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Tear Jerkers In American Song, Part 2

 




When I Lost You

1912

 

Music by: Irving Berlin
Lyrics by: Berlin
Cover artist: E. H. Pfeiffer

 

Fully twenty years after Harris' After the Ball, the tear jerker was still a staple of the songwriter's bag of tricks. Though, by this time, the nature of the songs had changed. Rather than being so fixated on death and truly tragic circumstances, songs were more focused on relationships and life's tribulations. Of course love is an emotional subject and the loss of love is tragic when it happens to you so it is not surprising that so many of the tear jerker songs written over the decades relate to love and the twists and turns of love. Irving Berlin was a master of the love and life tear jerker. In spite of Harris' extreme skill, Berlin was perhaps the heir to the throne in writing songs of sadness, loneliness, depression, misery and hopelessness. A review of his titles show us a never ending list of titles that plumb the depths of emotions. His own life and perhaps his personal sadness was shaped by his personal experiences and this song is a reflection of a very real personal tragedy that he faced. One of our parlor songs fans, Barry Bowen, of Canada pointed out to us that "Irving Berlin wrote "When I Lost You" shortly after the death of his very young first wife who died shortly after their honeymoon in 1912. He was very depressed and put all of his personal feelings into this song. When he married again in the mid 1920's he presented his new
bride with "Always" as a wedding present." This again demonstrates the power of song as an expression of emotion and the fact that songwriters are often inspired by real events. Barry went on to tell us; "Although the song fits the genre that you have so wonderfully given us this month I think that perhaps the song was written as a release from some of his grief rather than for the need for a melodramatic hit."

 

Irving Berlin. Born Isidore Baline in Temun, Russia, in 1888, Berlin moved to New York City with his family in 1893. He published his first work, Marie of Sunny Italy in 1907 at age 19 and immediately had his first hit on his hands. In 1911 the publication of Alexander's Ragtime Band established his reputation as a songwriter. He formed his own music-publishing business in 1919, and in 1921 he became a partner in the construction of the Music Box Theater in New York, staging his own popular revues at the theater for several years. Berlin wrote about 1500 songs.
Whether for Broadway musicals or films, for humorous songs or romantic ballads, his compositions are celebrated for their appealing melodies and memorable lyrics. Among the numerous musical comedies and revues for which Berlin wrote music and lyrics were Annie Get Your Gun (1946), and Mr. President (1962). His many popular songs include There's No Business Like Show Business, God Bless America, and White Christmas. In 1968 Berlin received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. On September 22nd 1989, at the age of 101, Berlin died in his sleep in New York City.
It is almost impossible to provide a meaningful biographical sketch of Berlin in only a few words, he is perhaps the most celebrated and successful composer of American song from the Tin Pan Alley era. In November of 1998 we did a feature on Berlin's music, sometime in the future we will post a more comprehensive biography and more of his songs. Of course many of his songs have been published by us over the years.

 

Enjoy this Berlin song now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version

 

When I Leave The World Behind

1915

 

Music by: Irving Berlin
Lyrics by: Berlin
Cover artist: Barbelle

 

Though the terribly tragic songs about death had faded away by this time (1915), it does not mean the subject had completely vacated the songwriter's world. It still was a subject for songs, only approached in different ways. This song, also a Berlin work, speaks of a man facing the prospect of his own mortality and the legacy that he would leave behind. Interestingly the song is dedicated "to the memory of Charles Lounsbury, whose legacy suggested this song." In 1915, a Charles Lounsbury, the editor of The Yale Book of American Verse, passed away. Could this be the man to whom Berlin dedicated this song? My guess is, he is the one.

 

In this song, Berlin speaks of millionaires who are concerned with their wealth and its distribution after death and compares that to a simple man, without wealth who simply wants to leave behind peace and beauty. I think it is a touching song with deep meaning and a tear jerker of a different sort than most we have seen in this feature.

