Tag Archive | 1920s pop music

Out of Step: Tin Pan Alley Tries to Get the Blues

The success of the mainstream music industry depends partly on recognising opportunities to introduce consumers to a new music style, then commercializing it for mainstream audiences, and ultimately exploiting the trend until it is no longer popular or profitable. Throughout the history of popular music in America, this model has been successful countless times throughout the decades, whether Minstrel songs of the nineteenth century, ragtime tunes, swing music, and even New Wave and grunge. Perhaps the most famous and infamous example of this marketing model came during the mid-1970s with the arrival of disco. It was an era when the opportunity for fun novelty dance music could not have come at a better time. The early 1970s was an age of bombast played out on rock albums à la Led Zeppelin, Yes, Pink Floyd and T. Rex. At the same time, singer/songwriters and adult contemporary “soft rock” took over AM radio. It is easy to understand why a genre characteristic of big beats, lavish production and frivolity became popular. Put much simpler by Disco promoter Wanda Ramos, “disco is happy music. It has a basic rhythm that everyone can understand.”[1] Disco was tremendously successful, Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman note that a number of additional factors contributed to the appeal of disco, including a mainstream popularity of soul and funk, as well as fresh technologies like synthesizers, synchronized turntables and drum machines along with a revitalization in America’s interest in social dancing.[2] Disco eventually became a profitable commodity to exploit; by 1977, “95% of all record companies have released albums with at least one disco-formatted song” according to the Journal of Marketing.[3] The crash in the market for disco music came in 1979; some rock purists rose up in protest. Famously, seventy thousand people crowded into Chicago’s Comisky Park for Disco Demolition Night, an event where disco records were smashed, set ablaze and a rioting melee ensued. While Disco Demolition Night was not the cause of disco’s decline, it was an indication of an overheated market; the music industry consequently moved on and left the disco craze behind. The music industry does not always get it right in the way it did with disco, though. While recording artists during the early 1920s brought the new style of blues to record, the publishers and composers of Tin Pan Alley attempted to bring the blues to sheet music as well.

During the late 1910s and early 1920s, at the same time that jazz had brought a new nomenclature to the music industry, “blues” was also entering the lexicon of popular music. A rural folk music sung for decades in Jim Crow era South, what would eventually become known as blues music had spread across the South by the end of the nineteenth century. With a highly adaptable chord progression and verse structure, the blues was a style that could be embellished with flatted “blue notes” and lyrics which expressed the minutia of everyday life, creating an immeasurable number of songs. In the early 1910s, composer WC Handy, who had been interested in the artistry and potential profitability of the music, published two commercially successful songs that would give the blues national attention. Following the First World War, with jazz on the minds of many music publishers, record companies and music consumers, blues became another buzzword throughout Tin Pan Alley with dozens of songs taking the blues name. Many of these tunes were not truly indicative of blues music and there are plenty of examples in which the blues name had been exploited, with comical characters in compromising situations and a rash of racial stereotypes that had been en vogue for decades. However, once the publishing craze died down, the blues emerged from the 1920s as its own genre of music with its distinct catalogue of musicians, who eventually went on to influence generations of rock and roll musicians throughout the twentieth century.

Long before the blues constituted its own genre of music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the term blues had already been widely used in songs during the nineteenth century. “The blues” had been used in songs to refer to depression, malaise and lassitude as early as the nineteenth century, in such titles as “I Have Got the Blues To Day!” by Gustave Blesser and Sarah Graham from 1850 in which the main character feels depressed since his sweetheart Fannie has gone away:

But more, oh! More than all I sigh,

That Fannie ever pleased my eyes;

Or that the charmer went away.

To leave me in the blues to day;[4]

This connotation of feeling blue continued in the twentieth century with songs like “That’s Why I’m Lonesome and Blue” from 1909, and even upbeat numbers like “Blame It on the Blues (Very Blue)” from 1913, a ragtime instrumental in tempo di ragioso with the sheet music cover illustrated with a happy couple dancing.[5] The blues had another, more conspicuous usage during the nineteenth century, in which the Blues, capital B, referred to police officers, soldiers, and subsequently, political candidates who supported Union veterans of the Civil War. There were numerous examples in which military units and personnel were honoured with songs and marches. “The Blues Quick Step” by John Holloway from 1836 is dedicated to the “light infantry company Winslow Blues,”[6] while the “Washington Blues March” by F. Watson published in 1843 is “dedicated to the officers and members of the Louisville Washington Blues.”[7] “Republican Blues March” from 1860 had been “composed and respectfully dedicated to the officers and members of the Republican Blues of Savannah Geo.”[8] Specific individuals were also honoured with their own marches. “The City Blues Quick Step” from 1851 is “dedicated to Capt. Johnson of the City Blues.”[9] This practice became even more common following the Civil War as an abbreviation for the “the boys in blue” referring to Union veterans; consequently, various presidential campaign songs, particularly for candidates of the Republican Party, extolled their candidates support of “the Blue.”   There are many instances of linking candidate with the Blues including “Rally for the Leader” for the 1868 campaign of General Ulysses S. Grant “Who led the ‘Boys in blue.’”[10] “The Boys in Blue with See It Through,” a campaign song for Rutherford B. Hayes and William Wheeler in 1876, shows confidence that “Gen’ral Rutherford B. Hayes We have an honest man/And Wheeler has such upright way, We’re bound to lead the van.”[11] “The Veteran’s Vote,” a campaign song from the election of 1880, candidate James Garfield and his running mate Chester A. Arthur are promoted as being staunchly “in line” with the boys in blue.[12] Long before the blues constituted its own separate genre of music, using the blues in music had an already established tradition in American music during the nineteenth century.

While no one is exactly clear how or where the blues tradition developed, it is generally known that the musical style came of age in the South, was sung by former slaves and by the late 1900s, had diffused across the South, in urban and rural areas alike. According to writer LeRoi Jones, blues music “could not exist if the African captives had not become American captives.”[13] The blues moniker did not exist yet; it was social music that developed in the late nineteenth century far away from publishing offices, desks of composers and bandstands of smartly suited brass band musicians. Apparently, there had not been enthusiastic interest in studying the music and its social history at the time of its development. For many white people throughout the region, it was just “Nigger music,” a sentiment shared by erudite African Americans in the north who viewed the style as vulgar.[14] “With a couple of exceptions, ethnomusicologists didn’t become interested in the blues until later, thus missing prime opportunities to document the origins of the music and to record its pioneers,”[15] notes music historian Robert Santelli. After the Boys in Blue left the South following Reconstruction during the late 1870s, segregation laws had been passed in state legislatures throughout the South, leaving recently freed African Americans to face a new legislated social reality that they must “remain subordinate or be exterminated,”[16] according to South Carolina senator Benjamin Tillman in 1900. Blues singing in the Jim Crow South illustrated life in an era of segregation, lynching, tenant farming, poverty and backbreaking labour. Kevin Phinney notes that “the blues was not just a style of music, but a way of being, and its practitioners passed the hat for food and shelter alongside the folk who gathered at honky tonks, cheap eateries, and street corners to listen for a while.”[17] Most of the blues music during this era in the South was likely performed by solo artists, sometimes duos,[18] untrained musicians playing on second-hand or crudely made instruments of any variety. Yet, in spite of the Jim Crow cultural context, there was entertainment value in the music and the opportunity to make a buck during this time. Eventually, it became a form of folk entertainment and “most [blues] musicians likely interspersed into the collection of songs…spirituals, folk standards pop favourites, just about anything that would make a crowd of people take note.”[19] By the early twentieth century, what would eventually become blues music had spread to nearly every corner of the South. Folklorist Howard Odum noted that, during a trip reaching from the Mississippi Delta to Georgia between 1905 and 1908, “more than half the songs he documented were blues.”[20] Although there had not been any study of the roots of blues music during its development, the rural, pastoral music style had spread across the South by the early 1900s.

