Dry Times: Songs and the Start of Prohibition

Alcohol and commercial songs have a long and symbiotic relationship in the history of American pop culture. During the 1890s, the saloon had been an incubator for many pop song moments; one can imagine rowdy drunken saloon patrons heartily breaking into verses of F.J. Adam’s “There Is a Tavern in the Town” (1891), Fred Gilbert’s “The Man That Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo” (1892), Harry S. Miller’s “The Cat Came Back “ (1893), Theodore Metz’s “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” (1897), or George Giefer’s “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder” (1898). Composer Harry Von Tilzer earned a hit in 1902 with an advertisement for beer with “Down Where the Wurtzburger Flows,” a song which advertises the beverage as much as it celebrates the saloon where patrons consume it. Throughout the years, there have been numerous references to drinking in pop songs like The Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca Cola” (1945), Will Glahe’s “Beer Barrel Polka” (1939) or The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s “Moonlight Cocktail’ (1942) just to name a few. A rather lengthy hiatus for drinking songs from the pop song market commenced during the Rock and Roll era beginning in the mid 1950s, but in recent years, drinking has had a tremendous revival in pop songs. In the hedonistic and narcissistic world of the Club Banger Era, where sex, ego and temporary relationships are the ingredients for commercial success, going out, getting crazy and drunk and are not just acceptable, but encouraged. A number of iconic songs from the past decade are evidence of this like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” (2003), Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” (2008), The Black Eyed Pea’s “I Gotta a Feeling” (2009), Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” (2010), LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” (2011) and Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” (2011). The dance floor stream-of-consciousness of Beyonce’s “7/11” epitomises the drunk club experience while getting crazy on the dance floor:

Hold that cup like alcohol, hold that cup like alcohol
Hold that cup like alcohol
Don’t you drop that alcohol
Never drop that alcohol, never drop that alcohol
I know you thinkin’ bout alcohol
I know I’m thinkin’ bout that alcohol[1]

In this era, it is difficult or inconceivable to imagine a time when getting some drinks was punishable under federal law, but that is what happened in 1920 when enforcement of Prohibition took effect. For thirteen years, the United States would be sober by constitutional diktat.

Various social movements had been encouraging temperance and abstinence from alcohol throughout the nineteenth century, with the hopes that prayer and education would reform Americans’ desire for drink. When each wave of reform failed, the social cause would turn political and throughout the 1900s and early 1910s, total prohibition became the goal. Composers and lyricists of Tin Pan Alley, some of who were certain that outlawing alcohol would damage the music industry, turned Prohibition into a topical fad during the years that two different laws had come into effect in 1919 and 1920. Consequently, songwriters churned out songs centralising on individual characters that gave up the drink and were adjusting to life in a newly dry America. Sentimental songs of sadness about everyday life without alcohol and nostalgia for celebratory times became fashionable, as did a few comical numbers of characters so angry, they were intent on abandoning the United States. Some songs even embrace positive aspects of Prohibition with male characters becoming better domestic partners through sobriety. But Prohibition caused a split between favour and opposition in American pop culture, and songwriters wrote tunes which favoured opposition. Questions of Prohibition’s constraints on liberty and freedom came through pop songs, as did characters that expressed derision at or the foolishness of drinking non-alcoholic beverages. As the law came into effect, songs which featured characters getting a drink, consequently breaking the law, came onto a pop market that was about to absorb a bevy of “defiant rebellious youths determined to go their own way in music.”[2] Prohibition would not just be about an American society benefitting from national sobriety, as supporters of Prohibition had hoped; it would define a tumultuous decade of the Jazz Era when urban Americans drank heavily at illegally operated speakeasies, a new social space which encapsulated the spirit of the Jazz Age.

