MUSIC: One Hundred Years of Memories—1912-2012
A Series in 4 Parts…Part One—1912-1929
By: J. Marlando
Series © By J. Marlando 2012
Perhaps I am far too much the romantic but music seems to dissolve into our souls—I still remember the songs I loved when I was a very young boy growing up, the rock and roll of my teens and many other songs that I have held dear throughout the years of my life. You are probably the same way. It seems we all have songs that make us smile, that make us weep but beyond all else, make us remember.
I was in the first 4 years of my life during World War II. I can still hear the radio playing songs like Harbor Lights and I can still recall some of the song’s lyrics—I saw those Harbor lights, they only told me you were leaving. I don’t know why but my old heart jumps a beat when those lyrics pop into mind.
I was a teenager when Elvis made “Love me Tender” popular. I easily recall most of those lyrics. Love me tender,
Love me sweet,
Never let me go.
You have made my life complete,
And I love you so.
Love me tender,
Love me true,
All my dreams fulfilled.
For my darlin I love you,
And I always will.
I was around 16 when Love Me Tender hit the charts, the proud owner of a 1950 Ford (lowered and grooved). That was when drive-in movies were popular, duck-tail haircuts and one button suits. I was in love with Luella, a cute little fifteen year old and thought my heart would never heal when we broke up.
Are you old enough to remember those days—if you are, you’ll know what I’m talking about and if you’re not, you’ll have your own music and memories from your own “good old days.”
It isn’t just the songs of our times we have running about in the depths of our souls: it seems there is a kind of ghostly way that some songs just belong to us from some distant past that we never lived. I suppose we heard those songs somewhere and sometime but they just stick with us as if they are part of our spirituality. I’ve always had a connection to the song Swanee River. Maybe you know the lyrics:
Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere's wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home.
(And the wonderful Chorus)
All de world am sad and dreary,
Eb-rywhere I roam;
Oh, darkeys, how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home!
Don’t ask me why but I love that old Stephen Foster (1826-1864) song—it gives me a feeling I can’t explain, like I somehow belong to the music and the lyrics; to the times themselves? It is a song that belongs to America’s youth and we were not much more than a mere seedling among other nations.
It is my intent to take you on a journey of music and memories. You won’t know or remember all the songs I will be sharing but I think you will have a great time recalling the ones that you do. Admittedly, I was pretty melancholy writing most of this material. It is my hope that you will let yourself go too and simply experience while reading this series I’ve named, 100 years of memories.
1912 was a good year for the middle and upper class Americans—here’s some grocery store costs to ponder:
Bacon (pound) 24 cents
Gallon on of gas 7 cents
A loaf of bread 5 cents
A quart of milk 9 cents
A pound of steak 23 cents
If you had the money you could drive a Cadillac like this one or a new Buick. Most people made do with the horse and buggy though. As for your favorite song back then, you’d probably be singing, On Moon Light Bay Music by Percy Wenrich and lyrics by Edward Madden. Here’s a taste of that grand old song:
We were sailing along
On Moonlight Bay
We could hear the voices ringing
They seemed to say:
"You have stolen her heart"
"Now don't go 'way!"
As we sang love's old sweet song
On Moonlight Bay…
This was the year that the Titanic sank; when the first man, Albert Berry, made the world’s first parachute jump and when they first put a “prize “in Cracker Jacks The year that New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th state and the very year that my grandmother, Nellie Ann, turned sweet sixteen.
The cost of living wasn’t but a little higher than 1912. This, however, was the year that Ford started his the assembly line for building cars and the first time a lady parachuted out of an airplane. Her name was Georgia Broadwick; a daring 18 year old that wasn’t about to let men get the jump on her. This was also the year of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution allowing income tax. 1913 was a year of transition really: The assembly line would be changing American manufacturing, women were breaking away from old Victorianism and income tax would start growing government like fertilizer on a weed. They were still romantic times, however, and a popular song of that year was penned by Alfred Bryan and Fred Fisher.
Peg o' my heart
I love you
don't let us part
I love you
I always knew it would be you
Peg o' my heart
Since I heard your lilting laughter
It's your Irish heart I'm after
Peg o' my heart…
1914 was the year that the Panama Canal opened to commerce which had cost the lives of 6,000 workers over the ten years it took to construct. Child labor was a growing concern in the U.S. and a Mrs. Margaret Sanger had to flee the country to escape arrest for advocating birth control. Here’s a picture of the desperado The First World War was heating up in Europe but, for most Americans, life remained positive. Here’s one of the most popular songs of that year written by Jack Mahoney and Percy Wenrich—do you know the tune?