Typically, blues songs have a rigid system of construction, but one to which each individual performer can add his or her own individual personality to the songs, creating a multitude of song variety. The most ubiquitous elements of blues music depend on the constructions of the verse and the combination of a few simple chords that give the blues its distinct timbre. A distinguishing feature of blues music is the construction of the stanzas, put together in segments of twelve measures, or bars; an unusual structure, since many of the songs coming from the major publishers of the day were nearly always in sixteen bars.[21] Another recognisable characteristic of blues music is the tonal arrangement of the chord progressions. The harmonic structures are simple in form, only three chords are typically used in a fixed order, the “tonic, subdominant and the chord of the dominant seventh…then back to the tonic chord.”[22] But blues music also has a flair for personality including the ways in which singers and musicians add unexpected notes and the lyrical topics which give insight into everyday life of a performer. Flatted notes frequently pepper the music almost at the singer’s whim, the so-called “blue notes” from which blues music gets its name. More specifically, “the flattened third and seventh notes which give the Blues its sound; not unsurprisingly, these have become known as ‘blue notes’.”[23] While the standard twelve-bar verse constructions and the chord progressions give blues songs their structure, the topics and the words of these songs gave the blues the individual flavour and expressed the experiences of each individual singer. “Southern Negroes sang about everything. Trains, steamboats, steam whistles, sledge hammers, fast women, mean bosses, stubborn mules”[24] composer WC Handy remembered from a music trip to the South in 1903. No one is quite sure how blues received its name. In fact “no definite association between the word ‘blue’ and the music known as ‘the blues’ can be established before the 1910s,”[25] including the blues notes, according to jazz historian Frank Tirro. Feeling blue is a common feature, but the blues music does not always rely on complaining about troubles in one’s life, in fact music historian Gilbert Chase observes that while “most blues have the burden of lament associated with the expression ‘feeling blue,’ they have an undertone of humour.”[26] Blues music has a distinctive style in lyrical format, song structure and melodic chord progressions, and yet there are countless permutations to create songs.

The blues remained an underground folk music stretching from Texas to Georgia and from Louisiana to Kentucky until two songs published during the early 1910s brought the style and the moniker into the mainstream consciousness, this was partly due to artistic interest in composing the music and partly due to capitalist intentions to bring a new style to consumers’ attention. Composer and musician William Christopher Handy had travelled across the South during the early 1900s and the rural, pastoral music with its unique phrasing, chord progressions and blue notes had a profound effect on him. In describing his first encounter hearing the music, Handy remarked that “The effect was unforgettable… the weirdest music I have ever heard.”[27] Although he found the style rather primitive, he saw the beauty in it and Handy recalled, “They had the stuff people wanted. It touched the spot.”[28] Handy knew that there was also potential to capitalise on this unusual style of music, as evident from the way that audiences were throwing money at buskers. Handy remembered that “dollars, quarters, halves—the shower [of coins] grew heavier and continued so long I strained my neck to get a better look….There before the boys lay more money than my nine musicians were being paid for an entire engagement.”[29] Financial motives were certainly part of the decision to write down blues music and Handy understood that “their music wanted polishing….People would pay money for it.”[30] In 1912, Handy published “The Memphis Blues,” a reworked “Southern Rag”[31] melody he originally published in 1909 for the election campaign for Memphis mayoral candidate E.H. Crump. It was an immediate hit; within three days, his initial run of 1000 copies sold out.[32] After the success of “The Memphis Blues,” two years later, Handy published “The Saint Louis Blues,” which brought Handy and the blues national attention and fame. Both titles have the virtues of being different both sonically and rhythmically from other popular songs of the early 1910s, however, both tunes have commercial elements which appealed to consumers of mass-produced pop songs. “Like most of Handy’s ‘blues’, those two compositions had much more in common with popular ragtime tunes of the day,”[33] comments Peter Bekker. “The Memphis Blues” after all had been labelled in the way that many ragtime tunes of the day had been labelled, as a cakewalk,[34] while “The Saint Louis Blues” was labelled as a “widely known ragtime composition.”[35] Lyrically, “The Saint Louis Blues” fits within the sort of torch songs popular in the early 1910s and is fairly commonplace; in the song, a woman pines for a man who is leaving, a topic which had been published dozens of times during this time period, “He’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea/Or else he would not go so far from me”[36] read some of the rather poetic lyrics. Keeping in touch with the pop music trends of the day is what often leads to commercial success after all, selling a product that people already know and will purchase even for a foreign sounding music, and this was Handy’s method. For all of the commercial success that both songs had over a relatively short period of time, W.C. Handy was modest in his role in the development of blues music, never having claimed that he invented the genre, likening himself as a person whose role in the “history was to introduce this, the ‘blues’ form, to the general public,”[37] although his publishing firm Pace & Handy Music Company in Memphis had been referred to as The “Home of the Blues.”[38] By 1914, the blues music that had been prevalent folk music found its place within the pop music scene after the publication of “The Memphis Blues” and “The Saint Louis Blues.”

It would not take long before major music publishers and famous songwriters took notice and produced their own blues songs throughout the late 1910s and early 1920s and attempted to ride the wave of popularity of the song style, or at least its name. The rhythmic, lyrical and sonic characteristics of blues music were slowly creeping into the music market of the early 1910s. “Nigger Blues,” published in 1913, has all the elements of blues music including its twelve-bar verse patterns, blue notes, characteristic chord progression and the lyrical style of twice-repeated lines:

When a man gets blue,

He takes a train and rides,

When a man gets blue,

He takes a train and rides,

When a woman gets blue, She hangs her little head and cries.[39]

Vaudeville star Sophie Tucker saw the value of adding blues music to her act as early as 1915; after all, adding fresh, new song styles would garner further interest in her performances and perhaps increase attendance of her shows. “The Broadway Blues” was in the blues style, about her having the blues in the midst of Broadway glamour; drinking seems to be the best method of defeating her blues:

Got to go and get myself some gin right now

Got to go and get myself some gin right now

It’s an awful thing when gloom keeps hanging ‘round

With the Broadway blues those Broadway blues.[40]

But the blues trend never really accelerated in popularity during the mid 1910s; Tin Pan Alley composers were busy cashing in on two consecutive music crazes, the first, for Hawaiian songs between 1915 and 1916 and a second craze over wartime music during the Great War. By 1919, two converging trends would push Tin Pan Alley composers and lyricists to write a number of songs about having the blues. Around 1919, after Jazz music had found its way into the lexicon of American music, songs about the South became immensely popular. Two songs by Milton Ager from 1919 affirm this trend, that “Everything is Peaches Down in Georgia” and that “Anything is Nice if It Comes From Dixieland.” During these years, composer Walter Donaldson made a career of writing songs about life in the South, even though he was born and raised in Brooklyn.[41] It was an era when Al Jolson interpolated George Gershwin’s song “Swanee” for his musical vehicle Sinbad and managed to make it a hit, along with two other Southern songs, “My Mammy,” sung in blackface, and “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.”[42] During this time, blues songs and singers were making their way on record and becoming increasingly popular with both black and white audiences. With Southern music en vogue on stage and in sheet music and the Southern style of blues music coming of age on record, unsurprisingly, a rash of various “Blues” titles came out of Tin Pan Alley and featured on stages up and down Broadway. The Louis Hirsch comedy The Rainbow Girl (1918) included “The Alimony Blues,” the Rudolph Friml comedy Tumble In (1919) included “The Wedding Blues,” Jerome Kern “topped the score” with “Left All Lone Again Blues” in The Night Boat (1920),[43] Kern also wrote “The Blue Danube Blues” for Good Morning Dearie (1921). Titles of this time also included “Singing the Blues Until My Daddy Comes Home” and “Home Again Blues” from 1920, “High Brown Blues” and “The Wood Alcohol Blues” from 1921. By 1922 and 1923, Tin Pan Alley songs about various sorts of blues included titles like “Lovesick Blues,” “The Blue Kitten Blues” “Yankee Doodle Blues,” “Cinderella Blues,” “Golfing Blues,” “Out Where the Blues Began,” “Blue Hoosier Blues.” During the late 1910s and early 1920s, Tin Pan Alley composers pumped out blues tunes with ferocity, with hopes that they would earn a big blues hit.

