first?

The Columbia UK records are Debroy Somers CB261, Marion Harris DB453. These numbers were not in the same sequence: C and D indicated label colours, and B = Britain. Barr, 1992 places both releases in the wide range of January-June 1931.

However there is evidence, discographic and circumstantial, to suggest that Harris came earlier than Somers (see next entry).

Posted at YouTube by record collector “HMV 163” from their own collection.

Marion Harris - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)

Recorded 17 March 1931.* Released no later than April 1931

Review in Daily Telegraph (London) 11 April 1931
Review in Daily Mail (London) 24 April 1931
Review in The Gramophone May 1931 edition

With Billy Mason & His Cafe de Paris Band.

78 rpm disc on UK Columbia #DB453 by jazz-blues oriented singer Marion Harris (1896-1944, sometimes spelt Marian, perhaps in error). She was American, but worked in London in 1931, cutting records and performing at the Cafe de Paris nightclub in the West End. 

Marion Harris’s version of My Canary was probably the original release. The best discographic evidence I can find places it before any other, although the sources can differ and are open to interpretation and discussion.

Some of the other evidence is inconclusive and circumstantial, but worth considering:

Newcastle, 20 April 1931 [newspapers.com]

• London’s Daily Mail reviewed Marion Harris on 24 April 1931 and Debroy Somers on 15 May 1931.

• In the handful of British newspapers I’ve found that review or mention the records by Marion Harris or Debroy Somers, Harris first appears in April 1931, Somers in May 1931:
1. Harris:
Daily Telegraph 11 April 1931
Daily Mail 24 April 1931
Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle has a music shop ad for it on 20 April 1931.
2. Debroy Somers:
Exeter & Plymouth Gazette 5 May 1931
Daily Mail 15 May 1931

Harris had already sung My Canary in America in January 1931, on stage and on radio (see next entry).

Harris knew co-writer Jack Golden who had previously accompanied her on piano, for example at The Floridian Supper Club in Miami on 14 February 1930 [image at foot of entry].

Harris’s name and photo appeared on the sheet music for the song [image].

The writers:

Golden composed the music, the lyrics are by Koehler and Pola.

He worked with other artists as arranger, accompanist or coach, including Marion Harris, Eleanor Powell and Frances Langford.

John Irving “Jack” Golden (b.1904, possibly in Virginia) was a pianist, conductor, songwriter, arranger and vocal coach who was accompanist for the American singer and entertainer Harry Richman (1895-1972) on and off from the late 1920s. He wrote songs with Richman (including this one from 1939), and he appeared with Richman on record and on stage until the late 1940s.

By the early 1960s Golden had retired as a professional musician and settled in Dundalk, in Baltimore, where he operated a business and occasionally appeared as a pianist at local events.

John Golden the US composer, stage producer and theatrical entrepreneur, whose middle name was Lionel, is a different person. 

This biographical sketch of Jack Golden is based on original research. If you use it, please credit me or my website. You can email me for a list of sources. ©Lyn Nuttall 2019

Ted Koehler (1894-1973) was a prolific lyricist  who worked with many notable Tin Pan Alley composers of the 20th Century.  His collaborations with Harold Arlen included Stormy Weather, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Get Happy. (Koehler is spelt Kohler on some labels.)

Eddie Pola (1907-1995) was a New York-born songwriter and actor who appeared in five British films 1936-39, then moved into radio and TV production back in the US.

*Recording date from Ross Laird, Moanin’ low : a discography of female popular vocal recordings, 1920-1933 [read at Internet Archive]

Further reading:
1. Marion Harris at jazzage1920s.com. 2. Marion Harris Collection 1925-1934: album of 32 tracks including “My Canary…”, listen to 30-sec. samples at Internet Archive. 3. George Wagner & Tim Gracyk, “A Tribute to Marion Harris”, Victrola and 78 Journal, Vol. 8, 1996, pp. 2-9 [read at Internet Archive]

Marion Harris - My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes [live performances] (1931)

(Ted Koehler - Eddie Pola - Jack Golden)
Original version: live performance

As early as January 1931 Marion Harris was singing My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes on stage and radio. That was about three months before any recording of the song was released.

A Billboard review has her performing My Canary during a 15-minute set at New York’s Palace Theatre on 3 January 1931, accompanied by pianist J. Russell Robinson. (The reviewer gets the title slightly wrong: he seems to have been relying on memory).

New Acts Reviewed in New York: Marion Harris
She opens with My Ideal, then into a comedy special that breathes the spirit of Cole Porter, probably titled My Canary Has Rings Under His Eyes.

Elias E. Sugarman, The Billboard 10 Jan 1931, pp. 18 and 21 [via American Radio History]

Harris also sang My Canary on Rudy Vallee’s radio program, reviewed here on 31 January 1931. (The variation of Marion is the reviewer’s.)

Marian Harris… is one of the best guest artists on the Rudy Vallee program. Her My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes is a horrible piece of lyric poetry, but under the skilled handling of Miss Harris it becomes not only bearable, but actually entertaining.

‘The Air In Review’ by J.S.S., The Record, Hackenbush NJ, 31 Jan 1931 [via Newspapers.com]

These are the earliest public airings of My Canary I have found but of course there could have been others. My impression is that Marion Harris had the song to herself around January-March 1931. It was copyrighted early in February 1931 and she recorded it in March.

Considering the song’s early appearance in her repertoire, it is not surprising that her recording was one of the first released, and probably the very first. It seems plausible, too, that her association with co-writer Jack Golden could have led to her early access to the song.

My Canary would be heard often on live radio and in local concerts during 1931, sung by a variety of artists. French star Maurice Chevalier even performed his own variation of the lyrics for American radio as early as April 1931.

The song had already had some advance publicity back in September 1930 when the syndicated column Walter Winchell on Broadway mentioned it briefly as a new Eddie Pola song.