J Thru R (1900 - 1929 Songs)
- The Japanese Sandman (1920)
This song was the most popular of the Tin Pan Alley songs written after World War I about far away exotic places. This song sold well over a million copies of sheet music. Raymond Egan wrote the words about the magical powers of a sandman from the mysterious East and Richard A Whiting composed the music with more than a touch of Oriental in it. Nora Bayes introduced this song into vaudeville and it was picked up by Paul Whiteman and made a hit. Benny Goodman made it a hit again in 1935. Pat Morita and Jack Soo sang it in Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967).
- K-K-K-Katy (1918)
Also titled The Stammering Song, this novelty song by Geoffrey O'Hara sings the praises of Katy the g-g-g-girl waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door. This song was a big h-h-h-hit among the American troops in World War I. It was a big hit but it gets on one's n-n-n-nerves q-q-q-quickly
- Lazy (1924)
An Irving Berlin song in which both words and music seem to lag along in keeping with the theme of the song. The song is full of cliches and doesn't hold up well, but was a very big hit in its time. It was Blossom Seeley that made the song famous in vaudeville. and records. Al Jolson and Paul Whiteman also had hits with it.
- Let Me Call You Sweetheart (1910)
This song is a straightforward declaration of love that came to be more of a sing-a-long than a ballad. Lou Friedman wrote the music in a waltzing tone while Beth Slater Whitson wrote the lyrics, which he proclaims his love and asks the other to "whisper that you love me too." The Peerless Quartet recorded the song and it became a hit, but even more outstanding is the fact the song sold over five million copies of sheet music. It quickly became a favourite around player pianos and community sings.
- Love Me Or Leave Me (1928)
Perhaps the greatest of all American torch songs this song has long been identified with Ruth Etting. Walter Donaldson composed the music and Gus Kahn wrote the torchy lyric full of alliteration ("love...leave...believe) throughout. Etting first sang the song in the Broadway farce Whoopee (1928). It was no surprise when the number brought down the house. Etting sang the number in movies, records and night clubs for the rest of her career. Sammy Davis Jr. and Lena Horne also had hits with the song.
- Mack The Knife (1928)
This song traveled a long road before it reached Tin Pan Alley but once it arrived it became a major hit. Bertlot Brecht (German lyrics) and Kur Weill (music) wrote the sinister ballad about a murderer who has returned to town with his jackknife and is on the prowl in the theatre piece The Threepenny Opera (1928) It's German title is Moritat, which translates to "murder deed." When The Threepenny Opera was translated into English for for Broadway the song was titled The Legend Of Mackie Messer. The show failed and quickly closed
In 1952 Marc Blitzstein rewrote the number as Mack The Knife, beginning with the now famous "the shark has pretty teeth dear." Blitzstein then retranslated the entire score and in 1956 The Threepenny Opera opened Off Broadway for a record breaking run. Scott Merrill sang the song and it quickly caught on. Many cover versions sprang up. The Dick Hyman Trio had a whistling version and Louis Armstrong made a jazz version. Bobby Darin took the song to the top of the Billboard charts in 1959 and it went to number six on the black charts. Sammy Davis Jr. sung the song in the film version of The Threepenny Opera (1962)
- The Man I Love (1924)
is one of the Gershwin Brothers most recorded ballads. This song was however kicked out of many Broadway shows before if found success on Tin Pan Alley. George Gershwin thought the song had trouble catching on because it is difficult to whistle or hum. The number was first publicly heard when Eva Gauthier sang it at a public concert. Publisher Max Deyfus liked the song and published it without being in any Broadway musical. It slowly gained in popularity, with Helen Morgan featuring it in her nightclub act. It traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and became a minor hit in Europe, but Paul Whiteman finally managed to make the song a hit in the States. While Broadway didn't like the song, Hollywood did and it was featured in at least ten films including 1972's Lady Sings The Blues and 1977's New York, New York.