Alcohol has always been a staple in American life since colonial times and in the nineteenth century, Americans drank substantially more than they do in contemporary times. In many households in the 1800s, hard cider had been consumed casually at each meal, including breakfast. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the average Massachusetts resident was consuming per capita thirty-five gallons of cider per annum.[3] But during the rise of American Evangelism during the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, a time when “churches were more vital and powerful than the state,”[4] more Evangelical Americans found a problem with the thirst for alcohol. For social activists, alcohol could lead to inebriation, which could then lead to social problems of unemployment, poverty or domestic violence. Long before the modern notions that alcoholism should be treated as a disease of an individual, requiring treatment, recovery time and support, in the mid-nineteenth century, drunkenness was considered by many as a problem requiring reform across American society as a whole. Various church-based temperance movements came into existence willing to take up the cause and urge men in particular, to voluntarily limit or give up drinking. In 1873, the “Women’s Crusade” became a pop culture phenomenon when women blocked entrances of Ohio saloons by kneeling and praying. But in 1879, a new organisation, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, led by Frances Willard, took a much more organised and populist approach, using almost bureaucratic organisation tactics to encourage people to refrain from drinking and encourage more people to join the cause of temperance. The organization churned out volumes of anti-alcohol propaganda in the process, and upwards of twenty two million schoolchildren sat through “Scientific Temperance Instruction” in the 1880s, learning about “the nature of these substances and the peril beginning to use them at all.”[5] However, American demographics and drinking habits started to change during the Gilded Age. When more and more European immigrants with different sets of drinking customs settled in urban centres, the saloon and its chief product, beer, continued to grow and the beer brewing industry flourished despite these efforts of temperance workers. For the crusades for an inebriation-free American society to be more effective, a much more politically focused movement would be necessary.

In 1893, the Anti-Saloon League, a well-organised lobbying group lead by Wayne Bidwell Wheeler, turned society’s problem with drunkenness into a political goal of prohibition and, namely, the elimination of the saloon. The saloon was much more than a place to drink in Gilded Age America; it was the hub of the male social network. In a saloon, one could find employment opportunities, cash a pay cheque in financially unstable times, socialise, get away from back-breaking manual labour, find respite from crowded, unsanitary tenement housing, and engage oneself in political discussions. New immigrants could connect with fellow countrymen, learn colloquial English and even locate recently settled family members before the age of mass communication. The urban saloon was also viewed by rural Americans, most of whom may never have even patronised a saloon, as places of vice and the chief source of social ills, where already poor, non-English speaking immigrants emptied their pockets for the bartender, consequently impoverishing their families. In 1905, there were “more saloons in the United States than there were schools, libraries, hospitals, theatres or parks, and more certainly than churches.”[6] Anti-saloon sentiment was passionate; “saloon smashing” became a radical method of protest against illegal yet openly operating saloons across Kansas and its chief terrorist, Carry Nation became a national celebrity.[7] The Anti-Saloon League, “a union of all temperance forces,”[8] earned an enthusiastic and vociferous following and to achieve their goals of prohibition, the organisation needed “dry” politicians for their cause to legislate alcohol out of American drinking habits. Setting up in every state, the Anti Saloon League initially targeted local politicians and candidates with tremendous success in the first two decades of the twentieth century. By 1916, with Anti-Saloon League efforts through local option laws, twenty-three states and a number of local jurisdictions had been voted dry. But for the ultimate goal of national Prohibition, a Constitutional amendment would be needed. In 1917, both houses of Congress passed the 18th amendment to eradicate the “manufacture, sale or transpiration of intoxicating liquors.”[9] The amendment was consequently sent to the states for ratification. In the interim, Prohibition would be prematurely imposed in 1919. With the First World War consuming American raw materials, Congress passed the Wartime Prohibition Act, attaching it to an agricultural appropriations bill in 1918[10] which regulated grain’s use in manufacturing alcohol, including beer. The law came into effect after armistice, actually making it completely worthless for wartime. The states eventually ratified the amendment in 1919, and the law which enforced it, the Volstead Act, would take effect in January of the following year.