 

Of course, the man on the cover, Al Jolson, was the number one performer on the American song stage for many years. A song sung by Jolson was almost guaranteed to be a hit. Jolson billed himself as ‘The World’s Greatest Entertainer’ and who could argue? Working in blackface, he sang songs about his southern ‘Mammy’ with a passion that endeared him to Broadway audiences. His voice, was probably the most imitated and parodied in the world. As a musical comedy star, he belted out songs like Swanee and Is It True What They Say About Dixie? with flair and always demanding applause for his songs and jokes, he was rarely disappointed. ‘Electric’, ‘dynamic energy’ and ‘like a cyclone’ were some of the terms used to describe his performances on stage; and after singing for three hours with incredible energy, he could still call out: “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” Though kind and sentimental, he left much to be desired as a human being. His was an enormous ego. He could be arrogant, surly and a braggart and many of his contemporaries disliked him. But he was a giant in the entertainment world, a hit maker, and always last on the bill because no one could follow him. Though four times married, the love of his life was an audience - any audience. He needed applause the way a diabetic needs insulin.
Al Jolson did not just sing songs - he rattled your backbone and made you want to get up and dance. He was probably the greatest entertainer the world has ever known.
(From the Al Jolson site at: http://www.times1190.freeserve.co.uk/jolson.htm )

 

Hear this great enduring hit (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version

 


There's Nobody Loves You Like Your Mother

1915

Music by: Charles Coleman
Lyrics by: Coleman
Cover artist: unknown

 

Here is another of those tender and touching "mother" songs that so often appear. Just as with The Picture Of My Mother On The Wall,(see part one of this feature) this song speaks to the value of mother. While "Picture" spoke to the loss of a mother, this song speaks to the value of a mother's advice and the love that she will always give to her children. Unlike many people today, in 1915, parents were revered and honored almost universally. Even when parents did not fit today's model of parenthood, back then, mother and father were the king and queen of the home and children (generally) honored and obeyed them. In most cases though, mothers set the example for parenthood and the many, many thousands of mother songs written were hard earned and richly deserved. The sentiments expressed by this song are basic truths, no one does love you like your mother. Listen to this song and call your mother and tell her thanks. If she is nearby, give her a hug.

 

Charles Coleman may well have written only this song as I can find no mention of him or any other song by him in any of my reference volumes. (See our references list for a complete bibliography of sources) I am wondering if this Charles Coleman is the same as the Charles Coleman from Australia (born 1885) who was a very successful silent movie star? Perhaps one of our Australian visitors can answer that question.

 

Listen to this Coleman rarity (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

 

O Time Take Me Back

1916

Music by: Carrie Jacobs-Bond
Lyrics by: Bond
Cover artist: unknown

Carrie Jacobs-Bond has a special place in my heart. Her music speaks to me and others who are familiar with her music often say that it speaks to their heart also. In terms of sadness and teary songs, Carrie Jacobs-Bond is the greatest female composer to come out of the Tin Pan Alley era. Exceptionally successful and an inspiration as far as one who overcame adversity, her years of tragedy molded her talent and as a result, her catalog has song after song in it that oozes tragedy, sadness and pain. Of course she could also write delightfully upbeat songs too, but it seems she was at her best when dealing with painful subjects. In June of 2000 we featured a number of her songs and also published an in-depth biography, see those articles to learn more about her.

 

The loss of her husband to an accident and the later loss of her beloved son to suicide caused Bond to often write songs that either referred to spiritual contact or a desire to go back to happier times (can you blame her?). This song talks of the twilight of one's life and the melancholy that tugs at the heart to relive happier days. Friends lost, childhood happiness, home and mother all figure prominently in this sad and somewhat gloomy song.

 

Hear this great Jacobs-Bond song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

 


I'm Sorry I Made You Cry

1918

Music by: N. J. Clesi, arr. Theodore Morse
Lyrics by: Clesi
Cover artist: Rose Symbol

Our last offering for this feature is a WWI era song that though published during the war and in the war edition small format, is not a song about the war. We explored a wide range of the war related music in our three part series about World War One music but it is important to remember that not all music during that period was war related. Life did go on and so too did love and the pain of hurting the one you love. Clesi managed to create a touching and melodic ballad that expresses a sincere apology to a lover who has been hurt.

 

The photo on the cover is of June Elvidge and John Bowers, both film stars from World Film Corporation which might imply that the song was used in a film starring them. I have been unable to make that connection but have found that this song is still very much in play in the barbershop quartet circuit.

 

Enjoy this unique war era work(scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

 

That's it for this month's feature, as always, we hope you have enjoyed the music and learned something from it. As for next month, we will have a new feature about the music of Charles K. Harris, "the king of tear jerkers" and a full biography of Harris will be added to our "In Search Of" series.

If you would like to return to part A of this month's issue, click here.



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