Enduring American Popular Song Hits,
Part 1, page 2


Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home



Music by: Hughie Cannon
Lyrics by: Cannon
Cover artist: Dewey and Black


This song was an instant hit when first introduced by John Queen, a minstrel. Another song in the coon song genre that has been in constant use since introduction, most of us are only familiar with the chorus. Often recorded and in recent years most often associated with the great Louis Armstrong, the song has been somewhat "sanitized" as have other lasting hits from the coon song era. A number of musical luminaries besides Armstrong kept this work vibrant and alive over the last century. Among them are Ella Fitzgerald and Della Reese, Jimmy Durante and Bobby Darin whose version was a million seller. The 1959 film, The Five Pennies, featured Armstrong and Danny Kaye performing the song. Though the chorus we are used to stands well alone, the verses before the chorus are very unfamiliar but add a dimension that makes the song make more sense overall. After all, with this additional information (get the scorch player to see the full lyrics and music) we can finally learn why Bill Bailey was gone and why he needs to come home.


Supposedly, the song is based on a "real" Bill Bailey who was a black vaudeville performer, member of the team of Bailey and Cowan. One night he was locked out of his house by a wife who had reached her limit of tolerance for his late night revelry with friends. It is said that Cannon (the composer) was one of his friends who partook of these nocturnal pleasures with him and Cannon paid for a room for Bailey at a local hotel and assured him that a night away from home would surely cause his wife to plead for his return. The song was so popular it inspired a number of spin-off tunes including I Wonder Why Bill Bailey Won't Come Home and Since Bill Bailey Came Back Home.


Hughie Cannon, an American composer from Detroit (b. Detroit, 1877 - d. Toledo, OH, 1912) was a pianist for many vaudeville performers. Next to "Bill Baily", his other greatest hit was He Done Me Wrong, written in 1904 for the musical Frankie and Johnny. Cannon also wrote Just Because She Made Dem Goo-Goo Eyes with John Queen in 1900 and I Hates To Get Up Early In The Morning in 1901 also in collaboration with Queen.


Enjoy this famous song now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version


Toy Land



Music by: Victor Herbert
Lyrics by: Glenn MacDonough
Cover artist: unknown


One of America's most lasting musical productions has been the great Victor Herbert's Babes In Toyland, produced in 1903. Full of extremely memorable and timeless music, it is as fresh today as it was almost 100 years ago. Of all the music from the show, none though has been as permanent as Toy Land. A tender and haunting ballad, this song immediately calls to one's heart and mind both joyous memories and melancholy nostalgia for days gone by. First introduced by Bessie Wynn in the original production, the song has been recorded numerous times and has appeared in two film productions of the show in 1934 and 1961. This song may be most representative of what makes a song an enduring hit; a very memorable melody with words that are timeless and have meaning no matter what the era and that can be related to by almost anyone.


In 1903, Herbert had returned to writing operettas after a three year hiatus. He hoped to capture the same level of success as his prior work, The Wizards Of Oz by writing music for a similar extravaganza. He chose the book Babes In Toyland by Glenn MacDonough. Set in Mother Goose land, the colorful characters were based on those found in fairy tales and nursery rhymes. The production premiered on October 13, 1903 and became an instant classic. Contemporary reviewers called it "brilliant", "ingenious" and "amazing." The work has become Herbert's most lasting operetta . I have found all of the music from this production particularly filled with good humor and creativity. Though not an enduring hit, the song I Can't Do The Sum is the one that has most captured my imagination. An appealing tune, it's real attraction are the very funny lyrics. I'm including a scorch version for your entertainment. See and hear the scorch version of I Can't Do The Sum. ( midi version)


Victor Herbert (b. Dublin, 1859 - d. New York City, 1924) Herbert was three when his father died and he and his mother went to live with her father in a small town near London. Since his grandfather, Samuel Lover was a man of letters and dramatist, the boy grew up in a cultured atmosphere where he learned to appreciate the arts. At seven he began studying piano with his mother. He showed such talent that his mother and grandfather sent him to Germany for intensive music study. In Stuttgart he studied music with a specialty in cello. He played with several orchestras and was became first cellist at the Stuttgart Royal Orchestra. During that time he began writing music and wrote a suite and a concerto for cello and orchestra. Described as a commanding man, he was always well tailored and showed wit and good manners. He married Theresa Förster in 1886 and shortly thereafter they traveled to America where the good Fräulein was engaged to perform with the Metropolitan Opera Company.


