Archive | July 2014

Mechanical Reproductions, Pt 2: The Player Piano as Musical Instrument

During the 1910s and 1920s, the mechanical player piano became a popular and technologically forward-thinking form of entertainment. Like the Phonograph or the Victrola, the player piano gave their owners access to instant musical entertainment without the fuss of actually learning how to play a musical instrument or how to read sheet music. Consequently, the mechanical piano as a domestic appliance partly aided in the cultural collapse of home piano playing. On the other hand, the player piano gave consumers, some of whom were completely unable to play a musical instrument, the opportunity to enjoy live music in the home, albeit reproduced mechanically through the guise of a musical instrument. The idiosyncrasies of fewer people learning to play the piano with a growing interest in piano music cannot be more blatant during this transitional period from Ragtime Era to the Jazz Era in the late 1910s and early 1920s. The former asserts that the manual piano was falling out of fashion, while the latter shows that there was still a considerable consumer market for piano music. As a machine, the player piano was a brief fad that had transformative effects on piano culture in America; as a musical instrument, it expanded the reach of piano music in the home.

The results of mechanical reproduction of piano music were widely varied from context to context, but most of piano culture had been affected by the player piano. Within the home, the piano roll transformed musicianship of piano playing into musical ownership of mass produced piano rolls, passive music that anybody with the financial means of purchasing a player piano could enjoy. This change also happened in commercial settings like restaurants and saloons to provide background music, as well as movie theatres to provide a soundtrack to early, otherwise silent films. The piano roll medium also had influence on classical composers eager to tap the experimental potential of a machine that lacked the limitations of human play. For pop song history in the United States, mechanically reproduced piano music and lushly arranged piano rolls helped to popularize stylized ragtime novelty piano pieces during an era when ragtime was already out of fashion in favour of the orchestras of the early Jazz Era. Finally, there was one significant cultural change incurred by the sheer anonymity of the player piano roll. African American musicians, who were oftentimes segregated from white mass commercial audiences, found that they could record their own piano performances and earn commercial success without their audiences knowing they were listening to black musicians. Despite the fad of the player piano, the medium had diverse effects on American musical culture.

Throughout the Ragtime Era, the Victorian-age ethos of domestic piano playing had declined but with the player piano, a new, more accepting attitude about mechanisation and modernisation in music was taking hold with music purchasing consumers. The attitudes of many Americans at the time had shifted to positively embracing mechanical reproducing music. Machines which produced music like talking machines and mechanical pianos were considered part of the musical future, and according to James Haskins, “time is money, and if a middle-class family could afford a Pianola[1] and piano rolls, then they did not have to waste time learning to play on a standard piano.”[2] This new attitude towards mechanically reproduced music changed the culture surrounding the domestic piano away from musicianship and art form and towards music ownership of an entertaining consumer commodity; where music was consumed passively rather than engaged actively on the keyboard. While mastery of the keyboard took months and sometimes years to produce good music, the owner of the player piano could easily operate it and provide entertainment in the home without substantial musical expertise. Many popular titles throughout the 1900s were becoming widely available on piano rolls for consumers. This new passive form of entertainment also meant that player piano owners could also gain wider access to classical music, some compositions of which had been beyond the skill level of even more experienced players. Many titles of the classical music canon consequently became must-have piano rolls, compositions that showed one’s knowledge of cultured music within the home music library.[3] With attitudes towards music changing, the player piano became the latest machine to own, ownership of which created the opportunity for anyone to enjoy live musical experiences in the home.

Passive piano music as entertainment was not confined to domestic environs, it was also available as a commercial venture and business found that they could earn revenue with a coin-operated player piano. Coin-operated music was nothing new to the public; in fact coin-operated Phonographs had entered public spaces as early as 1890.[4] As soon as standardized player pianos became widely available for purchase in the early 1910s, there were restaurants, saloons, cafes, train stations and even grocery store interested in purchasing special, more decorative coin-operated player pianos. These machines could provide business owners with a steady stream of revenue with each drop of a coin of a customer curious about the machine and so live, playerless music became public entertainment, passive background music and commercial investment. Businesses were even instructed by piano roll makers to keep up with the latest popular piano roll titles of to ensure that consumers got the freshest music possible, so customers would not become bored with stale music selections.[5] As well, during the 1910s when the early film industry operated without sound, movie houses and theatres found that they could incorporate a player piano to provide accompanying music, sometimes with piano rolls supplied directly by the movie studio with music synched with the action shown on screen, thus circumventing reliance on a human piano player. Complex player machines had been manufactured specifically for movie theatres to include any sound effect needed for a movie. The Link Piano Company advertised a player piano equipped with four tracker bars and roll mechanisms to facilitate “the right music at the right time,” along with a host of sound effects ranging from footsteps, to gun shots, to sirens and alarms to go along with the action happening before the audience’s eyes.[6] As soon as the mechanical piano became part of the music environment of America, there were also applications of passive music in commercial and industrial settings.

Of course, whenever a new technological development for music comes to the public’s attention, there are vocal critics to oppose it. Such was the case of the player piano, whose mechanical music worried some groups about the status of art in music while others worried that it would destroy their own musical occupations. One of the earliest groups to criticize the mechanisms of the player piano were the Music Teachers National Association, who feared that the widespread popularity of the player piano could lead to fewer people learning proper musical technique.[7] Although player pianos were often advertised and marketed for educational and instructional purposes, “it did not turn people into pianists,” according to Michael Chanan.[8] More opposition came from barbershop quartets, brass bands and orchestras, who saw coin-operated player pianos fitting into hotel lobbies, brothels, restaurants and train stations, places where they would generally be hired to provide background music. After all, bands had to be paid, but a player piano fitted with a coin slot could easily earn money for the proprietor. Composers were also alarmed at the player piano and the piano roll, since copyright law did not include mechanical reproduction; as a result, piano roll makers could produce any popular title they wanted without paying a royalty. Record companies had, in fact, worked closely with sheet music publishers and composers for years to promote sales of popular titles,[9] but piano roll companies that published titles without consultation with publishers, were on the fringes of musical publication. A new copyright law in 1909 had to be passed to include mechanical reproduction, including piano roll.[10] While the new technology allowed easier access to live piano music and ease of piano roll reproduction, there were detractors fearful about the changes in the music culture in America as a result from the player piano.

The music business also changed to include freshly arranged compositions and recordings for famous composers, all available in the paper piano roll format. Traditional manual piano composition and play was restricted to ten fingers, but the mathematical nature of piano roll production changed this considerably with its slits and perforations dictating the action of the piano keys. From the inception of the player piano industry, manufacturers could create perfectly, technically masterful performances, albeit with the lack of heart that a musician could play a composition.[11] As a mechanically produced product, the possibilities for the music contained on a piano roll were boundless; consequently, mechanical reproduction of the music on a paper piano roll could emulate harmony, rhythms and range that human hands could not. Staff arrangers at piano roll companies used this to their advantage, enriching the sounds of already produced titles by adding flourishes to music rolls including “counter melodies, double octaves, tremolos, rapid chromatic runs…all impossible to play by hand.”[12] In 1912, new technology which reproduced more artistic nuances in music for the player piano brought another dimension to the player piano by transcribing live performances on paper roll by ink ready for perforation.[13] A wide range of renowned Romantic composers recorded their own playing on piano rolls, including Camille Saint-Saëns, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Artur Rubenstein; piano roll recording subsequently becoming an “adjunct of musical culture.”[14] Ragtime composer Scott Joplin got into the commercial recording industry with his own piano playing transcribed to piano roll, even though his original performances from 1916 had been heavily edited and arranged to include new, humanly impossible playing.[15] Not only could the new recording mechanisms record the ways in which composers interpreted the piano, it also captured all their playing mistakes on paper roll, all of which could easily be repaired on the final version of the piano roll.[16] The medium of the piano roll could do much more than any single person could possibly perform on a piano.