For the music business interests of Tin Pan Alley, always eager to capitalise on a topical song trend, Prohibition became the inspiration for songs of all varieties; about how the law would affect individuals by incorporating characters into songs that people could relate to, no matter what the music consumer’s opinion may have been about “going dry.” It seems as though songwriters published any kind of outlook about the law that could sell copies of songs where not drinking was the main idea. However certain music industry executives in the decidedly wet city of New York viewed Prohibition with foreboding. Predicting the “poisonous effects of [the Volstead Act],” music publisher Joe Stern retired from the business “almost as soon as the Amendment went into effect.”[11] Regardless of personal opinion, the music business needed to make money, after all, and appeal to the largest number of music purchasing consumers, which required a wide variety of songs that offered varying viewpoints about the Prohibition law. Support for Prohibition had been reinforced with lyrics that extolled the law and showed how domestic life would be improved by the lack of alcohol. In John Stark’s “John Barleycorn Good-Bye” the positive effects included an end to alcohol-induced domestic violence, that alcohol “change[d] good Doctor Jeckel to the villain Mister Hyde/You’ve separated man and wife, raised many a family storm.”[12] A number of songs predict characters who will change their habits favouring domestic duty over entertainments and drinking. In Harry Ruby’s “What’ll We Do On a Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry)” an idyllic domestic life will emerge “With no place to spend our money we’ll get off cheap/We’ll sit at home and rock the baby to sleep.”[13] Likewise, in the lyrics of Albert Von Tilzer and Lew Brown’s “I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife,” a man has previously neglected his wife for the saloon, but he becomes helpful around the home when forced into sobriety, “He’d run out to the store, help her scrub the floor/He’d hug her and he’d love her like he never did before.”[14] William Jerome and Jack Mahoney’s “Every Day Will Be Sunday hen the Town Goes Dry” predicts that drinking will simply become “out of date”[15] in modern sober America. But with such songwriter focus on the lack of drink, the law’s eventual start prompted songwriters to write material to encourage people to drink up while supplies last. In Al Sweet’s “Prohibition Blues,” the main character Mose Brown and his friend Sam’l Birch, after hearing about the new Prohibition laws, go on a humorous daylong bender, one character informs the other:

“Dat dry times comin’ and dere goin’ to can de booze,

Come on to the corner, dere’s no time to lose.”

So we just started in drinkin’ gainst dat day[16]

Likewise, a whole town is eager to have one last big party right up to the start of Prohibition in Abner Silver and Alex Gerber’s “At the Prohibition Ball”:

We’ll be at the Prohibition Ball,
There we’ll mix with Mister Alcohol;
Folks will pay their last respects
to Highballs and to Horse’s Necks*[17]

Also predicted, along with domestic peace, quite prophetically, were Prohibition’s eventual short lifespan and the law’s ineffectiveness at curbing people’s thirst for drinking. An expatriate soldier in Joseph McCarthy and James Monaco’s “I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town” says that he’ll come back to America when the law gets repealed,[18] and in “America Never Took Water and America Never Will” by J. Kiern Brennan, Gus Edwards and Paul Cunningham, the law is characterised as leading to the destruction of the United States.[19] The main character, a preacher in Will Skidmore and Marshall Walker’s “Save a Little Dram for Me,” does not believe that the government will be able to regulate anyone’s thirst for drinking, even though he supports the law; all the while, hypocritically imploring his parishioners to give him a nip of gin.”[20] From the outset, songwriters wrote material which any audience would find agreeable regardless of personal views of the law.

Songs had also been written about how depressed characters were dealing with force sobriety and a large number of songs feature languished sentiments and nostalgia about drinking. Music publisher Edward Marks notes that entertainment sector had been taken into consideration when Prohibition was being debated, that people would have more money to buy sheet music and spend time entertaining at home, however, “depressed, hypocritical people do not sing”[21] remarks Edward Marks, “the only worthwhile product of prohibition…was a crop of clever songs.”[22] Pop culture had survived Wartime Prohibition with weak beer; the “Thirsty First” of July when the Wartime Prohibition law came into effect “was mighty tough but we could get enough/And if we knew the barman we could get the reg’lar stuff,” according to the main character of Harry von Tilzer and Andrew Sterling’s “Whoa January (You’re Going to Be Worse than July.” The character continues that alcoholic beverages were still available:

That first of July they said we’d go dry
And ev’ryone thought there’d be nothing to buy
but you got yours and I got mine[23]

But the total prohibition in of alcohol in 1920 provoked songs which expressed that the mood of society had been deflated by a lack of alcohol. Titles like “Prohibition Blues” and “Alcoholic Blues” feature lyrics in which drinks are likened to deceased friends, and literally characters grieve over their lost booze, “‘Scuse me while I shed a tear/For good old whiskey, gin and beer.”[24] Songs also reflected people’s memories of drinking and the elevating effects that alcohol has on emotion, “No more beer my heart to cheer; Good bye whiskey, you used to make me frisky.”[25] A scene of social emotional collapse over a lack of alcohol is found in Billy Joyce and Rubey Cowan’s “Oh! Doctor:”

Most ev’rybody you meet now a days
Seems to be feeling so blue
They say it is an imposition
To enforce this prohibition[26]