When you wore a tulip,
A sweet yellow tulip,
And I wore a big red rose,
When you caressed me,
'Twas then Heaven blessed me,
What a blessing,
No one knows,
You made life cheery,
When you called me dearie,
'Twas down where the blue grass grows,
Your lips were sweeter than julep,
When you wore that tulip,
And I wore a big red rose
The war in Europe is very hot by this year and American banks loan the British and French government’s 500 million needed dollars. This was also the year that the U.S. Coast Guard was formed. In the meantime Charlie Chaplin was popularizing his “little Tramp” character. In the meantime, most Americans were keeping a good sense of humor and popularized this Irving Berlin hit. (Because of the innuendo there were a lot of parodies made of this song that continued even into the 1940s).
Mary Snow had a beau
Who was bashful and shy
She simply couldn't make the boy propose
No matter how she'd try
Mary grew tired of waiting
So she called her beau one side
While he stood there biting his fingernails
If you don't want my peaches
You'd better stop shaking my tree
In 1916 President Wilson kept promising to keep America out of the war in Europe but at the same time Congress was doubling the size of the U.S. Army. The good news was that at long last the Federal Child Labor Law was Passed. The law banned interstate commerce of products made by children under 14 and children under 16 to work in mines. In the meantime love continued to stay in bloom and one of the most popular songs of that year was simply titled, Pretty Baby. It was written by a fellow by the name of Tony Jackson. Here’s the chorus, can you sing it?
Everybody loves a baby that's why I'm in love with you,
Pretty baby, pretty baby,
And I'd like to be your sister, brother, dad and mother too,
Pretty baby, pretty baby.
Won't you come and let me rock you in my cradle of love
And we'll cuddle all the time.
Oh, I want a lovin' baby, and it might as well be you,
Pretty baby of mine,
Pretty baby of mine.
1917 was the year that the United States entered the war that had been hot in Europe since 1914. It was the year of one of the most patriotic songs ever written. George M. Cohan’s, You’re a Grand Old Flag: (An interesting observation is that government took over American industries in 1917…can you imagine that?)
You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
Regardless of the war romance stayed in the American air if for no other reason than for, who else…Me and My Gal. This big hit was written by Geroge W. Meyer, Edgar Leslie and E. Ray Goetz.
The bells are ringin', for me an' my gal,
The birds are singin' for me an' my gal,
Everybody's been knowin', to a weddin' they're goin'
An' for weeks they've been sewin' every Susie and Sal' . . .
Daylight Savings Time was put into effect in this year but so was something that has always been unheard of for Americans. People who criticized the flag or the government could be imprisoned and 2000 were indeed jailed for protesting the draft. This was the year that the Federal government repealed much of the child labor law; a time when little kids made to work all night in Southern mills were being doused with cold water if they fell asleep on the job. This was also a time when 1.4 million women went to work for the war effort and the year my mother was born on February 28 just 14 days after the war to end all wars ended and Al Jolson made this Sam Lewis, Jean Schwartz and Joe Young song a gigantic hit:
Rock-a-bye your baby with a Dixie melody
When you croon, croon a tune from the heart of Dixie
Hang that cradle mammy mine
Right on that Mason-Dixon Line
America lost over 300,000 troops during the war so 1919 was a time for emotional as well as economic recovery for a great many who just wanted to get back to normal. This was the year that Jack Dempsey became World’s Boxing champion. (My Uncle Jim Barry once worked as a sparring partner with Dempsey in Colorado so I was always a fan. And, as they say, that boxer was one tough hombre).
Cars were changing though. Here’s a sporty Motel T. Ford and an Oldsmobile. In fact, the 1905 pop song was still being sung in 1919 but one of the year’s most popular songs after a devastating world war was J. Keirn Brennan and Earnest Ball’s beautiful “metaphors” for love and peace, Let the Rest of the World Go By:
With someone like you, a pal good and true
I’d like to leave it all behind, and go and find
A place that’s known to God alone
Just a spot to call my own
We’ll find perfect peace, where joys never cease
Out there beneath the kindly sky
We’ll build a sweet little nest, somewhere out in the West
And let the rest of the world go by….