The boundless world of player piano music gave inspiration to Modernist composers who, throughout the 1910s and 1920s, were eager to push the expanding boundaries of modern music. Perhaps the first composer to create a composition specifically for the player piano was Igor Stravinsky, producing the Étude pour Pianola in 1917. For Stravinsky, interest was in the “whimsicalities of the unexpected melodies of the mechanical piano” to emulate a pianist with “sixteen arms and no feelings.”[17] Claude Debussy also found similar inspiration in player piano. Perhaps the most notorious use of the mechanical piano composition was George Antheil’s La Ballet Mécanique, which had originally been scored to include sixteen simultaneous player pianos, sirens, tam tams, and aeroplane propellers.[18] Composer Conlon Nancarrow has composed over fifty studies specifically for the player piano to explore the “complex simultaneous sounding rhythms along with such impossibly wide reaches for the pianist’s hand.”[19] But composers quickly learned that concert application of the player piano was limited despite the futuristic idea of a piano that could play itself. In 1921, Stravinsky had planned on including a number of synchronized mechanical pianos into a performance of the ballet Les Noces, but due to time constraints and observed difficulties in synchronizing the machines, he abandoned the project in favour of an arrangement that opted for wind instruments and percussion.[20] At the well publicized 1927 debut of Ballet Mécanique at Carnegie Hall, synching four player pianos was too difficult for Antheil and the result was a lot of noise and riotous protest from the audience, along with a number of attendees loosing their hats due to wind from propellers; one critic expressed derision at the performance by quipping “don’t make a mountain out of an Antheil.”[21] But despite the difficulties of bringing to work to the stage, Ballet Mécanique was so futuristic that MIDI technology in the 1990s finally allowed a first perform the piece as planned by Antheil.[22] For composers, the player piano offered possibilities of realising futuristic sounds without interaction by human hands.

Even though there were few pop song consequences of the player piano as a musical instrument, but there was one pop area that did enjoy tremendous success, specifically linked to the popularity of the player piano. By 1917, when Tin Pan Alley composers were looking towards the war in Europe as a topic for commercial songs, a new musical trend was coming out of the piano rolls of music consumers, that of the novelty ragtime piano piece. “The most important medium in terms of the instrumental rag, however, was the player piano,”[23] according to Terry Waldo, a musical genre developed from new mechanical methods of arrangement and ornamentation.[24] During the late 1910s, the ragtime genre was on the decline, but the possibilities unleashed by piano rolls actually helped to produce a whole body of popular ragtime piano work. During the height of player piano popularity, piano techniques of accomplished ragtime pianists of sliding block chords and dizzying syncopated rhythms had found themselves on the pop market and the player piano was the preferred medium for hearing such pieces. The compositions of Zez Confrey like “Kitten on the Keys” (1921), “My Pet” (1921), “Dizzy Fingers” (1923), and “Stumbling” (1922) were well suited for the player piano of this new novelty piano style and becoming big selling hits for piano rolls. Other composers like Roy Bargy had novelty hits like his 1919 piano rag “Knice and Knifty.[25] There is a plausible reason for the upsurge in novelty piano at a time when pop audiences were more embracing the orchestration of Jazz. When these titles had been published between 1919 and 1921, the player piano was experiencing the zenith of sales and more people than ever were buying the instrument and the piano rolls played on them. As a new, rhythmic music on a popular medium, it makes sense that novelty piano enjoyed popularity at a time when Ragtime was out of fashion.

But there are other, more culturally significant aspects of the music of the player piano that changed the musical scene in the United States. Even though there had been successful African musicians and composers during the Ragtime era like recording artist George Washington Johnson, stage performer Bert Williams, and composers James Reese Europe and James P. Johnson, most music coming out of Tin Pan Alley and the recording studios were created by white composers and musicians. It had been a well-established tradition to “black-up” for stage and studio. Singer Al Jolson originally performed his vaudeville act and popular songs in blackface throughout the 1910s and Arthur Collins’s recordings in African American dialect were so successful that in 1905 Edison Records released a disclaimer proclaiming that “Mr. Collins is not a Negro.”[26] During the 1910s, African American pianists learned that they could record their piano playing and earn money selling performances, spread their reputations by quick distribution of paper piano rolls, all unbeknownst to the white consumers purchasing the new novelty piano rolls.[27] Perhaps the first black musician to record a piano roll was John “Blind” Boone in 1912 and stride piano player Eubie Blake made numerous paper roll recordings throughout his career. The piano roll was a revelation for some piano players. When he learned through the pages of The Etude magazine that a contraption called the Leabarjan Perforator could allow home dictation of piano playing “for pleasure or profit,”[28] J. Johnson Cook saved the advertisement for so long that “it began to yellow” for the hopes that he could buy such a mechanism.[29] In the late 1910s, aspiring pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller had practiced on the player piano to learn how to play music, consequently winning a contest and becoming hired to accompany movies at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem in 1919.[30] Piano roll recording was a source of delight for Waller; his son, Maurice, recounts that his father was so proud of his player piano recordings that he carried a piano roll of his most recent effort in his coat pocket.[31] Recording on a piano roll allowed black musicians to earn a living recording music for white audiences who may not know they were listening to black people play the piano.

Although the player piano had a brief overall popularity, after all, throughout the 1920s, radio broadcasts and Jazz Era music did their part in the decline of the piano, its musical capabilities had a diverse influence. Within the home, mechanical pianos allowed owners of any skill level to perform live music, albeit at the expense of actual musicianship. Businesses created a new stream of revenue by coin-operated player piano and the latest piano roll titles, and mechanical pianos player a part of the early years of silent film during the 1910s. The player piano, or more specifically the limitless capabilities of the piano roll, allowed classical composers an outlet for rhythmic and sonic experimentation. But for American pop song, the player piano introduced novelty ragtime piano piece and the playing styles of African American musicians to a mass commercial audience. This was not an insignificant development, considering the amount of segregation in the music industry during this era. The music of the player piano, a quaint distant memory of music history, certainly impacted numerous areas of the music industry.


Antheil, George. The Bad Boy of Music. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co. 1945.

Chanan, Michael. “The Player Piano.” Contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano. James Parakilas, ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999. 72-75.

Cheek, Joshua.   Liner notes to George Antheil: Ballet Mécanique. Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra. NAXOS, 8.559060. CD. 1999.

Dolan, Brian. Inventing Entertainment: The Player Piano and the Origin of an American Musical Industry. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. 2009.

