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Old-Time Song Instrumentals From 1910 to 1919
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Leo Friedman (M), Beth Slater Whitson (L) - 1910
Here it is, all dripping with sap, the ultimate Valentine's Day
song. Before there were "chick flicks" there were "swoon tunes". But then again, nobody can argue about its popularity, which has been constant since the tune was first published. Friedman was a competent Tin Pan Alley writer with a few successes to his name. He teamed up with the virtually unknown Whitson in 1909 to produce Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland
, following it up with this song a year later. Publisher Will Rossiter
bought the first piece outright, and they did not receive royalties for it. Rossiter's brother Harold
started his own publishing firm and bought this song, originally published in a vanity edition by Friedman, rewarding the writers with much-deserved royalties. Sweetheart
ultimately sold over six million copies over the subsequent decade, which is an awesome figure for any era. I guess it was a kind of "sweetheart" deal! Note that the model on the common cover (third one down on the left) may be, many sources say is likely (unconfirmed), a 19-year old (birth citations of 1894 or later are incorrect) Chicago model named Virginia Rappe
at that time). She is better known as the woman who died on Labor Day weekend 1921 while attending a San Francisco hotel party hosted by comedic actor Fatty Arbuckle, who allegedly raped her and caused the fatal injuries. His career was ostensibly ruined by the scandal in spite of the eventual proclamation of innocence he received from a quick acquittal and apology after the third trial. Hopefully we can just remember her as the innocent Chicago Sweetheart we all would have wanted to know. Miss Kelsey Pederson gives a perfectly innocent performance herself here.
Chauncey Olcott, Ernest R. Ball (M), Rida Johnson Young (L) - 1910
You know that when the two top composers of Irish songs in America team up that yer likely ta have a hit on your hands, if a weepy one at that. Combining the always popular them of mother with that of the mother country worked very well in this ballad, and even though it doesn't actually mention Ireland in the lyrics, it is the dialect in concert with the tune that clues the listener in on the nature of the song. Ball in particular realized that when he wasn't simply writing a song, but emoting it directly from his heart, that it would more quickly win the hearts of the general public as well. It was this collaboration with Olcott and Young that made his fame, and led to the same team writing When Irish Eyes are Smiling
two years later. Ball then followed this song with She's the Daughter of Mother Machree
in 1915. The simple line of the Mother Machree
melody makes this song a favorite for Irish tenors to interpret, which many did on a number of early recordings, and shure that it may draw a tear from the eye of any lad or lass.
Some of These Days
Shelton Brooks - 1910
There is proof in the story behind this song that sometimes, no matter how talented you might be, it truly is who you know or who you know who knows someone to be known... or something like that. According to Dave Jasen
and Gene Jones*
, Chicago composer Brooks had already published one piece with Will Rossiter
in 1909 that did not fare too well. However, Brooks took such a liking to this unusual composition that he actually helped fund a limited publication of it by black publisher William Foster
, and sought out the right person to sing it. It turns out that he was friends with the maid for no less than Sophie Tucker
, the Russian-born singer-comedian. Tucker was just coming into her own, after years of having done blackface performances and self-deprecating tunes. After a tumultuous year with the Ziegfeld follies (from which she was ultimately forced out by a jealous Nora Bayes), she struck out on her own, and was appearing at the Orpheum Theatre in Chicago at that time, somewhat in need of a good song of her own even though she was annoyed of being constantly approached by songwriters looking for a plug. Mollie Elkins
, the maid, persuaded Sophie to at least listen to Brooks' song, and after one short performance by the composer Tucker readily incorporated it into her act. It went over so well that Some of These Days
became her theme song, included in nearly every performance she sang for the rest of her life. Her success led to a quick reevaluation by Rossiter, who had initially passed on the song. He bought it from Foster and reissued it with a slightly revised lyric in the verse. A subsequent recording (the first of four) for Edison by Tucker boosted sales as well, and made a name for Brooks who went on providing more great hits right into the jazz age. The verse is fairly mundane and representative of typical songs of that time for the first 12 bars. Then the change to minor catches the listener's attention as it launches into the unforgettable chorus. The oddity of the song is that it represents the mixed emotions of a woman thinking out loud about how that louse that left her deserves to feel bad, but she also reveals the dichotomy that she will also miss him in spite of his horrid abandonment. The arrangement sung here by Miss Kelsey Pederson is accompanied by a combination of the gritty tinge that Tucker was able to lend to the song, along with a little bit of a Chicago jazz feel in the last chorus.
Come, Josephine in My Flying Machine (Up She Goes!)
Fred Fisher (M), Alfred Bryan (L) - 1910
Even though it was just over six years after that first successful liftoff by the Wright Brothers on the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, at the end of 1903, the theme of airplanes was quickly finding its way into music with such offerings as Marzian's Aviation Rag
, Giblin's The Aviator
, and this wildly popular tune. Flight was still quite the novelty in 1910, not for the faint of heart, and not even yet considered seriously for wartime purposes. So Josephine
capitalized on the romance of flight more than anything, using a clever rhyming name for the femme fatale and the contraption fatal. Even musically you can hear the rise and fall of the plane as it careens through the skies at the dizzying height of 300 or so feet. The success of this piece was very encouraging for both composers who went on to write many more perennial favorites.
Cole 30 Flyer
John Lee Bowers - 1910
There is nothing like blatant product placement, which is not so new as many might think. Clearly composed to tout the wonders of this model of Cole automobiles, the lyrics of this song again bring up the old males-with-automobiles-have-status issue, this time with the girl making it clear she'll marry the man only if he has the right car. The piece was initially self-published in Indianapolis by Bowers, who was actually a salesman associated with United-Motor-Toledo Company in Toledo, Ohio, at that time, and NOT a professional songwriter. The song is not terrible, but it lacks some lyrical punch. It was soon reissued by L.S. French in Indianapolis, the same town in which the Cole Auto Company, shown in the picture to the right, built their product. In the long run, this simple waltz song outlasted the Cole Motor Company, which went under in 1925, by a considerable stretch, and the unattributed cover art of this piece featuring the title car is still popular today. The charming Miss Kelsey puts her own unique period spin on the choruses of the song in this duo performance.
The Skeleton Rag
(M), Edward Madden (L) - 1911
As with many of Wenrich's pieces, this is not actually a rag; rather a rag song. It consists only of two thirty-two bar sections, so there is not enough to constitute a full-fledged rag. It is still a good tune, if a simple one, and I've done my best to expand on it a bit. Although not intentionally a "spooky" rag, it has some elements later found in music associated with Halloween, haunted houses, and the supernatural, a popular theme at the time this was written, and a passion of Harry Houdini
. The introduction falls right into line with this, starting in a minor mode. The primary theme of the verse is not syncopated, and shifts between the relative major and minor, not establishing a definite modality, even at the end of the verse. The chorus, starts out (coincidentally) very much like Charles L. Johnson's Crazy Bone Rag
, which was still two years off. I have expanded the simplified left hand patterns, and tried to add some interest to them in the repeats. As an interlude between the chorus and the second verse, I utilize one of the most familiar "haunting" themes of the 20th century. By the way, what kind of skeletons are
those on the cover? They actually look more like ghosts with beer bellies.