There were lots of changes by 1920—for one thing prices had almost doubled since 1912. Indeed, a trip to the grocery store was costly for the times: Here are some L.A. prices:
Bread per-loaf 9 cents
Eggs per dozen 50 cents
Flour per pound 6 cents
Coffee per pound 39 cents
Beef per pound 42 cents
These stylish 1920 bathing suits costs around $ 8.50
Women’s dress shoes like these models $ 22.50
As for other stuff:
A nice icebox cost around $27.00
An iron $4.95
Everyone wanted a radio $15.00
1920 was a year of a lot of transitions. For one thing younger adults were leaving the farms and moving to the city for work…and for fun. However, the pursuit of happiness ran into a dead end with prohibition starting in that year. This same year women won the vote! In sports, this was the year that the White Sox “threw” the World Series but, speaking of baseball, Babe Ruth hit 54 homes runs during the 1920’s season. And, as for songs, the romantic, I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time was a gigantic hit.
I'm writing you, my dear,
Just to tell you,
In September, you remember
Neath the old apple tree
You whispered to me
When it blossomed again, you'd be mine.
I've waited until I could claim you,
I hope I've not waited in vain.
For when it's spring in the valley,
I'm coming, my sweetheart, again!
I'll be with you in apple blossom time,
I'll be with you to change your name to mine.
I'LL BE WITH YOU IN APPLE BLOSSOM TIME
I'll be with you in apple blossom time,
I'll be with you to change your name to mine.
It’s interesting that jazz was actually banned in Zion Illinois, a rather prudish place in any case spouting morals as frequently as flies land on sugar. The amazing composer Scott Joplin had already passed away in 1917 but he had tremendous influence over the Jazz Age of the Roaring Twenties. The birthplace of the American music was New Orleans. This intriguing and exciting music—a most magical and mystical expression of Black soul—was destined to influence American culture with incredible talents like the 1920s new comer, Louis Armstrong destined to win America’s mind and heart.
Hem lines were rising and so was just about everyone else in the second year of prohibition—the speakeasies were already plentiful and government’s attempts to legislate morals was already going in the other direction—sex, booze and defiance became the attitude of most Americans—men and women. As a result guys like Al Capone became millionaires.
Freud became popular around 1921 too (an admitted neurotic himself) he nevertheless, created extremely brilliant theories of the human mind and its unconscious. This was the age of psychoanalysis too and actually the earliest realization that there was more to each of us than what we project during our daily lives.
As for music, a rather “gaudy” song caught the minds and feelings of 1921 with a song that was written by James F. Hanley with the unexpected title of: Second Hand Rose:
Father has a business, strictly second hand
Ev’rything from toothpicks to a baby grand.
Stuff in our apartment came from father’s store.
Even clothes I’m wearing someone wore before.
It’s no wonder that I feel abused.
I never get a thing that ain’t been used.
I’m wearing second hand hats, second hand clothes
That’s why they call me Second Hand Rose…
No one could imagine the changes that were not too far off but by 1922 the first drive-in restaurant was in operation in Dallas, Texas serving barbecued pork sandwiches to people eating in their car. Drano was already unplugging drains, Betty Crocker was already offering her cake mix and kids of all ages were eating Eskimo pies and Mounds candy bars. The biggest thrill however was that it was possible to talk cost to cost on those new-fangled telephones.
I have been saying and so writing for years that it was not the gangsters who put the roar in the roaring twenties but the women—they were at long last coming out of their historic cocoons and enjoying themselves for a change. I can think of no women in history that were as dazzling or daring as these gals of the 20s. Is it any wonder that a most popular song of 1922 was Kristin Hoffman’s “It’s Three O’clock in the Morning.”
It’s three o’clock in the morning
And I still can’t close my eyes
Your smile keeps haunting my mind
Haunting my mind
Ghosts of us in every object
Memories in every sound
It’s strange no having you around
So strange not having you around
In 1923 life was just getting better and better for guys like Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano. The 20s were the heydays for law-breakers. And, the more the liquor they destroyed the more they brought in and, in a great many cities, the more officials and street cops went on the gangster’s payrolls. The truth is that the most honest and law abiding citizens were suddenly breaking the law by buying illegal liquor and it was virtually being sold everywhere—the corner shoe shine stand to fish markets and flower shops. And where there were not bootleggers to buy from common folks made wine in their bathtubs and beer in their kitchen. In the meantime the movie industry was growing but so were the crazies of the Ku Klux Klan with their racial hatred. And so, it can be said that the 20s were ever as violent as they were wild. Is it any wonder that a most popular song of 1923 was asking “who’s sorry now” with words and music by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby and Ted Snyder. (Connie Francis would take this this highly emotional song to #4 on the charts…can you sing it?)