Fabrizio, Timothy C. and George F. Paul. The Talking Machines: An Illustrated Compendium, 1877-1929. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing. 1997.

Haskins, James. Scott Joplin: The Man Who Made Ragtime. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company. 1978.

Kirby, F.E. Music for Piano: A Short History. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press. 1995.

“‘Mr. Collins is not a Negro’—Edison Takes on the Rumor Mill.” The Mainspring Press Record Collector’s Blog (blog). Posted 8 March 2013.

Roehl, Harvey. Player Piano Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Piano in America. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press. 1973.

Roell, Craig H. The Piano in America, 1890-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 1989.

Sumner, William Leslie. The Pianoforte. London, UK: MacDonald. 1966.

Tancs, Linda. Understanding Copyright Law: A Beginner’s Guide. New York: Oceana. 2009.

Waldo, Terry. This Is ragtime. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1976.

Waller, Maurice and Anthony Calabrese. Fats Waller. New York: Schirmer Books. 1977.

Walsh, Stephen. Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882-1934. New York: Alfred A Knoff. 1999.

[1] The brand name Pianola is often used as a synonym for the player piano.

[2] James Haskins, Scott Joplin: The Man who made Ragtime, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1978), 109.

[3] Brian Dolan, Inventing Entertainment: The Player Piano and the Origins of an American Musical Industry, (New York: Rownman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), 138.

[4] Timothy C. Fabrizio and George F. Paul, The Talking Machine: An Illustrated Compendium, 1877-1929, (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1997), 24.

[5] Craig H. Roell, The Piano in America, 1890-1940, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 59

[6] Roell, 51-52.

[7] Ibid, 55.

[8] Michael Chanan, “The Player Piano,” contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano, James Parakilas, ed, (New Hartford, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 74.

[9] Roell, 59.

[10] Copyright Law of 1909, contained in Linda Tancs, Understanding Copyright Law: A Beginner’s Guide, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), Sect 78(e).

[11] Terry Waldo, This Is Ragtime, (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1976), 83.

[12] Waldo, 84.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Chanan, contained in Piano Roles, 73.

[15] Haskins, 193-194.

[16] William Leslie Sumner, The Pianoforte, (London, UK: MacDonald, 1966), 195.

[17] Igor Stravinsky, qtd in Stephen Walsh, Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882-1934, (New York: Alfred A Knoff, 1999), 282.

[18] Joshua Cheek, liner notes to George Antheil: Ballet Mécanique, Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, NAXOS, 8.559060, CD, 1999.

[19] F.E. Kirby, Music for Piano: A Short History, (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1995), 381.

[20] Igor Stravinsky, qtd in Walsh, 323-324.

[21] George Antheil, The Bad Boy of Music, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Co, 1945), 195-196.

[22] Dolan, 172-3.

[23] Waldo, 82.

[24] Ibid, 84.

[25] Ibid, 85-86.

[26] “Mr. Collins is Not a Negro,” Edison Phonograph Monthly, June 1905, found on The Mainspring Press Record Collector’s Blog (blog), posted 8 March 2013, accessed 25 July 2014,

[27] Dolan, 94.

[28] Advertisement for the Leabarjan Perforator, contained in Harvey Roehl, Player Piano Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Player Piano, (Vestal, NY: The Vestal Press, 1973), 189.

[29] J. Johnson Cook, qtd in Dolan, 135.

[30] Dolan, 136.

[31] Maurice Waller and Anthony Calabrese, Fats Waller, (New York: Schirmer Books, 1977), 46.

Mechanical Reproductions, Pt 1: The Player Piano as Domestic Machine

The player piano owns a particularly strange place in the milieu of not only the Ragtime era, but also of the modern era of musical history generally. The player piano is not an instrument of the traditional sense; it is a machine that just happens to play music, and, like the Phonograph or the Victrola, was another domestic appliance used for entertainment in the home. But with the addition of a new contraption to the home, a new technology which sometimes replaced the traditional manual piano, also came changes in the culture of the piano during the 1910s. The manual piano, after all, required years of training and practice, while the mechanical piano merely was a machine that mechanically reproduced music through the guise of a piano. Playing the mechanical piano only required basic mastery of a few rudimentary controls for tempo, tone and volume as well as the operation of foot pedals to activate pneumatic bellows. While the player piano did not significantly or directly impact the course of pop song history in America, as a new piece of domestic machinery and coin-operated entertainment, it took away the culture of work necessary to play the piano, and instead made live music mechanized, more user-friendly and more available for music consumers in the early twentieth century.

Mechanical instruments which did not require artistic interaction from a musician had long been a tradition in Europe for centuries, but in the 1900s and 1910s, the player piano would capture the attention of music consumers in America. By combining the domestic tradition of the piano with the mechanical spirit of the industrial revolution in the United States, player piano companies built a large business during the 1910s based partly on marketing the ease of using their products. What would eventually become the complete player piano containing the pneumatics and piano action into a single instrument, was far from perfect, and in the business of piano companies and piano roll makers, there had been a complete lack of unity in format, causing a chaotic business environment which hindered growth. But after standards for piano rolls and keyboard range had been approved by manufacturers in 1910, the player piano quickly took a large market share from traditional piano makers, who were themselves eager to get into the suddenly popular mechanical piano trade. As the player piano became the newest domestic appliance to own, the American attitude towards the piano had transformed, so much so that learning to play the instrument, a task cherished by Victorian Age society, fell by the wayside. The player piano eventually fell out of favour as the Jazz Era and eventually the Great Depression drastically reduced relevance in domestic ownership of the instrument. But revived interest in ragtime music during the 1960s and 1970s brought resurgent enthusiasm in the player piano and in the twenty-first century, player pianos have a lucrative place in the American antiques market. The player piano as a machine has had great effects on the musical culture regarding the place of the piano in the home during the 1910s.

By the time mechanical pianos in the United States had been patented and marketed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, automated mechanical musical instruments had been in existence for centuries, if not a millennium. Automated organs partly powered by water had been used as far back as eighth century Byzantium.[1] In Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, various forms of peg and pin systems, in which raised protrusions rhythmically strike tuned pegs, became popular including the barrel organ, a mechanical instrument for which famous composers like Mozart, Haydn, Handel and Beethoven wrote compositions specifically for mechanical reproduction.[2] In addition to mechanical instruments, there was a decorative niche for smaller mechanical music automata, music boxes and key-wound trinkets becoming the latest fashionable home accessory including musical snuff boxes, chiming clocks, coin operated peg and pin disc machines, carillon bells, and mechanisms featuring singing birds.[3] The concept of a piano that could play itself was also not new in the 1890s, in fact the slow evolution in developing the complex pneumatic components of the mechanical piano would take decades. Numerous patents had been filed for “self-acting” piano internationally throughout the nineteenth century. Muzio Celementi filed a patent in Britain in 1825, JB Napoleon Fourneaux filed a French patent in 1863 and John McTammany filed an American patent in 1881.[4] Long before the invention and production of player pianos, mechanical music not requiring a musician had already been a well-established pop culture phenomenon.

