A Thru D (1900 - 1929 Songs)
- Aba Daba Honeymoon (1914)
This song originated in vaudeville but didn't hit the big time until 1950 when Debbie Reynolds and Carlton Carpenter sang it in the film Two Weeks With Love. It sold over one million discs and was in the top 10 for over nine weeks. It was also in the films The King Of Jazz (1930) and Diamond Horseshoe (1945).
- Ain't Misbehavin' (1929)
This timeless lament is one of my favourite songs. Even when gravel throat George Burns made it is signature song, it still comes off great. The song was written by Thomas "Fats" Waller and Harry Brooks (music) with the lyric by Andy Razaf, for a nightclub show Hot Chocolate (1929). This show was so popular it moved to Broadway and was a hit there too. It was Louis Armstrong who put in a solid trumpet solo that made this number rip. He later recorded this song and had a hit with it. However it was Fats Waller who recorded his own song and had the biggest hit with it. Kay Starr, Dinah Washington, Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and Hank Williams Jr had solid recordings of this song too.
This is a person favourite because I love George Burns and this was his signature song. He'd try to sing and he'd say "Gracie I could sing a million songs." And Gracie would reply "Yeah but you only know one, Ain't Misbehavin'." No matter what the sponsor for his radio show was, he's start singing the sponsors jingle and it'd turn into Ain't Misbehavin'.
- Ain't She Sweet (1927)
This is a silly love song the embraces the spirit of the "Roaring Twenties." Milton Ager composed the music which is Charleston-like," and Jack Yellen provided the words. The well known question "I ask you very confidentially," is inspired. Orchestra leader Paul Ash introduced the song in Chicago, but the number didn't catch on till it hit the vaudeville circuit. Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker, and Lillian Roth, made it it very popular. It sold over a million copies of sheet music and it was especially popular on college campuses. In 1940 this song became a hit by Jimmie Lunceford and his orchestra and in the 60s it became a top twenty hit for the Beatles. Artists as diverse as Bing Crosby, Les Brown, Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers and Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers have recorded it over the years.
- Ain't We Got Fun (1925)
From the "Roaring Twenties" this song mixes zesty music with a nonsense lyric. Gus Kahn and A Whiting penned this carefree example of young people enjoying the times even as a bill collector knocks on the door. The classic line "the rich get richer and the poor get children," is fun because the listener clearly expects to hear the word "poorer" not "children."
- Alexander's Ragtime Band (1911)
Not only the most popular song in its day it is almost without argument the song that most changed the direction of American popular music. Irving Berlin wrote a ragtime number called Alexander And His Clarinet ,with music from Ted Synder.
Berlin rewrote the song, but instead of making it a rag, he wrote it as a slightly syncopated piece about ragtime and a lyric encouraging those to celebrate ragtime. Though it was submitted to many vaudeville houses in New York and Philadelphia no one took much notice of it. That is not until Emma Carus performed it in Chicago. Soon Sophie Tucker, Eddie Miller and Helen Vincent picked it up. Within a month of Carus's performance over one million copies of sheet music were sold. Soon coffee houses, theaters, restaurants and dance halls were playing it. This widespread popularity of a song before radio was almost unheard of.
Although Berlin wrote it not to be ragtime the song still receives criticism for not being a rag. While there is a bit of syncopation in the song it is really a march. Some have pointed out while the music isn't rag, the words are. For example Berlin changes the accent on natural so that "ral" rhymes with "call." The music swings and sways as few dongs do and remains a popular piece of popular music
- Alice Blue Gown (1919)
Inspired by Alice Roosevelt Longworth's signature gown, this song premiered in the 1919 Broadway musical Irene. The musical was made into a movie in 1940 starring Anna Neagle and Ray Milland.
Carol Burnett did a hilarious send up of this song in a gown reminiscent of what Cher wore on her TV show. However this Cher-like lady was zaftig and slightly overweight, really jazzing out on the number.
The song has memories for me because all throughout my childhood it seemed when I woke up in the middle of the night I'd turn on WLS-TV Channel 7 (ABC in Chicago) and there would be some lady singing Alice Blue Gown. It was of course a rerun of the old film.
