SONG: Mad About the Boy
ARTIST: Dinah Washington
Listen to it here:
“Mad About the Boy” was written by Noel Coward for the revue “Words and Music” in 1932. It’s sung from the vantage point of a bunch of girls lined up outside a movie theatre, fawning over the newest matinee idol. Coward, who was gay, also wrote an unperformed scandalous version sung from the vantage point of a boy, noting the effeminate male star and refers to his failed conversion therapy. It’s rumoured that the ‘boy’ in question was either Douglas Banks, Jr., or Tyrone Power. The song was covered a few times, most notably recorded twice by Dinah Washington.
Ruth Lee Jones was born on August 29th, 1924 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama but spent most of her growing up in Chicago. She was very involved musically in her church, playing piano for the gospel choir while still in elementary school. She eventually started singing with the choir as well and became the choir director as a teenager. She joined another gospel group, won a talent show and dropped out of school. She started performing at clubs and cafes in Chicago and was hired by club owner Joe Sherman to perform in the upstairs room at the Garrick while Billie Holiday performed in the downstairs room. Her big break came when jazz great Lionel Hampton came to hear her and hired Dinah as his band’s female vocalist. She also started recording with the band until 1946 when she embarked as a solo artist. Her first solo recording of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” was a hit and launched her solo career, earning 27 R&B top 10 hits between 1948 and 1955. She also sang with some big name artists of the time, including Cannonball Adderly and Ben Webster.
By 1959 Dinah broke into the pop charts with “What a Diff’rence a Day Made” and had pop hits for the next few years. Along with concerts at clubs, she also sang at jazz festivals. Sadly Dinah’s success was cut short when she and her 6th husband went to bed on the night of December 14th, 1963 and Dinah never woke up. She was 39.
Dinah wasn’t afraid to be a sexual being – she was known to simply leave performances if a male in the audience caught her eye.
Dinah was also known for singing ‘dirty blues’, notably songs “Long John Blues’ about her dentist and his ‘trusty drill’ and “Big Long Slidin’ Thing” about a trombonist.
I have to admit, I don’t think I’d heard Dinah Washington sing before this. I’d heard the name before, but I don’t know if I knew if she was a singer or an actor or anything. Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised, Dinah had pipes! At first I was a little concerned that the song was going to be all sprechtstimme, but then she really opened up her voice and it’s great! Soulful, full, strong, in control. It has almost a purring feline quality to it, like if Eartha Kitt had a sister with a better voice (sorry Eartha). The instruments are very Bacharach-esque – an orchestra that’s very trombone-forward. Also had some nice tinkly piano moments to add a bit of fairy dust. The song reminds of something that Burt Bacharach would write too – not overly sweet bubblegum or a simplified love song, but a very well worded, thoughtful token of a crush. The melody is also interesting and the song has a whole latin feel to it, which makes it sound extra sultry. I like it! Nice work Noel Coward.
I’ve definitely heard of Dinah Washington, and I’ve never heard this song, so this was a really nice introduction. I really really like Dinah Washington’s voice. She can control flawlessly going from a small intimate sound to a bigger, more robust one, and that is really cool to hear! She also has a gravelly element to her sound that I often don’t like, but it feels very natural and not put on in this situation, so it’s actually quite enjoyable. The idea of putting this relentless tango beat behind the whole piece could seem like a very limiting option, but it’s handled really well. I’m often critical of orchestras with pop tunes, but I think this one is quite tasteful, and I like the addition of the strings. The song itself is just really nice. Not over the top, or too schmaltzy. I like it!
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Sultry songstress Carmen McRae:
Sheridan Smith sings it with the recitative:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:
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