A Thru H (Pre 1900 Songs)
- Aloha Oè (1878)
Probably the most famous song to come out of Hawai'i It was written by Queen Liliuokalani the last reigning monarch of the islands. Yes Hawai'i was the only state that was once an independent monarchy. Aloha, which can mean either "goodbye" or "hello," in the context of this song is best translated as "Farewell To Thee."
- Amazing Grace (1779)
This hymn has actually been turned into a pop song a number of times, by Mahalia Jackson, Lawrence Welk, Diana Ross, LeAnn Rimes, Glen Campbell, Joan Baez and Rod Stewart. 'Though Judy Collins version was the most popular. Its source has been traced to John Newton, a British navy man who deserted and later "discovered" the scriptures.
- America (1832)
Also known as My Country Tis Of Thee, was in the '50s, the most sung song ever. Owing much to the requirement of elementary school children singing it in class. I know we did as far as in my kindergarten in 1969. The tune, which is taken from the British song God Save The King (Queen). Samuel Francis Smith, a student at Andover Theological Seminary, wrote the new lyric. The heartfelt lyric coined the expression "Pilgrim's Pride." The song with it's new lyric was sung for the first time in 1832 on Independence Day in Boston's Park Street Church. The Muppets version of this song remains the most popular version in the pop music scene
- America The Beautiful (1895)
This song is just the opposite of the above. This time the lyric was written first as a poem. It took several years to find a melody to go with it. Katherine Lee Bates wrote the lyric and Samuel A Ward's concert piece "Materna" was used for the melody. The song as been covered by such people as Frank Sinatra, "Boxcar" Willie, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and even "The Chipmunks."
- Aura Lee (1861)
This is a somewhat atypical Civil War song, in that is more romantic rather than military or patriotic. W.W. Fosdick (lyric) and George R. Poulton (music) are credit for the ballad. But it is Poulton's music why this song is most remembered. In 1956 the lyric was revised and song by Elvis Presley as Love Me Tender. West Point Military academy has also adopted the song as its graduation song, changing the title to Army Blue.
- Battle Hymn Of The Republic (1862)
Ironic, in that this song is both a war song AND a hymn and although it is associated with the Civil War, its surging music and potent lyric make it effected for any cause. Phrases from the lyric like "Grapes of Wrath," "His Terrible Swift Sword," and "Mine eyes have seen the glory," have entered American vocabulary. Poet Julia Ward Howe was visiting Washington DC in 1861 and was invited to review the troops when the Confederates attacked and the Union retreated. As they staggered in they sang John Brown's Body. They army chaplain asked her to write a more appropriate lyric for the tune. That night she wrote all five stanzas and was paid $5 for her work. Later William Steffe took the music of John Brown's Body, and combined it with another folk song Glory Hallelujah and wrote the tune as heard today. This song was performed as a favorite of Elvis Presley.
- Beautiful Dreamer (1864)
Stephen Foster's most cherished ballad was written at the end of his career. Poetic lyrics and a near lullaby feeling to the music surround the praises of a sleeping woman who the singer wishes will "wake unto me." Foster's phrases "starlight and dewdrops are waiting," and "over the streamlet vapors are borne," seem a bit purple and sugary for today's taste but they melody makes it work. The song was published in 1864 but written 1862, and was published as a way to capitalize on the songwriter's death. Covered by such artists as Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, Slim Whitman, Roy Orbison and Natalie Cole.
- Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair (c.1600)
This traditional American folk song from the Appalachian region is thought to have originated in England around the time of Elizabeth the First. Artists such as Jo Stafford, Patti Page, Joan Baez and Burl Ives have recorded both pop and folk versions of this song
- Buffalo Gals (1844)
Asking the question "Won't you come out tonight?" This song is one of America's oldest cowboy songs. "Cool White" wrote the version most familiar today. The invitation to go out dancing with "Dolly with a hole in her stocking" was so popular, that at minstrel shows the song was often changed depending on locale. Such as "Pittsburgh Gals " or "Louisiana Gals." Folk singers Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie have covered this song as well as the Andrew Sisters and Rosemary Clooney
- Carry Me Back To Ole Virginny (1878)
This song was immensely popular at minstrel shows nationwide. It was made the state song of Virginia in 1940. Written by African-American songwriter James Bland, it speaks of peaceful memories on the James River, about an old slave who wants to be brought back to the South where he was born. Although infused with politically incorrect lyrics it remained popular enough to be covered by such artists as Jo Stafford and the Mills Brothers
- The Cat Came Back (1893)
An old novelty song that shows up now and then is perhaps best remembered by my generation as the song on the PBS show Zoom from the early to mid '70s. Written by Henry S Miller about a persistent "yeller" cat that always returns home to "Old Mister Johnson" even though he tries to get rid of it.