What would eventually become the player piano as remembered in the twenty-first century, would take over two decades of evolutionary development in America. No single inventor can claim to fully invent the player piano; its complex system of pneumatic components developed slowly and the list of patented pieces of the early mechanical piano player is lengthy.[5] A small sampling of important components include the piano roll and tracker bar function patented by Elias Parkman Needham in 1865, a cam which internally depressed the piano key patented by Merritt Gally in 1881, and the “slide valve wind motor” which allowed the rotation of the paper piano roll developed by George B Kelly in 1886.[6] Early machines using pneumatic systems like the relatively successful Aeolian Pianola, developed by Edwin S Votey in 1897, were separate machines powered by the operator, machines whose owners pushed to the keyboard and whose operation involved pneumatic system activating wooden fingers that physically depressed the keys of already-owned pianos.[7] Early modern self-contained pianos came onto the market in the early 1900s, and as the decade progressed, they surpassed the push-up machines in popularity. Even though initial sales were slow, there was a substantial buzz in music circles and by advertising as the newest thing to have, advertising the “beauty and fashion” captured by the new machines and how such machines “double the value of the piano player” with the addition of new player pianos to the home.[8] Not all opinions were positive for the player piano, the Music Teachers National Association was particularly vocal in opposition to the mechanical piano.[9] The development of the mechanisms for the player piano would take decades to come to maturity by many different inventors, when the new machines came to the market it was another futuristic technological marvel.

With these early machines, there certainly was room for improvement in both the mechanics for the pianos and the business model for compatibility between paper piano rolls and pianos. The Aeolian Pianola had created substantial advertising buzz and some commercial success between 1900 and 1905, but a separate cabinet proved delicate and bothersome. The Pianola and other push-up piano players like the Wilcox and White Angelus oftentimes were cumbersome and clumsy, taking up too much space in the home or even forgotten about entirely and falling into disuse.[10] If the fingers of the machine were not lined up precisely with the keyboard, the result would be an atonal sonic mess. The delicate external fingers sometimes snapped off when moving it back and forth, consequently rendering some notes unplayable. The complete piano which contained the piano, the pneumatic functions and the paper roll tracker bar alleviated the difficulties of the mechanical piano player, but the array of new companies getting into the trade of a new technology brought a lack of cohesion to the industry. With little organization between piano and piano roll companies, there was frequent consumer confusion about which piano rolls to purchase. In addition to the format difficulties, much to the shock of many consumers, not all player pianos produced a full keyboard worth of playability, and while some played all eight-eight notes of a standard keyboard, others produced as few as fifty-eight notes with many other variations on the keyboard range of the player pianos.[11] Sound was also a problem since, as a machine, it reproduced music as one would expect a machine would, without the expression and interpretation of a musician. Even with control functions available on player pianos, many owners of these new mechanical pianos used them like phonographs as passive music, just activating the pneumatic controls or eventually electric start functions and letting the piano play without tending to the tone functions.[12] Despite the technological development of a piano which played itself, there were issues with the early machines and the compatibility between rolls and pianos.

Without a standard for piano rolls, it was not possible to play one company’s piano roll on another company’s machine and, according to Harvey Roehl, “it was an obvious hindrance to the health and progress of the industry.”[13] And so, in 1908 in Buffalo, New York, an agreement had been reached on standards for perforation spacing on the piano roll and key range, consequently, with a unified system of piano roll publications, consumers could purchase any piano roll and play on any machine.[14] After standardization, the player piano swelled in popularity during the 1910s. Between 1909 and 1914, sales jumped from 30,000 player pianos to over 90,000, rising again between 1914 and 1919 to nearly 200,000.[15] Piano roll sales were also brisk, it has been reported that in 1918, 75,000 rolls sold in Philadelphia each month.[16] Various new companies clamoured to produce their own player pianos and a bevy of new models came on the market during the 1910s, each with various themes on other brand names mimicking the famous Pianola. The Technola, Interiola, Concertola, Autotone, Concrtone, Dulcitone, Auto-Grand, Auto-Player and Autola are just some of the names of mechanical pianos. The ways the player piano sounded also improved with reproducer functions provided by companies like Ampico and Duo-Art which automated the sorts of controls including hammer velocity, sustained pedalling and artistic expression, and paper rolls subsequently had the ability to reproduce a live performance recorded on paper piano roll.[17] Following standardization in compatibility and improvements in sound reproduction, a sales boom throughout the 1910s created a big business which translated into sales.

Other than giving music-purchasing consumers a new product to buy, the player piano, and even the push-up piano player of early in the 1900s, changed the relationship between the owner and the keyboard. The player piano, after all was a machine which played live music and in the home it was usually treated as such. While music had been played through the familiar medium of the sounds of the traditional, manual piano, the player piano depresses the keys for the operator, leaving the owner of the instrument to master tone, treble, bass, tempo and pneumatic foot pedals rather than the techniques of piano mastery. There was relatively little skill to operate a player piano and its easy operation was used for the purpose of marketing and advertising. The famous advertising campaign of the Gulbransen Company showed a baby at the foot pedals, suggesting that it was so easy to use that an infant could do it.[18] Even the femininity of the piano was challenged with direct advertising to men, after all, if playing the piano was considered feminine, then operating a machine was considered masculine. During a boom in sales during the 1910s, as player piano sales increased, fewer people were learning the instrument that had been at the heart of Victorian age domestic values. Harvey Reohl observes that “the ease with which even poor-sounding music could be made destroyed the incentive to want to learn to play by manual means”[19] and James Parakilas notes that, “the technology of the player piano could obliterate that obstacle [of learning the piano], eliminating even the choice between learning to read notes and learning to play by ear.”[20] With the popularity of the player piano increasing, it was a futuristic technological step and advertising as an easy machine to operate, leaving the tiresome practice of the Victorian piano culture in the past with more consumers opting for the player piano.

While the player piano changed the owner’s relationship to the piano, its overall popularity was brief. Despite Alfred Dolge’s assertion in 1911 that the player piano is “destined eventually to displace the piano as the musical instrument in the home,”[21] sales actually peaked between 1919 and 1921, and thereafter dropped precipitously for the next decade; by 1930, the player had become a footnote in the musical history in America.[22] There are a number of plausible reasons why the player piano fell out of fashion. New technology certainly played a part in the mechanical piano’s drop in sales when inventions like radio and electrically recorded music became the latest technology to have in the home during the 1920s. After all, in 1903, the player piano itself was the latest invention in a culture feeling the effects of pop culture in an age of rapid technological change. But there was a change in the piano in culture as well. The changing nature in popular music and musical culture aided the player piano’s drop in sales. During the 1920s, in the thick of the orchestrated band sounds of the Jazz Era, the piano was not necessarily the centre of attention of entertainment that it had been during the Ragtime Era; it should be noted that manual piano companies also experienced decrease in sales. By the 1930s, when the Great Depression gripped American business and American pop culture tuned into the growing number of many popular radio programmes and variety shows,[23] many piano companies, both mechanical and manual had gone out of business.[24] While the player piano did at one time had been the newest technology to have, it was just a fad and by the mid-1930s, the player piano market was a shell of what it had been only a decade before.

