Every so often I run across a song that just flat-out takes me back to my childhood. It’s usually because we had the record around the house, but it helps if it was a song with a goofy component that appealed to a kid. It also helps if the title becomes a catchphrase that we sometimes used to greet visitors. That all applies to an unlikely #1 hit from 1950, a novelty song from Eileen Barton that carried the awkward but memorable title of “If I Knew You Were Comin’, I’d’ve Baked a Cake.”
The Brooklyn-born singer was a vaudeville veteran who’d joined the family act as a toddler, and was still very young when she began working in radio in the mid-1930s. She soon landed a spot as a regular on Milton Berle’s show and even had her own program for a while. She also managed to get a small part in a movie, but as she grew to adulthood she mostly found herself touring and singing in stage shows.
During the war years, Barton received a boost from her association with Frank Sinatra, who’d formed a partnership with her father — by then retired from vaudeville — in a music publishing company. Sinatra made sure the young singer got exposure by including her in some of his live appearances and he also appeared alongside her on the original radio version of Lucky Strike Hit Parade. (He would later showcase her on TV too — see video below.)
In the post-war years she began to make some progress in the recording studio, although she didn’t break through until she hit it big with her silly song. When she belted out “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake” it inexplicably caught the attention of the record-buying public in a big way, spurring versions by big-name singers like Ethel Merman and Georgia Gibbs. It also paved the way for Barton to enjoy several years of success as a nightclub headliner while spinning out a number of solid followup records. But even though a couple of them flirted with the Top Ten, she would never again reach the top of the charts and she eventually retired from the business. She was 81 when she died in 2006.