Emotional response to economic changes brought about with the of closing saloon, breweries and distilleries is depicted in Robert Hood Bowers and Frances Dewitt’s “The Moon Shines of the Moonshine,” where a portrait of industrial depression is illustrated, “Now the bar is ‘on the hummer,’/and “For Rent” is on the door…How sad and still tonight, by the old distillery!/And how the cob-webs cob, in its old machinery.”[27] A character in “I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife” is depressed and boredom sets in where “Jones began to cry/With no cafes or cabarets, I know I’m going to die.”[28] With sadness such a noticeable theme in these songs, it is not surprising that nostalgia for more celebratory times are often paired with these instances of melancholy. Happy memories of socialising at the local saloon are given in “Every Day Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry” in which, cosy memories are paired with the absence of socialising, “No more saying: ‘Fill the pail’/No more feet upon the rail.”[29] In Irving Berlin’s tune “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A” the nostalgia for alcoholic drinks is soothed through alcoholic tourism, “Have you been longing for the ‘smile’/That you haven’t had for quite a while” because going to Cuba and drinking will alleviate one’s sadness.[30] Although there had been general feeling that the Prohibition laws would hurt the music industry, composers and lyricists published songs which could help to reassure consumer sentiment of depression over the newly imposed sobriety and nostalgia for drinking.

Throughout the trend in Prohibition songs around 1920, anger, whether comical or humourless, is also directed at the law and what it meant for American life. Prohibition forbade Americans to do something at the federal level through the Constitution, a document which consistently expanded American rights. There had been numerous songs in which patriotic Americans would rather abandon their liberty-loving country for settling on foreign soil. In “How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn Town Goes Dry),” the main character is willing to abandon America, “We took this country from the Indians/They can have it back again.”[31] In “I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry, Dry),” the main character is so upset about the wartime Prohibition laws that he “must sail with the last day of June”[32] and move to London before the Wartime Prohibition law took effect. In Brennan, Edwards and Cunningham’s “America Never Took Water and America Never Will” a returning doughboy learns about Prohibition after returning from the western front, and expresses opinions that the trenches are more appealing than a dry America. The dialogue is rather humorous:

One fighting Yank said, “If such is the case,
This is no place then for me!
I’m going back again, back o’er the sea”[33]

While these examples are humorous and hyperbolic in tone, there were justifiable concerns about just how far the government can go in regulating Americans’ lives. It was the era of political Progressivism, a time when government had achieved a breathtaking amount of reform in everything from labour laws to women’s suffrage to the national parks system to food and drug regulations to a graduated income tax. Prohibition was forward-thinking legislation, a way for government to make citizens’ lives better. Opposing sides viewed the passage of Prohibition as a blatant overextension of what the American government could do. Songs referenced this argument against Prohibition as well. In “Alcoholic Blues” the main character stoically lists the rations and government restrictions of the Great War that had been tolerated, then laments about the lack of alcohol, “I cut my sugar, I cut my coal, But now they dug deep in my soul.”[34] McCarthy and Monaco’s “I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town” where the United States is characterised as a place where “everything is free,” the main character is “sorry” to relocate to a foreign land over the lack of personal liberty.[35] For some, the idea that the federal government was regulating products that people willingly and freely consumed was ludicrous like in Martin Ballman, Theodore Phillip and Anna Ballman’s “No Beer, No Work” where like-minded music consumers are encouraged to take political revenge at the ballot box:

The war is past and over, And peace now rules the land,

The people of this country Have another fight on hand,

For liberty of home, now calls defenders to the fore;

With ballots let us now defeat the drys’ forever more.[36]

The phrase “No Beer, No Work” became national news as a slogan “calculated to thrill the most sluggish soul, to rouse the slumbering spirit of liberty in every breast”[37] as industrial workers threatened to strike and bring the American industrial economy to a halt if they did not get their beer:

Don’t you think that they will be sore

If we don’t show up no more?

Let us now united agree

No beer, no work no beer, no work for me.[38]

Along with songs which featured listless and depressed characters, there were songs which also exude anger, whether humorous or passionate, directed at the prohibition laws and what they meant for American lives and American liberty.

