R Thru Z (Pre 1900 Songs)
- Red River Valley (1896)
This traditional American folk song didn't come from the American Southwest or the prairies of Kansas or Nebraska. It is strictly "Tin Pan Alley." James J Kerrigan wrote a number called In The Bright Mohawk Valley, about upstate New York. As people moved west they changed the lyric to wherever they happened to be. Eventually the Texas panhandle became the most popular locale. Jo Stafford, Marty Robbins, Woodie Guthrie, the Andrew Sisters and Roy Rogers had hits with the covers of it they made. It was turned into a rock-n-roll number called Red River Rock for Johnny and the Hurricanes.
- Sailing Over The Bounding Main (1880)
This is the sailor chantey by Godfrey Marks, that while rarely recorded (except for children's records) it's been familiar to generations thru sing-alongs. The song encourages sailors to withstand the perils of the sea. The word "ere" confuses modern people, as it is a contraction for before. As in "many a-stormy wind will blow 'ere jack comes home again." Jack is a generic term for sailor. Sometimes listed as Sailing, sailing, the song has been used countless times in background music in films featuring nautical sequences.
- She's More To Be Pitied Than Censured (1895)
An outdated concept about a fallen woman brought tears to they eyes of America in 1895. William B Gray wrote this song about a girl flirting with men on the Bowery and explains that is was a callous man who caused it. Sheet music sales were strong even before it was introduced in Vaudeville skyrocketing it in popularity. By the 1920s however the song was already a subject to much ridicule for it's outdated standards. In 1951 Beatrice Kay did a campy version sarcastically mocking it in the chorus.
- She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain When She Comes (1899)
A traditional folk song probably taken from a Negro spiritual called When The Chariot Comes. It became secular and was published in its present version in 1899. Though what "she" is riding often changing from lyric to lyric. Most often "she" is riding some type of horse. Connie Francis, Pete Seeger, and Buffy Sainte-Marie have covered this song, with verses slightly varying.
- The Sidewalks of New York (1894)
Perhaps the most resilient of all New York City songs, this waltz by Charles B Lawlor (lyrics) and James W Blake(music), is about a gang of friends gathered on a stoop and planning to "trip the light fantastic." All the names mentioned in the lyric were actual people Blake knew. Lottie Gibson introduced the number in the Old London Theatre in the Bowery and New Yorkers quickly took a shine to it. Dan Quinn a popular Vaudeville performer took it to the theatres and made an early recording of it. Alfred E Smith used the song as his campaign song in his bid for the presidency in 1920 and 1924. Covered in a number of films, as Sweet Rosie O'Grady, and Broadway musicals (The Sidewalks of New York) it was also recorded by Mel Torme, Mitch Miller and Duke Ellington
- Silver Threads Among The Gold (1873)
Though largely forgotten today this domestic ballad by Eben E Rexford (Lyric) and Hart P Danks (music) proved to be one of the most sentimental songs of the 1800s, selling well over one million copies of sheet music. Rexford wrote the lyric as a poem and was paid $3.00 for it by Danks. While Danks made a fortune off the song Rexford saw no more money. In fact even his marriage, which inspired the poem he wrote ended in divorce. Mitch Miller and Jerry Lee Lewis made covers of this song
- Skip To My Lou (c. 1844)
This carefree American folks song is of unknown origins. Not much is known about the song at all but already about a decade before the Civil War special dances were made up for it. The lyrics vary from version to version. Judy Garland, Pete Seeger and Frances Faye, made cover versions of it.
- Star Spangled Banner (1814)
The official anthem of the United States of America it has the best known history of any American song. During the War of 1812 Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer, was sent to Baltimore to negotiate the release of an American officer. While there he witnessed the attack on the American Fort Henry on September 13, 1814. There he waited till dawn to see if the American flag was still flying, it was. This prompted Key to write a poem entitled The Defense of Fort McHenry. A music publisher bought the poem and using a melody by John Stafford Smith,he finished the song. Later this was found to be and English tune called To Anacreon in Heaven. Although sung by millions of people, the song is an extremely hard song to sing correctly. You need a thirteen step vocal span and the ability to navigate thru tricky rhythm changes and archaic verbiage to perform it right. Sometimes listed as Oh Say Can You See, the song was not made the official anthem of the United States until 1931. Whitney Houston had a major hit with her version of it peaking at number six on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in 1991
- Sweet Genevieve (1869)
The biggest selling song in the United States between the Civil War and the roaring 1890s this is a sentimental lament in which a teary eyed fellow tries to relive, in his mind, the brief time he and his sweetheart had together before she died. George Cooper wrote the lyric as a poem after his wife Genevieve died. He sold the lyric to Henry Tucker for $5.00 who wrote the music. This song as big of a seller as it was is largely forgotten by the time the turn of the century came around.
- Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1896)
A favourite Irish waltz one of the few songs to spawn a sequel song "The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady," that was even a bigger hit than the original. Maude Nugent wrote the song, which achieved popularity in Vaudeville, but had a hard time getting published because of the glut of songs with girl's names in them. But finally one of them gave her $100 dollars for it, and made more than 100 times as much back on it. The authorship of the song is often called into question as Nugent was married to an established songwriter Billy Jerome and she was not known to have ever written another song. Mitch Miller had a major recording of it and even Tiny Tim put out a cover version of this song.
- When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again (1863)
Although it was a Civil War song this song was much more popular during the Spanish American War and was its unofficial theme. Patrick Gilmore (AKA Louis Lambert) a Union army bandmaster, wrote this catchy tune anticipating the celebrations that would occur when the war was over. The music is based on a Negro work song but some dispute this noting the music is also close to Irish folk melodies. Perhaps is a mix of the two between the Irish immigrants and African American slaves working on similar projects. The novelty song called The Ants Go Marching One By One, is obviously taken from this number
- When The Saints Go Marching In (1896)
Probably the most famous Dixieland jazz styled song it is credited to Katherine E Purvis (lyric) and James M Black (music), though the authorship is often questioned. Negro bands played the song as early as 1890 and was surprisingly used as a funeral song, though upbeat and far from melancholy. Louis Armstrong is the artist most associated with this song, and he first recorded it in 1930. Jazz musicians favour this song because of its simple rifts and easy improvision. They lyrics also vary slightly from version to version as in Homer Simpson's version, which says Oh when the saints go over there.
- When Strolling Through The Park One Day (1884)
A soft-shoe number that gave rise to many a classic dance routine. Ed Haley wrote this number one day in May and published it under the name "The Fountain In The Park." Popularized in Vaudeville by the DuRell Twins doing a soft-shoe routine where at the end they lift up their hats and say "Ahh." The song was featured in many films such as Hollywood Review of 1929 and Show Business(1944)
- Yankee Doodle (c. 1775)
Also known as Yankee Doodle Went To Town, has been described as America's first hit pop song. Despite being explored by musicologists for decades and centuries even, the origins of the song have produced no satisfactory results. The Spanish, the Dutch, the Germans, and French have all claimed the song as their own. The British nursery rhyme Lucy Locket bears the same tune but still provides no useful clues. What is known is that the lyric was around by 1775, but even here it is confused, because there were many different lyrics circulating by that time. During the American Revolution British soldiers mocked American troops with the number. But there are many reports of the colonists using it proudly while marching. It was used as the unofficial national anthem of the United States till 1812 when the Star Spangled Banner came along. For those who don't know "macaroni" refers to a style of dress common at the time. Thus Yankee Doodle thought by merely putting a feather in his hat he could be macaroni (or stylish)
- Yellow Rose Of Texas (1858)
The familiar sing along song started out as a minstrel number that was popular in the North and the South during the Civil War. The earliest versions are credited simply to the initals "J.K." The lyrics varied somewhat mostly trying to get rid of the original words that concerned "one's plan to return to Texas to see a light-skinned negress who beats the belles of Texas." The song rapidly fell out of favour till Mitch Miller brought it back with a smash hit
- Zip Coon (1834)
Virtually no one remembers this song but it lives on today in a square dance tune called Turkey In The Straw. The term "Zip Coon" is Broadway slang for a "dandy" who wore fancy clothes, carried a walking stick, and claimed to be a "larn skolar" (learned scholar)> They lyric is mostly nonsense with lines like "possum up a gum tree, coony on a stump." Bob Farrell introduced this song at the Bowery Theatre in New York where it became a staple.