Who's sorry now, who's sorry now?
Whose heart is achin' for breakin' each vow?
Who's sad and blue, who's cryin', too,
Just like I cried over you?
Right to the end, just like a friend
I tried to warn you somehow;
You had your way,
now you must pay;
I'm glad that you're sorry now
If anyone captured the 1920s in music it was surely Geroge Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The piece premiered in concert, An Experiment in modern music on February 12, 1924, at Aeolian Hall in New York played by Paul Whiteman’s orchestra with Gershwin at the piano as seen here.
Incidentally, you will recall that I mentioned the song Swanee at the start of this article. Swanee was Gershwin’s first hit recorded by Al Jolson in 1920.
Rhapsody in blue was magical for its own time and remain magical today somehow connecting the heart of jazz with the mind of classical or is it the other way around? It is actually a deeply spiritual piece in many ways; a kind of Gershwin sharing his soul.
Another superstar of ’24 was Will Rogers ((1879-1935).
Rogers was a homespun political humorist and actor beloved by Americans and Europeans as well. One of his greatest lines was, “I am no member of any organized political party, I’m a democrat,” but he was forever being sardonic when it comes to government but he said, “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”
In the wake of it all, the gangsters, the flappers the speakeasies, the mindless KKK and everything else—romance remained in the air. A song that was a hit of the day in ‘24 was, wouldn’t you know it, a Geroge Gershwin tune with words written by Ballard Macdonald and Buddy Desykua, “Somebody Loves Me.”
Somebody loves me, I wonder who,
I wonder who he/she can be.
Somebody loves me, I wish I knew,
Who can he/she be worries me.
Somebody loves me, I wonder who,
I wonder who he/she can be.
Somebody loves me, I wish I knew,
Who can he/she be worries me.
The fast lane was unfolding by the mid-20s. Ford’s assembly line
was popping a car out every ten seconds. And manufacturing all over the U.S. was producing at lower prices while labor was attempting to pay higher prices. Around 40% of workers were earning $2,000 a year and that in 1925 that was darned good money.
Ignorance still prevailed of course. The Ku Klux Klan marched into Washington this year—40,000 of them without hoods mind you—so a lot of racism abounded. In fact, in Louisiana, a minister was found guilty of preaching equality and a mob flogged and hot him to death. On the other hand in Mississippi in this same year local ministers led a mob in lynching two black men. There was progression as well. For example, Chrysler was being launched in Detroit with a then extremely expensive car a six cylinder beauty for $1,500—a price that most suspected was way too high for the market.
This was also the year of America’s most famous trial, the trial against a fellow by the name of John Scopes a school teacher accused of teaching students the theory of evolution in what came to be called the monkey trialwith this image of Darwin popularized The prosecutor was Jennings Bryan and the defense was led by Clarence Darrow. Scopes was eventually convicted which proves how reluctant human beings are to have their conditioning challenged. It was indeed the “trial of the century.”
But fun kept prevailing in the 29s too: At Yale University students began taking pies so that they could throw the pie plates around the cafeteria (with great accuracy it is said) became great fun and part of the routine for lunchtime and dinnertime at the school. You guessed it, the pie delivered on the plates was from the Frisbie Baking Company.
As for top songs of ’25—there’s no surprise romance prevailed with a tune by Gus Kahn and Isham Jones with title, “I’ll See You in my Dreams.”
I'll see you in my dreams
And then I'll hold you in my dreams
Someone took you right out of my arms
Still I feel the thrill of your charms
Lips that once were mine
Tender eyes that shine
They will light my way tonight
I'll see you in my dreams
The famous actress Mae West became a superstar in ’26 when she kept defying the sensors of the time. She wrote and performed in her own play with title Sex which came under the scrutiny of a prudish organization called, The Society for the Suppression of Vice.” An undercover cop testified that she moved her navel up and down and sideways during a belly dance. The “bad” publicity worked wonders for the “stars” popularity. The country was still in the center of prohibition remember.