With a plethora of sad or excitable song characters not getting their drinks, there were alternatives to drinking alcohol and Tin Pan Alley composers presented either glowing endorsements for or characters’ total derision to soft drinks as effective replacements to alcoholic beverages. Naturally, there were instances in which Tin Pan Alley would gladly write any kind of musical endorsement for a product if the price were right. The superstar duo Van and Schenk along with Vaudeville superstar Eddie Cantor collaborated to write music for Green River soda in 1920, so popular, according to the lyrics that everyone likes it including “that rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief/doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.”[39] Harry Von Tilzer composed a jingle for Clysmic Water that same year. However, the soft drink alternatives to alcoholic beverages were not for everybody and there are instances where music audiences are invited to imagine how soft drinks are silly and completely inappropriate for certain situations and certain populations of society. The audience of Jerome and Mahoney’s “Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry” is invited to “picture some big husky with a pick and spade/When it’s ninety in the shade, drinking warm, red lemonade?”[40] Likewise, the picture of a couple enjoying a sober dinner is comically depicted in “What’ll We Do on a Saturday Night?” where the audience is invited to “imagine a fellow with a cute little queen/Trying to win her on a plate of ice cream.”[41] “How Are You Goin’ to Wet Your Whistle When the Whole Darn Town Goes Dry” by Francis Byrne, Frank McIntyre and Percy Wenrich predicts a more saccharine addiction:

And ev’ryone will be a candy fiend
If they pack the soda fountains to the doors,
And turn the bars all into dry goods stores.[42]

There are other instances in which non-alcoholic alternatives are derided pointedly without any kind of favour with drinkers, particularly, the non-alcoholic “near beer” brand Bevo. Examples are plentiful with the lack of enthusiasm for the brand, as in “Alcoholic Blues,” “Just if my daily thirst they only let me quench/And not with Bevo and Ginger Ale.”[43] The burly worker in Sammy Edwards’s “No Beer, No Work” “never could like lemonade or Bevo.”[44] Harry Von Tilzer’s “Whoa January” declares that “Mister Bevo never made a hit with me”[45] and in “Everyday Wil Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry,” “Ev’ry little Broadway daughter will be sipping Clysmic water… You can bet that we will grieve, oh, when we gargle Bevo.”[46] When the consumer market in beverages had changed, so did the lyrical focus of songs where the alternatives to drinking alcohol had been written about positively for commercial gains, or derided to reflect audience tastes.

Even though the lack of alcohol had been the focus of Prohibition tunes, alcohol would continue to exist in the songs at the start of Prohibition, in clever and droll ways. Alcohol was still legally dispensed from “physicians holding a permit to prescribe liquor”[47] and “rabbi minister or priest” who can manufacture wine for religious purposes. Obtaining legal alcohol from a doctor or a chemist was the goal in Joyce and Cowan’s “Oh! Doctor;” the lyrics describe a scene of “the drug stores on the corners are filled with liquor mourners”[48] all going through the time, effort and expense of getting liquor prescriptions filled. Alcohol would be a fashionable accessory once it became illegal, which is the main idea of “It’s the Smart Little Feller Who Stocked Up His Cellar (That’s Getting the Beautiful Girls),” on the cover, a man surrounded by a gaggle of flirtatious girls winks playfully as though everybody knows what the secret to his romantic success is:

You may live in a palace, but Annette and Alice
Will pass up the Dukes and the Earls;
For some guy in a shanty, with lots of Chianti,
He’s getting the beautiful girls[49]

In other songs, there is mention of holding illegal parties despite the legal status of alcoholic beverages. In Edward Rose, Billy Baskette and Lew Pollack’s “Everybody Wants a key to My Cellar,” where the central character has been “having parties ev’ry night,”[50] his cellar, i.e. his illegal stash of alcohol, is the admiration of everybody else in town who desires a peek or a nip. The main character in Berlin’s “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A” is disappointed by the environment of illegal drinking, that “Drinking in a cellar isn’t nice”[51] and so decides to go to Cuba for alcoholic tourism. In “The Moon Shines on the Moonshine” it seems as though the only place to be happy at a time when breweries and saloon going out of business, is next to a campfire and an illegal still, “Oh! how the moon shines on the moonshine, so merrily!”[52] In another more forceful scene in “Save a Little Dram for Me” a preacher gets a whiff of someone’s gin in church and demands a nip, threatening his parishioners that they will all go to hell if he does not get a drink. He demands, “I’ve shared your joy and I’ve shared your sin/And believe me brothers I’m gwine to share your gin.”[53] Even though the start of Prohibition produced a bevy of songs which had been written solely about the lack of alcohol, there would still continue to be references to the fashionable aspect of illegal drinking and references to the availability of illegal booze in secret stashes and basement parties.