- Clementine (1884)
The lyric has its origins in a poem called Down By The River Lived A Maiden, from 1863. Music without lyrics was published in 1884 as "Oh My Darling Clementine," written by Percy Montrose. Sometimes he is credited with both lyrics and music and sometimes Baker Bradford is listed as the lyricist. Woody Harris has a hit in 1960 with the song. Duke Ellington, Connie Francis, and Johnny Cash have also covered the song.
- Columbia The Gem Of The Ocean (1843)
Although David T Shaw and T.A. Beckett are listed as authors no one is definitely sure they actually wrote all or even part of it. Shaw, an actor, asked Beckett to write a patriotic song for a theatrical benefit. Shaw claimed he gave Beckett a complete lyric, but Beckett said it was only an outline. When first published only Shaw's name appeared on it. After it was published it was discovered that the song was clearly taken from the British anthem, Britannia The Pride Of The Ocean.
- Daisy Bell (1892)
Also known as A Bicycle Built For Two, it is probably the most recognized popular song from the 1800s. Henry Dacre offers his fiancée Daisy a two-seater cause "He can't afford a carriage." With a touch of Irish accent (note: "give me your answer do") the story behind the song is quite nostalgic. Dacre left England to make his fortune in America writing songs. So with all his worldly belongings, including his bike, he came to New York City. At the customs office his friend commented he was lucky it wasn't a bicycle built for two or he'd have to pay double. Inspired he composed the song, but since the bicycle wasn't popular in America, no one would publish it. Performer Kate Lawrence picked up the song and brought it to England where ironically it became famous. Just then the bicycle begin to catch on in the States and it was picked up in Vaudeville. While it was recorded by Dinah Shore, Mitch Miller and Chet Atkins, it is probably best remembered to modern audiences as the song H.A.L. the computer sand as he was dying in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze (1868)
Probably the most famous circus song ever, its roots are British. George Leybourne (lyric) and Alfred Lee (music) are credited as writing it but authorship is sketchy at best. Comic singer Joe Saunders was known to sing a very similar ditty around London pubs in 1860. Walter O'Keefe adapted the number as The Man On The Flying Trapeze and popularized it in Vaudeville and in 1939 had a hit with the record. Rudy Vallee also had a hit with the record.
- De Camptown Races (1850)
Stephen Foster's nonsense song remains a recognized tune 150 years later. The "do-dahs" were inserted by Foster to give the tune a sound of a galloping horse. The tune was Abraham Lincoln's campaign song in the race between him and Stephen Douglas. Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra and Al Jolson are among the most popular singers to cover it.
- Dixie (1859)
Also called Dixieland was written by a northerner Daniel Decatur Emmett whose wife was from the South. On cold day she lamented to her husband that she wished she was in Dixie and Emmett intrigued, penned the song. It was picked up in minstrel shows to immediate popularity. It was first performed in the South in, Charleston, South Carolina and caught on quickly. By the time the Civil War broke out the South had adopted it as its national anthem. Despite this the tune remained popular in the North and was a favourite of Abraham Lincoln who insisted it be played at Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Literally hundreds of covers have been record by artists from Bing Crosby to Dinah Shore to Eric Clapton.
- Down By The Riverside (c. 1865)
Sometimes called I Ain' Gwine Study War No More, This song is actually an old Negro spiritual that is among the first anti-war songs in history, inspiring others to "study war no more."
Though it's origins are Civil War the first popularization of the tune was not until 1900 when Paul Barnes adapted it to the "Tin Pan Alley" format. Recorded by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Pete Seeger and Mahalia Jackson, it was even adopted into a country song by Patsy Cline.
- Frankie And Johnny (circa 1870)
This celebrated folk song is about a woman and her unfaithful lover. Sometimes this is changed to a husband to make it less "scandalous." And before you get to thinking, Frankie in this song is female. Folk historians have collected at least 300 different versions of the lyric over 130 years. And the lyrics direction is often as unpredictable as Frankie's course of action. The earliest written version on record goes back to 1870.
A ballad called He Done Her Wrong was based on a true event in St Louis where Albert Britt was shot by his lover Frankie Baker. In several version of this song Johnny is changed to Albert and the lyrics reflect this true to life event.