- Manhattan (1921)
This was Rodgers and Hart's first hit song and is considered the finest ballad about the city of New York. Hart's lyric is sly in the way it turns the mundane into the sublime. Rodgers music is filled with unexpected turns in the refrain. The song was written for Winkle Town but that show was never produced. When asked to score the show Garrick Gaieties in 1925 Rodgers and Hart used the song for the first time. The song is sometimes titled as I'll Take Manhattan. Bing Crosby, Ben Selvin, Rosemary Clooney, Ethel Merman, Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington, and Johnny Mathis have made memorable recordings. It has been heard in over a dozen movies including 1984's Revenge Of The Nerds
- Manhattan Serenade (1928)
This intoxicating ballad about falling in love on a fall evening in New York City. The number was originally a piano solo piece by Louis Alter and was published in 1928. Paul Whiteman made it a familiar instrumental and the Dorsey Brothers used it quite often. In 1942 Harold Adamson wrote a lyric for it and the song became even more successful. The lyric describes two lovers walking through the trees creating a "Manhattan serenade." Jo Stafford, Leon Russell, Dinah Shore, and Helen Forrest had big hits with the song. The song can be heard in the film Broadway Rhythm (1944)
- Margie (1920)
Is a cheerful song about a wooer who is trying to woo Margie. He loves her wants to marry her and want to tell the world about Margie's charms. Benny Davis wrote the words using Eddie Cantor's five year old daughter Margie as an inspiration. Con Conrad and J Russel Robinson wrote the music. Eddie Cantor brought the song recognition when he sang it in his concerts. It was also featured in the Broadway review The Midnight Rounders (1921). Other notable recordings were made by The Smoothies, Ted Lewis and Betty Hutton. The song was also featured in several films.
- The Marines Hymn (1919)
This is the official song of the United States Marine Corps. Henry C Davis is credited with the music though there is debate about the authorship. The music is clearly based on a melody from a 1868 opera boufee Genevieve de Brabant. The lyricist was probably a marine in the Mexican War, (hence the reference "from the halls of Montezuma"). The words and music didn't come together till after World War I and the song remained a patriotic favourite since. Varied artists such as Artie Shaw, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir have had hits with it. The song is sometimes listed with the title From The Halls of Montezuma (To The Shores of Tripoli).
- Me And My Shadow (1927)
Is probably the best known "soft shoe" number written. Billy Rose wrote the torch song which a dejected wooer takes comfort in his own shadow, his only friend and one who would never fight with him over a girl. Dave Dreyer and Al Jolson are credited with the music, though most experts question Jolson's part in the number. The song has most been associated with bandleader Ted Lewis who sang it for years. Pearl Bailey revived the number in the 50s. Other memorable recordings have been made by Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Jr.
- Meet Me In St. Louis (1904)
This is one of my all time favourite songs. For those who don't know it is pronounced "Louie," both for the city of St. Louis and the husband. It was written for the 1904 St. Louis World Fair. Penning songs about famous events were common for that time, but most of the topical songs died as soon as the event passed. Andrew B Sterling (lyric) and Kerry Mills (music) provided a catchy lyric with waltz-like music. It was picked up and became a vaudeville standard in hundreds of acts.
Oddly enough the first verse of the song was often omitted. This tells of a discontented housewife Flossie who packs up and heads for St. Louis and the fair. She leaves a note for her husband named Louis. Thus the double almost echo like "meet me in St. Louis, Louis." Mills and Sterling said they got the idea for the double lyric when they ordered a mixed drink called a Louis served by a bartender named Louie. Mills paid Sterling $200 for his lyric and that is all the money he saw from this tune.
While never falling out of favour the song exploded again in 1944 when Judy Garland sang it in the movie musical Meet Me In St. Louis, once again become a major hit.
- The Memphis Blues (1912)
Historically important because it is the first blues song to be published. Personally this is my favourite blues song that mentions a city. WC Handy wrote this song as Mr. Crump," in typical Negro minstrel style and in 1912 reworked it into a blues number. They lyric by George A Norton was added and the song was published in 1913. It appeared in a few Broadway reviews but didn't become a hit until 1927 when Ted Lewis recorded it. In 1931 Charles Tobias and Peter De Rose wrote new lyrics and it became even a bigger hit. Harry James revived it again in 1947. Jo Stafford featured it on her classic album Ballad Of The Blues. Dinah Shore, Guy Lombardo, Paul Weston, and Lena Horne made memorable records of the song.
- Moonlight On The Ganges (1926)
Is an exotic ballad by Chester Wallace (lyric) and Sherman Myers (music) that sought to capture the mysticism of the Ganges River. Paul Whiteman popularized the tune, but it was Frank Sinatra that had the biggest version of it become one of the biggest songs he ever recorded.
- M-O-T-H-E-R (1915)
This song is a tribute to mom, spelling out her title and finding a sterling quality for each letter ("M - is for the many things she gave me, O - means only that she's growing old"). Howard Johnson wrote the lyric and Theodore F Morse wrote the music for this sentimental number, which is schmaltzy by today's standard but is still often song. Sophie Tucker worked this into her Broadway act making it a hit and it is heard in many Hollywood films in the 30s and 40s.