Within the lyrics of these sheet music Tin Pan Alley blues songs, there is a pattern which emerges regularly; the blues songs as imagined by composers and lyricists involve certainly that a character in the song has the blues about some aspect of his or her life. Topics of money, work, and, of course, love come up regularly with characters lamenting about their personal situations. Topical fears of losing family members in the war connected music consumers to “Those Draftin’ Blues” from 1918, in which persons are instructed in the refrain that “When Uncle Sam calls out your man/Don’t sigh, And cry…You know it’s gonna break your heart/To let you honey go away,” all the while performers are instructed to “observe grace notes with moaning effect”[44] to mimic the style of blues singing. In Albert Von Tilzer’s “I’ve Got the Travelling ‘Choo-Choo’ Blues,” the main character, a homeless “roamin’ Romeo” complains about his “home that runs on wheels Where they don’t serve homemade meals.”[45] Work is lamented in “Pullman Porter Blues (A Light Brown Blues)” from 1921, in which a tip collector “get[s] nothing but abuse” from demanding passengers:

It’s “Pullman Porter What town are we at?”

It’s “Pullman Porter Brush off my hat”

“Now look here porter someone stole my booze,”

I got the Pullman Porter Blues.[46]

Money, or more exactly, the lack of money, is the source of a person’s blues in Irving Berlin and Henry Akst’s “Home Again Blues” from 1920 in which a “rolling stone for many years” decides to return home without a cent to his name:

When I left my home I didn’t have a cent

I wasn’t broke but I was badly bent

I didn’t have a single dine to count

And now I’m going home with the same amount[47]

The main character of “I’ve Got Those Bonus Blues” from 1922 asserts that the audience has “heard of all kinds of blues” and then expresses grief about his money woes, but is at least hopeful about his future:

Better days are sure to come,

That’s plain to see

Uncle Sam will surely send it

And I know just how I will spend it[48]

Such sentiment about people in dire situations having the blues continues when love and relationships are involved. Humour is threaded throughout the stanzas of “Cry Baby Blues” form 1921, a song in which a man cannot get any loving from his “baby,” “You’re the baby I’ve been callin’ my own/Oh! Me, Oh! My, You’re about the meanest baby I’ve known/And here’s just why, When I wanna kiss you answer no.”[49] This sort of song topic is reminiscent of the 1890s, when sad sentiment had been shamelessly pedalled to evoke emotion; the sadder the song, the bigger the profit.[50] The blues streak of the late 1910s and early 1920s was about hearing how other people had felt sad and dejected by love, money and work.

There is something fundamentally at odds with the bucolic nature of blues music and what it became during a publishing fad, that the blues had become exploited by composers trying to bring the song’s style to sheet music. Traditional blues music was not composed; instead, it was played on rudimentary instruments and sung by black people in the Jim Crow South observing life around them. It was music that had context within its environment. According to Ted Gioia, blues music “sings of small, everyday details of individual lives.”[51] The composers and lyricists of Tin Pan Alley, on the other hand, were professionals, most often white folk since African Americans were routinely barred from ASCAP.[52] They wrote commercial music that they thought consumers would purchase. According to music historian Frank Tirro, the “two most successful songwriters composing blues were Irving Berlin and Gus Kahn”[53] during this time. Bluesman Clarence Williams asserts that “I’d never have written the blues if I had been white. You don’t study to write blues, you feel them.”[54] African American musicians and composers Porter Grainger and Bob Ricketts in 1926 instructed people that “to render a ‘blues’ song effectively, it is necessary to possess a fair knowledge of the spirit and circumstance” of the music.[55] Obviously, there are major discrepancies and sometimes silliness to some of these blues numbers coming from the major publishing houses. When Prohibition came into effect, titles like “The Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues)” and “I’ve Got the Prohibition Blues (For My Booze)” came into existence, neither of which were in the blues twelve-bar style or embellished with blue notes; the songs contained such maladroit lyrics as “I’ve got the blues, I’ve got the Blues Since they amputated my booze”[56] and “I’ve got the prohibition blues/In memory of beer I’ll shed a tear.”[57] The blues meme was not restricted to the topicality of prohibition, pop culture came into the sphere of blues influence including the self-referential “Everybody’s Crazy ‘Bout the Doggone Blues But I’m Happy”[58] and “I’ve got the ‘Yes! We Have No Bananas’ Blues,” which expresses annoyance of constantly hearing the popular nonsense song that became a “national scourge”[59] in 1923. A slew of comical yet racially insensitive stereotypes that had been Tin Pan Alley fodder for at least two decades also came through in various blues songs. The piano-playing talent of “A darkey known as Hosanna Clay,”[60] was commemorated in “Bluin’ the Blues,” which became a major instrumental hit for the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1919. Asians were also included as in Philip Braham and Douglas Furber’s “Limehouse Blues” from Charlot’s Revue of 1924, in which “yellow chinkies love to play…those blues all day.”[61] An orthodox Jewish jazz band is caricatured on the cover of “The House of David Blues” from 1923 and their long whiskers are mentioned since “they play the Barber Shop Chord but they never shave.”[62] An immigrant has the blues for mother Russia in “Russian Blues” from Englishman Noel Coward:

Maybe I’ll return some day

It may be hysteria, but even if it means Siberia,

Start your locomotive,

Rock your little boat, I shall feel so happy when I know that I’m afloat.[63]

It seems as though the songwriters of the major publishing houses were missing the point and the soul of blues music, using it as a commodity in some silly ways.

The craze for blues numbers came and went on Tin Pan Alley and, although making occasional appearances on sheet music, the fad fizzled within a few years. However, blues remained tremendously popular and is one of the few fads in American music history to undergo a profound change from music fad into its own genre which continues to influence generations of musicians. While many of the songs mentioned in this essay had no lasting implication on song history, their recorded counterparts, the “classic blues” of the likes of Charley Patton, “Ma” Rainey, Mamie Smith and Bessie Smith enjoyed so much success that an entire industry of “race records” flourished during the 1920s, a term later replaced by “rhythm and blues,” “a term invented by a white Billboard writer, Jerry Wexler…to replace the derogatory trade name ‘race music,’” notes John Seabrook.[64] Blues has also enjoyed international appreciation when bluesman Spencer Williams published many Delta Blues songs and even popularised the music in Europe with successful tours in France in 1925 and in England 1932.[65] In 1924, blue notes became part of the American classical music canon in the writing of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” one of the most famous compositions in American music, a piece which manages to blend together pop, jazz, blues and even elements of klezmer music into orchestral instrumentation.[66] Blues musicians became musical celebrities like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Sarah Vaughn, etc. Blues music and its musicians consequently influenced an entire generation of musicians coming of age during the early Rock and Rock Era like Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and even the Beatles. Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones remark that “For the rest of [the 1960s], the blues was one of the key ingredients of rock music, leaving its unmistakable mark on international superstars as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream and Bob Dylan.”[67] Although the publishing craze of the early 1920s came and went, the blues influence continued to have an impact on the music industry for decades and continues to enjoy success as its own genre of music.


Bekker, Peter O.E. The Story of the Blues. New York: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers. 1997.

Bordman, Gilbert. American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992.

Burton, Jack. The Blue Book of Tin Pan Alley: A Human Interest Anthology of American Popular Music. Watkins Glen, NY: Century House. 1951.

Chase, Gilbert. America’s Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1966.

Davis, Francis. The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People from Charley Patton to Robert Cray. New York: Hyperion. 1995.

Deats, Randy. Dancing Disco. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks. 1979.

Gates, Jr, Henry Louis. Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2011.

Gioia, Ted. Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters who revolutionized American Music. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2008.

Hine, Darlene Clark, William C. Hine and Stanley Harrold. African Americans: A Concise History. 4th Ed. New York: Pearson. 2012.

Johnson, Lonnell.  “Sep. 28: WC Handy Published Memphis Blues in 1912.” Examiner.com. 26 September 2013.

King, Stephen A. I’m Feeling the Blues Right Now: Blues Tourism and the Mississippi Delta. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. 2011.

Komara, Edward. Encyclopedia of the Blues. New York: Routledge. 2006.