The first Frankie And Johnny song that was actually published in 1912 and was often heard in vaudeville ending in the semi-true statement "there ain't no good men left." In 1916 Palmer Jones made the first recorded disc of the song. Ted Lewis in 1927 had the first hit with it but it was only a minor hit number.
The ballad has been most associated with Lena Horne and Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash and Sam Cooke recorded decent versions of it. Sammy Cahn wrote a special lyric for Sammy Davis Jr to sing in the film Meet Me In Las Vegas. Mae West sang a version in her 1933 film She Done Him Wrong. The song was also heard in the Elvis Presley flick Frankie And Johnny (1966).
- Git Along Little Doggies (c.1880)
This song has no known author and all that is sure about it is that by 1880 it was being sung by cowboys in the American west. With an almost yodeling quality to the "Yip-pee-ti-yi-yo," it is the kind of song that was passed down orally and rarely written down. Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry had popular covers of this song.
- Go Tell It On The Mountains (c.1865)
This upbeat Negro spiritual is of unknown authorship, but achieved peak popularity during the Civil War. Though the lyric varies depending on the singer, the lyric eventually urges everyone to shout out the good news that "Jesus Christ is Lord." Much later versions of this have changed that line to "Jesus Christ is born." Often a popular Christmastime record, it has been recorded by such artists as Frank Sinatra, Bob Marley, Bobby Darin, Garth Brooks and Simon and Garfunkle.
- Goober Peas (1864)
This semi-novelty song was sung by troops both in the North and the South. Sometimes listed as Eating Goober Peas, I recall singing this one in grade school. Burl Ives and the Kingston Trio had popular versions of this tune.
- Goodnight Ladies (1853)
A famous farewell song, often called Merrily We Roll Along the origin of the music is unsure. But minstrel producer E.P. Christy is credited with the lyric. It wasn't till 1911 when Harry H Williams and Egbert Van Alstyne adapted it into the well-known "Tin Pan Alley" format of today.
- Hand Me Down My Walking Cane (c.1865)
A traditional American spiritual that compares dying and going to heaven to grabbing a cane and catching the midnight train now that "all my sins are taken away." Paul Tremaine popularized the familiar "Tin Pan Alley" version in 1930. Fats Waller, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Acuff recorded popular versions of this tune.
- Happy Birthday To You (1893)
Listed as the most frequently sung song in the English-speaking world, Louisville schoolteacher Patty Smith wrote the lyric as "Good Morning To You," and set it to Mildred J Hill's simple melody. In 1893 it was published as a children's song. How exactly it got transposed into a birthday song is not clear, but Western Union has reportedly it's messenger boys sang the song over ten million times. It is often thought this song is public domain, but it remains copyrighted, and a royalty must be paid each time the song is sung on stage, television, or film.
- Hello Ma Baby (1899)
One of the first "telephone songs" written it is the first significant ragtime song. Written by Vaudevillians, Joe Howard and Ida Emerson, the exaggerated lyric, written in Negro dialect, is a declaration of love to a girl he's never seen but he talks to his "ragtime gal" every day on the telephone because his "hearts on fire." The song was also featured in the cartoon One Froggy Evening. It was sung by "Michigan J. Frog," later to become the mascot of the now defunct WB Newtork.
- Home Sweet Home (1823)
The song responsible for a million samplers and coining the motto "Be it ever so humble there's no place like home." As American as it may have become the song is British in origins. When American actor and playwright John Howard Payne was in London working on an opera he got homesick and wrote the lyric to express his feelings. Payne an orphan was promised $25 for his lyric but never saw any money. Thru his difficult life he managed to become an ambassador to and even then felt like an "orphan" from his own country.
- A Hot Time In The Old Town (1886)
Probably best known to my generation as the only song the band in Hooterville (Green Acres) knows. Legend has it "Theodore M. Metz" was traveling in the south when in Old Town, Louisiana there was a fire. One of the people fighting the fire commented "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight." Metz wrote the music and Joe Hayden came up with the lyric. Some dispute this, pointing out a similar tune can be dated a few years before as being popular in St Louis. Considering the amount of traveling Metz did, it isn't inconceivable he heard the tune and appropriated it. Although Theodore Roosevelt disliked the song (he thought it was vulgar) his "Rough Riders," adopted it as their own.
- How Dry I Am (1891)
Written long before Prohibition, by Edward F Rimbault it is based on his own hymn called Happy Day Phillip Dodridge penned the lyric, which basically amounts to a list of questions regarding one's sobriety. Artie Shaw had a very popular recording of this in the 30s.