Even though the financial crises caused by the Great Depression left many piano manufacturers, both manual and mechanical, bankrupt, a few companies managed to not only survive, but also change with the technology as time progressed. When the American economy recovered at the end of the second World War, a select few piano companies such as Aeolian, Duo-Art and Wurlitzer continuing to sell and market player pianos. Even in 2014, in the heart of the big beats and hip-hop features of the Club Banger Era, there are still companies producing player pianos using digital files to activate the piano action[25] and QRS Technologies, a company in the music business since 1900,[26] still continues to manufacture new paper piano rolls.[27] The player piano also invokes nostalgia for the Ragtime Era and machines have become priceless antiques along the way. During the 1960s and 1970s, when Ragtime had experienced a upsurge in popularity in Marvin Hamlisch’s soundtrack to the movie The Sting (1973) and pop culture expressed by E.L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime (1975), so did the player piano, which had suddenly become a symbol of the culture of the early twentieth century.[28] In the twenty-first century, the player piano still has popularity with a certain crowd as part of the reminiscence for the era; collectors, restoration hobbyists and businesses enjoy their own part of the lucrative antiques trade in mechanical pianos, some restored player pianos fetch prices in the tens of thousands of dollars.[29]Although the player piano has been artifact of the past, it enjoys popularity and value in the twenty-first century.

The purely mechanical functions of the player piano greatly affected the musical ethos of the Ragtime era. Oftentimes, the player piano is remembered most for its raucous piano pieces of irregularly rhythmic music and this sort of nostalgia fuels a greater demand for the instrument among avid collectors and antiques enthusiasts. However, during their time, the player piano, and even the push-up piano player, were revolutionary in their treatment of piano play, redirected from beneath the fingers of many a Victorian Age lady, and placed directly under the direction of an operator who could pump the pedals and thread the paper piano roll across a tracker bar. Consequently as the 1910s progressed, sales of the player piano rose to their zenith while sales in manual piano slowed until, by the time the American economy was in the depths of the Great Depression during the 1930s, both industries were lesser part of the domestic entertainment than, say, record players or radio shows, which were available over the airwaves for free. But, the player piano remains a small part of the music industry, undergoing both modernization in digital technology and older antiques are loved among enthusiasts for its connection with the past of American musical culture, even in the twenty-first century.


Antique Piano Shop. “Player Piano Showroom.”Accessed 10 July 2014.

Burg, David F. The Great Depression: An Eyewitness History. New York: Facts on File. 1996.

Chanan, Michael. “The Player Piano.” Contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano. James Parakilas, ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999. 72-75.

Dolge, Alfred. Pianos and Their Makers: A Comprehensive History of the Development of the Piano. New York: Dover Publications. 1972.

Good, Edwin M. “The Digital Revolution.” Contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano. James Parakilas, ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999. 70-72.

“Gulbransen Exhibits at Pageant of Progress.” The Music Trades. 16 September 1922.

“An Introduction to the Aeolian Push Up Pianola.” YouTube video, 7:48. Posted by awardaudio, 24 March 2011.

Isacoff, Stuart. A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians—from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2011.

Parakilas, James. “Expanding Markets.” Contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano. James Parakilas, ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1999. 283-303.

Pfirrmann, John A. “The Age of the Music Box.” The Passaic County Historical Society. Accessed 14 July 2014.

QRS Music Technologies. “The History of QRS Music Technology.” Accessed 13 July 2014.

Roehl, Harvey. Player Piano Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Piano in America. Vestal, NY: The Vestal Press. 1973.

Roell, Craig H. The Piano in America: 1890-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1989.

Sumner, William Leslie. The Pianoforte. London, UK: MacDonald. 1966.

Waldo, Terry. This is Ragtime. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1976.

[1] William Leslie Sumner, The Pianoforte, (London, UK: MacDonald, 1966), 194.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John A. Pfirrmann, “The Age of the Music Box,” The Passaic County Historical Society, accessed 14 July 2014,

[4] Stuart Isacoff, A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music the Musicians—from Mozart to Modern Jazz and everything in Between, (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2011), 459

[5] For a basic introduction on the mechanical functions of the player piano’s pneumatic systems, see William Leslie Sumner, The Pianoforte, 194-195.

[6] Harvey Roehl, Piano Player Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Piano in America, (Vestal, NY: The Vestal Press, 1977), 4-5.

[7] For a look at the operation of a push-up piano player, see “An Introduction to the Aeolian Push Up Pianola,” YouTube video, 7:48, posted by award audio, 24 March 2011,

[8] Advertisements for the Behr Piano Player and the Apollo Piano Players respectively, contained in Roehl, 12 and 9.

[9] Craig H. Roell, The Piano in America: 1890-1940, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 53.

[10] Ibid, 41.

[11] Roehl, 12

[12] Roell, 43.

[13] Roehl, 12.

[14] Michael Chanan, “The Player Piano,” contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano, James Parakilas, ed, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 73.

[15] Sales figures found in “Production of all Types of Player Piano in the United States from 1900 to 1931,” contained in Roehl, 53.

[16] Roell, 52.

[17] Ibid, 43.

[18] “Gulbransen Exhibit at Pageant of Progress,” The Music Trades, 16 September 1922, 30.

[19] Reohl, 10.

[20] James Parakilas, “Expanding Markets,” contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano, James Parakilas, ed, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 290.

[21] Alfred Dolge, Pianos and Their Makers: A Comprehensive History of the Development of the Piano, (New York: Dover, 1966), 131.

[22] Roehl, 53.

[23] David F. Burg, The Great Depression: An Eyewitness History, (New York: Facts on Files, 1996), 74-75.

[24] Roell, 219.

[25] Edwin M Good, “The Digital Revolution,” contained in Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano, James Parakilas, ed, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 70.

[26] “The History of QRS Music Technology,”, accessed 13 July 2014,

[27] Isacoff, 160.

[28] Terry Waldo, This is Ragtime, (New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc, 1976), 183.

[29] Based on price lists of restored player pianos featured at “Player Piano Showroom,” Antique Piano Shop, accessed 10 July 2014,

Love Songs Throughout the Decades, Pt 2: The 1910s

Throughout the history of commercial pop songs, love songs have undoubtedly had the greatest overall popularity and longevity. Well before the commercial pop business of American Tin Pan Alley, love has been a popular topic of music reaching from Renaissance times of fifteenth century Europe[1] through to the grand operas of the nineteenth century. While the general theme of love songs has not significantly changed in their sentiment, the modernizations of attitudes towards gender relations certainly have. Note the following big pop hits from female artists on the relatively modern musical cousin of love songs, the hook-up song where there is relatively little concern for emotional attachment beyond a sexual encounter. Compare the first song, Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson’s “Friends and Lovers” from 1986 in the Modern Pop Era to Missy Elliot’s “Work It” from 2002 during the Club Banger Era:


What would you think if I told you

I’ve always wanted to hold you

I don’t know what we’re afraid of

Nothing would change if we made love[2]


Not on the bed, lay me on your sofa

Phone before you come, I need to shave my chocha

You do or you don’t or you will or won’tcha

Go downtown and eat it like a vulture[3]

The latter can seem risqué and provocative and the former can seem dated and antiquated, even though there are less than two decades apart in age; the two songs are about the same time, sex, but in completely different styles and vocabulary. The common expression in song lyrics from the 1970s and 1980s, “making love,” is not commonly heard during the current era of pop songs during the twenty-first century. As time progresses, certain varieties of love songs, have the same sorts of general subjects and how love affects the relations between people, but these aspect slowly change to fit the relative social era. Such was the case of the love song during the 1910s, when the sentimental love songs of the 1900s remained, but with new and novel ways in which the genders interact.