Morgan, Thomas L and William Barlow. From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music from 1895 to 1930. Washington, DC: Elliot & Clark Publishing. 1992.

Phinney, Kevin. Souled American: How Black Music Transformed White Culture. New York: Billboard Music. 2005.

“Pistol Packin’ Mama.” Life Magazine. Volume 15, number 11. 11 October 1943. Reproduced in Gentry, Linnell. A History and Encyclopaedia of Country, Western and Gospel Music. St Clare Shore, MI: Scholarly Press. 1972. 55-56.

“Rhapsody in Blue.” Jewish Currents. JEDAYO (blog). 11 February 2014. http://jewishcurrents.org/february-12-rhapsody-blue-24271.

Santelli, Robert. A Century of the Blues. Contained in Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues. Peter Guralnick, Robert Santelli, et al, ed. New York: Amistad. 2003. 12-59.

Seabrook, John. The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2015.

Starr, Larry and Christopher Waterman. American Popular Music: The Rock Years. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press. 2005.

Stibal, Mary E. “Disco—Birth of a New Marketing System.” Journal of Marketing 14, No 4 (1977): 82-88.

Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2012.

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

Wyman, Bill with Richard Havers. Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey: A Journey to Music’s Heart and Soul. New York: DK Publishing. 2001.

Songs Cited

Berlin, Irving and Harry Akst. Home Again Blues. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1920.

Blessner, Gustave (music) and Sarah Graham (lyrics). I Have Got the Blue To Day! New York: Firth Pond & Co. 1850.

Braham, Phillip (music) and Douglas Furber (lyrics). Limehouse Blues. New York: T.B. Harms. 1922.

Coward, Noel. Russian Blues. New York: Harms Inc. 1923.

Downing, David. City Blues Quickstep. New York: William Hall & Son. 1851.

Frangkiser, C.M. (music) and Lew Hatton (lyrics). I’ve Got Those Bonus Blues. Fort Dodge, IA: King House Music. 1922.

Goedeler, R. The Boys in Blue Will See It Through. New York: S.Y. Gordon & Son. 1876.

Handy, W.C. Beale Street Blues. Memphis, TN: Pace & Handy Music Co. 1916.

——-. The Memphis Blues. Memphis, TN: Joe Morris Music Co. 1912.

——-. The Saint Louis Blues. Memphis, TN: Pace & Handy Music Co. 1914.

Herrick, George D (music) and D. McNaughton. Rally for the Leader! Chicago, IL: Root and Cady. 1868.

Holloway, John. The Blues Quick Step. Boston, MA: John Aston & Co. 1836.

Keene, Bessie L (music) and W.C. Keene (lyrics). That’s Why I’m Lonesome and Blue. Baltimore, MD: W.C. Keene Music Publishing Co. 1909.

Kunkle, Charles (music) and I.D. Foulon (lyrics). The Veteran’s Vote. St. Louis, MO: Kunkle Brothers. 1880.

Louis, L. Republican Blues March. New York: Firth Pond & Co. 1860.

Meyer, George W. (music) and Joe Yong and Sam Lewis (lyrics). Cry-Baby Blues. New York: Irving Berlin Inc. 1921.

Pickard, Maceo. Those Draftin’ Blues. New York: Jos. Stern & Co. 1918.

Ragas, H.W. (music) and Sidney D. Mitchell (lyrics). Bluin’ the Blues. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1919.

Schoebel, Elmer, Billy Meyers and Irving Mills. The House of David Blues. New York: Jack Mills Inc. 1923.

Sherman, Terry (music) and J. Brandon Walsh (lyrics). Sophie Tucker’s Broadway Blues. Chicago, IL: Will Rossiter. 1915.

Ulrich, Clifford and Burton Hamilton. Pullman Porter Blues (A Light Brown Blues). New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1921.

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

Von Tilzer, Albert (music) and Lew Brown (lyrics). I’ve Got the Travelling “Choo-Choo Blues.” New York: Broadway Music Corporation. 1921.

Watson, Lieutenant F. The Washington Blues’ March. New York: J.J. Hewitt & Co. 1843.

White, Leroy “Lasses.” Nigger Blues. Dallas, TX: Bush & Gerts. 1909.

Zerse, Carl. I’ve Got the Prohibition Blues (For My Booze). St. Louis, MO: Carl Zerse. 1919.

[1] Wanda Ramos qtd in Randy Deats, Dancing Disco, (New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1979), 125.

[2] Starr, Larry and Christopher Waterman, American Popular Music: The Rock Years. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 223.

[3] Mary E. Stibal, “Disco—Birth of a New Marketing System,” Journal of Marketing 41, No 4 (1977): 83.

[4] Gustave Blessner (music) and Sarah M. Graham (lyrics), I Have Got the Blues To Day!, (New York: Firth Pond & Co, 1850).

[5] Charles L. Cooke, Blame It on the Blues, (New York: Jerome H Remick & co, 1913).

[6] John Holloway, The Blues Quick Step, (Boston MA: John Ashton & Co, 1836).

[7] Lieutenant F. Watson, Washington Blues’ March, (New York: J.J. Hewitt & Co, 1843).

[8] L. Louis, Republican Blues March, (New York: Firth Pond & Co, 1860).

[9] David Downing, City Blues Quick Step, (New York: William Hall & Son, 1851).

[10] George D. Herrick (music) and D. McNaughton, Rally for the Leader!, (Chicago, IL: Root and Cady, 1868).

[11] R. Goerdeler, The Boys in Blue Will See It Through, (New York: S.R. Gordon & Son, 1876).

[12] Charles Kunkle (music) and I.D. Foulon (lyrics), The Veteran’s Vote, (St Louis, MO: Kunkle Brothers, 1880).

[13] LeRoi Jones qtd in Harry Louis Gates, Jr, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 351.

[14] Stephen A. King, I’m Feeling the Blues Right Now: Blues Tourism and the Mississippi Delta, (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), 136.

[15] Robert Santelli, “A Century of the Blue,” contained in Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey, edited by Peter Guralnick, Robert Santelli, et al, (New York: Amistad, 2003), 14.

[16] Benjamin Tillman qtd in Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi, America: A Narrative History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012), 717.

[17] Kevin Phinney, Souled American: How Black Music Transformed White Culture, (New York: Billboard Books, 2005), 93.

[18] Santelli, “A Century of the Blues,” 18.

[19] Ibid, 17.

[20] Bill Wyman with Richard Havers, Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey: A Journey to Music’s Heart and Soul, (New York: DK Publishing, 2001), 69.

[21] Gilbert Chase, America’s Music: From Pilgrims to the Present, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966), 450.

[22] ibid.

[23] Wyman with Havers, 15.

[24] W.C. Handy qtd in Darlene Clark Hine, William C. Hine and Stanley Harrold, African Americans: A Concise History, 4th Ed, (New York: Pearson, 2012), 358.

[25] Frank Tirro, Jazz: A History, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1977), 53.

[26] Chase, 449.

[27] W.C. Handy qtd in Wyman and Havers, 68.

[28] W.C. Handy qtd in Hine, Hine and Harrold.

[29] W.C. Handy qtd in Francis Davis, The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People from Charley Patton to Robert Cray, (New York: Hyperion, 1995), 26.

[30] W.C. Handy qtd in Hine, Hine and Harrold.

[31] W.C. Handy, The Memphis Blues, or Mister Crump, (Memphis, TN: W.C. Handy, 1912).

[32] Lonnell Johnson, “Sep. 28: WC Handy publishes Memphis Blues in 1912,” Examiner.com, 26 September 2013, http://www.examiner.com/article/sep-28-1912-wc-handy-publishes-memphis-blues.

[33] Bekker,15.

[34] W.C. Handy, The Memphis Blues.

[35] W.C. Handy, The St Louis Blues (Memphis, TN: Pace and Handy Music Co, 1914).

[36] Ibid.

[37] W.C. Handy qtd in Thomas L. Morgan and William Barlow, From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music from 1895 to 1930, (Washington, DC: Elliot & Clark Publishing, 1992), 92.

[38] W.C. Handy, Beale Street Blues, (Pace & Handy Music Co, 1916).