Alice Blue is a light blue-gray or steel blue color that was favored by Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt and which sparked a fashion sensation in the United States. To me it is almost white with a tint of blue. (This text color is Alice blue)
- Among My Souvenirs (1929)
Though best known today from Connie Francis's version of the song, which made it to number seven in 1959, this song first found popularity in 1927. While it is full of self-pity, the voice of the lonely party is more one of reflection than just pathetic. Bandleaders Paul Whiteman and Jack Hylton had hits with this number. It remains one of my favourite Connie Francis songs.
- Anchors Away (1906)
This fight song is the official anthem of the US Naval Academy. This song which encourages one to "set sail and attack the enemy," Although written in 1906 it wasn't published until 1926.
- Are You Lonesome Tonight (1927)
This straightforward love song that takes the form of a letter is simple but effective song in which a former lover is asking whether a former lover is missed? Written by Roy Turk and Lou Handman this song was first a hit record for Vaughn Deleath. A few other vocalists had minor hits with this song but it wasn't till 1960 when Elvis Presley recorded it that it smashed to the top of the charts.
Ronnie McDowell provided the vocals for Kurt Russell in the 1979 film bio Elvis. Val Kilmer performed it in Top Secret (1984)
- Baby Face (1926)
A Roaring Twentiess song with catchy music and silly lyrics. Benny Davis claimed to have gotten the idea for the lyric from silent screen star "Clara Bow." Bandleader Art Mooney had the biggest hit version of this song in 1948 that sold a million copies and was in the Hit Parade for nine weeks. Little Richard, Bobby Darin, Al Jolson, Tom Jones and even "Tiny" Tim have recorded other versions. It was featured in the film Jolson Sings Again (1949). Perhaps the most infamous version of this song came in the debut of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. This was an odd choice to feature a roaring 20s song in the height of the disco era.
- Barnacle Bill The Sailor (1929)
A novelty number about a crusty old sailor, answers the question "Who's that knocking at my door?" Benny Goodman, Hoagy Carmichael and Tommy Dorsey had popular versions of this song.
- Barney Google (1923)
Another 20s novelty song this one seemed to hang on for decades. Billy Rose wrote the lyric and Con Conrad (cool name huh?)wrote the music based on a popular comic strip of the same name. Soon Barney Google with the "goo-goo-googly" eyes was on the lips of the nation as Little Barney was sued for divorce by a wife "three times" his size.
Not surprisingly Eddie Cantor (known for his bugged out eyes) tried to capitalized it but with limited success. Rose went to work and got vaudeville team Olson and Johnson to put it in their act and it worked, selling a million copies of sheet music and some disc too.
- Beale Street Blues (1917)
Published as Beale Street and written by WC Handy this song quickly became a blues standard. Beale Street is the neighborhood where Handy grew up and they lyric draws on this. Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Tommy Dorsey and Eartha Kitt have recorded notable versions of this song.
- Because (1902)
This song has become standard fare for weddings. Helen Guy wrote the music while Edward Teschemacher penned the lyric, that claimed a beloved came to him, spoke to him, and gave him a reason for living.
Enrico Caruso introduced the ballad in concerts and on record. Deanna Durbin made the song a hit again by singing it in Three Smart Girls Grow Up. Ten years later Perry Como record the biggest version of this song selling over a million discs.
- The Bells Of St. Mary (1917)
A nostalgic song that recalls the sound of the bells coming from a church and how those sounds call one back home. The song never amounted to much until Bing Crosby sang it in a 1945 film The Bells Of St. Mary. Vera Lynn then popularized it in the United Kingdom around the same time.
- Bill (1918)
One of the best torch songs in American Popular Music, it didn't amount to much before it was presented as part of the Broadway classic Showboat. Jerome Kern wrote the music and PG Wodehouse wrote the words. The lyric is conversational and Bill's description is less than ideal, yet a hint of a smile is underneath the woe. The song was written for the Broadway musical Oh Lady! Lady! (1918), but it was cut because it was considered too slow down the timing of the show. When Kern teamed up with Oscar Hammerstein he couldn't find a torch song that seemed appropriate. Kern remembered this discarded song and changed the lyric slightly to fit and when Helen Morgan sang it, it literally stopped the show. Dinah Shore, Peggy Lee, and Lena Horne have made the most successful versions of this song.
- Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home (1902)
This is one of the most fun songs to sing. An early ragtime classic easily played on banjo, honky tonk piano and adaptable to Jazz, this is a sing along standard. Hughie Cannon wrote the bubbly number about an African American woman who is hanging out the laundry and singing about her absent husband Bill to come home. She admits she drove him off with "nothing but a fine tooth comb," but Bill returns with a fancy automobile. The use of comb and home to rhyme shows just how much better the lyricists were back then. It takes a great imagination to think of a lyric that actually rhymes and makes sense. As opposed to lyricist now who typically tries to rhyme home with alone.
The story behind the song is part of "Tin Pan Alley" folklore. Cannon was an alcoholic was living in a flophouse and busied himself by visiting taverns. One night an African American vaudeville singer name Bill Bailey came in and complained that is "no good wife" threw him out. Cannon gave Bailey money to stay in the flophouse with him but predicted she'd be begging for him to return before long.
It had minor popularity until Louse Armstrong played it in nightclubs where it became "all the rage." Eddie Jackson and Jimmy Durante added it to their vaudeville act and tens of thousands of sheet music were sold. The song begin to inspire "answer" songs like I Wonder Why Bill Bailey Don't Come Home and Since Bill Bailey Came Home. It remained a favourite until the 50s when Pearl Bailey brought the tune back and again in the 60s when Bobby Darin recorded the song selling a million copies.
To my generation the song is also heard on The Jetsons. Where Jane Jetson sings the song as "Bill Spacely Won't You Please Fly Home."
On a last note some of the recording are not the full lyrics, including Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong. Those versions are based on the chorus and omit the first part. Darrin's version added his own spoken words as an introduction, as a musical aside to the Bill Bailey.
- Black And Blue (1929)
A somewhat disturbing yet truthful ballad written by Andy Razaf doing the lyric and Thomas "Fats" Waller and Harry Brooks providing the music. The song is actually about a dark skinned African American woman who is rejected because her intended prefers light skinned women. Two verses are often omitted from this song and it ironically becomes a song about racial injustice from a white and black perspective instead of a racial injustice within the African American community itself, as originally written. The song became a specialty of Ethel Waters, and was also recorded by Louie Armstrong, Frankie Lane and Dinah Washington.
- Blue Skies (1926)
Another of my personal favourites, it was written by Irving Berlin and explores the various types of blue from bluebirds to blue feelings. The structure of the songs shifts from a bluesy chorus to an upbeat verse making it a mainstay of Jazz artists. Introduced in the Rogers and Hart musical Betsy (1926) the number went over so well it she had to do a recorded twenty four encores before the audience was sated. Ben Selvin climbed to the top of the charts with it soon after. Frances Langford made it a reoccurring number when she sang it for the troops in World War II. Capitalizing on the good feeling of the soldiers returning home after World War II Benny Goodman made the song a hit again in 1946. Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby did the number in 1954's White Christmas.
- Breezing Along With The Breeze (1926)
This is truly a breezy song. It is a wonderful lighthearted song that is fun to sing. The trio of Haven Gillespie, Seymour Simons and Richard A Whiting, wrote this number about a rover who's "traveling the rails" and happy to be free and easy. Al Jolson made the number popular in vaudeville, and Lou Brese made it the theme for his orchestra. Danny Thomas sang it in his version of The Jazz Singer (1953). Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz sang it in their hit film The Long, Long Trailer (1954).
- By The Beautiful Sea (1914)
This is a quickstep tune that never has fallen out of favour. The song was introduced in vaudeville and kept up steady appearance in shows and various Broadway shows. Judy Garland, George Murphy, and Ben Blue performed the number in For Me And My Gal (1942). It has also been performed in the film Atlantic City (1944).