The love song of the 1910s has a number of lyrical styling and themes leftover from the previous decade, but also a few innovations.[4] Sentiment, sadness and nostalgia, emotional content which had been popular in songs of the 1890s and 1900, were common; along with the sorts of grandiose expressions professing one’s love which were also common throughout the previous decade.[5] Song lyrics also continued to include the subject of courtship and describing amusing situations that could arise is there are miscommunications between the sexes, and consequently what men have to do to console their girls. However, as American society was continuing to mature in the twentieth century, so were the topics in the lyrics of love songs. The dance floor proved to be a place of courtship where the girl determines the choice of partner. Silly baby talk songs became popular as well as some songs expressing annoyance or derision towards baby talk. A more risqué development began to manifest itself in suggestive lyrics and euphemistic song titles that suggest or at least acknowledge the existence of sex. The love song during the 1910s retained many features of the 1900s, but with a new modernism as lyricists and songwriters included more risqué content and titles.

Emotion plays an important part of music’s popularity throughout history, and this is particularly true with love songs in which emotion is the main focus of the genre. During the first decade of the twentieth century, love songs commonly included sad sentiments of nostalgia, loneliness, pining and dreaming, included in a number of hits like “Love Me and the World Is Mine,” “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland,” and “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now.” This method of sentimental lyricism continued into the 1910s in many popular love songs from the decade. The plotlines of “Down By the Old Mill Stream” (1910) and “Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet” (1909), songs which describe the nostalgic feelings of ageing couples, conclude when the respective couples surrender to nostalgia by recreating poignant moments of the past, either by visiting the old mill where they met[6] or by completely re-enacting a wedding.[7] Sadness is also a feature of “The Girl on the Magazine” whose central character “does nothing else but pine”[8] when he realizes that the girl he’s in love with is an illustration and cannot be directly addressed. “Where Did You Get That Girl?” from 1913 tells the story of “lonesome Johnnie Warner” who begins to cry when his loneliness and jealousy overwhelms him and he eventually begs for someone to introduce him to a girl.[9]  The domestic situation of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” (1913) produces sad emotion even though most of the plot details a man’s heart-warming feelings while returning to his cabin, where his girl is “lonesome too, longing fills her eyes” while she waits for him.[10] Many love songs of the 1910s use similar sorts of sentimental sadness as those of the 1900s, to capture the longing feelings of their characters.

Not all love songs of the era contained stories of heartbreak and loneliness; some are quite expressive of happiness and loving sentiment with purely emotional songs professing one’s love and those that celebrate domesticity. The lyrics of “Let Me call you Sweetheart” (1910) give grand gestures of “longing for you all the while more and more/Longing for the sunny smile, I adore”[11] before asking permission to call him or her sweetheart. The 1911 Ernest Ball and George Graff hit “Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold” is big and bombastic with biblical references, professing one’s endless love while standing alone in a desert, “Hot sand burning, Fire my veins with passion bold/Love, I love thee, Till the sands grow cold!”[12] In “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” the main character has heart-warming feelings for the natural surrounds and landscapes of his Blue Ridge Mountain home when returning to his girl “in the pale moonshine our hearts entwine.”[13] “Smiles” from 1918 details all the ways in which a girl’s variety of smile “fill my life with sunshine” and that “life’s sadness turns to gladness when you smile on me.”[14] There are songs however, that do not necessarily celebrate love, quite the opposite, celebrating one’s alone time when a spouse leaves. When Mrs. Brown leaves for the country in “My Wife’s Gone to the Country (Hurrah! Hurrah!)” from 1909, Mister Brown is so excited and happy to have peace and quiet while his wife and children are away that he informs the papers about it.[15] The male character from “I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles,” (1912) cries tears of happiness when his wife departs, even though she thinks he is mourning her eventual absence.[16] While the happy sentiment of love and domesticity is proclaimed and celebrated in some love songs, so is time alone without a spouse.

Besides songs which contained lyrics of sentiment, joy or loneliness, some songs of the 1910s were silly and nonsensical, using baby talk or babble to relay cute, quaint scenes of loving couples. The plots of these love songs can seem innocent enough to be pulled directly from an illustrated children’s book. “The Aba Daba honeymoon” (1914) chronicles the story of a chimpanzee and monkey falling in love, including silly playing in a coconut tree.[17] The song “Be My Little Baby Bumblebee” (1912), a song that is actually about bees, relates cutesy sentiment by relating a nonsense plot of apiary courtship,

Be my little baby bumble bee

We’ll be just as happy as we can be,

Honey keep a-buzzin’ please,

I’ve got a dozen cousin bees,

But I want you to be my baby bumble bee.[18]

The cutesy sentiment of these two songs is partly expressed by outright baby talk. The monkey and chimp in “The Aba Daba Honeymoon” chatter back and forth in loving babble with “aba daba daba daba daba daba dab” as part of the refrain.[19] “Be my Little Baby Bumble Bee” could have effectively produced a term of endearment for couples to use as a catchphrase. Not all songs with such cute lyrics demonstrate approval for such baby talk; the 1913 Irving Berlin novelty song “Snooky Ookums” expresses the derision of neighbours in an apartment building when a cooing couple do nothing but baby talk to each other in a “mushy song” type way,

All night long he calls her snooky ookums, snooky ookums,

All night long the neighbors shout, ‘cut it out cut it out cut it out!’

They cry, ‘For goodness sake! Don’t keep us awake

With your snooky ookey, ookey baby talk!”[20]

Other than the serious emotions of sad sentiment or the bold professions of love, some silly love songs used baby talk, even as a form of derision for such terms of endearment.

Of course, not all love songs detail the emotions of love and during the 1910s, kissing couples and coy euphemisms for sex were becoming part of the pop song market. Physicality had been central characteristics of love songs for years with kissing and numerous songs involving spooning like “Come Take a Trip in My Air-Ship,” “If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon,” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” a trend which continued into the 1910s, in some bolder ways. The main character in “He’d Have to Get Under—Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile)” from 1914 has numerous mechanical difficulties while in the cab of his car kissing, not one, but two different girls.[21] During the 1910s when new social dances like the grizzly bear or turkey trot became popular, some songs used dancing as double entendre for sexual relations. In the song “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey,” (1910), the first verse sets the scene “Cupid am a-callin’ ev’ry Jack and Jill/It’s just about time for making love” and then in the refrain, used dancing as a new exciting outlet for physical closeness, “Put your arms around me, honey, hold me tight/Huddle up and cuddle with all your might.”[22] “Everybody Two-Step” from 1912 explains the excitement of dancing with a “girly-girl” to do the “twirly-whirl.”[23] Although sex is not specifically mentioned within the lyrics of more gentile numbers, songs with suggestive titles like “Some Girls Do, And Some Girls Don’t” (1916) “Everbody’s Doin’ It Now” (1912) and “Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo” (1915) began to appear as well, the latter with spicy yet nonsense lyrics, “beneath the banyan parasol she couldn’t talk my talk at all/But oh how she could yacki hacki wicki wacki woo.”[24] Love songs of the 1910s contained descriptions of physical closeness like kissing and cuddling continuing a trend from the 1900s, but euphemisms for sex in dance descriptions and suggestive titles were part of some of the most popular songs of the decade.