[39] Leroy “Lasses” White, Nigger Blues, (Dallas, TX: Bush & Gerts, 1913).

[40] Terry Sherman (music) and J. Brandon Walsh (lyrics), Sophie Tucker’s Broadway Blues, (Chicago, IL: Will Rossiter, 1915).

[41] Jack Burton, The Blue Book of Tin Pan Alley: A Human Interest Anthology of American Popular Music, (Watkins Glen, NY: Century House, 1951), 165-166.

[42] Gilbert Bordman, American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, 2nd ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 331.

[43] Bordman, 347.

[44] Maceo Pinkard, Those Draftin’ Blues, (New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co, 1918).

[45] Albert Von Tilzer (music) and Lew Brown (lyrics), I’ve Got the Travelling “Choo-Choo Blues,” (New York: Broadway Music Corporation, 1921).

[46] Clifford Ulrich and Burton Hamilton, Pullman Porter Blues (A Light Brown Blues), (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1921).

[47] Irving Berlin and Harry Akst, Home Again Blues, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1920).

[48] C.M. Frangkiser (music) and Lew Hatton (lyrics), I’ve Got Those Bonus Blues, (Fort Dodge, IA: K.L. King Music House, 1922).

[49] George W. Meyer (music) and Joe Young and Sam Lewis (lyrics), Cry-Baby Blues, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1921).

[50] For a look at how sad songs had been pop gold see Morgan Howland, “1890s Pop Trend: The Sentimental Ballad,” 13 February 2014, Pop Song History (blog), https://popsonghistory.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/1890s-pop-trend-the-sentimental-ballad-3/.

[51] Ted Gioia, Delta Blues: The Lies and Times of the Mississippi Masters who Revolutionized American Music, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), 13.

[52] Morgan and Barlow, 49.

[53] Tirro, 61.

[54] Clarence Williams qtd in Morgan and Barlow, 91.

[55] Porter Grainger and Bob Rickets qtd in Edward Komara, Encyclopedia of the Blues, (New York: Routledge, 2006). 438.

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

[57] Carl Zerse, I’ve Got the Prohibition Blues (For My Booze), (St Louis, MO: Carl Zerse, 1919).

[58] Marion Harris, Everybody’s Crazy Bout the Doggone Blues, But I’m Happy, (Victory 18443) 1917, http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/6462/

[59] “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” Life Magazine, Vol 15, No 11, October 11, 1943 found in Linnell Gentry, A History and Encyclopedia of Country, Western and Gospel Music, (St. Clare Shores, MI: Scholarly Press, 1972), 55.

[60] H.W. Ragas (music) and Sidney D. Mitchell (lyrics), Bluin’ the Blues, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1919).

[61] Philip Braham (music) and Douglas Furber (lyrics), Limehouse Blues, (New York: T.B. Harms, 1922).

[62] Elmer Schoebel, Billy Meyers and Irving Mills, The House of David Blues, New York: Jack Mills Inc, 1923).

[63] Noel Coward, Russian Blues, (New York: Harms Inc, 1923).

[64] John Seabrook, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015), 53.

[65] Jack Burton, The Blue Book of Tin Pan Alley: a Human Interest Anthology of American Popular Music, (Watkins Glen, NY: Century House, 1951), 248.

[66] To see a clip from of Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra performing Rhapsody in Blues, please visit “Rhapsody in Blues,” JEWDAYO (blog), Jewish Currents, 11 February 2014, http://jewishcurrents.org/february-12-rhapsody-blue-24271.

[67] Wyman and Havers, 15.

Exotic Numbers: Tin Pan Alley Daydreams about the Orient

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, robust development in the musical business and its assortment of technologies had turned every aspect of the American pop song industry on its head. At the turn of the twentieth century, rags, cakewalks and coon songs had captured the attention of the music business, but after twenty years, the entire vocabulary of music industry had morphed into jazz, blues, and fox trots. Male barbershop quartets which had a considerable presence on record for the entire Ragtime Era, relented their popularity while instrumental jazz orchestras and their celebrity bandleaders became the preferred musical fashion for the 1920s and 1930s. The entire Ragtime Era brought changes in musical culture from domestic piano culture to passive entertainments of mechanical music reproduction of player pianos and talking machines. Consequently, the recording industry had become a multimillion-dollar business which “shoved the piano down a sharply steeped slope.”[1] The voices that consumers were hearing on record had undergone dramatic demographic change as well between these two decades. Instead of white singers performing coon songs in black dialect, a style that had been in vogue circa 1900, two decades later, African-American singers and musicians like “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Louis Armstrong found mainstream success, so much so that niche labels like Okeh, Ajax and Paramount came into business releasing so-called “race records” with the increasing demand for African-American musicians who had “greater influence upon American culture.”[2] The recording industry would undergo further dramatic changes just a few years later when electronics put an end to turn-of-the-century acoustic methods of recording and transmitted music directly into the home via radio. With all of this change and sheet music in a slowly declining state, a new song trend about foreign and exotic lands would make a stylish impact on sheet music in the early Jazz Era.

At the beginning of the Jazz Era in the late 1910s and early 1920s, popular culture’s interest in Asian and Middle Eastern things had been renewed and riding the trend were the composers and lyricists of Tin Pan alley; a song trend featuring exotic and oriental lands had come to the market. The trend was noticeable with illustrations of oriental themes on sheet music and lyrics which describe exotic people and their mannerisms. The trend also had its own distinctive sound with a specific beat and Jazz-styled chords and intervals in melodies. The word oriental was a convenient word for lyricists to use since it adds an element of novelty without being terribly specific and it was used to describe everything to environment to personal appearance. However, looking more deeply at the trend in exotic songs, the oriental trend featured song-writing techniques which had been in use by Tin Pan Alley for years. With geography and distance between people inherent parts of the trend in oriental songs, sentimental torch songs of unrequited love, make up a sizeable majority of these songs. There were cases in which the oriental trend had brought about funny people engaged in funny situations in the Orient, including the sex appeal of the harem and curious encounters with Sultans. However, within the trend in oriental songs, there were ways in which oriental elements of these songs had been used beyond the scope of the exotic trend. Songs with dated formats, song-writing buzzwords used for non-oriental purposes and caricatures of Chinese people had been influenced by the trend in oriental songs. By 1924, the trend had subsided, but with so much activity in the pop song market, had been a noticeable trend than a prevailing fad.

Oriental influence on pop culture was nothing new to Americans in the 1920s, in fact popular culture had been impacted by interest in the East for decades. After Japan and China had been opened up for western trade in the nineteenth century, Asian styles of decorative arts became fashionable in American and Europe homes and Western companies found great success with their lines of Chinoiserie or Japonisme designed domestic arts. Decorative plants like azaleas and rhododendrons became an increasingly popular choice in Western gardens after their export from China during the nineteenth century.[3] Noel Fahden Briceno notes that expositions in Philadelphia in 1876, Chicago in 1893 and Buffalo in 1900 brought Asian arts to the attention of even more American consumers and successive waves in availability for Chinoiserie items followed each exposition.[4] Middle Eastern, particularly Egyptian motifs also found their place in the Western decorative market including obelisks, sphinxes, and pyramids and images of Cleopatra. The trend was so pervasive throughout the history of decorative arts that the term Egyptomania is used to describe the phenomenon.[5] Exotic places and people were nothing new to the pop song market either by 1920; numerous songs during the Ragtime era feature distant lands including titles like “Egypt” (1903), “Turkish Trophies” (1909), “Under the Oriental Moon” (1909), and “an Indian isle,”[6] the setting of the popular “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers” from 1909. By 1919 following the conclusion to the First World War, a renewed interest in all things Asian, Middle Eastern and Egyptian had come into fashion. Advertising brought exotic portrayals of girls in Egyptian wardrobe hawking everything from Cusenier Cognac to Egyptian Luxury Cigarettes to Palmolive Shampoo.[7] By 1919, popular movies often depicted oriental themes including The Fall of Babylon, Harakiri, Broken Blossoms and Auction of Souls became some of the most popular films of that year.[8] Egyptomania would be reignited in America in 1922, followed the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.[9] The pop song market would also reflect this renewed interest with the East and stylish sheet music featuring Middle Eastern landscapes, fashion accessories on beautiful exotic women and lyrics which reflected the distant nature of the Orient. When exotic and oriental songs came onto the pop song market in the late 1910s, pop culture had already experienced various waves of oriental influence and was enjoying a resurgent spike in interest in oriental and exotic themes.