Gee, But I Like Music With My Meals
Nat D. Ayer
A. Seymour Brown
(L) - 1911
From the team that conjured up Oh, You Beautiful Doll
and the dynamic King Chanticleer
comes this somewhat obscure but quite interesting ragtime tune from the same year. It touches on a social phenomenon that had been occurring over the previous decade. In a time before Muzak and jukeboxes, some people appreciated hearing music as they ate in public. While there were certainly dinner theatres, such as Stanford White's
Madison Square Garden, this charming song refers to just an ordinary restaurant with a hired orchestra. Many family dining places by this time often did have a pianist or small orchestra of three to six pieces during peak serving hours, so the song is quite timely. The performer featured on the cover, William Burress
, was a former railroad worker turned character actor who did rather well on Broadway, and eventually transitioned into film for a short while. Look carefully and you may recognize him as the Toy Maker from the 1934 Laurel and Hardy
film Babes in Toyland
The Oceana Roll
Lucien Denni (M), Roger Lewis (L) - 1911
As popular as an instrumental as it was as a vocal, Oceana Roll
was unique because in spite of its Midwest origin, the tune was written by a French composer. Ragtime was actually quite popular in France, and even Claude Debussy
wrote a small syncopated piece as part of his Children's Corner Suite
; The Golliwog's Cakewalk
, plus one similar work. The main difficulty with this song is keeping continuity (and breath control) with the continuous stream of notes, particularly vocally, as a glance at the lyrics will demonstrate. The Navy did not make any particular positive or negative fuss over the song, even though their "cruiser" Alabama
(mentioned prominently within as such, but actually an Illinois class battleship) had an increased share of onlookers during port stays for some time. The 1900-launched Alabama
had actually been out of commission for around two years during an extensive refitting when the piece was published, indicating the possibility that lyricist Lewis had served aboard the ship (bolstered by the fact that Louisiana
actually rhymes better with piana
). Note the clever repeated use and variation of the initial four note theme in the verse, and the authentic ragtime syncopation throughout the chorus. This arrangement was tracked for piano, banjo, tuba and percussion. For a history on the battleship USS Alabama - BB 8
, you can Click Here for a Wikipedia entry.
Red Rose Rag
(M), Edward Madden (L) - 1911
Wenrich was equally well known for rags as well as songs, and his popular, sometimes east coast Tin Pan Alley style belied his Joplin, Missouri origins. Dolly Connolly
, the woman on the cover and also Wenrich's Wife, popularized this particular piece. I have always liked Red Rose Rag
, which was introduced to me by Colorado ragtime pianist Molly Kaufman
, and also featured on George Segal's
only ragtime offering. If not for the fact it was written as a song, it could be considered a true three-part rag. The A section contains a lightly syncopated tune with a strong bass line. The B section is largely derived from the popular Hungarian Rhapsody #2
by Franz Liszt
, as were a number of rags and rag tunes. There is no return to the A section after B, another break from traditional rag format, as is the fact that the C section is in the same key as A and B. I choose to reprise the B section with more emphasis on the Liszt.
Alexander's Ragtime Band
This is undoubtedly one of the most popular songs of the Ragtime era, and the one that truly made Irving Berlin famous. Based largely on a bugle call and the Stephen Foster chestnut Old Folks At Home (S'wanee River), the song contains virtually nothing of Ragtime except for the word. Nonetheless, it is evocative of popular song of the time, and was even played on the Titanic's fateful voyage. It further spawned a series of Alexander's band songs over the next decade, including Alexander's Got a Jazz Band Now
. I meld in part of an Arthur Fiedler arrangement with some interesting ragtime tricks, and just for fun throw in "S'wanee River played in ragtime". My vocal version includes a full ragtime band at the end. Note that there are several versions of the cover art in circulation, with different shading on the band stand, and several different artists featured in the bottom picture.
Nat D. Ayer
A. Seymour Brown
(L) - 1911
The lyrics of this fabulous tune have mostly been forgotten, and not surprisingly since it is clearly a pianistic showcase. Ayer was a talented tunesmith, also having composed If You Were The Only Girl In The World
among others. It is in reference to the famed Canterbury Tales story of head rooster Chanticleer
, without whose crowing the sun won't rise, King Chanticleer
was originally staged in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1911
. It quickly became a staple of silent movie pianists, carousels, and circus bands, and still sees frequent performance. The opening in the verse is actually a simply trip down the chromatic scale in C minor. With the underlying chording in place it is quite thrilling. The last eight measures of the extended verse don't translate so well to piano, since they require sustained chords intended to build up tension in anticipation of the chorus. I use a tremolo in the second iteration in an effort to preserve the desired effect. In the Eb major chorus, the whole barnyard breaks loose. What a joyous melody this is. No wonder it makes such a great exhibition piece.
The Baseball Glide
Harry Von Tilzer
(M), Andrew B. Sterling (L) - 1911
More of a show of sibling talent rather than sibling rivalry, the tune for this dance song was composed by publisher Harry Von Tilzer, whose brother Albert was the melody writer for Take Me Out to the Ball Game
. This piece has to do as much with baseball as the animal-themed songs did with nature. The lyrics suggest a number of dance steps, but certainly contain some innuendo concerning bases, strikes and home runs that also warrant some possibly intended misinterpretation. Composed just before the advent of the famous Fox Trot which was popularized by Vernon and Irene Castle
, this is a simple syncopated two step, and certain facets of the arrangement suggests that it might be a piano reduction of a band score. Evidently, the sports-themed dance craze never caught on with the general public, although many football players seem to have taken it up in the past two decades.
When Ragtime Rosie Ragged the Rosary
Lewis F. Muir (M), Edgar Leslie (L) - 1911
When one studies the relationship between music and the church going back through at least the last six centuries, it must be noted that the church was at once a qualitative leader in many regards, and often far removed from public opinion at the same time. Rock and Roll was once absolutely abhorred by all faiths, yet it is now incorporated into the liturgy of contemporary services throughout the world. So it is hardly surprising that ragtime, or sin
-copated music was shunned as something scandalous due to its perceived origins and the nature of its most common performance venues, namely brothels and bars. In reality, by 1910 piano rags were more commonly played by the women in American homes than anywhere else. So it is not implausible that many church-going ladies were also versed in some of the latest ragtime styles. It is this collision of moral opinion, however exaggerated, that made this song the hit that it was (not that anyone would admit to that). While not blatantly steeped in stereotype, lyricist Leslie still conforms to some of the racial sentiment of the time. It was the overall inappropriateness of ragtime in church that fascinated an easily titillated public. Even I catch the pastors eye on occasion when I throw a few "raggy licks" into the hymn celebration, although I just can't help it! I swear to... well, I do understand Rosie's dilemma.
Oh, You Beautiful Doll
Nat D. Ayer
A. Seymour Brown
(M) - 1911
Being a "Hollywood" kid (my stepfather was a character actor in radio and television and my mother was public relations director for the famous Beverly Hills Hotel), we often had some moderately well-known personalities of stage and screen come to our parties. As a result, there were a number of stock songs I was induced to learn that seemed to be ubiquitous at many semi-Hollywood parties and family gatherings, of which this was one. Even today there are many venues that feature sing-along where this chestnut always seems to pop up. But it is the verse that I find most interesting. Since early published blues were dated back to 1912 for the longest times (now 1908 has been established), it is notable that the verse to this song is actually comprised of the classic 12 bar blues pattern, and it was introduced more than a year before either Memphis Blues
or Baby Seals Blues
. Since the 1920s it has been performed with a swing rhythm, however it was original written in a straight syncopated style. The beautiful Starmer cover for this piece is also a classic, as you can see.
You're My Baby
Nat D. Ayer
A. Seymour Brown
(M) - 1912
Not every song from even the best veteran teams can be a winner. Even George Gershwin had his off days. So while this piece from the well-established duo of Brown and Ayer (Oh, You Beautiful Doll
) is not a washout, it still lacks originality and singability to some extent. The originality is evident when you listen to the all-too-familiar blues verse, which just happens to be an exact copy of Bill, You Done Me Wrong
from 1904, later to become Frankie and Johnny
. So while the concept of using a blues-driven verse was somewhat unique to the team, lifting the melody as a whole from another song doesn't help their historical credibility all that much. The chorus is reminiscent of their previous hit, replacing "doll" with "baby" instead. It utilizes several sustained tones, starting with half notes and moving to whole notes near the end, making it difficult for less trained singers to effectively perform. So why do it? Balance. We need to remember the era as a whole, and while some pieces may lack in memorable content, they still evoke a charm that reflects the era from which they came. There is also the challenge of making something more interesting out of the original. So give it a whirl, because who knows? I could be wrong.
They Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dawg Aroun'
(M), Webb M. Oungst (L) - 1912
Ragtime grew directly out of a number of forms, including European Marches and classical works as well as Negro rhythms and even Latin influences. For Texas and Missouri ragtime, however, there was also the consistent underlying current of the folk song as well, which even Scott Joplin visited from time to time. Here is a folk song - actually what might labeled at that time as a rural comic song - in all its glory. Done in a rural dialect, more so than ethnic which was more common at the time, it a very simple tune with a very simple concept, mostly based around one chord. Yet it was very appealing and sold thousands of copies in its time. Composed by Missouri writers, it was originally picked up by John Stark but quickly bought by Witmark who capitalized on the piece, perfect for New York stage performers looking to put some "hick" in their act. The music composer was shown as one Cy. Perkins. However, some extraordinary research into this piece by historian Sue Atalla shows that it was notated by Carrie (Bruggeman) Stark
, the wife of Stark's son William P. Stark
, based on an older melody, and that the lyricist's name was not a pseudonym but a known newspaper printer. The same contention is found in historian Rudi Blesh's
original notes for They All Played Ragtime
. The arrangement was the first done for Stark by composer
. This song was either created for or quickly adopted by Missouri representative Beauchamp "Champ" Clark
, at that time Speaker of the House in Washington, and a contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination against Woodrow Wilson
. That was how it came to Witmark's attention and why they offered Stark $10,000 for the rights, plates, and existing copies. Authorship claims for this very popular piece led to a protracted series of court battles of those trying to lay claim to what became a very good seller. That is, until Clark lost the nomination to Wilson and the piece was suddenly not so alluring. In the end, true authorship of the tune is only mildly questionable, but it's message is clear, as those involved with it were tired of being kicked around for sure. The performance here was meant to be nothing more than dawggone fun.
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling
Ernest Ball (M), Chauncy Olcott, George Graff Jr. (L) - 1912
As often as anybody has heard the chorus of this song during a sing-along or Irish bar gathering, it is usually out of context in light of the tender ballad it really is. It is yet another product of a Chauncy Olcott
stage show, this one being The Isle of Dreams
, with music by another talented ballad writer, Ernest Ball
. Many consider it the perfect companion to My Wild Irish Rose
from more than a decade prior, and they are often performed together, including incessantly on Saint Patrick's Day each March. Such shows as those by Olcott were little more than mild melodramas or musical revues built around available songs, so they never depended on context like the songs from later musicals, starting with Oklahoma
in the 1940's. This song made even me
smile for this performance, which can also be found on Volume 2
of Perfessor Bill Edwards Sings
, sung as it was originally composed.
It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary
Jack Judge, Harry Williams - 1912
This is a rather famous British export, but even though it is associated with a war, it actually had a much different start from the performing duo that wrote it. The piece was originally a ballad about Ireland - It's A Long Way to Connemara
- in 1909, but it never took well during the composers' stage performances of the piece. After having been shelved for a while, and in order to win a bet in 1912 that he could have a new song in 24 hours, Jack changed the destination to Tipperary and the overall feel a bit faster than a ballad, eventually into a persistent march. Harry was indignant about the unilateral change made in response to a bet, but as it became a big war time hit he got over it. A music hall song, it instantly became a marching-to-war anthem in 1914 through repetition and happenstance. It seems that a British regiment known as the Connaught Rangers
were heard singing the tune during a march through Boulogne, France, in August 1914. This incident very quickly found its way into the papers, and overnight the song became a virtual vision of hope that there really was not such a long way to go.
Ragtime Cowboy Joe
Lewis F. Muir, Maurice Abrahms (M), Grant Clarke (L) - 1912
I actually grew up thinking that this was an original song by David Seville and the Chipmunks
, and the older I got the less likely I thought that it was actually a ragtime era piece. Then I got a request from a fan to post it here. My first inclination was that the request that fell outside the parameters of what I generally do. Ooops. Not only is it an authentic ragtime tune, it was penned by no less than three of the better songwriters from the era. Notably, Muir would write the tune for Robert E. Lee
that same year. This certainly falls outside of the usual mode of what was considered "cowboy" or "western-style" music, and is in essence just a popular song with a bit of a swing. Actually, with the original verses intact, it's a cute and clever novelty piece. The style of my performance is based on that of Dick Hyman's
recording as "Knuckles" O'Toole
in the early 1960's. Yeee Hah, y'all.
Melancholy or My Melancholy Baby
Ernie Burnett (M), George Norton (L) - 1912
An often misunderstood song, and one that is actually rendered quite differently now than when it was first released, this classic piece was Burnett's only hit, but it has appeared perpetually in recordings and movies almost since it was published. Starting life out as more of a slow march song with a light swing, it is fortuitous that musicians soon exploited its ballad potential, part of its charm and endurance. The original lyrics were written in 1911 by Burnett's wife, Maybelle Watson
. It was not picked up quickly, and in 1912 Burnett agreed to sell it to publisher Theron Bennett
. As Bennett liked the tune but not the words, he got Burnett's consent to use his own frequent lyricist, George Norton, to add a new set, which are the published lyrics we now know so well. Either in response to public whim, which often reapplies attributes to certain pieces, or in order to spur sales through better titling, the original title was quickly changed to the more famous phrase which makes more sense as it refers to the person in the song, not the emotion. It is also one of rare pieces where the beautiful verse is often kept as it enhances the piece overall. The level to which it became almost over-performed is clearly shown in the 1954 Judy Garland
film A Star is Born
in a sketch that shows her as reluctant to sing it fearing the cliché attached to the piece, yet finally capitulating and clearly making it her own. I hope this performance by myself and Miss Kelsey Pederson, honoring both the original intent as well as the ballad it has become, does even half that much.
When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'
Irving Berlin was riding high on the growing success of Alexander's Ragtime Band
when he came out with this gem, the first of many popular songs that extol the virtues of going to Alabama, and on a train at that. This piece became so successful that he was made a partner in Ted Snyder's
publishing firm. The verse is very melodic, and has some very well thought-out harmonies throughout. The chorus is memorable enough to whistle after just a couple of hearings, which was a Berlin trademark. He was also good at creating great lyrics for his tunes, as for those of other composers. On the topic of good writing, fabulous performer Michael Feinstein
has commented that we know of maybe 1500 Berlin tunes that have been published, when he wrote over 5000 during his century of life. Even as with George Gershwin
who was also quite prolific, there are many good reasons why we haven't heard those other tunes. Both Irving and George were prone to have a bad day on occasion. This tune is performed with a typical small ensemble of the time: piano with banjo, tuba, and trap accompaniment, and of course an enthusiastic vocal.
(M), Edward Madden (L) - 1912
Long a favorite of vocal quartets, the chorus of this placid song is well known by all fans of old-time music. While the chorus speaks of a moment of tranquility, it is actually referring to a memory, as the beautiful verses tell about pining for a love now long lost. Wenrich was a very talented writer of both rags and songs, with a particular gift for melody. His interpretation of Madden's lyrics provides a perfect fit for them, particularly the way phrases in the verse begin with sustained notes, and they end the same way in the chorus. The orchestration here is not untypical of a small house band of the era, featuring banjo, brush, and clarinet accompaniment. It also works well with some old soft shoe licks. The quote at the end of this arrangement, "Just a song a twilight," is from Love's Old Sweet Song
, which is referenced in the chorus. This vocal performance is meant to capture the type a college singing group might have rendered back in the day.
