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 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
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
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. 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. 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 or by completely re-enacting a wedding. Sadness is also a feature of “The Girl on the Magazine” whose central character “does nothing else but pine” 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. 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. 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” 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!” 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.” “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.” 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. “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!”
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. 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.” “Everybody Two-Step” from 1912 explains the excitement of dancing with a “girly-girl” to do the “twirly-whirl.” 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.” 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.” 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. 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, a message which is also given in “Everybody Two-Step.” 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. 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.” 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.”
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,” 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.” “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. 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?
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. 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,
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.” 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. 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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZIyY0JzfKA.
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. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/renaissance-love-songs/
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.
 “Renaissance Love Songs,” The Victoria and Albert Museum, accessed 29 June 2014, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/renaissance-love-songs/.
 Missy Elliott, Work It, contained on the album Under Construction, Elektra Records, 2002, mp3 file.
 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.
 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, https://popsonghistory.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/1900s-pop-trend-love-songs-in-the-era-of-ragtime/.
 Tell Taylor, Down By the Old Mill Stream, (New York: Tell Taylor, 1910).
 Irving Berlin, The Girl on the Magazine, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1913).
 Bert Kalmar (music) and Harry Puck (lyrics), Where Did You Get That Girl?, (New York: Kalmar & Puck Music Co, 1913).
 Harry Carroll (music) and Ballard MacDonald (lyrics), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, (New York: Shapiro Music Co, 1913).
 Leo Friedman (music) and Beth Slater Whitson (lyrics), Let Me Call You Sweetheart, (Chicago, IL: Leo Friedman, 1910).
 Ernest R Ball (music) and George Graff (lyrics), Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold, (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1911).
 Carroll and MacDonald, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.
 Lee S Roberts (music) and J. Will Callahan (lyrics), Smiles, Chicago, IL: Lee S Robert, 1917).
 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).
 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).
 Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan, The Aba Daba Honeymoon, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1914).
 Harry I Marshall (music) and Stanley Murphy (lyrics), Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee, (New York: Jerome Remick & co, 1912).
 Fields and Donovan, The Aba Daba Honeymoon.
 Irving Berlin, Snooky Ookums, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1913).
 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).
 Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Junie McCree, Put Your Arms Around Me Honey, (New York: The York Music Co, 1910).
 Wallie Herzer (music) and Earl C Jones (lyrics), Everybody Two-step, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1912).
 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).
 Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Junie McCree (lyrics), Carrie (Marry Harry), (New York: The York Music Co, 1909).
 Geoffrey O’Hara, K-K-K-Katy, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1918).
 Karl Hoschna (music) and O.A. Hauerbach, Every Little Moment, (New York: M. Whitmark & Sons, 1910).
 Herzer and Jones (lyrics), Everybody Two-step.
 Howard Johnson, Alex Gerber and Harry Jentes, Some Girls Do, and Some Girls Don’t, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1916).
 O’Hara, K-K-K-Katy.
 Huntley Trevor, Harry Gifford and Tom Mellor, When It’s Apple Blossom Time in Normandy, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1912).
 This song is also published as My Melancholy Baby.
 Ernie Burnett (music) and George A Norton (lyrics), Melancholy, or My Melancholy Baby, (Denver, CO: Theron C Bennett, 1912).
 Johnson, Gerber and Jentes, Some Girls Do, and Some Girls Don’t.
 Turner Layton (music) and Henry Creamer (lyrics), After You’ve Gone, (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1918).
 Irving Berlin, When I Lost You, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1912).
 Layton and Creamer, After You’ve Gone.
 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.
 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).