With renewed interest in the Orient, the subsequent pop song trend prominently offered music consumers foreign settings; geography consequently plays a central role in oriental songs. Naturally, the most effective way to introduce a song’s distant and exotic setting is to style the sheet music covers as much as possible. Cover art is musical advertisement; it is the first thing that music consumers see when shopping for music and the decorative nature of the oriental trend was colourfully displayed conspicuously, and Middle Eastern elements had been the prevalent theme on these illustrations. Byron Gay’s “Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose)” features an illustrated scene of camels, caravans and the golden light of sun setting against a desert.[10] The cover art for “Egyptian Moonlight” features illustrations of all things Egyptomania including palm trees and a couple resting beside a slumbering camel.[11] In other songs, the artwork is more specific in detail including a girl wearing fashionable Egyptian-styled clothing and jewellery with towering minarets of a mosque in the background in Olson, Thompson and O’Neill’s “Kharmine.”[12] The cover art of “The Sheik (Of Araby)” features a scene of a sheik clad in a turban and robes embracing his adoring maiden.[13] The description of these far off lands is even more baroque and stylised within the lyrics of the song with geography illustrated in dreamy detail for the sake of the song’s setting. In “Egyptian Moonlight,” the action of the song happens in relief to the Egyptian landscape illustrated rather attractively as “Down where the old dreamy Nile is flowing.”[14] A similar graceful and stylish scene of Egypt can be found in “There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes”

There’s Egypt in your dreamy eyes

A bit of Cairo in your style

The shades of night are in your hair

While fragrant incense seems to the fill the air.[15]

In “Hindustan” the exotic nature of the geography is the most memorable experience for the main character in the song, the landscape is so important that the lyric “where I met her and the world began”[16] emphasises the impact of Hindustan’s geography. “The Sheik (of Araby)” features lyrics which combine descriptions of arid land and robust action, “Over the desert wild and free/Rides the bold Sheik of Araby,”[17] the imagery is amplified by the romantic embrace illustrated on the cover. When the exotic and oriental nature of the songs had come onto the pop song scene, the imagery of the setting both on cover art and within the lyrics became an important addition to define the style of song content.

The protrusion of oriental songs onto the American song market had not just been about the dreamy style of the songs’ locations and decorative nature of sheet music; it had briefly formed its own musical genre with its own distinct sound suited for the tonal sensibilities of the Jazz Era including heavy distinctive beats and interesting combinations of chords. There had developed a distinctive beat to oriental songs, of heavy march-like “four on the floor” beat with the second beat of a measure composed of two accented eighth notes. This beat is a common marker of a new genre of “Oriental Fox Trots” which had come onto the market of sheet music and disc recordings. “The Vamp,” specifically labelled as a “novelty Oriental Fox Trot” according to the title page,[18] incessantly has this rhythm from beginning to end, which is amplified on record between the sparse lines in the verses and refrain.[19] This distinct oriental rhythmic pattern is also found in the accompaniment to Byron Gay’s “Sand Dunes,”[20] Olson, Thompson and O’Neal’s “Kharmine,”[21] and the heavily accented chord accompaniment to Oliver Wallace and Harold Weeks’s “Hindustan.”[22] However, with the sonic changes that Jazz had brought to the music market at the time, the melodies and chord progressions had been stylised with chromatic runs, exotic chords and intervals to add more distinctive musical elements to Tin Pan Alley songs. The song Richard Whiting and Raymond Egan tune “The Japanese Sandman” opens with a descending flourish of syncopated chromatic chords.[23] The melodic lines of “Dardanella” ascend and descend a chromatic scale seemingly without any key at all,[24] the song’s sound was tremendously popular that recordings by Ben Selvin and his Orchestra sold one million records.[25] The chorus of “Hindustan” features some very jazzy blue notes of minor thirds and flatted ninths.[26] The verses of “The Sheik (Of Araby)” prominently feature the Middle Eastern-sounding interval between minor third and raised fourth.[27] For the oriental song trend, songs did not just look pretty with exotic locations on the covers, but also sounded exotic with a distinct rhythmic accompaniment and foreign sounding intervals and chromatic runs.

However, besides the style of the images and the sound of the music, there is another feature to these oriental songs, that their exotic people and places are characteristically described as vaguely as possible with the qualifier oriental. Presumably, the word could mean anything Middle Eastern or Asian and its inclusion is a convenient way for lyricists to describe something exotic without getting bogged down with details. Giving a new song an oriental name representative of a new genre had been a noticeable feature, for example, “Egyptian Moonlight” is specifically labelled as an “Oriental Love Song.” The rhythms of the accompaniments to exotic songs had given way to a new genre of Oriental Fox Trots; a popular recording by Paul Whiteman Orchestra was generically titled “Oriental Fox Trot.[28]” A further examination of the word oriental in reference to song lyrics reveals that there are instances when it is both semantically vacuous, while also at least adding intrigue to the song’s content. In the song “Dardanella” the setting where the title girl resides is described “Beside the Dardanella Bay/Where Oriental breezes play”[29] although oriental does not really mean anything. The oriental geography also becomes part of personal characteristics of people in songs, which adds mystery without much specificity. For example, in “There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes,” a girls is described as having “All the Orient in your smile/Mysterious as River Nile.”[30] The Irving Berlin song “The Syncopated Vamp” links the vocabulary of jazz trends with new with the interest in Egyptomania by describing the main character, a dancing girl, as a “Jazzy Cleopatra.”[31] The title character of the song “Kharmine” is addressed as “Kharmine, my gypsy Kharmine, So Oriental” in the refrain, a statement which is descriptive but as generic as the word oriental. In the song “Chong (He Came from Hong Kong)” the main character of the song Little Allee Ho Chong is described as “played all day in an oriental way,”[32] but that does not actually describe what he is doing. Beyond the dreamy descriptions of geography and the sounds of Jazzy oriental songs, there is also a self-referential quality to these songs which is more semantically vacuous while curiously adding depth in detail.

Among the dreamy landscapes, exotic locations and driving jungle beats rampant during the exotic trend, there is admittedly nothing truly distinctive about the overall lyrical content of exotic songs. Similar to the ways in which love is represented during World War I love songs where couple had been separated by the conflict or the Hawaiian fad of 1915 and 1916 where one half of the couple is in Hawaii and the other is on the mainland, love during the exotic trend is similarly expressed by means of geographic separation. Consequently, most of the trend’s love songs have the lonesome sentiment of torch songs that had been on trend with musical fashion of the late 1910s. Much of the actual lyrical content apart from exotic geography rests upon the content of sentimental torch songs, maudlin feelings set against the backdrop of exotic locations deserts, nights and sand. In “Hindustan,” the main character in the lyrics pines over his love emotionally, “Soft my heart is crying for my love afar.”[33] In “Kharmine,” the title character languishes, “I’m so lonely I want only you…Kharmine, My heart’s aflame/And dearie, I know I’ll be content With you in the orient.”[34] A female perspective in “Burnin’ Sands” addresses love in the same manner, this time, in the middle of a desert suggested by the title. “Across the Burning Sands, There waits my Arab man,”[35] read the lyrics. The title girl in “Dardanella” stands next to the sea waiting for her man to come back to her,

There lives a lonesome maid, Armenian

By Dardanelles with glowing eyes.