In New York, Herbert joined the Metropolitan Opera Company orchestra and soon became an American citizen, never again to return to Ireland or Germany. For a while Herbert performed as a soloist and formed and conducted and orchestra. He also formed the New York String Quartet and became a faculty member of the National Conservatory of Music. His compositional efforts up till 1893 were focused entirely on concert works. Then Lillian Russel commissioned him to write an operetta, La Vivandière, which was never produced, supposedly because it was not up to her standards. Undaunted, Herbert was taken by popular song and operetta and the next year he wrote Prince Ananias and with it was launched the popular and musical stage career of one of America's greatest song writers. A number of stage productions culminating in what is arguably, his greatest operetta, Babes In Toy Land.


In addition to his operettas, many of the songs from them became stand alone hits (i.e. Toy Land) and he wrote a number of enduring hits we still sometimes hear today. Among them are Ah! Sweet Mystery Of Life, Gypsy Love Song, In Old New York, Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! and You Belong To Me. His 1924 song and operetta of the same name My Dream Girl were his last. Herbert died in New York City in 1924 of a heart attack.


Hear this great childhood song (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version


Give My Regards To Broadway


Music by: George M. Cohan
Lyrics by: Cohan
Cover artist: Pfeiffer


This great favorite was introduced by Cohan himself in his production of Little Johnny Jones, his very first musical play. Sung many times over in film, on record and TV, the song is one of those enduring favorites that never gets old or outdated. The music and melody seem to fit any era and transcend fads and styles to stand as an example of the permanence of a well written song. From its introduction, the song has been heard almost continuously. On the silver screen, it first appeared in the 1929 film version of Little Johnny Jones and was sung by Eddie Buzzell. In 1941, Cagney defined our image of Cohan in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy where he gave us his own staccato and breathy version. Al Jolson's dubbed voice singing it was heard in the 1949 production of Jolson Sings Again. In 1952, it was given as a chorus in With A Song In My Heart and in 1948, it was used as the title song of the movie Give My Regards To Broadway. In 1968 the Broadway play George M! gave us Joel Grey playing the part of Cohan and belting out this great song. Arguably, this may be the most memorable and greatest hit from the 1900 - 1910 decade.


George M. Cohan was born in Providence, RI on either the 3rd or 4th of July 1878. Cohan always used the 4th as his birthday and it certainly served him well to do so throughout his career and after as he became our "Yankee Doodle Boy". From boyhood, he toured New England and the Midwest with his parents and sister in an act called The Four Cohans. By 1900, the Cohans were one of the leading acts in vaudeville. He also played the violin, wrote sketches for the family show and started writing songs by age 13. It was during these early years that he adopted the swaggering and brash image that was so well portrayed by Jimmy Cagney in the 1942 film biography of Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy. His first original musical was Little Johnny Jones (1904), which he wrote entirely himself and in which he starred as the lead. It was successful and included the hit Yankee Doodle Boy and Give My Regards To Broadway. In 1906, his reputation was improved more with the productions George Washington Jr., and Forty-five Minutes From Broadway.

Cohan continued to write and star in musical comedies into the 1920's but at the same time had formed a publishing house in collaboration with Sam Harris with whom he also opened a number of playhouses and theaters including the George M. Cohan Theater in New York. Cohan wrote over 500 songs and it is said that Over There was the most popular morale song for BOTH world wars. Interestingly, Cohan was untrained as a musician and he professed to write only simple songs with simple harmonies and limited ranges. Regardless, his contribution to vaudeville, musical theater and popular music is undeniable and profound. Cohan died in New York on November 5, 1942.


Listen to this great old favorite (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version


Wait 'Till The Sun Shines Nellie


Music by: Harry Von Tilzer
Lyrics by: Andrew B. Sterling
Cover artist: DeTakacs


Just a year after Cohan's blockbuster, the team of Von Tilzer and Sterling hit paydirt with this delightful tune. Not quite as timeless as "Regards", this song nonetheless has stood the test of time and has been called "one of the biggest post turn of the century hits."¹ There are two unconfirmed, but charming stories about the inspiration for this song. One story says that Von Tilzer got the idea from a newspaper account of a downtrodden family where the reporter commented that "the sun would once again shine for them after the storm." The second story contends that Von Tilzer heard a man say to a woman in a hotel lobby, "wait till the sun shines Nellie." Whatever its true origin, it was a smash selling well over a million copies after its introduction by Winona Winter in vaudeville. Over the years, many stars have sung and recorded the song. In 1941, Mary Martin and Bing Crosby sung it as a duet in the film, The Birth Of The Blues. Gale Storm performed it in the 1942 film Rhythm on Parade and in 1952 it was the title song for the movie Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie. Today, it is a staple of ensembles and barbershop quartets or for sing alongs in schools and homes.


