Now that the madness of America’s interminable election season is over, it’s time to get back to the saner things in life. It has been a while since I devoted an entire post to a subject which is right down my (Tin Pan) Alley, namely the Golden Age of Popular Music (between WWI and WWII). I assume that, unlike me, few (if any) of you were alive during that era….but, since I feel reasonably certain you wouldn’t miss that opportunity again if you had the chance, I forgive you for such a lamentable shortcoming.
Speaking of lament-able, I’ll start with a song written toward the end of the era by a 15 year old wunderkind, Mel Tormé, who went on to decades-long fame as a jazz vocalist:
For those who are unfamiliar with the term TIN PAN ALLEY, I quote excerpts from a 1975 book of that title by researcher Ian Whitcomb about the beginnings of pop music:
The name “Tin Pan Alley” applied to the railroad flats around 28th and Broadway in NYC where the music publishing houses were clustered. Around the 1890’s a canny bunch of businessmen, keenly aware of the new mass-market created by the Industrial Revolution, decided to manufacture songs. They fed theaters and parlors, cafes and dance halls with their wares. By 1910 The Alleymen had pushed hundreds of songs into million-selling sheets. These tall piano copies, fronted with colored art-work and spotted with ads for other songs, were the sole pop moneymakers until records, radio and talking pictures became the chief pop vehicles.
This brings us to the period immediately following the end of WWI on Nov. 11, 1918, and to one of the biggest hits of the next year, when our doughboys were returning home by the hundreds of thousands from the battle fronts of Europe and the pleasure fronts of Paris. With un peu d’imagination, perhaps you can appreciate the question….
Two years later (1921), song writers were still asking questions, including this one posed by its composer Richard Whiting (whose birthday was three days ago, Nov. 12, 1891), sung here by his daughter and Bob Hope:
Of course, the above words and recordings have barely scratched the surface of the sounds you would have savored had you been around in those days (and make no mistake, that music would have seduced you as much then as today’s music seduces you now). And so on that note….
(TO BE CONTINUED)