She looks across the seas and sighs.”[36]

The main speaker in “Sand Dunes” envisions an idyllic life in the oriental desert, “No clouds of show’rs in the lands of repose, A world of True love is ours, Sweetheart in our little Sand Dunes home” while longing for “my sweet desert rose.”[37] In Irving Berlin’s “Tell Me, Pretty Gypsy,” the speaker in the song consults with a Gypsy fortune-teller to tell him some good news about his future and his love life.[38] While this sentimental torch song element represents a large variety of exotic numbers, not all oriental songs have this sort of sentiment. In “The Sheik (of Araby),” inspired by the imagery of a popular film The Sheik starring Rudolph Valentino,[39] a sheik finds not just a bride, but also a queen, “You’ll rule this land with me; the Sheik of Araby.”[40] The lyrics of “Dardanella” are more about the celebration of the title girl rather than an emphasis on her distance from the speaker in the song.[41] Even though the new fashions of songs with foreign locations had come onto the market, their lyrical content of love, and the consequences of distance of oriental locations resulted in sentimental torch songs.

Of course, whenever the music industry finds a new song trend, there are other facets to consider and not all songs during the exotic wave were about teary proclamations of unattainable love. Humour was also a tremendously important entertaining component to music and during the trend in oriental numbers, songwriters included humour by using out of context Americans in the orient, with awkward encounters with Sultans and visits to their various harems. The easiest method to include funny situations and characters was, of course, to compose a story song which would be equally humorous and also salacious and during the trend in oriental themes, this was accomplished by mentioning harems filled with Sultan’s many wives. These sorts of songs frequently pair men and Sultans in funny exchanges for the sake of getting into the Sultan’s harem to see what goes on inside. The actual description of situations can be humorous as in Irving Berlin’s “Harem Life” in which a Sultan, “a poor old man with young ideas,” has so many wives and yet “each day a wife arrives Fresh from Bagdad.”[42] But funny stories are more about out of context characters, for example in “Lock Me in Your Harem and Throw Away the Key,” the sultan loses his horse and comical Irishman Pat McCann “who happened to be there” is rewarded with a trip to the harem after saving the Sultan’s life.[43] The comical nature of the harem is more than just a funny story to play out in song lyrics, it also adds sex appeal and intrigue about such an exotic concept as a many-wived harem in an exotic land. In “I’m the Guy who Guards the Harem,” extramarital shenanigans are assumed when the Sultan of Turkey “goes out for a spree,” and the title guy guarding the harem finds that “it keeps the wheels a-working in my knob/If Sultan ever saw the way I guard his harem/He would go out and engage someone to guard over me.”[44] The curious nature of the harem excites one character in “Lock Me in Your harem and Throw Away the Key” who has his own physical curiosities for the women inside, his eagerness for departure lacking: “Down in you harem there’s Rosie, Josie, Posie and I know that you spare ‘em/So won’t you let me stay, Locked in the harem with the keys thrown away.”[45] But such comically represented examples of harems are not the only ways in which Sultans and harems are described. In “Dardanella,” the title maiden’s virtue is protected from a frisky Sultan who “said ‘I’ll buy her for my Harem” and her suitor “just told the Sultan to be nice/She can’t be bought for any price.”[46] The use of harem within song lyrics of the Orient add both humour and sex appeal which could get consumer’s attention by being funny and provocative.

With any song trend that come into fashion on the American market, there are ways in which songwriters and lyricists take full advantage of its vocabulary and imagery and during the rash of oriental songs in the late 1910s and early 1920s, there were songs which feature oriental-like words, but have nothing to do with the trend’s most salient feature, the geography of the Middle East. For example, “The Vamp,” specifically labelled as a “Novelty Oriental Fox-trot with words” on the sheet music, has nothing to do with the milieu of the Orient at all, in fact, the song is about a new dance step, the lyrics instruct “ev’rybody do the Vamp/Vamp until you get a cramp.”[47] The song “The Love a Gipsy Knows” lacks all of the characteristic oriental beats, sounds and lush geographical description; instead it is a waltz ballad with lachrymose lyrics reminiscent of pop songs of the 1890s.[48] “Lovin’ Sam (The Sheik of Alabam’)” is a warning about a man in Alabama, i.e. “the sheik,” who can “vamp” a girl better than anyone and steal her away for his own, resulting in an odd combination of oriental vocabulary and Southern Ragtime song.[49] The spike in oriental songs had caused Tin Pan Alley arrangers and lyricists to modify Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Song of India” from the opera Sadko to suit the trend, consequently, various English lyric versions styled for the American pop market became tremendous popularity during the first part of the 1920s, including “Play that ‘Song of India’ Again” from 1921, which uses Rimsky-Korsakoff’s music while the lyrics are referential to the oriental currents in the pop market, “There’s a melody I know that’s always haunting me/Just a melody who strain is always taunting me.”[50] Chinese caricatures had also come onto the pop market during the flurry of exotic songs, but they were about the funny features of Chinese characters living in the United States, instead of exotic locations and these songs focus on a humorous caricature of Chinese people in the lyrics in rather racially insensitive ways. In “Chong (He Came from Hong Kong)” the main character’s musical talents are the main feature of the song’s lyrics, and not the place where he lives; “I betcha he teachee his China girl how to dance, like in a trance/Teachee Preachee Melican song;”[51] the song does not venture into the oriental trend’s characteristic portrayal of foreign places. Another Chinese song, “Ching Chong,” also does not fit the exotica trend, instead, the lyric tells about a Chinese shop owner and his popular café in San Francisco; presumably, an opium den:

The when the time is ripe,

He’ll fill your little pipe,

And then a light he’ll bring,

Gently you’ll float away

Far out on slumber Bay

And softly you will sing,[52]

Such stereotypes and caricatures were not just limited to the lyrics of these songs, but also in their recordings. In a 1919 Premier Quartet recording of “Chong (He Came from Hong Kong),” for example, the sounds of the Chinese language are mimicked for comical effect.[53] While the trend in exotic locations had been going on, there were ways in which the trend’s superficial elements were used in rather non-exotic ways including use of vocabulary and inclusion of caricatures of oriental people.

By 1923, the exotic trend had subsided and its historical legacy within the context of pop song history became a noticeable, but not a pervasive trend. Considering the amount of activity in the pop song market of the early Jazz Era, it is not surprising that consumer attention could not have fixated on single fad. Even though exotic songs charted well, recording artists and the new sounds of orchestras were more popular than these songs, after all. But left behind are songs from a time when new and novel locations became part of popular culture once again and scenes of deserts and foreign places became popular in description and illustration. The music suited the times when Jazz brought new rhythms and sounds to the American market. But the song trend, in retrospect, had lyrical content which had a familiar presence on the American market including pining torch songs of loves left in distant lands. While humour and sex appeal were brought to the attention of consumers through the use of a foreign concept of the harem, which had been used as something novel and funny. But there were other ways in which the trend in Oriental songs had produced music, which had nothing to do with the oriental song trend, in fact the vocabulary was used in ways which lacked the exotic trend’s focus on geography including racial stereotypes of Chinese people, for humorous effect. By the middle of the 1920s, the exotic nature in pop had had gone and left in its wake was a pop market which had increasingly focused on American themes and pop trends rather then looking internationally for musical inspiration.


Brentschneider, E. History of European Botanical Discoveries in China. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company. 1898.

Briceno, Noel Fahden. The Chinoiserie Revival in Early Twentieth-Century American Interiors.

Brier, Bob.   Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. 2013.

“Ching Chong form 1917 – Original Roll.” Youtube.com. Posted on 5 November 2010 by John A. Tuttle. Found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyEJjxInCo0.

Peerless Quartet’s recordings of Ching Chong.

“Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder 3769 – Chong (He Came from Hong Kong) by Premier Quartet.” Found on YouTube.com. Posted on 12 October 2014 by bigtradermicks.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf0ST2KcP_4.

Green, Adam. Selling Race: Culture, Community and Black Chicago. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 2007.

Hischak, Thomas. The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopaedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 2002.

Loesser, Arthur. Men, Women and Piano: A Social History. New York: Dover Publications. 1990.

Monserat, Dominic. Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt. New York: Rutledge. 2001.

Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1919. Internet Movie Database. Imdb.com. http://www.imdb.com/search/title?year=1919,1919&title_type=feature&sort=moviemeter,asc.

“Palmolive: Re-Incarnation of Beauty.” (poster). The Advertising Archives.co.uk. Accessed 5 May 2015. http://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/detail/87518348/1/Magazine-Advert/Palmolive/1920s.

