Enduring American Song Hits,
Part 2, page 1


This, the second in our two part feature on the subject of hits explores the years from 1910 to 1920 and the explosion of enduring hits that came from those years. Be sure to see our January, 2002 feature for a review of the decades when the concept of the hit song emerged in America from 1890 to 1910. Also, be sure to see our "In Search Of" series for articles about the concept of hit songs and what makes a song successful as well as many other articles about American popular song and some of the people who have made it what it is today. For those of you with scorch, we have upgraded our Sibelius software and it will incorporate a number of improved playback capabilities and some scores will now be printable at no cost. Be sure to upgrade your scorch player to use these new feature and view the score while the music plays. For those of you who continue to prefer midi presentation, the upgraded software now produces an improved midi performance that includes repeats as written.

Put Your Arms Around Me Honey


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

The decade beginning in 1910 brought us a period of popular musical growth unmatched in prior years and perhaps unmatched since. This period defined the American popular song and the production of enduring hit songs was almost overwhelming. This song was introduced in vaudeville by Blossom Seely, billed as "the Hottest Girl In Town" and was later included in the musical Madame Sherry that same year. This memorable melody has appeared as a background theme or song in many movies, including one starring John Wayne, In Old Oklahoma (1943). Judy Garland sang it in the film, In The Good Old Summertime (1949) and Judy Canova sang it in Louisiana Hayride (1944). An immediate hit, the first recording of this song was produced in 1911 .


Other notable enduring hits from 1910 include that perennial Barbershop Quartet favorite, Down By The Old Mill Stream (midi) and A Perfect Day (midi)


Albert Von Tilzer ( nee Albert Gumm, b. 1878, Indianapolis - d. 1956, Los Angeles)was the brother of the famous Harry Von Tilzer.( 1872 - 1946) Albert, was one of five children, and found 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 followed to capitalize on Harry's success.


Though Albert followed his brother in many ways, he was definitely a fine composer in his own right. He started his career as a 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. He went on to write hundreds of songs, many of them hits at that time and several of which are enduring hits still heard today.
Among his greatest works are I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time, (1920), Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1908) and the present, Put Your Arms Around me Honey.

Enjoy this wonderful 1910 song(SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version



Oh! You Beautiful Doll


Music by: Nat. D. Ayer
Lyrics by: Seymour Brown
Cover artist: Starmer


Another of those immediate hits, as with many of the lasting hits from this period, Oh! You Beautiful Doll has enjoyed many revivals and performances in films by some of the greatest singers of the 20th century. Like many of our lasting hits, Judy Garland sang this one in the 1942 film, For Me And My Gal. It also was featured in the 1939 film biography, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. A strange twist was its use in the film biography of Fred Fisher, Oh! You Beautiful Doll. Why that title was used for the film and why the song was so prominent is a mystery as Fisher had no connection to the song at all.


The year 1911 also marked the introduction of a number of other lasting hits including I Want A Girl Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad, The Oceana Roll (scorch) and the most famous non ragtime song of them all Alexander's Ragtime Band, (midi) a song that had a tremendous effect on American song and which marked the emergence of Irving Berlin as one of America's greatest and most popular songwriters.

Nat D. Ayer (b. 1897, Boston - d. 1952, Bath, England) Ayer wrote a number of lasting and contemporary hits during his time on Tin Pan Alley including King Chanticleer (1911, lyrics by Seymour Brown, used in the Ziegfeld Follies) and a huge hit, If You Were The Only Girl In The World in 1916. The music from King Chanticleer is very often performed at ragtime festivals (never the lyrics), - even used as background music in films and accompaniment to silent films. Ayer left "Tin Pan Alley" to return to England, where he remained until the end of his life, composing mostly for the theater. His shows there include The Bing Boys Are Here (1916), The Bing Boys Are There (1917) and the Bing Boys On Broadway (1918) all of which were produced at the Alhambra Theater in London. Among his other compositions are: Another Little Drink, Bingo Farm, and Zuyder Zee, a popular novelty song:

Zuyder Zee, Zuyder Zee,
Zuyder Beautiful Zee.
You unt me, You unt Me,
Oh How Happy Ve'll Be"

Listen to and see this hit song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version





Music by: Ernie Burnett
Lyrics by: George A. Norton
Cover artist: Unknown


This song is more commonly known as My Melancholy Baby however, when first published, the title was simply Melancholy. The song is the only hit produced by Burnett although he was a distinguished and accomplished musician. Included in 1964's Funny Girl, this song is one of the standard tunes of the lasting hit parade. Sung by Bing Crosby in The Birth of The Blues in 1941, Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, 1954, and Gogi Grant (dubbing for Ann Blyth) in The Helen Morgan Story, 1957, Melancholy has enjoyed a long and prominent place in the American hit parade.