On the Mississippi
Harry Carroll, Arthur Fields (M), Ballard MacDonald (L) - 1912
Carroll and Fields worked together for many years on the vaudeville circuit in the Keith theater chain. Both were capable songwriters, and Carroll had a measure of success with By the Beautiful Sea
. This was their first notable collaboration, quickly becoming a hit recorded by noted vocalist Billy Murray
and performed on stage by Al Jolson
, usually a sure endorsement. MacDonald, who later wrote the gem Indiana
, provided passable lyrics, but it was clearly the lazy melodic content that carried this piece forward. It is a progenitor of the songwriting style that would be used heavily in the 1920s and beyond, using the non-symmetrical A A B A format. Ironically, it was for lyrics, not music, that Fields had his greatest bounty, with the perpetual favorite The Aba-Daba Honeymoon
. In this performance, the verse moves ahead as it needs some momentum, but the tempo is backed off in the chorus to give that lazy-afternoon-on-the-river feel.
Row, Row, Row (Vocal)
James V. Monaco (M), William Jerome (L) - 1912
Although not explicitly written for a particular show, this song was first interpolated into a production called The Girl in the Taxi
, then quickly picked up (purloined) for the fifth edition of the Ziegfeld Follies
later in 1912. The common cover cites Elizabeth Brice
as the performer, who was not related to the more famous Fanny Brice
, also a star of the show. No matter who performed it, there is certainly a lot of room for a scintillating interpretation of the lyrics, which are actually more naughty than nautical in nature. Regardless of the double meanings, it has been a favorite of old-time pianists since its debut. I present both my standard vocal rendering and my competition version here, the latter which starts out with a more familiar tune of the same name in fugue form. Listen carefully for a couple of other "watery" quotes interspersed throughout. By the way, the name Johnny
) pops up again as it does in so many tunes of the era. Is there something more to that?
Frankie and Johnny or
You'll Miss Me in the Days to Come
The Leighton Brothers and Ren Shields - 1912
This piece has undergone so many famous incarnations, each one somewhat different from the previous, that it makes the original source hard to trace for many elements. As a result, two versions are included here. The first is derived from a 1912 publication of the piece with a subtitle derived from the chorus, one of the elements of the piece that was later excised. There were three Leighton brothers, William, Frank and Bert, who were popular vaudeville performers in the 1910s. Ren Shields was actually the more established musical figure having written lyrics for several ragtime era tunes, including two others with the Leightons. Even so, much of the 1912 publication was extracted or outright copied from a 1904 song titled Bill, You Done Me Wrong (The Death of Bill Bailey)
, also allegedly penned by the Leightons, which likely called on even earlier folk lyrics and melodies. In this piece, the infamous scoundrel meets his maker in a mildly humorous verse as a result of a railroad accident rather than a lover's bullet. Some of the lines directly lifted include "Bring me your rubber tired hearses, go get your rubber tired hacks," which remains in most versions to this day. Also notable is the structure of the verse, which in the 1904 piece may be the first blues pattern put to paper. In the case of both songs, the verse is 24 bars long, essentially a blues pattern repeated twice, followed by a traditional chorus. The chorus was eventually excised from later publications, recordings made during the Honky-Tonk craze of the 1950s, and most notably in the Elvis Presley
recording of 1965, which contains a gross number of alterations to the story. Verses added to subsequent lyric publications number over one hundred, many rather profane, although when I recorded it for CD I kept it to a mere thirteen. The 1912 version contains the equivalent of eight verses along with the chorus.
The origin of the Frankie and Johnny story is most often attributed to an incident reported in Saint Louis, Missouri on October 15, 1899, with excerpts and period descriptions here derived from the St. Louis Post Dispatch of October 20, 1899. when well-known 22-year-old black dancer [ebony-hued cake walker] Frankie Baker stabbed her young 17 year-old black [two-timer] lover Albert Britt (some sources have Allen Britt) in her Saint Louis residence [22 Targee Street]. The other woman was one Alice Pryor. While many sources claim that Frankie was eventually executed for committing this crime (allegedly of self-defense while fending off Al's knife attack), there is stronger evidence that she was acquitted of the murder and released. The 1900 Census shows that she is a working as a domestic, so not in prison at that time. When the stabbing was changed in legend to shooting is unclear, but early versions of the lyrics changed Al Britt to Albert, an easily explainable modification. However, by 1912, with "Johnny" doing this and that in so many songs of that time (and possibly in some way related to the use of the term john as a prostitute's customer), Albert became Johnny, and both he and Frankie soon became legendary. The story was eventually recorded under both titles by many early blues artists, including Lead Belly and "Mississippi" John Hurt. By this time, Frankie had moved to Omaha, Nebraska in the 1910s, where she continued work as a domestic as shown in the 1920 Census. She then went to Portland, Oregon in the late 1920s, and is shown there in the 1930 Census employed as a "shoe dresser." In spite of vain legal attempts to suppress the material that impugned her in the lyrics (and killed her off), the song and subsequent film treatments forever haunted her existence. Frankie Baker died in 1952 in an Oregon mental institution. When listening to either of these renditions it might be helpful to have lyrics in front of you to appreciate them even further, even though the traditional one is my vocal take on the piece. And please don't shoot ME! I'm only the piano player, Frankie!
LeRoy "Lasses" White - 1912
Le Roy White was situated in the Dallas, Texas area, and was, perhaps not too ironically, white. He acted in vaudeville in blackface, as shown on the cover of this piece, and this was one of his earliest published tunes. It also helped to set a standard of sorts for the rompin' stompin' type of blues that became popular on the Southern vaudeville during that time period. Copyrighted in 1912 as The Negro Blues
, either White or his publisher, Bush and Gerts, changed it to the somewhat more offensive Nigger Blues
in 1913, a surprising move as by that time most "coon songs" had all but died out in most parts of the country nearly a decade prior. Yet there is nothing in the lyrics that reflects the questionable title. My good friend and colleague Jeff Barnhart
started performing this in 2009 and based on another colleague's suggestion he called it Lasses Blues
after the composer's stage name. I followed up with the modified sheet music cover. While Jeff clearly owns this piece (if you ever get to hear him sing it you'll understand), I am subletting it for this bodacious effort with his blessing.
Peg O' My Heart
Fred Fischer (M), Alfred Bryan (L) - 1913
This tune was actually prompted by a contest for someone to write a song to accompany a stage play named Peg O' My Heart
. The 1912 play was quite popular, driven in part by its charismatic star Laurette Taylor
, who is pictured on the cover. In the end, it was established professional composers Bryan and Fischer who took the $1,000 prize for their entry. While the song was not in
the play, it was used to promote it, and actually was interpolated into the Ziegfeld Follies
for the 1913 season. While the subject of the song was clearly Irish, Fischer was a native of Germany and Bryan hailed from Canada, making it somewhat of an international affair. Popular in its time, it has also been a favorite of barbershop quartet groups through the decades, and a monster hit in 1947 for the Harmonicats
, a harmonica based group. Although it is notated in straight rhythms, it is most often performed with a little lilt, as in this performance.
He'd Have to Get Under (Get Out and Get Under)
Maurice Abrahams (M), Grant Clarke, Edgar Leslie (L) - 1913
Even without the accompanying lyrics this is a great ragtime tune which has often been recorded, including by myself, Marty Mincer
, and Allen Dale
. With the lyrics, as rendered in this vocal performance, one's imagination can run wild with the intentionally constructed double entendres. It all depends on how you interpret where the engine, or "his little machine," actually is in this particular car. It was one of a few notable songs by the Abrahams, but both Clarke and Leslie had attained a great deal of exposure through association with various composers. Also, for anyone who follows lyrics, have you ever noticed how often "Johnny" is the protagonist of songs from the ragtime era and before? Whether it be in Oldsmobiles. or rowing boats, or going to war, Johnny usually seems to be there. This is no accident, and the name is not-too-distantly related to the adult recreation nomenclature of "John". How it later became associated with bathrooms I may never know. But I digress!! Note that this song was popular enough that comedian Harold Lloyd
made a two-reeler titled Get Out and Get Under
in 1920 which perfectly underscored the tenuous relationship between men and their women and their Model T Fords.
Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay
(M), Jean C. Havez (L) - 1913
The Chesapeake Bay is a body of water that extends largely from Norfolk, Virginia up through Baltimore, Maryland, and includes the mouth of the Potomac River. So at one time it was an extremely busy waterway that served the ports of Baltimore and Alexandria, Virginia, which was once the third largest port on the East Coast. Being a resident of the Washington, D.C. area, I can assure you that it is a very scenic waterway as well. This song is one of the few tunes of local interest that became a national hit, driven in part by Botsford's catchy melody, which is quite memorable, and Havez's clever catch phrases. Botsford is better known for his famous Black and White Rag
. Chesapeake Bay
also features a fabulous cover by one of the prolific and talented Starmer Brothers, an added sales point. The orchestration accompanying the vocal here is for a typical ragtime quartet, complete with a ship's horn.
Tune Adapted and Lyrics written by Fred E. Weatherly - 1913
All right. Get out your hankies and raise your beers. This is the undisputed unofficial Irish pub drinking song. Ay, and its sher ta pull at yer heart-strings ev'ry time. Actually, Weatherly was a British lawyer who was adept at prose. His brother Edward and sister-in-law Margaret lived across the pond in Ouray, Colorado, where Edward tried his hand at mining and writing for the local paper. Fred would write to Margaret to check up on his brother, and often included his poems. It was a happy coincidence that Margaret had recently heard the beautiful and well known tune Londonderry Aire
(which was possibly some 300 years old at the time) in 1912, right around the same time she received the Danny Boy
poem. She suggested the marriage of the two and Fred adjusted the lyrics to the melody. It reflects the melancholy feel of many other fine Irish songs, but because the melody is so fluid and memorable, this one somehow stands out. Aside from political turmoil, Ireland was negatively impacted for many decades by a famine in the 1840s, largely affecting their potato crops. This set a large portion of the depressed population to drinking, which is where the reputation (or stereotype) of Irish drinkers comes from, and was also part of the basis for the poem. This piano arrangement includes a string quartet on the second verse, so raise your glasses in a toast to those departed and you'll be more than ready for Saint Patties day.
Yes, Irving Berlin
was a genius when it came to music. Yes, he was pretty darn good with lyrics too. Yes, he reportedly wrote some 5,000 songs in his lifetime. And yet, in reality, not everything can be top-notch with that kind of volume, now can it? Well, here is an example to prove it. But then again, there are lots of copies of Snookey Ookums
still floating about, so it must have seen some success. Most likely this song was intended for performance by a stage comedian, because it would be hard to have interpolated it into many of the shows playing in New York City in the mid-1910s. Those who have lived in apartments or tenements know of the travails of having to listen to amorous neighbors, but that might not be so bad in light of what the protagonist of this tale has to endure. There were a few other songs about listening to syrupy sugary chatter between adoring lovers, but none so deftly obnoxious as this one. God Bless America (I had to work that in) that we in the U.S. have the inherent freedom to make people ill with baby talk!
Too-Ra-Loo- Ra-Loo-Ral (That's An Irish Lullaby)
James Royce Shannon - 1913
Sentimental Irish ballads were very popular in the opening decades of the twentieth century, although the field was somewhat dominated by Chauncy Olcott
and Ernest Ball
. Shannon, a Buffalo, New York native (second generation Irish) was a protégé of Olcott when he composed this tune for Olcott's stage show Shameen Dhu (Black-haired Jimmy)
. Shannon went on to write and produce a number of successful Irish-themed melodramas and shows for the New York stage. Aside from Hush-a-bye Ma Baby (The Missouri Waltz)
for which he wrote the lyrics, this is his most enduring tune. In essence, it combines the Irish sentiment with another popular theme of the day, Mammy. Often performed with a bit too much verve and shmaltz, this tune is intended as a lush lullaby with a gentle lilting feel. So put on your most sonorous tenor pipes and rock that baby to sleep. But please don't nod-off before the song is over, and at least give one listen-through to the lovely rendering by Miss Kelsey Pederson.
Paul Charles Pratt (M), J. Will Callahan (L) - 1913
At a time not all that far removed from when we have seen petroleum prices at historic highs, at one point having doubled in less than a five years, this song puts a good historic perspective on the ever growing dependence (even in 1913) on the explosive liquid, and its clear place in our personal economy. Both composers were from Indianapolis, which was not too far from the center of automobile manufacturing at that time, and home to the great brickyard race track still in use a century later. Automobiles were relatively common in Indiana's capitol. It is interesting to note their references to how useful it had already become in terms of public safety services such as fire and police, as well as how the air quality had evidently changed. I use the ending as an opportunity to expand on their aggrandizement of petrol with a grand fanfare! Pratt was materially involved with helping several Indianapolis women composers get published, running facets of J.H. Aufderheide
publishing company founded by the father of composer May Aufderheide
for several years.
That Baseball Rag
Clarence Jones (M), Dave Wolff (L) - 1913
It seems that for a number of years some composers, Irving Berlin
not being the least of them, looked for virtually any reasonable noun or verb to place between "That" and "Rag". In most cases, as in the one presented here, the piece was actually a song and not a piano rag. But since "rag" sold, rag it was. The lyrics certainly reflect the baseball mania of the time, as well as some of the unusual or unfortunate social effects of that mania. Among the topics include lying to the boss in order to play hooky to attend a game, and betting on the game, an issue that would come to a head six years later with the "Black Sox" scandal of 1919. The vocal performance of this tune actually requires two people, one who sings and one who chants the patter lines during the chorus. While it never caught on like its famous counterpart Take Me Out to the Ball Game
, partly due to the difficulty of the syncopated melody and a boatload of lyrics, it still is worthy of some attention as a good example of Tin Pan Alley popular song. In an effort to demonstrate how the piece could be ragged a bit more, this performance changes the feel of the final chorus more towards a pianistic rather than singing style.
By the Beautiful Sea
Harry Carroll (M), Harold R. Atteridge (L) - 1914
Other than In the Good Old Summer Time
, no other song about the joys of summer and the seashore has endured as long or as well as By The Beautiful Sea
. In fact, Carroll wrote while sitting on a long hotel porch in West Brighton on Coney Island (America's Playground) one pleasant summer afternoon. This piece was a million seller quite early on. A true sign of a successful tune, it was occasionally interpolated into stage musicals, including some versions of No No, Nannette
and The Boy Friend
. Many jazz band renditions that have also been recorded of this tune all suggest the same thing... fun. A lot of this is due to the sheer simplicity of the melody and the jaunty pace that it suggests. What has not survived all that well through the years are the provocative verses, which strongly suggest marital infidelity and questionable responsibility. The end of the chorus is a bit of a tongue twister in itself, which I can never get quite
right when I sing it.
A Little Bit of Heaven (Shure They Call It Ireland)
Ernest R. Ball (M), J. Keirn Brennan (L) - 1914
Ernest Ball had a long relationship with M. Witmark and Sons Publishers
, as they kept his works in print for over two decades, mostly in their austere Black and White series. In fact Ball remained an employee of the firm throughout his career. While he wrote in a variety of ballad-like genres, Ball was best known for his Irish centered tunes. Along with Chauncey Olcott
they kept stage performers on the vaudeville circuits supplied with a bounty of Irish-themed songs and helped both ease and amplify the longing for home that so many immigrants in America were feeling during this time of transition. This tune is one of the most lyrical and lush of all Ball composed, although it was not as popular, likely because it is harder to sing much less memorize. It is filled with rolled chords and rubatos, and contains a few hints of actual Irish motifs. The minor verse is evocative of minstrels of the 19th century accompanied by a harp. Hopefully it will shure seem ta be heaven ta you as you listen along and weep fer old times at home.
