New visitors may also enjoy Vintage Film Sampler: What to Watch When You Don’t Know What You Like (an introduction to the films of the 1940s and 1950s), Graphic Novels for People Who Hate Comics and Sesame Street Video Clips.
It’s a shame most people are unfamiliar with American Popular Music. It’s great fun. It occurred to me today that a lot of this music is in the Public Domain — I could rip mp3s from my collection and post them. So I have. All mp3s in this entry are in the Public Domain — download and share!
The best way to introduce this music is probably to offer the entire 1991 RCA collection called Nipper’s Greatest Hits: 1901-1920. This disc is long out-of-print. It sells for $190 on Amazon. One copy recently sold for $60 on eBay. In the early days of eBay, I lost a bidding war for this disc. I contacted the winning bidder, and she graciously made me a copy of the disc and the insert.
According to the liner notes:
The selections of Nipper’s Greatest Hits: 1901-1920, are redolent of those days when performers played and sang into a simple acoustical horn whose vibrations were sensitized onto the wax of a revolving disc. Today’s digital restoration of the early shellac records not only eliminates unwanted ticks, pops, and surface noise; it also amplifies the sound signal, so that in this compilation one hears those musical pioneers in their best guise.
Here are all twenty songs from the set, displayed in chronological order, not track order. The song title links to an mp3; the performer name links to additonal information (generally from wikipedia).
- In the Good Old Summertime, performed by John Philip Sousa‘s Band (recorded 27 October 1905, which is not in the summertime)
- Grand Old Rag, performed by Billy Murray (recorded 06 February 1906)
- The Arkansas Traveler, performed by Len Spencer (recorded 01 December 1908)
- Shine on Harvest Moon, performed by Miss Walton and Mister MacDonough (recorded December 1908)
- In My Merry Oldsmobile, performed by Billy Murray (recorded 01 February 1909)
- The Yama Yama Man, performed by Ada Jones (recorded May 1909)
- I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers (Bells on my Toes), performed by Blanche Ring (recorded 24 June 1909)
- Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?, performed by Nora Bayes (recorded 07 March 1910)
- Come Josephine In My Flying Machine, performed by Ada Jones and Billy Murray with The American Quartet (recorded November 1910)
- Mister Moon Man, Turn Off the Light, performed by Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes (recorded 24 April 1911)
- Life’s a Funny Proposition After All, performed by George M. Cohan (recorded 04 May 1911)
- That Haunting Melody, performed by Al Jolson (recorded 22 December 1911)
- Carry Me Back to Old Virginny, performed by Alma Gluck (recorded 13 November 1914)
- It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, performed by John McCormack (recorded 23 November 1914)
- Smiles and Chuckles, performed by The Six Brown Brothers (recorded 09 May 1917)
- Tiger Rag, performed by The Original Dixieland Jass Band (recorded 25 March 1918)
- Over There, performed by Enrico Caruso (recorded 11 July 1918)
- After You’ve Gone, performed by Marion Harris (recorded 22 July 1918)
- A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody, performed by John Steel (recorded 30 June 1919)
- I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, performed by Ben Selvin and His Novelty Orchestra (recorded 31 July 1919)
This isn’t a comprehensive list of popular music of the era. Two of the biggest songs — “After the Ball” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” — aren’t even included. However, it’s a good representation music that was popular one hundred years ago.
Many of these songs sound quaint to our ears. Recording technology was primitive before 1925, and the best way to get a good recording was to be loud. Opera singers and brass bands made great records.
If you like this music — and I doubt that many of you will — check out modern interpretations of the songs. I’m particularly fond of After the Ball, which I own on vinyl. Joan Morris does a good job with piano accompaniment (though her style is operatic).
For more information on early American popular music, explore:
- The Internet Archive has a large collection of mp3s from 78rpm records. An excellent source for more of this sort of music, though the interface is very clumsy.
- I discovered the Database of Recorded American Music while doing research for this entry. I haven’t had a chance to explore it yet, though it looks great.
- tinfoil.com is dedicated to the preservation of early recorded sounds
- The Old Crank is a site for vintage phonographs and ephemera
- The Red Hot Jazz Archive is one of the web’s greats: it features a comprehensive history of jazz before 1930.
- 78-L is home to a mailing list devoted to pre-album-era music
Please please please forward other sites that feature early American popular music.