Harry Von Tilzer (b. July 8, 1872, Detroit, MI, d. Jan. 10. 1946, New York,
NY nee: Harry Gumm.) Harry, one of five children, was to find a career in music as did his younger brother Albert. When still a child, his family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where his father acquired a shoe store. A theatrical company gave performances in the loft above the store, and that's where Harry learned to love show business. His career really started in 1886 when, at age 14, he ran away from home and joined the Cole Brothers Circus. By 1887, he was playing piano, composing songs, and acting in a traveling repertory company. He changed his name at that time. His mother's maiden name was Tilzer, and he 'gussied' it up by adding the 'Von'. Thereafter he would be called Harry Von Tilzer, and later his younger brother Albert would adopt the name also. Harry met Lottie Gilson when the burlesque troupe with which he was working reached Chicago. The popular vaudevillian took an interest, and induced him to go to New York. In 1892, Harry, working as a groom on a trainload of horses, arrived in New York, with just $1.65 in his pocket. He rented a room near the Brooklyn Bridge and became a $15.00 per week saloon pianist. He left New York briefly to work in a traveling medicine show, but returned to again work in saloons and later as a vaudevillian in a 'Dutch' act with George Sidney. At this time, Harry was writing songs, literally hundreds of songs that were never published. He would sell them outright to other entertainers for $2.00 each. But the tide was about to turn for Harry. One of his songs was published, My Old New Hampshire Home, lyric by Andrew B. Sterling. William C. Dunn, owner of a small print shop, purchased it outright for $15.00, and issued it in 1898. It was a hit that sold more than 2 million copies. In 1899, three more of Von Tilzer's songs were published: I'd Leave My Happy Home for You, lyric by Will A. Heelan I Wonder If She's Waiting, lyric by Andrew B. Sterling Where The Sweet Magnolias Grow. The success of My Old New Hampshire Home prompted Maurice Shapiro of Shapiro-Bernstein Music Publishers to make Von Tilzer a partner, and the firm was renamed 'Shapiro, Bernstein and Von Tilzer'. Harry then wrote his next big hit in 1900, the present A Bird In A Gilded Cage. In 1902, Von Tilzer quit the partnership and formed his own firm 'Harry Von Tilzer Music Company'.


Andrew B. Sterling (b. 1874, New York City, d. 1955, Stamford, CT) is perhaps one of the greatest American popular song writers from the period. His most lasting partnership was with the great Harry Von Tilzer but he wrote numerous songs in collaboration with other composers such as Lange. Lange was a successful song composer for many years and went on to write motion picture scores culminating in his Oscar nominations in 1943 and 1944 for his songs "The Woman in the Window" and "Casanova Brown".



Hear this great Von Tilzer & Sterling hit (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

On The Road To Mandalay


Music by: Oley Speaks
Lyrics by: Rudyard Kipling
Cover artist: unknown

In spite of being more an "art" or "classical" song than popular song as we know them, On The Road To Mandalay has been a staple of the repertoire for almost 100 years. Still often sung in concert, it is a showpiece for baritones that is equivalent to the long standing Asleep In The Deep for bass singers. With words from Rudyard Kipling's great Barrack Room Ballads, the work is not only musically a classic but the lyrics have a pedigree matched by few other popular songs. This original arrangement is musically complex and wonderful. Speaks has crafted music that fits the words so well, one would think the two were written at the same time. His creative use of a musical simile for thunder and the dynamics of the work paint a musical picture that few songs can match. This is one of my favorites.


Oley Speaks (b. June 28, 1874, Canal Winchester, OH, d. Aug. 27, 1948, New York, N.Y.) As a young man, Speaks was a railway clerk in the Columbus, Ohio station. He then decided to follow a career in music and took lessons from such teachers as W. MacFarlane; Karl Dufft; Emma Thursby; Armour Galloway; and Max Spicker. He became a baritone soloist in a Columbus church, but in 1898, he settled in New York City. He was the baritone soloist at the Church of the Divine Paternity until 1901, and from 1901 until 1906, at the St. Thomas' Church. During this period, he also pursued a successful career as a singer, touring the U.S. giving recitals and also appearing in oratorios. He also wrote many 'art' songs, which for many years, were unsuccessful. His first published song was Thou Gazest at the Stars.