The Aba-Daba Honeymoon
Arthur Fields, Walter Donovan - 1914
The topic of Darwinism
comes up somewhat frequently in ragtime era songs. Either they make fun of the simian ancestry aspect or try to fully anthropomorphize creatures that are often not that far removed from the people who are making fun of them. In this case, the humanizing of monkeys in a glorious wedding scenario seems to have been a hit. As with many other songs from the era, the verses seemed to have all but disappeared, leaving a rather nonsensical chorus that suggests the tongue twisting aspect as its hook. When they were originally performed however, the full scenario of the wedding between two love-struck monkeys actually made for great entertainment. And many people remember the rendition by Debbie Reynolds
and Charleton Carpenter
(who?) in the 1950 MGM film, Two Weeks With Love
, which is really much faster than the intended performance tempo. So to please all parties, simian and otherwise, I have monkeyed around with the performance dividing it into two tempos that will delight all but the most sourpuss gorilla. Beware of the swinging monks, including the vocalist.
The Little Ford Rambled Right Along
(M), C.R. Foster - 1914
The Model-T had become so ubiquitous after only six years from its introduction to the world that its presence was embedded in the national psyche of the United States as well. There were more of them sold each year by 1914 than almost every other car made combined, and their reliability in spite of their flaws became a legendary joke of sorts. This rather substantial hit, the first of many for composer Byron Gay
, was the automotive equivalent of Harry Miller's The Cat Came Back
, and there were likely more verses out there than the four by publisher Foster that showed up in print. Model-T Fords were used as coupes, sedans, fire trucks, delivery vehicles, and even jitney buses, so found at work virtually everywhere. It is true that the little Fords were hard to kill, even if one had to back them up a hill owing to the need for the gravity gas flow to go forward.
If Had You
Long before some of his finest ballads Always
and What'll I Do?
, the versatile Berlin was dipping his toe into that genre somewhat successfully, intermixing ballads such as this with his latest dance tunes, comic songs and ragtime numbers. It should be remembered the Ted Snyder started Berlin out as a lyric writer, so that he usually wrote his finely honed own lyrics to his memorable melodies should be of no surprise. It should also be noted that there are perhaps thousands of pieces by Berlin that may or may not have been published, and that will be long forgotten because they are forgettable. This should not be one of them. Note that Irving rarely wrote anything instrumental, preferring to skillfully combine words and music into one overall emotional collective. This is a fine follow-up to his first true ballad, When I Lost You
, written for his first wife who sadly departed his life due to an illness contracted on their honeymoon. While not quite as emotionally deep, the poignant musicality of this song can be felt in a very simple way in the haunting melody.
Theodore Morse (M), Howard Johnson (L) - 1915
One of the greatest sappy, maudlin, emotionally wrenching songs of all time. Actually, this is one of those popular songs that end up in the popular lexicon with only the first chorus intact, a factor that often causes song lyrics to be taken out of context (see Sweet Georgia Brown
). This story is told from the viewpoint of the everyday ne'er do well working slob who, when life is at its worst, remembers the finest virtues of his mother. For a visual example of this paradigm, watch Al Jolson
in The Jazz Singer
. Morse's melody is actually very memorable, and has been frequently used and abused in a variety of ways since its inception. Johnson was particularly good at his craft, having also penned Georgia
, You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream
(somebody actually wrote
that?), and When The Moon Comes Over the Mountain
, made famous on radio in the 1930s by Kate Smith
. Is it just coincidence that this piece appeared just three years after the inception and popularization of Mother's Day? You'll need to *sob* get out your handkerchief *sniffle* and call *sob* your
mom when the song is over!
Keep the Home Fires Burning ('Till the Boys Come Home)
Ivor Novello (M) & Lena Guilbert Ford (L) - 1915
This pleasant song quickly became popular in the UK, and made the native Welsh composer Novello (born David Ivor Davies) famous virtually overnight. He would later fight in World War One and survive two crash landings. The universal message within the piece also caught on in the US and Canada once they became involved in the conflict, and had a resurrection to some degree during World War Two. It still rings true today in its sentiment that the soldiers will always need a home front to go to and feel their support from. Ford was an American friend of Novello's who reportedly completed the lyrics within 30 minutes. Evidently she never insisted on receiving royalties, which frustrated Ivor who was concerned for this single mother of a small boy. The war literally came to her home when a German Zeppelin dropped a bomb directly on her house in 1918 killing Lena and her son. Novello went on to a very successful career both writing and appearing in stage musicals through the 1920s and 1930s. He lives on through an annual songwriting award presented in his name. He was also portrayed, along with his music, in the 2001 film Gosford Park
(M/L) with additions by
Egbert Van Alstyne
(M) and Gus Kahn (L) - 1916
Controversy on many fronts has surrounded this otherwise innocent sounding piece nearly from the time it was published. Not the least of these is who contributed what to it, but there is another story in there is well concerning the true inspiration for the tune. New Orleans native Tony Jackson certainly had a lot of things potentially against him in the music scene of Chicago where he spent much of the 1910s. He was of average height yet sleight, black, not particularly attractive, and openly homosexual. However, it was his charisma, piano style and good singing voice that garnered favorable attention. It was no great secret that at least the chorus of Pretty Baby
that we know was composed for a young male lover of his around 1915. Credible information suggests that it was while Jackson was performing in Chicago late that year that Van Alstyne and Kahn attended one of his performances (they often made rounds of Chicago night clubs in search of new ideas). They were taken by Pretty Baby
(possibly titled Jelly Roll Rag
at this point, as Jackson's original lyrics might suggest). They purchased it for a reported $250 in anticipation of a new Sigmund Romberg
production backed by the Shuberts, The Passing Show of 1916
(the first to feature music by young George Gershwin). However, the lyrics with their suggestive "jelly roll" references and other slang phrases were deemed unsuitable, as was the rambling half-spoken verse. (The first line of the chorus reportedly went, "You can talk about your jelly rolls but none of them compare with my baby, my pretty baby...") So Kahn provided more coherent and genteel lyrics while Van Alstyne fit them to a more melodic verse, which not too coincidentally is identical to a verse from another Van Alstyne song of 1915, I Love To Tango With My Tea
. The result was a nearly immediate hit. However, many of Jackson's staunch supporters continued to believe that he had composed the entire piece, and that the other composer's names did not belong on the sheet music. In the end, Jackson was never denied his proper credit, and he had willingly cooperated with Kahn and Van Alstyne in the publication. However, it is clear that he was deprived of appropriate compensation for his efforts. Since Jackson never recorded his version, we may never know exactly how his version sounded. However, Van Alstyne and Kahn certainly deserve some credit for the exposure the tune ultimately garnered, and it is still asked for today wherever I play old songs.
When You Want 'Em You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em You Don't Want 'Em
(M), Murray Roth (L) - 1916
George Gershwin was certainly not a novice pianist at age 18, but his songwriting skills were just starting to be put to the test. This novelty ended up being the first piece Gershwin published, but not without some pain. George had been working for Jerome Remick
in New York, one of the largest publishers of that time, since he was 15, having dropped out of school to do so with his mother's blessing. His job was as a demonstrator of other composer's tunes, which gave him great pianistic and arrangement experience as well as a desire to write his own works. His initial tune attempts, including a rag version of Traumeri
(a theme later picked up by Zez Confrey
), were turned down by manager Mose Gumble
who told the teen, "You're here as a pianist, not a writer. We've got plenty of writers under contract." This understandably prompted an eventual shift out of the Remick studios and into the theaters as a rehearsal pianist for shows featuring the music of Irving Berlin
and Jerome Kern
, as well as an accompanist for some lesser known singers. Still undaunted, he turned out the engaging melody for this tune with lyrics by his friend Murray Roth, in which the 'Ems
in question are girls. His old adversary at Remick soundly rejected it, but with the help of singer Sophie Tucker
, Gershwin and Roth found a publisher in Harry Von Tilzer
. While Roth got an advance of fifteen dollars, Gershwin opted to hold out for royalties. He ended up receiving only five dollars after asking Von Tilzer for at least something. This may have also prompted him to commit the song to a piano roll during one of his paid Saturday sessions at Standard Music Rolls in New Jersey. While the terse piano roll for this tune displays potential in terms of both composition and performance, it is a fairly subdued arrangement with little variation on the second iteration. Some liberties have been taken here based on the roll arrangement to add some interest, expansion and variety.