- By The Light Of The Silvery Moon (1909)
This song has become a standard for glee clubs and barbershop quartets. Gus Edwards composed a somewhat dreamy music that lends itself to soft shoe, while Edward Mannen wrote the words. The lyric is cliche by today's standards with its moon-June-croon rhymes but it fairly typical of "Tin Pan Alley" for the time.
- Bye Bye Blackbird (1926)
This song is unusual in that it is a rhythmic song with a distinctive musical pattern and a breezy lyric. Mort Dixon (lyric) and Ray Henderson (music) wrote this song, which is punctured with rest throughout stopping the melody and lyric very effectively.
It was song for quite sometime till Eddie Cantor popularized it. Russ Morgan revived the number in 1949, with Mitch Miller, Vikki Carr, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Liza Minnelli, and Trini Lopez making noted recordings of it.
- The Caissons Go Rolling Along (1908)
Ok first things first, what the hell is a caisson? (pronounced: Kay-sahn. the on said as in "on" as in "turn 'on' the light.") If you look it up you'll get something like this" "A caisson is a pressurized, bell-shaped structure which allows construction fully under the water."
Now you're thinking wait a minute that doesn't make sense. And it doesn't but while that is the common definition of caisson it appears it isn't the only one. A caisson is also a carriage used for coffin transport in funerals. Well that is better but it still is "off" so to speak.
Third definition of caisson is a carrier of artillery ammunition. And before anyone asks a dale is a valley. And now on to the song.
This is the official song of the US Artillery and thus has become an "unofficial" song of the US Army. West Point graduate Edmund Gruber wrote this song while serving in the Philippines. While played in the military it wasn't widely known till John Philip Sousa made an arrangement of it. Because he popularized it he is often wrongly credited with writing it. This song is also know as The Caisson Song or Over Hill Over Dale.
- California Here I Come (1923)
Popularized by Al Jolson, this song has survived because of the association with the state. It is often confused and sung as "San Francisco Here I Come." BG DeSylvia (lyric) and Joseph W Meyer wrote the number. Al Jolson is also credited with the lyric but it is doubtful he actually contributed anything to it. When Jolson sang the song in The Jolson Story (1946) he popularized the song all over again. Eddie Cantor, Georgie Jessel, Jane Froman and Ray Charles made notable covers of this song.
- Carolina In The Morning (1922)
This song is claimed by both North and South Carolina. Gus Kahn (lyric) and Walter Donaldson (music) wrote this song that longs to return home where "The dew is pearly kinda early in the morning."
The southern drawl is alluded to by rhyming "Carolina" with "finer." vaudeville performer Lillian Frawley introduced this number which was quickly picked up and put in the Broadway show The Passing Show. Orchestra leader Paul Whiteman popularized the song and once again Al Jolson revived it in the movie The Jolson Story (1946). Benny Goodman and Judy Garland have made outstanding recording of the song. The song can also be heard on TV's I Love Lucy performed by Fred and Ethel Mertz.
- Carolina Moon (1928)
This is strict "Tin Pan Alley," with two favourite elements, the dreamy moon and down south. Benny Davis and Joe Burke wrote this waltzing ballad that recalls how the moon shone in Carolina the night two livers parted, and ask the moon to keep on shining till they are again reunited. The song became the theme for Morton Downey on his radio show. (Yes he was the father of popular TV talk show host Morton Downey Jr.)
- Casey Jones (1909)
One of America's best known railroad songs is a testament to a folk hero and stands as a monument to heroism of American Railroading. Few people today realize how dangerous the railroads were both for workers and passengers with crashes and injuries and missing body parts were all too common. The ballad is based on a real event. Train engineer John Luther Jones, nicknamed "Casey" substituted for his sick friend and drove the Cannonball Ltd. out of Memphis. As they lyric explains he was "Scalded to death by the seem with the hand on the throttle," but he bravely "run her till she leaves the rail." Walter Saunders an African American engineer who worked with the real life Casey wrote a poem about the incident and got it published. Vaudevillians T Lawrence Seibert (lyric) and Eddie Newton (music) took the poem rearranged it into a song.