This same year also saw the publication of many other great hit songs that have endured including; Moonlight Bay, (scorch) The Memphis Blues, (midi) On The Mississippi, (midi) Waitin' For The Robert E. Lee (scorch) and When I Lost You (scorch).


Ernie Burnett(b. Cincinnati, Ohio 1884 - d. Sarnac Lake, New York, 1959) Like many composers of the era, Burnett spent a few years as a vaudeville performer. He left the United States while still a teenager to get a formal education in music abroad. He studied in Italy, Austria and at the Charlottenburg Conservatory. On his return in 1901 he performed as a pianist in vaudeville. He led his own orchestra and founded his own publishing company. In W.W.I he served in the 89th division of the AEF. Melancholy appears to be his only song composition of note.

Hear this great old original melody (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version



Ballin' The Jack


Music by: Chris Smith
Lyrics by: none, piano solo
Cover artist: De Takacs


What we know today as a song, really did not start as a song. Ballin' The Jack began life as a pure piano piece, very much in the ragtime style and billed as a "Fox-Trot" dance. In fact, this may very well be among one of the first Fox-Trots to be published. On the cover appears a photo of Billy Kent and Jeanette Warner captioned, "creators of the Fox-Trot." In fact, Kent and Warner introduced the work on vaudeville. The piece begins with a very unfamiliar introduction that is very "raggy" in its style. It then moves into a central section that is the melody we are familiar with although rhythmically it is different than today's versions, it is clearly recognizable. The song ends with a section based on the James Reece Europe song, What It Takes To Make Me Love You. The original was actually written in 1912, then in 1913, Smith teamed with Jim Burris who provided the lyrics and the song took off as a big hit.

Of course, Judy Garland performed this work with Gene Kelly in For Me And My Gal in 1942, Danny Kaye had a go at it in 1951 in On The Riviera and Dean Martin sang it in That's My Boy in 1942. Other lasting hits from 1913 include El Choclo, (midi) an Argentine tango, Danny Boy, Peg O' My Heart, (midi) The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine (midi) and You Made Me Love You.


Chris Smith (b. Charleston, SC 1879 - d. New York City, 1949) One of a very few African American composers to be successful during this era, Smith distinguished himself with a large oeuvre of published works including several hits. He taught himself to play the piano and the guitar. His first appearances on the stage was with Elmer Bowman, who had a medicine show. Bowman never paid him, and he had to walk back home to Charleston. At some point, Chris traveled to New York, and in 1900, he began to write popular songs. His first song, Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice was published in 1900 with lyrics by Cecil Mack. His collaborations included a number of major lyricists of the time including Silvio Hein ( He's A Cousin Of Mine), Jack Drislane ( After All That I've Been To You) and Avery and Hart (Down Among The Sugar Cane). Sadly, after WW1, Smith stopped writing. He lived in an apartment in Harlem's St. Nicholas Avenue, in seclusion and neglect till his death at age 70.


Hear this eternally loved song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

(No Lyrics with this version)


They Didn't Believe Me


Music by: Jerome D. Kern
Lyrics by: Herbert Reynolds
Cover artist: unknown


Jerome Kern is one of America's greatest songwriters and this song may well be his best. Without question it is one of his most enduring hits and one that has been sung by almost every singer of note, yes, including Judy Garland. It also happens to be his first hit song, presaging many years of outstanding songs. Starting in 1911, Kern had written several stage productions, all of which were not successful. In 1914 however, he hit paydirt with The Girl From Utah, an adaptation of an English operetta. He wrote eight songs for the production, three of which were limited successes by themselves. This one though was an unqualified masterpiece. On hearing it, the great Victor Herbert said, "this man will inherit my mantle." (No humility there.) The song was a huge hit and was published in a number of different wrappers like this one shown here with a portrait as well as the original show version (above). The "cast" cover above, shows portraits of Julia Sanderson and below her, Donald Brian. They premiered the song in he original production. In the 1946 Kern film biography, Till The Clouds Roll By, it was sung by Dinah Shore. Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson sung it in the 1949 movie, That Midnight Kiss.

