Twenty mp3s of Great Songs from 1901-1920

by J.D. Roth

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).

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:

I’d love to start a weblog devoted to this stuff, but with this blog, my personal finance blog, and my comics blog (not to mention some secret stuff), I’m positively blogged out.

Please please please forward other sites that feature early American popular music.

Updated: 30 June 2006

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