Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Transportation Themes in American Popular Song

Sheet music collecting takes many forms. Some people collect in certain eras, some collect anything and others collect by subject or graphics. One of the most popular areas of collecting is that of transportation related songs, especially in early (1880 - 1920) periods. Transportation related sheets tend to command higher prices and seem to have many more collectors willing to bid prices up to sometimes very high levels. This month, we will look at some aspects of the transportation theme and will also look at some sheet music collecting tips and guidelines for those of you who are interested in collecting these wonderful artifacts from our musical heritage. This month's essay will look at collecting sheet music, offer some tips and guidelines and point to some resources that may help you in buying sheet music. The essay also includes some help in buying music through on-line auction sites.

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Take Me Up With You Dearie

Music by: Albert Von Tilzer
Lyrics by: Junie McCree
Cover artist: Hirt

We will start with the "planes" category and of course, before there were planes, there were balloons and airships. Here we have an early song, before airplanes became a viable fixture, about a young man and his lighter-than-air ship. He hatches a plan to get his sweetheart up alone in his airship to propose and marry her. Of course they do marry but the plan backfires for Molly likes the airship so much she takes it over and he ends up a lowly ground handler. By the way, one line speaks of the message "C Q D". CQD was the original wireless distress code, later replaced by SOS, around 1912. It is said that Titanic was the first ship to use the new SOS code.

Albert Von Tilzer ( Born Albert Gumm, b. 1878, Indianapolis - d. 1956, Los Angeles) was the brother of the also famous Harry Von Tilzer.( 1872 - 1946) Albert, was one of five children, to find a career in music, more or less following his older brother Harry. It was Harry who decided to change his name to the more "gussied up" Von Tilzer (their mother's maiden name was Tilzer and Harry added the "Von" to make it more impressive) and Albert changed his name too, capitalizing on Harry's success. However, though he followed his brother in many ways, he was definitely a fine composer in his own right. He started his career as a song plugger in 1899 and also worked for his brother's firm, von Tilzer Music Publishers. In 1900 he wrote The Absent Minded Beggar Waltz, a rather inauspicious start. Later though, he wrote some of the biggest hits that have lasted to this day. Among his greatest works are Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1908) and Put Your Arms Around me Honey, Hold Me Tight, in 1910.

Enjoy this airship song now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version

King Of The Air

Music by: Julius K. Johnson
Lyrics by: none, piano solo march
Cover artist: unknown

By 1910, the airplane was already coming into its own. Though still mostly a curiosity seen at shows, its use was becoming seen more often and the military was making commitments to use aircraft. One of the earliest pioneers of powered flight was Glenn Curtiss. It is said by some historians that Curtiss was the first to fly, not the Wrights, and there continues a rather acerbic dispute as to who was first. Regardless of that milestone, there can be no question that Curtiss developed the airplane beyond what the Wrights had invented and it is agreed by many that Curtiss was responsible for many control and engine developments that made flight practical. His development of engines and airframes, especially the OX5 engine advanced aviation more so than any other person during that formative period.(For information on the OX5 engine, visit the OX-5 Aviation Pioneers website )

This work is a fast paced march and two step dedicated to Curtiss with a great drawing of Curtiss at the helm of his famous pusher used in many airshows by a number of pilots of the period. The picture's caption reads: "Mr. Glenn H. Curtiss and his celebrated prizewinner, 'The Hudson Flyer'." The composer, Julius K. Johnson is another of our "lost" composers of the period. Despite many reference works, I have been unable to find any information about Johnson. The music is well crafted and it seems we should have heard more from a musician of this talent but it appears he is one of the many whose information is lost, or misplaced.

Hear this great Aeroplane March(scorch format)

listen to MIDI version

Wait Till You Get Them Up In The Air Boys
Music by: Albert Von Tilzer
Lyrics by: Lew Brown
Cover artist: E.E. Walton

Why is it that virtually every mode of transportation very quickly finds itself a primary method of "wooing" the opposite sex? Just like the back seat of the automobile became a hot spot for love, it seems pilots immediately recognized that airships and airplanes are a great attractor for snagging a lover. This song (like our airship song above) exploits the woo value of the aeroplane and is a wonderful early aviation novelty song that tells about how even if the car won't work in getting that special gal to fall for you ("they've fooled us ever since the world began"), then the airplane will surely do the trick.