Even though a constitutional amendment had been ratified by the states and went into effect in January 1920, it would not curtail people’s thirst for alcohol. Prohibition did not eliminate alcohol from American life; it had just made it illegal. As soon as licensed, regulated and taxed saloons went out of business, the market for drinking had simply adjusted to illegal products and establishments including bootleg alcohol and urban speakeasies, with millionaire criminals profiting from all of it. The fines for speakeasies were relatively low compared to the income of their operators, “What was even a $10,000 fine to millionaire [bootleggers] such as George Remus and Willie Haar?”[54] Even president Harding, faced with the mounting difficulties of enforcing Prohibition, imbibed during White House cards games where, according to his wife, “trays with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey”[55] were plentiful. Weirdly, eliminating alcohol managed to modernise drinking culture in America. People of all sorts were partying with each other, since the law made everyone a criminal. Saloons of the Gilded Age were male centric, but the Jazz Era speakeasy was where women partook in drinking, in fact “some male drinkers were initially shocked to see women revelling in the alcoholic excesses of the era, matching men drink for drink.”[56] The modern-day cocktail was also a product of Prohibition, in which various concoctions made with fruit juices and sugar syrups were added to mask the unpleasant taste of bootlegged liquor for customer palates.[57] There are numerous reasons why the speakeasy became such an iconic, yet illegal, symbol of Jazz Era America. Politically, in wet urban areas, it was not fashionable to close speakeasies since “it was immensely profitable to the politicians to let the speakeasies flourish: politicians never lack for poll workers on Election Day,”[58] notes journalist Mabel Willebrandt. Getting wasted at an unlicensed speakeasy was the main objective since drunkenness was the ultimate method for disobeying and protesting the law. Jazz would be linked to Prohibition, getting drunk, and youth as Frank Tirro notes, “While women were campaigning for prohibition and the vote, jazz was extolling fun, excitement and the pleasures of youth.”[59] Jazz’s critics during the 1920s blamed the music for everything, but during Prohibition times in the 1920, jazz music underwent increasing scrutiny because it became “a symbol of crime, feeble-mindedness, insanity, and sex.”[60] Musicians naturally adapted to the change in entertainment, “The clubs of Chicago and New York…became entertainment centres rival the halcyon days of Storyville,”[61] according to Tirro. As the 1920s progressed and Prohibition continued, Jazz would compliment the pop culture of urban America.

Prohibition would leave an indelible mark on American culture, as a good cause that did good for certain portions of Americans and as a stupid law which required Americans getting drunk for the purpose of protest. Naturally, when such a topical subject comes up in American culture, there were songwriters and lyricists wiling to profit from it and they did so by covering as many angles as possible while the topic is fresh in music consumers’ minds. Songs had been written about the positive aspects of going sober of domestic life improved through the lack of alcohol. Songs had been written about the emotions of characters in songs which music consumers could sympathise with through sadness of a lack of drink, of nostalgia of more celebratory time or even through anger with the restrictions on liberty that the law had been forced upon citizens. All the while, America would continue to drink, particularly in urban areas in which enforcement was difficult with corrupt or novice Prohibition agents who could be paid off or bribed, or in smaller jurisdictions, where turning against the speakeasy and the bootlegger would have caused backlash. Prohibition would define the first decade of the Jazz Era and Jazz music would be the soundtrack for a defiant generation willing to risk jail time, fines and one’s health for the sake of getting a drink.


“An Inspiring Slogan.” The Bankers Magazine. Volume XCVIII, No. 4 (April 1919). 415-416.

Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. New York: Arcade Publishing. 2011.

Cherrington, Ernest Hurst. History of the Anti-Saloon League. Westerville, OH: The American Issue Publishing Company. 1913.

Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2011.

Hunt, Mary H. A History of the First Decade of the Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction in Schools and Colleges of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Boston, MA: Washington Press. 1892.

Lehault, Chris. “The Cider Press: A Brief History.” Seriouseats.com, 2 February 2015. http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/02/the-cider-press-the-lost-american-beverage.html

Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2007.

Madison, Arnold. Carry Nation. New York: Thomas Nelson Inc. 1977.

Marks, Edward. They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée. New York: The Viking Press. 1934.

Sibley, Katherine A. First Lady Florence Harding: Behind the Tragedy and Controversy. Lawrence, KS: The University Press of Kansas. 2009.

