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Fans were drawn to the song in part because of its one unifyingfeature: the drum solos by Gene Krupa. "Sing Sing Sing" alternatesunconnected episodes of ensemble playing with Krupa's tom-tom solos,making the drums the song's most recognizable element. These solos areone of Krupa's enduring legacies. Previously, drummers performed fewsolos. With his "Sing Sing Sing" solos, he emancipated the drummerfrom the role of time-keeper and allowed the drums to become a contributor oflong solos. (3) After Krupa's performance, bandleaders actively pursuedspaces for long drum solos, as evidenced by recordings such as ChickWebb's "Harlem Congo." (4) Other than Krupa's solo,little musically about "Sing Sing Sing" indicated that it wouldbecome a musical synecdoche of history, representing the entirety of 1930sculture. The majority of Swing-Era hits were vocals, not instrumentals.Vocals were problematic for Benny Goodman for several reasons. He lost hisstar vocalist, Helen Ward, in 1936. (5) Goodman, who dated Ward on and offthroughout her tenure with the band, believed that she was one of the fewvocalists who could swing, and he had a difficult time replacing her. (6)Goodman eventually settled on Martha Tilton, but neither he nor criticsseemed impressed, with one critic describing her duties as "filling outpretty gowns, decorating bandstands, and giving gal jitterbugs reason to getsore at their pubescent boyfriends." (7) Goodman preferred instrumentalmusic, which he considered real jazz. However, he recorded extensively withTilton, presumably for the dividends involved from a songstress-lovingpublic. During her two years with Goodman, fully half of the band'srecordings are vocal features. (8) This time was arguably the heyday of theGoodman orchestra, but Tilton has more solo time than Goodman himself. (9)And as the title suggests, "Sing Sing Sing" was originally a vocalchart. Louis Prima originally composed the melody in 1936, and Goodman'sarranger Jimmy Mundy began work the same year on a version for Goodman'sgroup with Helen Ward as vocalist. (10) From there, the song became a headarrangement, with band members adding solos and riffs spontaneously duringperformances and rehearsals. The song's first life as a vocal chart maysurprise those who know Goodman's popular instrumental version, but inthe 1930s, like today, vocal music was the primary method of hit production.Thus, the original life of "Sing Sing Sing" as a vocal chart isunsurprising, but it is also natural that the piece would transition to itsfinal state as an instrumental. However, the prominence with which "SingSing Sing" was treated in films might lead viewers to believe thatinstrumental charts were more common or popular than vocals.


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