"You can make them hug and squeeze you, too
For if they don't, just say you won't come down until they do

Well, maybe that is extortion but remember; all's fair in love and war and nobody ever said a few loop the loops weren't good for matters of the heart.

See our first song, Take Me Up With You Dearie, for information about Albert Von Tilzer.

Listen to this early aviation song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

The Midnight Flyer

Music by: Frederick W. Hager
Arranged by: E.T. Paull

Cover artist: Litho. By A. Hoen & Co.

Time to change to trains and what better cover than this stunning ET Paull Music Co. work from 1903? As you have seen in other features, ET Paull covers by Hoen & Co. are some of the greatest sheet music lithographs ever produced. These works are highly sought after and near mint condition copies of some of Paull's more rare works have been known to fetch prices in excess of $1,000. This cover is one of our collection's best and is in near mint condition. As previously mentioned in other features, many of the musical works by Paull tend to be repetitive and similar but this is an exception. Hager has crafted an excellent march that is stirring and musically interesting. The march form follows a rather strict structure and this contributes somewhat to the sameness I have criticized. Most marches follow and A-B-C-A form with plenty of repeats of each section. It is interesting to note the dedication on this work; "Specially composed, arranged & dedicated to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers of America, as suggested by A.C. Traweek, Wichita Falls, Texas."

E.T. (Edward Taylor) Paull (February 16, 1858 - November 27, 1924) Was the son of Virgina farmers and started his musical career as manager of a music store, selling pianos and organs in Martinsburg , Virginia around 1878. It is unclear as to his activities for the next several years but his first successful march was The Chariot Race or Ben Hur March in 1894. The great success of this march caused Paull to begin a steady stream of works. He started his own publishing company around this same period and continued publishing under his name till his death (at which time the company was bought and continued to publish under the same name for two years afterward). Though best known today for his marches, Paull did write other works and even wrote one piece for silent film Armenian Maid in 1919. Marches were wildly popular at the time and though Paull was capable of composing fine works, he often obtained works by others and arranged them and released them under his banner. This work is one such work. Paull's musical abilities were enhanced by his skill at tapping in to popular tastes and in marketing his music. His last work was the 1924, Spirit Of The U.S.A., copyrighted just six weeks before his death. We will be doing a special feature on Paull and an expanded biography on him sometime later this year.

Hear this super railroad march(scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

When That Midnight Choo, Choo, Leaves for Alabam'
Music by: Irving Berlin
Lyrics by: Berlin
Cover artist: E.H. Pfeiffer

It is amazing how now matter what subject we present in our feature, Irving Berlin crops up with a song! Clearly, Berlin is one of the greatest, some say THE greatest American songwriter ever. Here we have another train, leaving at midnight. I guess midnight departures were pretty popular with songwriters as it presents either a mysterious or romantic backdrop for the lyrics. As usual, Berlin crafts a memorable song that musically is interesting and has neat lyrics. His use of cue notes, triplets and little ornaments throughout the song add interest and demonstrate this man's genius.

Way back in November of 1988, our feature was a salute to Berlin and included a short biography, updated here;
Irving Berlin; Born in Temun, Russia, 1888 (nee Isidore Baline) Berlin moved to New York City with his family in 1893. In 1906, he became a singing waiter at Pelham's Cafe in Chinatown, NYC and at Jimmy Kelley's on Union Square. 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" validated and firmed up 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. Perhaps the most astounding fact about Berlin is that he could neither read nor write music and could only play the piano in one key only, F sharp! He composed music on the fly and sang or dictated it to assistants who could write music. When you consider the tremendous output and incredible musicality of his work, it is nothing short of miraculous.

Enjoy this great Berlin train song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

WAIT! There's More Music and Covers..go to part B.

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