Speaks composed over 250 songs, among them; The Bells of Youth, Fuzzy Wuzzy, When The Boys Come Home and Life's Twilight. His greatest successes, each selling over a million copies of sheet music were On The Road To Mandalay, Morning (1910) , lyric by Frank Stanton and his 1914 Sylvia, with lyric Clinton Scollard. Speaks was one of those amazingly skilled composers who often wrote tunes at a single sitting. His technique was to fully memorize the lyric, then piece together a suitable melody while sitting at the piano, improvising. From 1924 until 1943, he was the director of ASCAP. He declined re-nomination due to ill health. Speaks died in 1948, age 74.


Enjoy this classic work (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version


School Days

(When We Were A Couple Of Kids)


Music by: Gus Edwards
Lyrics by: Will D. Cobb
Cover artist: unknown

I wonder if there is anyone over the age of ten who has not heard or sung this song? One of the blockbuster hits to come from this era, School Days has been in the public mind ever since its introduction by Gus Edwards as the title song for his vaudeville act. The act featured a number of child stars including George Jessel, Eddie Cantor and Georgie Price. Already a famous songwriter (My Merry Oldsmobile, Tammany), the vaudeville act made Edwards a top vaudeville performer. The act was first called School Boys and Girls, then later simply School Days. Edwards act provided a perfect opportunity for budding talent and many of the great entertainers of the later years can thank Edwards for their careers. Edwards' focus on child talent inspired a remark often heard on Broadway; "Pull in your kids, here comes Edwards." Selling over three million copies, School Days qualifies as one of the top selling hits of the early century. Bing Crosby sang the song in the 1939 film biography of Edwards, The Star Maker and Gale Storm and Phil Regan sang it in Sunbonnet Sue (1945).


Gus Edwards (1879 - 1945) Was born in Hohensalza, Germany and at the age of eight his family brought him to America. Considered by some to be the most important songwriter to come out of vaudeville, as a boy he worked as a tobacco stripper at an uncle's cigar store. Gus used to sneak into theaters and somehow made friends with several vaudeville performers, among them, Lottie Gibson who used the boy as a boy stooge in her act. Blessed with a fine voice, Edwards soon was performing in an act, "The Newsboy Quartet". During this period, Edwards met and received coaching from some of the most prominent performers of the time including George Cohan, Emma Carus and Imogene Comer. With Cohan's encouragement, Edwards began writing songs and his first song was All I Want Is My Black Baby Back in 1898 and performed as a part of the Newsboy act. Edwards did not know how to read or write music so had to enlist someone else to notate the melody for him. During the Spanish American war, Edwards was entertaining troops bound for Cuba and met Will D. Cobb, at the time a department store salesman who wrote songs as a hobby. The two hit it off and decided to work together writing songs. From that collaboration came a long list of hit songs including this featured song and Good-bye, Little Girl, Good-bye in 1904. Edwards worked with other composers and with each, wrote other hits. Among his greatest hits are In My Merry Oldsmobile (see our February, 2001 feature), By The Light Of The Silvery Moon in 1909 and Tammany in 1905. Edwards continued to stay involved in vaudeville till it finally died out in the late 30's. He retired in 1938 and lived to see his life story made into a movie, Star Maker (1939), starring Bing Crosby. Edwards died in Los Angeles in 1945.


Enjoy this wonderful song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version


The years from 1890 - 1910 produced many other hits that have endured. Many of them we have previously published here at parlorsongs. Among them can be found:

After The Ball, 1892
My Wild Irish Rose, 1899
In My Merry Oldsmobile, 1905
Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet, 1909
Down By The Old Mill Stream, 1910


See our catalog for a complete listing of the over 700 songs thus far published at ParlorSongs.com. Visit us for the largest selection of all "cover & midi" sites on the net. We were the first, and are the best.
Be sure to come back next month for many more top hits from the past!

That's it for this month's feature, as always, we hope you have enjoyed the music and learned something from it. Next month we will continue the "greatest hits" of the golden age with songs from 1910 - 1920 and explore what makes a song a hit in a unique essay from 1908.


¹ Lissauer's Encyclopedia of Popular Music In America, p.898
See our resources page for a complete bibliography of publications used to research this and our other features and articles.

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