Songs Cited

Ager, Milton (music) and Jack Yelen (lyrics). Lovin’ Sam (The Sheik of Alabam’). New York: Ager, Yellen & Bornstein Inc. 1922.

Berlin, Irving. Harem Life (Outside of That Every Little Thing’s All Right). New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1919.

——-. I’m the Guy Who Guards the Harems (And My Heart’s In My Work). New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1919.

——-. Lock Me In Your Harem and Throw Away the Key. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1914.

——-. The Syncopated Vamp. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1920.

——-. Tell Me, Pretty Gypsy. New York: Irving Berlin, Inc. 1920.

Bernard, Felix and Johnny S. Black (music) and Fred Fisher (lyrics). Dardanella. New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc. 1919.

Fancho and Marco. The Love A Gipsy Knows. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1920.

Gay, Byron. Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose). New York: Leo Feist, Inc. 1919.

——-. The Vamp. New York: Leo Feist, Inc. 1919.

Olson, Elmer, Moe Thompson and Dannie O’Neill. Kharmine. New York: Harrison Music Co. Inc. 1921.

Onivas, D. (music) and Jack Meskill (lyrics). Burnin’ Sands. New York: Richmond-Robbins Inc. 1922.

Phillips, A. Fred (music) and Jack Caddigan (lyrics). Egyptian Moonlight. New York: Ted Garton Music Co. 1919.

Rimsky-Korsakoff, Nikolas (music) and Leo Wood and Irving Bibo (Music), arranged by Paul Whiteman. Play That “Song of India” Again. New York: Leo Feist Inc. 1921.

Roberts, Lee S. Ching Chong (He Came From Hong Kong). Chicago, IL: Lee S. Roberts. 1917.

Scott, Maurice (music) and Weston & Barnes (lyrics). I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers, or Mumbo Jumbo Jijjiboo J. O’Shay. New York: T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter. 1909.

Snyder, Ted (music) and Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler (lyrics). The Sheik (of Araby). New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder. 1921.

Spencer, Herbert (music) and Fleta Jan Brown (lyrics). There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1917.

Wallace, Oliver G. and Harold Weeks. Hindustan. Chicago, IL: Forster Music Publisher Inc. 1918.

Weeks, Harold. Chong (He Came from Hong Kong). New York: Leo Feist, Inc. 1919.

Whiting, Richard A. (Music) and Raymond B. Egan (lyrics). The Japanese Sandman. New York: Jerome Remick & Co. 1920.


Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Oriental Fox Trot. Victor 18940. located at The Library of Congress National Jukebox. Found at http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/8853/

Waldorf-Astoria Singing Orchestra. The Vamp. Columbia Record. A2758. 1919. Found on YouTube.com. Posted on 2 August 2009 by cdbpdx. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51Iop5LZqsI.

[1] Arthur Loesser, Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History, (New York: Dover Publications, 1990), 602.

[2] Adam Green, Selling Race: Culture, Community and Black Chicago, (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 54.

[3] E. Brentschneider, History of European Botanical Discoveries in China, (London, Sampson Low, Martson and Company, 1898), 476.

[4] Noel Fahden Briceno, The Chinoiserie Revival in Early Twentieth Century American Interiors, Thesis. Spring 2008, University of Delaware. 15.

[5] Bob Brier, Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 160.

[6] Maurice Scott (music) and Weston & Barnes (lyrics), I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers, or, Mumbo Jumbo Jijjiboo J O’Shay, (New York: T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Harris, 1909).

[7] “Palmolive: Re-Incarnation of Beauty,” The Advertising Archive, accessed 5 May 2015, http://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/detail/87518348/1/Magazine-Advert/Palmolive/1920s.

[8] For synopses of these films, see “Most Popular Films Released in 1919,” Internet Movie Database, imbd.com, accessed 20 May 2015, found at http://www.imdb.com/search/title?year=1919,1919&title_type=feature&sort=moviemeter,asc.

[9] Dominic Monserat, Akhenaten: History, Fantasy of Ancient Egypt, (New York: Routledge, 2001), 8.

[10] Byron Gay, Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose), New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1919).

[11] A. Fred Phillips (music) and Jack Caddigan (lyrics), Egyptian Moonlight, (New York: Ted Garton Music, 1919).

[12] Elmer Olson, Moe Thompson and Dannie O’Neill, Kharmine, (New York: Harrison Music Co Inc, 1921).

[13] Ted Snyder (music) and Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler (lyrics), The Sheik of Araby, (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co, 1921).

[14] Phillips and Caddigan, Egyptian Moonlight.

[15] Herbert Spencer (music) and Fleta Jan Brown (lyrics), There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes, (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1917).

[16] Oliver G. Wallace and Harold Weeks, Hindustan, (Chicago, IL: Forster Music Publisher, Inc, 1918).

[17] Snyder, Smith and Wheeler, The Sheik (Of Araby).

[18] Byron Gay, The Vamp, (New York: Leo Feist, Inc, 1919).

[19] Waldorf-Astoria Singing Orchestra, The Vamp, Columbia Record, A2758, 1919, found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51Iop5LZqsI.

[20] Gay, Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose).

[21] Olson, Thomspon and O’Neill, Kharmine.

[22] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

[23] Richard A. Whiting (music) and Raymond B Egan (lyrics), The Japanese Sandman, (New York: Jerome H. Remick, 1920).

[24] Felix Bernard and Johnny S. Black (music) and Fred Fisher (lyrics), Dardanella, (New York: McCarthy & Fisher Inc, 1919).

[25] Thomas Hischak, The Tin Pan Alley Encyclopedia, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 74.

[26] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

[27] Snyder and Brown, The Sheik (Of Araby).

[28] Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Oriental Fox Trot, Victor 18940, located at The Library of Congress National Jukebox, accessed 5 May 2015, found at http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/8853/

[29] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

[30] Spencer and Van Brown, There’s Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes.

[31] Irving Berlin, The Syncopated Vamp, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1920).

[32] Lee S. Roberts, Chong (He Came from Hong Kong), (Chicago, IL: Lee S. Roberts, 1917).

[33] Wallace and Weeks, Hindustan.

[34] Olson, Thompson and O’Neil, Kharmine, (New York: Harrison Music Co. Inc, 1921).

[35] D. Onivas (music) and Jack Meskill (lyrics), Burnin’ Sands, (New York: Richmond-Robbins Inc, 1922).

[36] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

[37] Gay, Sand Dunes (My Desert Rose).

[38] Irving Berlin, Tell Me Little Gypsy, (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc, 1920).

[39] Hischak, 318.

[40] Snyder and Smith & Wheeler, The Sheik (of Araby).

[41] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

[42] Irving Berlin, Harem Life (Outside of That Every Little Thing’s All Right), (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc, 1919).

[43] Irving Berlin, Lock Me in Your Harem and Throw Away the Key, (New York: Irving Berlin Inc, 1914).

[44] Irving Berlin, I’m the Guy Who Guards the Harem (And My Heart’s in My Work), (New York: Irving Berlin, Inc., 1919).

[45] Irving Berlin, Lock Me In Your Harem and Throw Away the Key.

[46] Bernard, Black and Fisher, Dardanella.

[47] Bryon Gay, The Vamp (New York: Leo Feist, Inc, 1919).

[48] Fanchon and Marco, The Love a Gipsy Knows, (New York: Jerome Remick & Co, 1920).

[49] Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics), Lovin’ Sam (The Sheik of Alabam’), (New York: Ager, Yellen & Bornstein, 1922).

[50] Nikolas Rimsky-Korsakoff (music) and Leo Wood and Irving Bibo (lyrics), arranged by Paul Whiteman, Play That “Song of India’ Again, (New York: Leo Feist Inc, 1921).

[51] Weeks, Chong (He Came from Hong Kong).

[52] Lee S. Roberts (music) and J. Will Callahan (lyrics), Ching Chong, (Chicago, IL: Lee S. Roberts, 1917).

[53] “Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder 3769 – Chong (He Came from Hong Kong) by Premier Quartet,” found on YouTube.com, posted on 12 October 2014 by bigtradermicks, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf0ST2KcP_4.