- Mountain Greenery (1926)
This is a tribute to rural living by Rodgers and Hart. It urges one to flee from the dust of the city and go to the countryside, where "God paints the scenery." It actually is able to rhyme "beans could get no keener reception in a beanery, bless this mountain greenery home." Not many people today could pull off a rhyme like that. The number was written for the second edition of Garrick Gaieties (1926). The review is never even thought of but the song lived on. Of the dozens of recordings it was Mel Torme's version that was the biggest hit. The song is often a favourite of fans of The Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob and Laura Petrie sing it.
- My Buddy (1922)
This song about friendship is more of a cliche today than a serious ballad as it was written. Walter Donaldson composed the music and Gus Kahn wrote the lyric. The song is about a man missing his male friend. The lyrics are sometime twisted a bit when a female sings it to make the friendship a romantic friendship. Al Jolson popularized this in his vaudeville act and it was played as background music for the silent film classic Wings, it is particularly effective during the World War I scenes of camaraderie between pilots. This film sequence often lead people to think the song is from World War I instead of written a few years after. Kate Smith, Bing Crosby and Bobby Darin made notable recordings of this song. Fans of TV recognize it from Designing Women when Julia sang it for Charlene at her bridal shower.
- My Mammy (1918)
This song is almost solidly associated with Al Jolson, known as the man who got down on one knee and sang "Mammy." It introduced dozen of other young singers who imitated Jolson's energy and forceful style of singing. Joe Young and Sam Lewis wrote the words and Walter Donaldson wrote the music as an ode to one's mother. It wasn't picked up by anyone till William Frawley (of I Love Lucy fame) put it into his vaudeville act. Jolson first put it into his Broadway vehicle Bombo, where he sang it in blackface on one knee and seemed to reach into the audience and embrace each member individually. Jolson recorded the song selling over a million copies and sang it in six movies. Other recordings of the song have been made by Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis, Liza Minnelli and Cher.
- My Man (Mon Homme) (1920)
This popular torch song translated from the French, became one of Tin Pan Alley's greatest ballads. Usually associate with Fanny Brice, it was a favourite of all female vaudevillians. Irene Bordoni brought the number to America still singing it in French, but it really caught on when Fanny Brice sang it with an English lyric by Channing Pollack. Brice's interpretation is interesting because her declaration of her love for her man is more "matter-of-fact," than emotion. Other artists that have had success with the record are Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee. Barbra Streisand recorded it in 1965 and Diana Ross sang it in the film Lady Sings The Blues based on Billie Holiday's life.
- My Melancholy Baby (1912)
Has proved to be one of Tin Pan Alleys most durable songs. Ernie Burnett composed the innovative music that rises and falls in a smooth manner, often moving in unexpected direction creating an effect
- Nobody Knows (1919)
Also called Nobody Knows And Nobody Seems To Care, this was one of Irving Berlin's biggest sellers of sheet music. It sold well over one million copies. This is the tearful lament about a cry of pain of someone so lonesome and tired of being on my-own-some. This song was sung by Berlin at his Palace engagement. It took many years until the 30s when other artists such as Cleo Laine and Count Baise recorded it.
- Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out (1923)
This blues standard by Jimmie Cox, in which a man notes how many friends he had when he was rich, but now they don't know him at all. The he consoles himself with the fact that if he ever got his money back they'd be "long lost friends." Bobby Barker made the first recording of it, but it didn't become popular till 1929 when Bessie Smith recorded it. Other artists like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke Barbara Streisand and Don McLean have made recordings of the song.
- Old MacDonald Had A Farm (1917)
E-I-E-I-O Sorry just had to put that in there. This is probably the most sung children's song in history. Though first published in 1917 this song goes back much farther. The simple song lists various farm animals and then imitates them. Surprisingly this children's ditty, has been recorded by such varied artists as Gene Autry, Nat King Cole, Flat And Scruggs, Ella Fitzgerald, Spike Jones and even the Three Stooges. Randy Starr adapted the song to an uptown number for Elvis Presley in the movie Double Trouble (1967).
- On Moonlight Bay (1912)
A very durable song from Tin Pan Alley about an idyllic setting for romance. Edward Madden (lyrics) and Percy Wenrich (music) wrote the song about sailing across the bay at night in the moonlight while losing one's heart to true love. It was introduced to vaudeville and was known but not popular by World War I. Glen Miller much later popularized it. The most popular version was a duet by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in 1951.
- The One That I Love (Belongs To Somebody Else) (1924)
One of my personal favourites, Gus Kahn (lyrics) and Isham Jones (music) wrote this bouncy ballad that worked its way into the big band sound. Early discs were made by Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson. Jo Stafford did an outstanding recording of it. On screen Judy Garland sang it in the film Everybody Sing (1938). Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie also made noted recordings of it.