A large majority of love songs, however, have lyrics in which couples address each other by directly expressing love for one another and during the 1910s, there are not only songs involving a suitor attracting the attention of a girl through verbal means, but also on the dance floor. But in order for a couple to exists, one party, usually the male suitor as described in lyrics, must convince the girl that being a couple of a good idea, and so courtship becomes an important topic in love songs. In the 1909 Harry Von Tilzer and Junie McCree song “Carrie (Marry Harry),” even though she is annoyed the suitor constantly flirts with every girl in sight, is promised that “You’ll be my bride in June” and that “There’s not a minute that another is in it.”[25] Jimmy the soldier in 1918’s “K-K-K-Katy” by Geoffrey O’Hara nervously tries to get Katy’s attention after seeing her watching “all the boys on dress parade.[26] Characters in both “Down by the Old Mill Stream” and “Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet,” after years or decades of marriage, need to affirm their continued love to prevent sad feelings in their spouses. But courtship does not always include verbal proclamation; in the song “Every Little Moment,” knowing the latest dance moves on the dance floor is suggested as a prerequisite for courtship,[27] a message which is also given in “Everybody Two-Step.”[28] But there is a catch in courtship by dancing, that it is the girl who selects the dance partner. In “Some Girls Do and Some Girls Don’t,” the speaker has reservations about asking a girl for a dance because he never knows how girls choose dance partners.[29] Communicating and courtship are common themes in many love songs, including knowledge of the latest dance steps and courtly communication on the dance floor.

However, whenever the sexes are involved with each other, there usually is a fair amount of miscommunication between the genders. In song lyrics, misunderstanding is accomplished in numerous and sometimes-humorous ways, including language barriers to bad etiquette on the dance floor. There are also songs from this time when communication is completely lost between the two parties. For example, the couple in “Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo” cannot speak each other’s language; the man speaks English while the girls speaks Hawaiian. The Irving Berlin song “The Girl on the Magazine” describes a man who has a crush on a girl appearing an magazines, but communication never actually happen since the girl is in print, not in person. The main character Jimmy in “K-K-K-Katy” has a troubling stammer when he asks out Kate before heading off to fight in World War I, proclaiming “K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy/You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore.”[30] Consolation also becomes an important part of songs by correcting sad feelings or misunderstanding. In “When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy,” the girl does not believe that the man will return to her,

Said Marie, “It’s clear to me, Tho’ sincere you seem to be,

I was afraid of the promise made. You may not come back to me.

By the wishing well today, I shall wish that you will stay.”[31]

But the man consoles her, keeps his word and returns to marry her by the end of the song. Another example of consolation can be found in the song “Melancholy,”[32] where the suitor tries to console his girl directly by saying that her sadness, even when it is his fault, affects “the very heart of mine.”[33] “Song Girls Do, And Some Girls Don’t” explores the mysteries of gender relations by describing the frustration of the fleeting and fickle tastes of girls in selecting a dance partner.[34] While courtship and marriage are common themes, so are songs where communication between the sexes is misguided, the consequences of which require the male to console his girl.

The 1910s also offered songs that detailed the emotional damage and baggage of a relationship’s end, however, a new innovation was coming into use, that of the happy break-up song. Break-up songs of the 1910s frequently reflect the sorts of sad sentiment and nostalgia of love songs of the time, after all, ending a relationship can cause some fragile emotions in song lyrics. “After You’re Gone” from 1918, one character pleas with the leaving party,

You know I’ve loved you for these many years,

Love you night and day

Oh honey baby can’t you see my tears?[35]

In Irving Berlin’s “When I Lost You” (1912) gives a detailed list of all the things that used to give the character pleasure, like sunshine and bird songs, things that had been ruined because of a break-up.[36] Not all break-up songs have tear-jerking sentiment; some songs of the 1910s are actually quite celebratory in the couple’s break-up by empowering one party over the other. The character in “After You’ve Gone” reminds the other how sad he or she will be for leaving,

You’ll feel blue, You’ll feel sad.

You’ll miss the bestest pal you’ve ever had

There’ll come a time, now don’t forget it,

There’ll come a time, when you’ll regret it,[37]

The same notion is given in the lyrics of Shelton Brooks’s “Some of These Days” (1910), an early hybrid of jazz and blues rhythms and harmonies that Alec Wilder calls “a landmark in popular music, perhaps the landmark.”[38] In “I Used to Love You But Its All Over Now,” instead of a slower ballad-like tempo, the song has an up-tempo rhythm, and the lyrics in “Good-Bye, Good Luck, God-Bless You” (1916) read like a formal, emotionless parting rather than expressing the melancholy sensations expected in a break-up song.[39] What is interesting about break-up songs from this era is that there are few instances where gender-specific lyrics are used. This androgynous feeling could have universal appeal and popularity, regardless of the audience’s gender, and create ease when bringing a particular song to the stage or in the recording studio since any performer of any gender can perform them effectively. During the 1910s, songs that end a relationship started to have an impact on song history by including songs which produced sad emotion and also those which celebrated the end of the relationship.

While there were some elements of love songs which remained the same between the 1900s and the 1910s, there were also some novel innovations in song. Sadness, loneliness and nostalgia were certainly still used throughout the decade for emotional effect of describing love. Expressions of joyful love and the lofty language of ballads also continued into the 1910s, as do songs with subjects of courtship and communication to repair a relationship. The changes were in some of the new ways in which people were interacting during the time. Social dancing was popular and so some where the actual act of dancing was a part of courtship appear, and so did songs where there is male confusion on how to interact in these new social situation. While kissing and cuddling continued into the 1910s, some songs had suggestive and risqué lyrics and song titles in which sex is alluded to, a feature which was not truly present in the more gentile songs of Victorian Age Tin Pan Alley of the 1900s. However, the break-up song was maturing, and along with sad and sentimental feelings directed at the ending of a relationship, song celebrating the end of a relationship became hits, indicating a change in which men and women interacted with each other. During the 1910s, love song, no matter the changes in form and function, continued to be part of the mainstream subjects in pop songs.



“Friends and Lovers—Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson.” YouTube Video. Posted by nelson sunico. 20 September 2010.

Furia, Philip. The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists. New York: Oxford University Press. 1990.

Goldberg, Isaac. Tin Pan Alley: A Chronicle of the American Popular Music Racket. New York: The John Day Company. 1930.

“Renaissance Love Songs.” Victoria and Albert Museum.

Songs Cited

Abrahams, Maurice (music) and Grant Clarke and Edgar Leslie (lyrics). He’d Have to Get Under—Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile). New York: Maurice Abrahams Music Co. 1914.

