Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: One of our favorite instrumentals has always been “Blue Tango.” In fact, we apparently liked it so much that we bought two different versions of the tune.

While looking through some old LPs, we find one recording of “Blue Tango” by Les Baxter, and another by Leroy Anderson.

Which of these is the original? Did both become hits?
—Louis & Jenny Stanley, West Haven, Conn.

DEAR LOUIS & JENNY: Since Leroy Anderson composed “Blue Tango,” he had the opportunity to record it before anyone else, which he did in 1951.

His recording (Decca 27875), which came out in late '51, was well on its way to being the No. 1 hit in America by the time the cover versions hit the streets.

By late March 1952, Anderson's original had been joined in the Top 10 by covers from Hugo Winterhalter, Guy Lombardo, and Les Baxter.

Other top artists with renditions of “Blue Tango,” none of which managed to chart, include Liberace, Frankie Carle, and the Three Suns.

This should also answer a question from John Lodispoto and his wife, who write asking about the origin of “Blue Tango.”

Leroy Anderson is a Harvard grad from your neck of the woods (born 1908: Cambridge, Mass, died 1975: Woodbury, Conn.).

“The Syncopated Clock” is another of his million-sellers, but Anderson is best remembered for “Sleigh Ride,” a holiday tune he penned one year before “Blue Tango.”

DEAR JERRY: Perhaps the story has been completely lost over the years, but I have a vague recollection of a music industry lawsuit in the 1950s, when rock and roll was new.

Impossible as now seems, the non-rock music establishment actually sued rock and roll music itself!

What I do not recall is whatever came of this preposterous lawsuit. Can you recall the details of this matter?
—Joel Striker, Tampa, Fla.

DEAR JOEL: When it comes to legal matters, I prefer a reliable reference source rather than relying on fact fragments in my memory. Fortunately, BMI (Broadcst Music Inc.) devotes some space in their history recap to this screwy litigation:

“None of this [success of rock and roll music] sat well with the writers and publishers of music in the old pop style, who felt they were losing a major share of the market to a group of “ill-trained juvenile upstarts.”

“Unable to understand or accept the changes taking place about them, they presumed something underhanded must be going on to prevent the “good music” they represented from being played.

“In November 1953, a group of 33 composers calling themselves the Songwriters of America initiated a $150 million anti-trust action against BMI, NBC, CBS, ABC, RCA Victor Records, Columbia Records, and 27 individuals, claiming a conspiracy of broadcasters and manufacturers was keeping good music from being recorded and from being played on the air.

“The plaintiffs included some of the leading names in popular songwriting, such as Alan Jay Lerner, Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, and Arthur Schwartz, who was the leading plaintiff.

“While this was a private suit, significantly all of the plaintiffs were ASCAP members. They and other ASCAP members pledged five percent of their ASCAP royalties toward legal expenses.

“Their sweeping charges could not be sustained, and 15 years and millions of dollars in legal and research fees later, the suit was dismissed with prejudice — meaning that it could not be brought again.”

IZ ZAT SO? Though easily among the world's most famous and recognizable holiday classics, “Sleigh Ride,” did not become a hit for Leroy Anderson — or for anyone! This despite countless great versions by an assortment of stars.

Now that is unexplained phenomena — a certified musical X-File

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