It’s Oh So Quiet Original
In 1948, German performer Horst Winter (aka Harry Winter) recorded a song composed by Hans Lang with lyrics written by Erich Meder. The song was “Und Jetzt ist es Still”. Lyricist Bert Reisfeld translated it into English and called the song “It’s Oh So Quiet”. In 1951, American actress, comedian, dancer and singer Betty Hutton performed the first English version of “It’s Oh So Quiet”. And then in 1995, the song was further popularised by Icelandic singer Björk. Seeing it was the first version recorded, we’re considering Winter’s “Und Jetzt ist es Still” as the “It’s Oh So Quiet” original.
Horst Winter & the It’s Oh So Quiet Original
Winter was born in 1914. He studied violin and clarinet at the Berlin Academy of Music and played in jazz and swing orchestras. He later became a bandleader. During the Nazi era, Winter was forced to follow Reichsmusikkammer regulations, but he was able to concentrate on singing and light dance music.
After World War II, Winter went to Vienna where he performed at the Konzerthaus. In 1946, he founded his own dance orchestra. His swing concerts became popular in Allied-occupied Austria. In 1960, Winter represented Austria at the Eurovision Song Contest in London. He performed “Du Hast Mich So Fasziniert” (”You Fascinated Me So Much”) and finished seventh out of 13. Winter continued to perform until middle age. He passed away in Vienna in 2001, aged 87.
Winter’s “Und Jetzt ist es Still”, the “It’s Oh So Quiet” original, has a real old-world sound. Instead of “shh shh” he says “pss pss” and parts of the song are almost spoken-word. Winter’s version is a fine orchestral piece, but I thought it lacked the fun big band sound of later versions.
It’s Oh So Quiet in French
In 1949, Ginette Garcin and the Jacques Hélian Orchestra released a French version, “Tout est Rranquille“. While it’s similar to the German version, Garcin belts out the chorus in a way we’re familiar with.
First English Recording
RCA Victor released Hutton’s English-language version of “It’s Oh So Quiet” in 1951 as the B-side to her single “Murder, He Says”. Originally titled “Blow a Fuse”, this big band number is a cracker. Hutton starts off singing oh so quietly, you can hardly hear her. She builds up then hits the chorus with a bang. She sings in a Midwestern accent, her delivery perfect. It would have been fantastic to see Hutton perform “It’s Oh So Quiet” live.
The Talented Betty Hutton
Hutton’s story is a fascinating one. Born Elizabeth June Thornburg in 1921, Hutton and her older sister Marion (later billed as Sissy Jones) were raised by their alcoholic mother after their father abandoned them. During the Prohibition era, Mrs Thornburg opened a speakeasy. When it was closed by police, the family simply moved on and opened another.
Hutton, Marion and Mrs Thornburg started singing at the speakeasy when Hutton was just three years old. At nine, Hutton began singing at public events and at thirteen she got a few singing jobs with local bands. Orchestra leader Vincent Lopez scouted the teenage Hutton and gave her her first break in the entertainment business.
She appeared on Broadway before signing to Paramount Pictures. Hutton’s performance in the 1943 screwball comedy The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek made her a major star. On the strength of her film success, she became one of the first artists to sign with the newly-formed Capitol Records. Hutton triumphed again on the screen when she replaced an exhausted Judy Garland to star in the 1950 musical comedy Annie Get Your Gun.
Things didn’t go well for Hutton in the late 60s and 1970s when she suffered from depression and pill addiction. She worked menial jobs and converted to Catholicism.
In 1980, Hutton took over the role of Miss Hannigan for the original Broadway production of Annie while actress Alice Ghostley was on vacation. Hutton then went back to school to complete her ninth-grade education. She earned a master’s degree in psychology from Salve Regina University in 1986. Hutton lived a quiet life in Palm Springs until her death in 2007. Unfortunately her daughters and grandchildren mostly remained estranged from her.
In recognition of her contribution to the movie industry, Hutton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1995, Björk released “It’s Oh So Quiet” as the third single from her second album Post. Keyboardist and programmer Marius De Vries recalls the song’s recording.
We booked a three-hour session for It’s ‘Oh So Quiet’. We wanted to record the vocal live with the orchestra, but Björk was held up. She turned up with 15 minutes to go, strolled into the vocal booth, and ran it down twice. That was it.”Marius De Vries, interview with Uncut magazine
“It’s Oh So Quiet” is Björk’s biggest hit. The single was certified Gold in the UK, selling 400,000 copies. It also charted well in Finland and Australia.
The most surprising track in this eclectic collection of styles and genres is a faithful adaptation of a 40s big band hit popularised by Betty Hutton.”Matt Micucci
Despite its success, Björk didn’t really like the song. She didn’t include it on her 2002 compilation Greatest Hits.
It was sort of a joke really. It was a song [keyboardist] Guy Sigsworth used to play on the bus when we were touring. Ever since, I almost regret doing it because I wanted to put so much importance on making new music. So many people are doing old music and you’ve even got new bands doing old music. If I put something out in this world, it would be the courage to go ahead and invent things, so it’s ironic ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ became my biggest song. The best bit was the video.”Björk, Record Collector, August 2002, taken from björk.com
The music video is indeed brilliant. Directed by Spike Jonze, it was shot in San Fernando Valley, California and based on Jacques Demy’s 1964 romantic musical film, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. Björk was ill with a fever and could only speak in a whisper during filming. The music video for “It’s Oh So Quiet” became one of the most played clips on MTV.
The music video received six nominations for the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards: Best Female Video, Best Art Direction, Breakthrough Video, Best Direction in a Video, International Viewer’s Choice Award — MTV Europe and Best Choreography in a Video. It won the Best Choreography award. The video was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Music Video – Short Form, but lost to “Scream” by Michael and Janet Jackson. In 2007, Canadian TV station M3 ranked “It’s Oh So Quiet” number 8 in their Top 40 Most Memorable Music Videos.
Which It’s Oh So Quiet?
“It’s Oh So Quiet” is a fantastic big band number. Björk’s version is possibly the most memorable, but I think Hutton’s version is the best. As for the “It’s Oh So Quiet” original, the German “Und Jetzt ist es Still”, I don’t think it’s the greatest version of this song, but it’s very interesting to hear the song’s origins.
Love 90s music? Check out these other posts about awesome cover versions recorded in the 90s.