- Charleston (1923)
Started a dance craze in the 1920s and even today this dance remains well known. The craze lasted five years and surpassed all previous songs in its effect on dance floor patrons. James P Johnson and Cecil Mack collaborated on the song, proclaiming a new dance step that put Carolina on the map. Although few can recall the words the tune remains etched in most people's memories today. The song was introduced in the all black review Running Wild (1923). When Joan Crawford sand and danced the "Charleston" in the 1923 film Our Dancing Daughters it launched her screen career. The song can be heard in countless numbers of movies as background movies and the cast of the TV series The Brady Bunch danced to it (minus Bobby afraid of infecting the rest of the family with mumps). As long as the "Charleston" dance lasted it was eventually replaced by "The Varsity Drag," and "The Black Bottom."
- Chicago (1922)
As musical salute to the Windy City, it has become the unofficial song of the great Midwestern metropolis. With numerous references to Chicago landmarks like "State Street," "The Pump Room," and "The Drake Hotel" among others it encourages the listener to "lose their blues." Orchestra leaders Tommy Dorsey and Paul Whiteman were among the first to popularize this. As usual Al Jolson took this number to the vaudeville stage and made it a hit. In the late 50s Frank Sinatra revived it and it became one of the most popular numbers performed by Judy Garland.
As a note "Billy Sunday" who is mentioned in the song (as in "The town that Billy Sunday could not shut down.") was a professional baseball player and evangelist and is most noted for his "fire-and-brimstone" approach to evangelism. Sunday was also one of the major social influences in the temperance movement leading to Prohibition in 1919. Even after it's repeal Billy Sunday pressed to have it brought back.
- Danny Boy (1918)
This is an Irish folk standard that crossed into "Tin Pan Alley" and became a hit several times over. This heartbreaking song is a farewell to Danny, who must leave because the pipes are calling him away. Although Fred Weatherly is given credit for the song, it has remarkable similarities with the song Londonderry (1855). In 1940 Glen Miller revived the number and Conway Twitty, Andy Williams, and Patti La Belle, also had success with it.
- The Daughter Of Rosie O'Grady (1918)
This is a rare example of a sequel song that was more popular than the original. Monty C Brice (lyric) and Walter Donaldson (music) wrote the Irish waltz that was a follow up to 1896's Sweet Rosie O'Grady. Bugs Bunny often performs the song in his cartoons.
- Does The Spearmint Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight (1924)
A novelty song that is still occasionally heard decades later. Ernest Bauer provided music for the lyrics written by Billy Rose and Marty Bloom that in addition to asking the question in the title ask, "if you swallow in spite," if your mother doesn't allow chewing gum. Noteworthy is the lyric often was changed to "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight," because radio sponsors complained it was free advertising for "Spearmint."
- Down By The O-Hi-O (1920)
This is based on an old folk ballad. It has a beau asking a girl to take a stroll by the Ohio River. There he talks about their wedding day, but she refuses so he drowns her. They lyric changes somewhat from version to version. Olivia Newton-John had a top 10 hit with the song in England. The version reached the low 90s in America. She changed the lyrics and title to read "Banks of The Ohio."
- Down By The Old Mill Stream (1910)
Four part harmony makes this song a favourite of barbershop quartets. Arthur Clough introduced the ballad and within five years it sold a million copies of sheet music. In the 1940s the Mills Brothers brought this song back but recorded it with a more swinging style to it.
- Down In The Valley (1914)
This traditional American folk song has unknown origins but was first set down and published in 1914. This gentle ballad encourages one to "hang your head" over the "valley so low." Subsequent verses are about a new day breaking and proclamations of love. Always a favourite among folk singers and cowboy balladeers, it was the Andrew Sisters that gave the song new life in 1944. Tex Ritter, Slim Whitman, Ray Charles and Ike and Tina Turner made other notable versions.
- Drifting Along With The Tide (1921)
This song was the very early work of George Gershwin when he was still struggling to make it on "Tin Pan Alley." Arthur Jackson penned the lyric that was introduced to popularity in the Broadway review George White's Scandals Of 1921.