“Ill Buy That Dream” was a tune from the musical film Sing Your Way Home. The song was written by Allie Wrubel, with lyrics by Herb Magidson. Penned sometime around 1944, it is one of those rare songs in which the lyrics are infinitely more clever than the melody.
Now before all the Allie Wrubel fans challenge us to a duel in the sun (couldn’t resist that), please understand that this is not to besmirch his efforts. Mr. Wrubel composed a score of catchy melodies during his career; “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” arguably the best-remembered example. His tune for “I’ll Buy That Dream” is certainly good, but not his most memorable. Had it been more hummable, we wouldn’t be treating it as a “forgotten” gem.
The back-and-forth, romantic melody was standard fare for the mid 1940s. What made the song go was the clever lyrics and bits of futuristic fantasy penned by Magidson. Along with the pleasant “sky full of moon and a sweet mellow tune,” Magidson imagined a world of quick travel to various distant ports by autogyros and rockets, and a house built of plastic. These were all quite fantastic for 1945 — a great escape for Americans weary of war. Air travel was an arduous journey, and only for the wealthy. Plastic was a new miracle material, used for pool balls and hosiery.
In retrospect, Magidson’s fantasy became reality within a couple of short decades. Helicopters and jet travel became available to the middle class, making “off to Rio for a drink” a reality. On a more mundane level, the “little plastic palace” was realized with the advent of vinyl siding. And once a second city to Fort Worth, Dallas rose in size and stature over the years.
The catchy wording had Americans listening carefully to their radios and running out to buy the recordings. Fortunately the pop vocalists of the 1940s enunciated lyrics quite carefully, otherwise this would certainly be one of those songs that listeners easily garbled.
The first to hit the charts was the Harry James Orchestra, featuring a vocal by Kitty Kallen. Taking a cue from Sing Your Way Home, it was recorded as a female vocal solo. The original on-screen recording was done by Anne Jeffreys, who would later go on to star in the television sitcom Topper. Jeffreys worked well into the 1970s and 80s, when she became well known to a new generation of tv fans with a small but powerful part on General Hospital during its heyday. The original film starred Jack Haley, infinitely better known as the Tin Man. It was a mildly successful movie at the time, but was far too much of a period piece to have any lasting popularity.
As for the song, it was standard fare for record label executives to jump on the bandwagon and release competing versions of hits — even before they would become hits. Having been one of the few bright spots in the movie, “I’ll Buy That Dream” was quickly covered by a number of labels. Kallen’s vocal for Harry James and Columbia Records was the first to dent the charts, but it was quickly matched by a recording with a completely different treatment.
Gordon Jenkins, arguably the most under-appreciated of the influential bandleaders and arrangers, put a twist in his recording for Decca records. Jenkins had recently fled Columbia to land at Decca, where he re-teamed with Dick Haymes, whom he had worked with as arranger for a number of years. Haymes was now performing with Helen Forrest, who was trying to shake her tag as “female vocalist for the big bands.” Forrest had worked with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and of course Harry James.
Which brings us nicely to the recordings.
What Jenkins did was partition the song as a call-and-answer duet between Haymes and Forrest. With an orchestral treatment that was nothing short of divine, the recording quickly matched the James/Kallen version on its march up the charts. What was a song of longing now became a full blown love story, and the Haymes/Forrest recording became the more prominent.
Both recordings reached the #2 position, although certainly was probably #1 in various regional markets at some point. The songs stalled on the national charts under the massive hit “Til The End of Time,” which held the top spot for more than two months. Interestingly enough, Haymes made a cover recording of “Til The End of Time,” which reached #3, behind Como’s recording, and a notch below his own version of “I’ll Buy That Dream.”
Additional versions were recorded by The Pied Pipers, and like almost everything else from that era, Sammy Kaye. Each charted respectably, but not with any longevity.