Tirro, Frank. Jazz: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1977.

Traub, James. The Devil’s Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square. New York: Random House. 2004.

Wills, Garry. Head and Heart: American Christianities. New York: The Penguin Press. 2007.

Song List

Ager, Milton (music) and Grant Clarke (lyrics). It’s the Smart Little Feller Who Stocked Up His Cellar (That’s Getting the Beautiful Girls). New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1920.

Ballman, Martin (music) and Theodore Phillip and Anna Ballman (lyrics). No Beer, No Work. Chicago, IL: Martin Ballman. 1919.

Berlin, Irving. I’ll See You In C-U-B-A. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1920.

Bowers, Robert Hood (music) and Francis DeWitt (lyrics). The Moon Shines on the Moonshine. New York: Shapiro and Bernstein Music Publishers. 1920.

Brennan, J. Keirn, Gus Edwards and Paul Cunningham. America Never Took Water and America Never Will. New York: M. Witmark & Sons. 1919.

Byrne, Francis, Frank McIntyre and Percy Wenrich. How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry? New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1919.

Edwards, Sammy. No Beer, No Work. Philadelphia, PA: Emmett J. Welch. 1919.

Jerome, William and Jack Mahoney. Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry. New York: Leo Feist Co. Inc. 1918.

Joyce, Billy and Rubey Cowan. Oh! Doctor. New York: Stark & Cowan Inc. 1920.

McCarthy, Joseph (music) and James V. Monaco. I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry Dry). New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. 1919.

Rose, Edward, Billy Baskette and Lew Pollack. Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar. New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. 1919.

Ruby, Harry. What’ll We Do Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry). New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co. 1919.

Silver, Abner (music) and Alex Gerber (music). At The Prohibition Ball. New York: M. Witmark & Sons. 1919.

Skidmore, Will E. and Marshall Walker. Save a Little Dram for Me. New York: Skidmore Music Co. 1920.

Stark, John. John Barleycorn Good-Bye. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co. 1919.

Sweet, Al. Prohibition Blues. New York: M. Witmark & Sons. 1917.

Van and Schenk (music) and Eddie Cantor (lyrics). Green River. Chicago, IL: Van & Schenk Publishers. 1920.

Von Tilzer, Harry (music) and Andrew B. Sterling (lyrics). Whoa January (You’re Going to Be Worse Than July). New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Publisher. 1919.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Lew Brown (lyrics). I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife (Until The Town Went Dry). New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1919.

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Edward Laska (lyrics). The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues). New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1919.


Beyonce. “7/11.” Beyonce: Platinum Edition. Columbia Records. CD. 2014.

[1] Beyonce, “7/11,” Beyonce: Platinum Edition, Columbia Records, CD, 2014.

[2] Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, 2nd ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 73.

[3] Chris Lehault, “The Cider Press: A Brief Cider History,” seriouseats.com, 2 February 2011, http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/02/the-cider-press-the-lost-american-beverage.html.

[4] Garry Wills, Head and Heart: American Christianities, (New York: The Penguin Press, 2007), 297.

[5] Mary Hunt, Preface to A History of the First Decade of the Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction in Schools and Colleges of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, (Boston, MA: Washington Press, 1892), vi.

[6] Wills, 491.

[7] Arnold Madison, Carry Nation, (New York: New York: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1977), 120.

[8] Ernest Hurst Cherrington, History of the Anti-Saloon League, (Westerville, OH: The American Issue Publishing Company, 1913).

[9] The United States Constitution, amend. 18, sec 1, cl 1.

[10] Michael A. Lerner, Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 44.

[11] Edward Marks, They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée, (New York: The Viking Press, 1934), 200.

[12] John Stark, John Barleycorn Good-Bye, (St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co, 1919).

[13] Harry Ruby, What’ll We Do Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry)?, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1919).

[14] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Lew Brown (lyrics), I Never Knew I Had A Wonderful Wife (Until the Town Went Dry), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1919).

[15] William Jerome and Jack Mahoney, Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry, (New York: Leo Feist, Inc, 1918).

[16] Al Sweet, Prohibition Blues, (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1917).

* A Horse’s Neck is a cocktail of brandy, ginger ale and a lemon peel garnish served on the rocks.

[17] Abner Silver (music) and Alex Gerber (lyrics), At the Prohibition Ball, (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1919).

[18] Joseph McCarthy (music) and James Monaco (lyrics), I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry, Dry), (New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc, 1919).