This too was the year that Earnest Hemmingway published his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.” He was 27 years old at the time. And, at the same time, NBC was in its infancy as a “chain” just incorporating in 1926—Radio was becoming the center of family life in the U.S. and this would continue even into the very late 1940s. I can still remember my own family gathered around the kitchen table just to listen to radio programs.
As for a most popular song of 1926. From coast to coast most people were singing the Benny Davis, Harry Akst hit most simply called, Baby Face.
I never knew why
I loved you so much
Maybe it's the way you look at me when you get up in the morning
I didn't need a shove,
I just fell in love,
With your little baby face
You got the prettiest little baby face
There isn't another one to take your place
The fabulous Babe Ruth swatted his 60th home run at Yankee Stadium in September of this year. Ford made his last Model T and introduced his Model A And the world’s first “talkie” (with synchronized dialog) was released with the title, “The Jazz Singer.” Sound of course would soon enough revolutionize the entire movie industry. As for music, the Waller Donaldson and Geroge Whiting wrote the biggest hit of the year, a deeply sentimental but happy piece with title, “My Blue Heaven.”
When whippoorwills call
And evening is nigh
I hurry to my Blue Heaven
I turn to the right
A little white light
Will lead you to my Blue Heaven
A smiling face, a fireplace, a cosy room
A little nest that nestles where roses bloom
Just Molly and me
And baby makes three
We're happy in my Blue Heaven
With all the glamour, the Broadway Shows, the cash flow of illegal booze a lot of poverty still prevailed across the land. No one in 1928 would suspect how bad it was destined to become but in this year, the Republican Herbert Hoover was elected with a slogan that promised to “put a chicken in every pot” and “a car in every garage.” In the meantime, against the odds, black people were rising up in art and music with white folks gathering in great numbers to enjoy the talent. A most popular place was the famous Cotton Club where people jammed in to hear and see such fabulous talents as Duke Ellington and Ethel Waters perform. Yet, the club was for “whites” only; a strange irony to say the least.
And speaking of entertainment a new character was introduced to movie goers this year. Steamboat Willie…remind you of anyone else? By this time too, Mae West was making lots of hits with her Broadway shows. But why not, her terrific lines were masterful like:
When women go wrong, Men go right after them.
Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Good sex is like good bridge, if you don’t have a good partner you’d better have a good hand.
Mae West was shocking for the times and for her entire career. (Incidentally, I interviewed her years and years ago for a tabloid I was stringing for; a story in itself). Anyway, by 1928 Victorianism had long before been left in the archives of world history. And, human sexuality of both genders were at long last being acknowledged if not fully accepted. And so, is it any wonder that Eddie Cantor made a hit song with the unexpected but fun title, “Makin’ Whoopee?”
Every time I hear that dear old wedding march
I feel rather glad I have a broken arch.
I have heard a lot of people talk
And I know that marriage is a long long walk.
To most people weddings mean romance
But I prefer a picnic or a dance.
Another sunny honeymoon,
For making whoopee.
By 1929 there were an estimated “100,000 illegal drinking joints” in New York and at least 10,000 in Chicago, both gangster centers and competition was bitter. This was the year of the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre when 7 gang members working for Geroge (Bugs) Moran were gunned down. Al Capone was suspect for giving the order.
In the meantime over 5 million cars rolled off assembly lines in Detroit and Ford sold his millionth Model A in this year.
Life seemed quite normal at the close of those roaring twenties with the poor getting poorer ad the rich richer but then…the crash occurred.
If life had been a dream for a lot of people, it was soon to become a nightmare for most. Fortunes were lost, unemployment was to spread like syrup over pancakes and stark poverty was to become the national virus. It is somehow understandable how a rather nonsensical little ditty-of-a-song about tiptoeing through the tulips would make it to the top in this year. Music by Joe Burke and Lyrics by Al Dublin.
Tiptoe through the window
By the window, that is where I'll be
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me
Oh, tiptoe from the garden
By the garden of the willow tree
And tiptoe through the tulips with me
Knee deep in flowers we'll stray
We'll keep the showers away
And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight
Will you pardon me?
And tiptoe through the tulips with me…
Every nation every tribe and other people have their particular music. Some form of music probably goes back even into the prehistory of many thousands of years ago. Music, even in modern times is central to human ritual.
Indeed, it is safe to say that each one of us has a song in our own heart and, for that matter, a special music in our own souls. Perhaps this is a necessity to the very dance of the Universe?
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