The Andrews Sisters

Before We Was Fab: The Andrews Sisters, “Hold Tight, Hold Tight (Want Some Sea Food, Mama)”

Before We Was Fab

For most people of my generation or younger ones, the Andrews Sisters are indelibly linked to two things — Christmas and World War II. The former is thanks to the many fantastic holiday sides the trio recorded with the great Bing Crosby in the ’40s and ’50s, while the latter came about partially because of their timeless wartime hit, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

The Andrews SistersBut the truth is that the music of LaVerne, Maxine, and Patricia Andrews was more than just fodder for holiday compilation albums and WWII period films. It was in fact some of the most successful and beloved music in America for more than a decade.

The Andrews Sisters sold between 75 and 100 million records (a crude estimate, obviously), appeared in nearly 20 motion pictures, and charted an astonishing 46 Top 10 singles. In short, they were the gold standard for female vocal groups in the first half of the 20th century.

Today’s song, “Hold Tight, Hold Tight (Want Some Sea Food, Mama),” comes from the early years of the Andrews Sisters’ run, and is a great representation for their overall sound. Released on the Decca label in December 1938, it showcases the trio’s powerful, clarion close harmonies and playfully intricate phrasing. The sisters are backed on this number by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra, itself one of the premiere outfits from the Big Band/Swing era.

Today “Hold Tight” (co-written by Leonard Kent, Edward Robinson, Leonard Ware, Jerry Brandow, and Willie Spotswood) would be considered a novelty song — a pattern I’m starting to notice with my selections for this series — although I don’t know if such a distinction mattered in the 1930s. It’s a fun song and eminently danceable, which was really what mattered back then. On that basis it did reach #2 on the charts and became the Andrews Sisters’ 11th consecutive Top 20 song. It was also their highest-charting single since their first side, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön,” which hit in early 1938.

For those who haven’t spent a lot of time listening to popular music from this period, hearing the backing band can be a bit jarring. It is, after all, very little like a modern rock or pop arrangement. But such is the power of the Andrews Sisters that even those forceful horns melt away as your attention is drawn to their vocals.

(This post is dedicated to the memory of Patty Andrews, who was the last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters and passed away on January 30, 2013 at age 94.)

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  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    I grew up listening to this stuff, just absorbing it, and it still astonishes me, how tricky and intricate the vocal interplay was. It’s the harmonies we remember, but One of the things that gives the Andrews Sisters’s stuff its distinctive effect is the way they actually alternate between harmony and unison. They would often start a song (as they do here) all singing the melody, and then unfold into close three-part, and then dip back into unison for a bar, or a half-a-bar, and then one of them would take a quick solo turn, and then and then and then…

    Their music would be extraordinary even if the only sang in harmony. But they were constantly switching it up, and so their records have lost none of their power to surprise and delight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/link.crawford Link Crawford

    You can keep reviewing this old stuff until further notice. I will keep reading. Great series. Thanks.

  • http://stefmagura.wordpress.com/ Stefanie Magura

    Great series! I think you’re right in that this song would be considered a novelty nowadays. It might’ve been considered as such back then too. It seems that novelty songs could be used to disguise meanings, which is definitely true in the case of this song.