[19] J. Kiern Brennan, Gus Edwards and Paul Cunningham, America Never Took Water and America Never Will, (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1919).

[20] Will E. Skidmore (music) and Marshal Walker (lyrics), Save a Little Dram for Me, (New York: skidmore Music Co. 1920).

[21] Marks, 199.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Harry Von Tilzer (music) and Andrew B. Sterling (lyrics), Whoa January (You’re Going to Be Worse than July), (New York: Harry Von Tilzer Music Publisher, 1919).

[24] Sweet, Prohibition Blues.

[25] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Edward Laska (lyrics), The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues), (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1919).

[26] Billy Joyce and Rubey Cowan, Oh! Doctor, (New York: Stark & Cowan Inc, 1920).

[27] Robert Hood Bowers (music) and Francis DeWitt (lyrics), The Moon Shines on the Moonshine, (New York: Shapiro and Bernstein Music Publishers, 1920).

[28] Von Tilzer and Brown, I Never Knew I Had a Wonderful Wife (until the Town Went Dry).

[29] Jerome and Mahoney, Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry.

[30] Irving Berlin, I’ll See You In C-U-B-A, (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc, 1920).

[31] Francis Byrne, Frank McIntyre and Percy Wenrich, How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry?), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1919).

[32] McCarthy and Monaco, I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry, Dry).

[33] Brennan, Edwards and Cunningham, America Never Took Water and America Never Will.

[34] Von Tilzer and Laska, The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues).

[35] McCarthy and Monaco, I’m Going to Settle Down Outside of London Town (When I’m Dry, Dry Dry).

[36] Martin Ballman (music) and Theodore Phillip and Anna Ballman (lyrics), No Beer, No Work, (Chicago, IL: Martin Ballman, 1919).

[37] “An Inspiring Slogan,” The Bankers Magazine, volume XCVIII, no. 4 (April 1919), 416.

[38] Ballman, Phillip and Ballman, No Beer, No Work.

[39] Van and Schenk (music) and Eddie Cantor (lyrics), Green River, (Chicago Il: Van & Schenk Publishers, 1920).

[40] Jerome and Mahoney, Everybody Will Sunday When the Town Goes Dry.

[41] Ruby, What’ll We Do Saturday Night (When the Town Goes Dry?).

[42] Byrne, McIntyre and Wenrich, How Are You Going to Wet Your Whistle (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry?).

[43] Von Tilzer and Laska, The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues).

[44] Sammy Edwards, No Beer, No Work, (Philadelphia, PA: Emmett J. Welch, 1919).

[45] Von Tilzer and Sterling, Whoa January (You’re Going to Be Worse than July).

[46] Jerome and Mahoney, Everyday Will Be Sunday When the Town Goes Dry.

[47] The United States Congress, “The Volstead Act of 1919,” Section 6, accessed 10 June 2015, located at The National Archives, Document 299827, found at https://research.archives.gov/id/299827.

[48] Joyce and Cowan, Oh! Doctor.

[49] Milton Ager (music) and Grant Clarke (lyrics), It’s The Smart Little Feller Who Stocked Up His Cellar (That’s Getting the Beautiful Girls), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1920).

[50] Edward Rose, Billy Baskette and Lew Pollack, Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar, (New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc, 1919).

[51] Berlin, I’ll See You In C-U-B-A.

[52] Bowers and DeWitt, The Moon Shines on the Moonshine.

[53] Skidmore and Walker, Save a Little Dram for Me.

[54] Edward Behr, Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America, (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2011), 167.

[55] Florence Harding qtd in Katherine A.S. Sibley, First Lady Florence Harding: Behind the Tragedy and controversy, (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2009), 185.

[56] Lerner, 177.

[57] Behr, 87.

[58] Mabel Willebrandt qtd in Behr, 165.

[59] Frank Tirro, Jazz: A History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1977), 158.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid, 178.

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About morganhowland

I am a recent college graduate with a degree in American History. I am also a music nerd who likes keeping up with current music and knowing anything about pop songs of the past. Combining the two ambitions into a blog of essays on various topics of popular song history seems like an appropriate thing to do.

2 responses to “Dry Times: Songs and the Start of Prohibition”

  1. Yang Pai Lao Shi says :

    A student of mine is considering this piece for a class project. Do you have any idea where I could find this song as an MP3? -thx

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