This week marks the 115th anniversary of the birth of Bandleader, Singer, Comedian and Actor Phil Harris. I have already written about him in a previous article, so felt this was the perfect time to celebrate an underrated part of his career. Harris may not have had the best vocal range, but his unique voice made for some entertaining recordings. Mostly steering towards novelty, Phil had a remarkable talent for tongue-twisting songs, sung at a frantically fast speed, with
I have a compiled a list of five songs I feel show off Phil’s unique talents. I have opted to exclude Harris’ work in Disney productions, as most of these recordings are familiar to the public already. In addition, they are also a fine example of the vocal talents of Phil Harris, meaning the lis
5 – The Thing
Written by Charles Randolph Grean, it was a huge hit for Harris in 1950, peaking at number 1.
One of Phil’s most recognisable tunes, it follows the story of a man who cannot get rid of a ‘Thing’, that he finds “floating in the bay”. The enthusiastic delivery of Harris makes this track memorable, along with another key element. There is a
4 – Where The Blues Were Born
In New Orleans
Originally recorded by Louis Armstrong for the 1947 film ‘New Orleans’, it tells of the birth of the Blues in New Orleans. During the height of his popularity in 1951, Harris produced his own interpretation of the song, featuring an upped tempo and altered lyrics.
Harris re-invented this song to suit his style, with the lyrics coming under a more novelty banner than before. It is the injected energy that makes this song a memorable standout, along with the fast coming but clear lyrics.
3 – Is It True What They Say About Dixie
Another song that Phil would make his own, possibly helped by the popularity of his long-running character on The Jack Benny Program. Irving Caesar, Sammy
However, it is Phil Harris’ recording that really makes this song sing. His stylised mixture of spoken word and singing feels patriotic, with a touch of pizazz. He recorded the song frequently, but the 1949 version really stands out.
2 – The Preacher And The Bear
The Preacher and The Bear dates back to the turn of the 20th century, originally recorded by Ragtime artist Arthur Francis Collins in 1905. Many versions exist over several genres, including The Jubalaires, Andy Griffith, The Big Bopper and Jerry Reed.
Phil recorded his ‘definitive’ version in 1947, featuring orchestration and a fast vocal performance. It is worth checking out his early 60s performance of the track on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’, as it really showcases Harris as a skilled vocal performer.
1 – That’s What I Like About The South
The hallmark song of Phil Harris, written by Andy Razaf. Harris first performed the song in the 1930s, with an early rendition featuring
They derived much humour from the song during Phil’s years on The Jack Benny Program, with Benny often pointing out his dislike of the lyrics. Other versions of the song have included mostly Country acts like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, who put a slightly different spin on the track. However, it will always be Phil Harris that I associate with this song, and with good reason. His unique style of delivery along with the various ways he adapted it throughout the years, make this song a must hear for those wanting to hear peak pre-Disney Harris.