- Over There (1917)
Was a huge patriotic number. It is George M Cohan's biggest song not written for Broadway. Cohan wrote the number after reading in the morning newspaper the United States declared war on Germany in World War I. He took the opening phrase from the popular 886 song called Johnny Get Your Gun and he expanded on the idea into a lyric that is both a call to arms and a vow not to come home till "it's over, over there."
Cohan introduced the song himself to an audience of soldiers at Ft Myers, but it didn't have much impact. Then Charles King sang it at a Red Cross benefit at the Hippodrome Theatre in New York City, and the response was overwhelming. Nora Bayes added it to her vaudeville act and made a record of it. This launched the song selling over one million records and two million copies of sheet music, making it the most popular song of World War I.
The song was equally popular in World War II and Franklin Roosevelt gave Cohan the Congressional Medal of Honor for it. In addition to military and marching bands, Bing Crosby, Glen Miller and even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had hits with it. James Cagney and Frances Langford sang it in the Cohan movie biography Yankee Doodle Dandy. Joel Grey and the cast sang it in the 1968 Broadway show of Cohan's life called George M!. On The Golden Girls Rose (Betty White) refers to the song saying, "No one can be afraid when their singing that song, except maybe the Kaiser."
- Pack Up Your Troubles (1915)
Also listed as Smile, Smile, Smile or as Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag And Smile, Smile, Smile. This is an English song that found popularity in America during World War I. Felix Powell composed the music as a deliberate march and George Asaf penned the lyric. It was the song the American Doughboys heard when they first arrived in Europe and it spread back to the States, performed at war rallies and benefits. Felix Powell performed the song for the first time on Broadway in 1916's Her Soldier Boy. It has since been performed in many Broadway shows and numerous Hollywood films.
- Peg O' My Heart (1913)
This song most closely associated with Laurette Taylor though she never actually sang the song, at least publicly. The association stems from the spunky Irish girl she portrayed in the Broadway play Peg O' My Heart (1912) This show inspired Alfred Bryan (lyric) and Fred Fisher (music) to write a song of the same name. When it was released Taylor's face appeared on the sheet music and she became identified with it. In the 20s Red Nichols made a jazz version of the song that became a hit. Jerry Murad's Harmonicats revived the song as an instrumental in 1947, which went to the top of the music charts. Peggy Lee, Josephine Baker, Glen Miller, and Andy Williams made notable versions of this song. But due the Harmonicat's recording, this song has become identified most closely with the harmonica.
- The Prisoner's Song (1924)
Sometimes titled If I Had The Wings Of An Angel this was an unbelievable gigantic hit for Guy Massey who sent it to a publisher and never wrote another song. Of course this song was so profitable he didn't have to. Surprisingly it isn't well known today. The sad ballad is the lament of a prisoner being transferred to a different jail, thinking about his faraway darling and contemplating resting his head on "a pillow of stone."
While Massey had never even been in a jail, the publishers sent out word that the songwriter was a jailbird to create interest in the tune. That was a wasted effort for the song was an immediate hit. Vernon Dalhart's country flavoured recording sold over two million records and sheet music sales over a million. However it is the version by Bunny Berigan that was considered the definitive recording of the song, but Rosemary Clooney, Eddy Arnold, Fats Domino, and Louie Armstrong also had sizeable hits with the tune.
- Ragtime Cowboy Joe (1912)
This long living ragtime standard is a favourite of barbershop quartets. It tells the story of an Arizona cowpoke that sings "raggy" music to his cattle and in the process wows all the girls in town. It took three people collaborating to produce this song: Lewis F Muir, Grant Clarke, and Maurice Abrahams. Bob Roberts had the first hit with this song but it was periodically revived throughout the 30s and 40s to become a hit again. Jo Stafford had a big hit with it in 1949 and even the Chipmunks recorded it and released it in 1959. Betty Hutton performed it in Incendiary Blonde (1945). You can also hear Lucille Ball perform it with a couple of kids she's babysitting on an episode of the I Love Lucy Show.
- Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody (1918)
Once again we find Al Jolson as the man most associated with a song. In this case it was a Stephen Foster sound-a-like song actually written by Sam Lewis and Joe Young (lyric) and Jean Schwartz (music). Foster's Old Black Joe and Swanee River are even mentioned in the song. Al Jolson introduced the song in his vaudeville act and never left it behind. His initial recording was a best seller and he rerecorded it again in 1946 and sold another million records. Aretha Franklin recorded it with success in 1961. Judy Garland, Brenda Lee, Connie Francis, Cher and Sammy Davis Jr also made memorable recordings of it.