Ball, Ernest (music) and J. Kiern Brennan. Good-bye, Good Luck, God Bless You (Is All That I Can Say. New York: M. Whitmark & Sons. 1916.

Ball, Ernest (music) and George Graff (lyrics). Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold. New York: M. Whitmark & Sons. 1911.

Berlin, Irving. The Girl on the Magazine. New York: Irving Berlin Inc. 1913.

——-. Snooky Ookums. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1913.

——-. When I Lost You. New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder. 1912.

Brooks, Sheldon. Some of these Days. Chicago, IL: Will Rossiter. 1910.

Burnett, Ernie (music) and George A Norton (lyrics). Melancholy, or My Melancholy Baby. Denver, CO: Theron C Bennett. 1912.

Carroll, Harry (music) and Ballard MacDonald (lyrics). The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. New York: Shapiro Music Co. 1913.

Fields, Arthur and Walter Donovan. The Aba Daba Honeymoon. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1914.

Friedman, Leo (music) and Beth Slater Whitson. Let Me Call You Sweetheart. Chicago, IL: Leo Friedman. 1910.

Herzer, Wallie (music) and earl C. Jones (lyrics). Everybody Twostep. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1912.

Hoschna, Karl (music) and O.A. Hauerbach (lyrics). Every Little Moment. New York: M. Whitmark & Sons. 1910.

Johnson, Howard, Alex Geber and Harry Jentes. Some Girls Do, and Some Girls Don’t. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1916.

Kalmar, Bert (music) and Harry Puck (lyrics). Where Did You Get That Girl? New York: Kalmar & Puck Music. 1913.

Layton, Turner (music) and Henry Creamer (lyrics). After You’ve Gone. New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1918.

Marshall, Henry I (music) and Stanley Murphy (lyrics). Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1912.

O’Hara, Geoffrey. K-K-K-Katy. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1918.

Robert, Less S (music) and J. Will Callahan (lyrics). Chicago, IL: Lee S Roberts. 1917.

Snyder, Ted (music) and George Whiting and Irving Berlin (lyrics). My Wife’s Gone to the Country (Hurrah! Hurrah!). New York: Ted Snyder Co. 1909.

Taylor, Tell. Down By the Old Mill Stream. New York: Tell Taylor. 1910.

Trevor, Huntley, Harry Gifford and Tom Mellor. When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1912.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Stanley Murphy and Carles McCarron (lyrics). Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo (That’s Love in Honolulu). New York: Broadway Music Co. 1915.

Von Tilzer, Harry (music) and Junie McCree (lyrics). Carrie (Marry Harry). New York: The York Music Co. 1909.

——-. Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey. New York: The York Music Co. 1910.

Von Tilzer, Harry (music) and Andrew B Sterling and Ed Moran (lyrics). I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles. New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Publishing. 1916.

Wenrich, Percy (music) and Stanley Murphy (lyrics). Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1909.


Missy Elliott. “Work It.” Contained in the album Under Construction. Elektra Records. 2002. Mp3 File.


[1] “Renaissance Love Songs,” The Victoria and Albert Museum, accessed 29 June 2014,

[2] “Friends and Lovers—Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson,” YouTube Video, 3:47, posted by nelson sunico on 20 September 2010,

[3] Missy Elliott, Work It, contained on the album Under Construction, Elektra Records, 2002, mp3 file.

[4] It should be noted that, with the plethora of songs coming from Tin Pan Alley, or as Isaac Goldberg calls it, “the musical factory” of America, there was no way of analyzing the multitude of love songs published and recorded during this decade. And so, this is just a brief, descriptive essay rather than an authoritative research paper on the breadth of titles during the 1910s.

[5] For an introduction on love songs from the first decade of the twentieth century, see Morgan Howland, “Love Songs Throughout the Decades, Pt 1: The 1900s,” The Pop Song History Blog, 1 April 2014,

[6] Tell Taylor, Down By the Old Mill Stream, (New York: Tell Taylor, 1910).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Irving Berlin, The Girl on the Magazine, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1913).

[9] Bert Kalmar (music) and Harry Puck (lyrics), Where Did You Get That Girl?, (New York: Kalmar & Puck Music Co, 1913).

[10] Harry Carroll (music) and Ballard MacDonald (lyrics), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, (New York: Shapiro Music Co, 1913).

[11] Leo Friedman (music) and Beth Slater Whitson (lyrics), Let Me Call You Sweetheart, (Chicago, IL: Leo Friedman, 1910).

[12] Ernest R Ball (music) and George Graff (lyrics), Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold, (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1911).

[13] Carroll and MacDonald, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.

[14] Lee S Roberts (music) and J. Will Callahan (lyrics), Smiles, Chicago, IL: Lee S Robert, 1917).

[15] Ted Snyder (music) and George Whiting and Irving Berlin (lyrics), My Wife’s Gone to the Country (Hurrah! Hurrah!), (New York: Ted Snyder Inc, 1909).

[16] Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Andrew B Sterling and Ed Moran (lyrics), I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles, (New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Publishing, 1916).

[17] Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan, The Aba Daba Honeymoon, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1914).

[18] Harry I Marshall (music) and Stanley Murphy (lyrics), Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee, (New York: Jerome Remick & co, 1912).

[19] Fields and Donovan, The Aba Daba Honeymoon.

[20] Irving Berlin, Snooky Ookums, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1913).

[21] Maurice Abrahams (music) and Grant Clarke and Edgar Leslie (lyrics), He’d Have to Get Under—Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile), New York: Maurice Abrahams Co, 1914).

[22] Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Junie McCree, Put Your Arms Around Me Honey, (New York: The York Music Co, 1910).

[23] Wallie Herzer (music) and Earl C Jones (lyrics), Everybody Two-step, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1912).

[24] Albert Von Tilzer, (music) and Stanley Murphy and Charles McCarron (lyrics), Oh How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo (That’s Love in Honolulu), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1915).

[25] Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Junie McCree (lyrics), Carrie (Marry Harry), (New York: The York Music Co, 1909).

[26] Geoffrey O’Hara, K-K-K-Katy, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1918).

[27] Karl Hoschna (music) and O.A. Hauerbach, Every Little Moment, (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1910).

[28] Herzer and Jones (lyrics), Everybody Two-step.

[29] Howard Johnson, Alex Gerber and Harry Jentes, Some Girls Do, and Some Girls Don’t, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1916).

[30] O’Hara, K-K-K-Katy.

[31] Huntley Trevor, Harry Gifford and Tom Mellor, When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1912).

[32] This song is also published as My Melancholy Baby.

[33] Ernie Burnett (music) and George A Norton (lyrics), Melancholy, or My Melancholy Baby, (Denver, CO: Theron C Bennett, 1912).

[34] Johnson, Gerber and Jentes, Some Girls Do, and Some Girls Don’t.

[35] Turner Layton (music) and Henry Creamer (lyrics), After You’ve Gone, (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1918).

[36] Irving Berlin, When I Lost You, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1912).

[37] Layton and Creamer, After You’ve Gone.

[38] Alec Wilder, qtd in Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 33.

[39] Ernest R Ball (music) and J. Kiern Brennan (lyrics), Good-Bye, Good Luck, God Bless You (Is All That I Can Say), (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1916).