Tin Pan Alley
Tin Pan Alley is not a place. At least not anymore. Oh sure it exists but it is more of a state of music that once was, and that sadly (at least I think) that will never be again.
If one could go back to the period between 1885-1950 and look on a stretch of street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway in New York City that is where you'd find the center of American Music.
Tin Pan Alley has been dead for about five decades. Ironic but with the internet coming full force the music industry today is experiencing a similiar decline. When "rock 'n' roll" was introduced the business shifted from having staff songwriters write songs and then giving them to as many artists to cover to make the most money. Exciting battles for cover versions of songs have long since died.
The heyday of Tin Pan Alley was about 1900-1935. While the era generally is considered 1885-1950. Before the era of recording records in became youth driven it was not the wax discs but the sheet music that measured sales. Parlor pianos were popular and commonplace. Still millions of people performed and sang the popular songs by Stephen Foster without ever purchasing a sheet of music or piano player roll.
By 1903 thousands of music publishers were crowded into former brownstones cut into mazes of small offices. Monre Rosenfeld, a journalist, is credited with coining the phrase "Tin Pan Alley."
Monroe, who most likely stole the term from songwriter, Harry Von Tilzer, used the phrase in a series of articles for the New York Herald. By 1919 most music publisher migrated with the Broadway district settinling in or around the Brill Building at 42nd Street and Broadway.
While "rock 'n' roll" has often been blamed for the death of Tin Pan Alley there is more to it than that. Tin Pan Alley easily survived th onslaught of ragtime, blues, jazz, country, and swing. The difference is with "rock 'n' roll" the product shifted. Before it was always the song that used the performer or performers to promote it. Now with "rock 'n' roll" it was the song that was used a a tool to promote the artist. And the artists quickly took to writing their own music, and eventually publishing the music themselves to retain control of the profits.
When the parlor piano faded so did Tin Pan Alley. After all did anyone want to own the sheet music to a song Elvis sang? Or more importantly once Elvis sang a song did anyone want to hear it sung by anyone else? Not anymore.
While scratchy old 78s that Al Jolson recorded are not a part of contemporary American culture, the songs are. A strong difference from the music today. In otherwords we remember the songs but does anyone remember Al Jolson? Today we remember Britney Spears but who knows what song she recorded.
Today's young people are often puzzled by the old TV shows where Broadway and New York City had so much influence. Read reviews young people give of "I Love Lucy" or "The Lucy Show." They seem to have no clue that popular music came from Broadway. Not many songs were written for the sake of the song. Once the song was written it had to be promoted in film or stage. There once were film stars and broadways stars. This has changed. Yes at one time there were actors who would just be TV stars and never film stars. Now that has all changed. The culture has shift and merged as one.
I like the Tin Pan Alley Era. So when I speak of the "Tin Pan Alley Era" the above is what I speak of. A New York City centered culture where songs were business. I like the way the songs are put together, the way songwriters, rhymed their works. They didn't slur five syllable words into two syllables. And if they couldn't think of a good rhyme, they reworded it, till it came out with one. Where the structure of the song matter. Where it just wasn't a bunch of words where people "talked" to a drum beat.
I like the innuendo used. The the clever phrases. The way the songs made you think. The imagery that made the song experience unique to each listener, because the it was made of suggestions of experiences not statements of fact.
This is the why I loved and will continue to love the old songs.