If You Were the Only Girl in the World
Nat D. Ayer
(M), Clifford Grey (L) - 1916
A clear case of less is more and simple is enough, this beautiful and elegant song was well received from the start, and has not been out of favor since. The piece was originally interpolated into or written for an early World War I musical revue in the West End district of London, The Bing Boys are Here
. Most of the show was also written by Ayer and Grey. The musical and the song made its way over to the United States by the following year. British composer Edward Elgar
(Pomp and Circumstance Marches
) was said to have commented that it was "the most perfect tune ever." It was revived and republished with shortened verses in the late 1920s, performed by crooner Rudy Vallee
in his most famous film musical, The Vagabond Lover
(helped along by the fact it was one of the earliest sound films), and again in the musically vague late 1940s by newcomer Perry Como
, and the 1950s by Dean Martin
. Intended as a vocal duet on stage, this song is also fairly effective as just a simple piano waltz tune, as demonstrated here.
For Me and My Gal
George W. Meyer (M), Edgar Leslie, E. Ray Goetz (L) - 1917
What sing-along session would be complete with this golden chestnut? The inclusion of the often-neglected verse makes it even cuter! Meyer was a moderately successful rag writer, but gained favor with Al Jolson
when he helped the performer compose Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night
. George followed that one up with his greatest hit of all, For Me and My Gal
, which ended up selling some two million copies over the next decade or so. The title is even inscribed on the tombstone of his wife. The verse is harmonically interesting, as it starts right on a seventh note in the melody. While not quite a "blue" note per se in this context, it does lean in that direction. Both of the Albert W. Barbelle
covers are also engaging works of art, as the first one features a mock woodcut of bells, angels, bride and groom, hearts, and other cleverly drawn details, and the second a cupid peeking into the nuptials mentioned in the lyric.
George M. Cohan - 1917
In the opening scene of Yankee Doodle Dandy
(1942), George M. Cohan
(actor James Cagney
) arrives at the White House to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his contributions to America's war effort during World War I, and specifically for his inspiring call to arms, Over There
. It was Franklin Roosevelt
himself who had advocated for Cohan in order to bestow the honor on the showman. What is surprising is that this number of Cohan's is one of the only ones that was not specifically included in one of his string of shows that played on Broadway for some two decades. He just sat down wrote this rousing patriotic opus at the beginning of the U.S. entry into the war looking for an inspiring hit, and got so much more. Over There
was first introduced by singer
, although not specifically interpolated into any show she was doing. With Bayes gracing the original cover, Over There
was originally published by William Jerome Publishing
, a firm that Cohan had a financial interest in. Recordings of the piece quickly appeared, and it caught the attention of publisher Leo Feist
, who came up with $25,000 to purchase the rights, exceeding any price previously proffered for a composition. Feist then saw to it that this song became second nature to the public through a campaign of saturation via records, piano rolls, advertising, and most importantly, frequent public performances in support of the war effort. While Feist benefited from the incredible sales of over two million copies, a part of his proceeds and all of Cohan's portion were distributed among various war charities and later to Veteran's organizations. While in Feist's care, no less than three additional covers were offered. One, by Henry Hutt
(not shown) depicted a chorus-line style lineup of soldiers with guns to their shoulders and hats in the air. The most common edition showed Seaman William J. Reilly, U.S.N.
of the U.S.S. Michigan (seen on other pieces as well) smiling at the civilian consumers. The piece was even translated into French to boost overseas sales. However, Feist's greatest sales tactic for a piece that already sold itself was to enlist emerging artist Norman Rockwell
to create a vignette of singing soldiers for what has now become a sought after collector's piece. Rockwell's talent spoke for itself, but his association with this song certainly helped to boost his visibility. Although Cohan died about a year into World War II, the song saw a great revival during that period, helped a great deal by the Cagney movie and its energetic musical productions. Nobody wants a revival of any war, but if the inevitable happens, it certainly could see yet another surge of popularity. After all, we won't come back until it's over over there!
The Real American Folk Song is a Rag
(M), Ira Gershwin (L) - 1918
As far as we know, this was the first professional collaboration of George with his older brother Ira as lyricist, one that would last throughout George's all too brief life, with the notable exception of Porgy and Bess
with a libretto by DuBose Heyward
. It was one of a number of songs that nearly 20 year-old George contributed to a musical called Ladies First
which opened in October of 1918. It didn't hurt that this potential showstopper was first performed by veteran Nora Bayes
, who had also recently introduced George M. Cohan's Over There
. George's ambition was to be able to write music that went beyond popular song or Broadway, but it wasn't until Swanee
took off two years later that this dream would come to fruition. This song is certainly outside of the box of many popular songs of the late 1910s, particularly in its effective asymmetrical chorus. It is also both predictive yet insightful in the lyrical content, referring to ragtime's nefarious reputation in the early years (Ira was but 3 when Maple Leaf Rag
was issued) as well as its permanent status in our musical history. You can hear some developing chord progressions that would later be among George's hallmarks, and I've thrown in a few other Gershwin tricks in the repeat. Note that this piece was not published separately until 1959, which is the edition of the cover that is represented here. It is ironic to note that the Gershwin parents originally bought a piano for Ira to learn on, but no sooner had it been placed in their apartment, 12 year-old George pulled right up to it and played some popular songs that he had worked out from watching a friend's player piano. Needless to say he also got lessons, a relief to Ira who felt a little burdened with the prospect of being the family musician. Even though George ended up as the true pianist, their mother frustratingly continued to the end of her life to attribute George's success to Ira's contributions and hard work.
Somebody Stole My Gal
Leo Wood - 1918
At a time when Ragtime was on its way out, and songs were now turning more towards jazz, there were still a few good old-fashioned numbers getting published. This is still a sing-along favorite sans the verses. The elaborate covers of the previous two decades were also on their way out. The original cover featured the lyrics of the entire chorus on the front, unusual for any time period. When first released with this cover it did not fare well at all. Later re-released in conjunction with jazz recordings and a Frederick S. Manning
cover, the song became a perennial hit. I present a competition version of the piece here, which starts out with the original tune in a relaxed ragtime format, then moves on to a a rendition that has some fire under it. The latter part is based largely on Lou Busch's
1951 recording as Joe "Fingers" Carr
. This was one of the first songs I ever learned on the piano. How'm I doin' now?
12th Street Rag - Song
Euday L. Bowman
(M), James S. Sumner (L) - 1919
Five years after the initial publication of the ubiquitous 12th Street Rag
, and as was done with many successful instrumental rags, somebody was commissioned to add lyrics to it with no benefit extended to the composer. While they are rather typical of their day, and cleverly fit to the original piece, they really don't enhance that "12th Street Rag
" experience that comes from a straightforward piano performance. Being as the song was published near the end of the Ragtime era, it is not likely that the vocal was performed often. However, the rag itself was resurrected in the mid-1940s by Pee Wee Hunt
, and later by nearly every honky tonk piano player in the entire universe in the 1950s. Two of the best performances are by the legendary Johnny Maddox
, whom I have had the privilege to fill in for in years past, and Lou Busch
in the guise of Joe "Fingers" Carr
. I have adapted the rag to work with the lyrics, rather than attempt to play it as written in song form, and left in the original introduction as well. Kudos to anyone who can fit all of the lyrics in even at the leisurely pace (about 80 ticks) of performance featured here!
Upstairs and Down
Walter Donaldson (M), Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young (L) - 1919
As the 1920s approached and silent movies were moving more into features than simple two-reeler shorts, the studios, and many directors, made various attempts to improve on the technology and presentation of their films. Among the techniques experimented with were tinting of various scenes in a color chosen to convey a certain mood or time of day (2 strip Technicolor was still a few years off), superimposing captions instead of using shots of lettered cards, widescreen presentation, and commissioning works of music written just for a film. D.W. Griffith
had symphonic scores for his two big features, Intolerance
and Birth of a Nation
, and other studios wrote songs that would not only go with a movie, but promote it is well. The first of these has long been acknowledged as 1918's Mickey
by Charles N. Daniels as Neil Moret. As movie songs were suddenly in vogue, the well-known team of Lewis, Young and Donaldson penned this typical ditty for a Selznick Pictures film titled Upstairs and Down
starring the enchanting but troubled actress Olive Thomas
. Unlike songs written later for musicals (an unlikelihood in those silent days), it was simply a popular tune titled to fit the picture. These tunes were often performed by the stars at picture premieres, but usually saw widest distribution in the form of sheet music and audio recordings, a trend that has continued to this day. Miss Kelsey Pederson stood in for Miss Thomas as her singing stunt double for this performance.
has many definitions, and at least two possible meanings here. In music, a vamp is a repeated chord pattern with no particular melody above it, often used in Vaudeville as a background for jokes, short sketches, or protracted song introductions. There is a distinct musical pattern in the minor section of this song that could be designated as a vamp
. The other meaning is actually an often-misunderstood verb, and is applied to ladies with the connotation of a rhyming word, tramp
. However, it actually dates back to 1915 and is analogous to the action of flirting by using one's seductive powers. When I was performing at the Diamond Belle Saloon
in Durango, Colorado, my mentor Dick Kroeckel
taught me this unusual piece. The bar patrons called it "the ashtray song," because throughout the chorus there are rests intended for a two beat drum "vamp" or stomp, when they would pound their glass ashtrays on the metal tables. In a room that seats around 120 patrons, many who are filled with alcohol, you can imagine the extreme decibel levels and the number of broken ashtrays every time we played it. I have included two of many covers that this piece was released with, and curiously in this case by two publishers in the same year as Leo Feist sold it to Will Rossiter.
Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me
Arthur Monday Swanstone, Charles R. McCarron,
As the 1920s approached, along with the inevitable onset of national prohibition thanks to the Volstead Act, morals the United States in general were loosening up. In short, it was OK to talk about being naughty as long as you weren't actually being
naughty yourself. The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me
predicts the genre of songs that the 1920s would produce, and includes such devices as racy lyrics, blues chords (although not accompanied by a blues progression), a very verbose comedy patter chorus, and a secondary chorus that can be sung over the main chorus. If one were to perform all of the printed verses and choruses, this song could easily top six minutes. The patter chorus contains references to hidden liquor and infidelity, and the whole song in general was probably a bit over the top when it was first published. It remains a favorite of traditional jazz bands. Hopefully my vocals in this performance are just under over the top.
Johnny S. Black, Felix Bernard (M), Fred Fisher (L) - 1919
A huge hit and a staple of 1920s jazz bands, including a recording by the "King of Jazz", Paul Whiteman
, the obvious uniqueness of Dardanella
is in Black's innovative bass line. Fisher was also a capable composer, with hits like Peg o' My Heart
to his credit, so his contribution of lyrics only was unusual. A deeper mystery is the role of Bernard, who later wrote the holiday season favorite Winter Wonderland
. In the follow-up Dardanella Blues
that has the Dardanella
cover reproduced on it, Bernard's name is conspicuously missing. This may indicate that Black was responsible for the majority of the innovative tune. After playing it through the first time, I pay tribute to a 1951 Lou Busch
recording in which he plays the verse in minor, then improvises on the chorus. Be sure to check out the Dardanella Blues
on the next page.
Sahara (We'll Soon Be Dry Like You)
(Original Edison Disc)
(M), Alfred Bryan (L) - 1919
This particular little prohibition era novelty goes back for me to when I was five years old and discovered my grandfather's Edison Diamond Disc (50638) that was 20" around, weighed around 80 pounds, and was, like, 5" thick (I did say I was five). It really is pretty heavy and thick given the Diamond Disc vertical recording methodology, but on the back side of Irving Berlin's You'd Be Surprised
, both sung by the inimitable Billy Murray
. It was decades later that I procured the sheet music for the piece, but I had recorded it before that time. In this take I've tried to recreate to some extent the studio band used for the Edison recording with the addition of piano. Also included is an audio file of that recording for reference. The song itself is a clever take on how the United States would be as dry as the Sahara Desert, going back to some of the more famous characters in Egyptian history. Schwartz was also able to catch some of the spirit of the genre using popular perceptions of Arabic musical themes throughout, some that have been emphasized here. Please note that I am quite aware that some of the lyrics are politically incorrect, particularly since the Muslim population of Egypt does not and did not imbibe in alcohol, but in the context of 1920 I believe this was an oversight through ignorance of this fact on the part of the composers and not intended as a slight in any way.
Whoa January (You're Going to Be Worse Than July)
Harry Von Tilzer
(M), Andrew B. Sterling (L) - 1919
Think about current events and recent proposals to amend the United States' Constitution, including everything from allowing foreign born citizens to run for president to the famed ERA of the 1970s. Then realize how hard it is to actually tack something onto this most interpreted document. Then look back four generations and realize that our noble forefathers actually used it to ban the consumption of alcoholic beverages in this country (most unsuccessfully and only for 13 years). Even though it capped over a century of lobbying effort by many supporters of temperance, it was still astonishing. Imagine the populace that had no clue how this happened as well, including many songwriters who waxed poetic on the topic in hopes of exploiting it and lamenting it all at once. While less of a protest song than The Alcoholic Blues
, this number successfully captures, in a clever comic style, the common drinking man's lament of the onset of national prohibition in January, 1920. The reference to July is in response to local prohibitions in New York in 1919 that predated the Volstead Act
, which started enforcing the amendment the following January. It is clear that if you knew the right person, the good stuff was still widely available. Within two years of the Volstead Act
however, it was clear that if you wanted it you could still get it with little effort, and that thirst fueled a bootlegging industry that was actually good for the economy. At least for a while. Whoa 1929!
The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues)
Albert Von Tilzer
(M), Edward Laska (L) - 1919
Imagine that you have just come back from fighting in a war that just three years earlier the U.S. was not even interested in participating in, knowing that people were protesting the country's participation; or even if you did not go there, the sacrifices you likely made in terms of food or fuel use. Then imagine after all that coming back to or living in a country where that sacrifice is rewarded with a Constitutional amendment that would remove one of the primary forms of relaxation, indeed the very nectar of most social gatherings, from your life. That's the sentiment of this poignant piece, which also demonstrates an adoption by white composers of a different tone of blues that was found mostly in black performances of the time. Blues from the previous few years were often performed at a good clip by bandleaders and even some pianists of all races, particularly those trying to squeeze them onto a single record side. But the feeling evoked by a blues such as this demands a slow and introspective tempo, such as the one applied in this performance. Since the U.S. Constitution takes some great effort to amend, most citizens at this time truly believed that alcohol would stay illegal every bit as much as other substances that had been deemed harmful by the Food and Drug Administration since its 1906 inception. In reality, booze remained freely available to all who sought it throughout the 13 years that national prohibition was enforced under the famed Volstead Act
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