Other great songs from this year include; After The Roses Have Faded Away (midi), By The Sea, Can't Yo' Heah Me Callin', Caroline, He's A Devil In His Own Home Town (midi), I Want To Go Back To Michigan - Down On The Farm (midi), St. Louis Blues (midi) and When You Wore A Tulip and I Wore A Big Red Rose (scorch).


Jerome Kern (b. Jan. 27, 1885, New York City, d. Nov. 11, 1945, New York City) Kern was one of the most important pioneering composers of American Popular Song, Jerome Kern was writing for Broadway shows in 1904 (age 19). He wrote his first complete score for a Broadway musical in 191l. The Kern/Hammerstein score for the musical Showboat was a landmark in the Broadway theater. He starting writing for Hollywood as early as 1935. After his last Broadway show Very Warm For May, Kern wrote exclusively for motion pictures. During 1913, Kern and other composers and lyricists were experimenting, in the small Princess Theater in New York, with American subjects for musicals. Kern's first big hit was They Didn't Believe Me from the 1914 show The Girl from Utah. In 1919, Kern had a minor hit with the song Ka-Lu-A, with lyric by Anne Caldwell. The huge success of that year was the song Dardanella (midi). Kern used the bass line of Dardanella in his Ka-lu-a, and the publishers of Dardanella sued him. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court where Kern eventually lost. (He was never accused of plagiarizing the melody, only of using the Bass Line.) That case was a landmark for copyright interpretation and protection. Several other hit shows followed in the late 1910's and twenties before his biggest hit musical Showboat. By the end of the thirties Kern had composed his last Broadway musical.


The son of an upper-middle class new York family, Jerome studied at Heidleberg University in Germany, returning to the U.S. with a Master of Music degree. His first published song appeared in a Broadway show, 'Silver Slipper'. Jerome was 19 years old at the time. During the next eight years, he had melodies in over 24 Broadway shows before having his first big hit "They Didn't Believe Me" from the 1914 show The Girl From Utah.


In the 1920's, he wrote material for many shows, but his greatest achievement came with 1927's Show Boat, one of the finest shows Broadway has ever produced. By this time, he had already written such songs as Look For The Silver Lining, Ol' Man River,"Only Make Believe", and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." In 1932, he wrote The Song Is You with Oscar Hammerstein for the Broadway show Music In The Air. That same year he signed with RKO Pictures for the films Roberta and, in 1936, Swingtime with it's twin hits of The Way You Look Tonight and A Fine Romance, both sung by Fred Astaire. His last Broadway show was in 1939 Very Warm For May.


In the 1940's: Kern's Hits included: The Last Time I Saw Paris, Dearly Beloved
Long Ago and Far Away, "Just The Way You Look Tonight, Pick Yourself Up and Start All Over Again, I'm Old Fashioned and the Judy Garland hit vocal. "More and More." In 1945 Kern suffered a fatal Stroke. He was 65 years old.


Enjoy this great Kern song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version





Music by: Egbert Van Alstyne
Lyrics by: Gustave Kahn
Cover artist: unknown


Memories are what ParlorSongs is all about and this song is arguably, the greatest "memories" song of them all. The song was an immediate hit when published and has stayed in the performance repertoire ever since. This song was heard in the 1951 film biography of Kahn, I'll See You In My Dreams as well as other films. Often recorded, never forgotten, it is another of those timeless songs that came from this great era of American Popular song. This same year yielded numerous lasting (and not so lasting) hit songs, among them are; America I Love You (midi), Back Home In Tennessee, Canadian Capers (midi), I've Been Floating Down The Old Green River (midi), M-O-T-H-E-R (midi), The Old Gray Mare (scorch) and When I Leave The World Behind (scorch).


Egbert Van Alstyne (b. Chicago, Ill 1882 - d. Chicago, 1951) A musical prodigy, he played the organ at the Methodist Church in Marengo, Illinois when only seven! Schooled in the public school system in Chicago and at Cornell College in Iowa, he won a scholarship to the Chicago Musical College. After graduation, he toured as a pianist and director of stage shows and performed in vaudeville. In 1902 he went to New York and worked as a staff pianist for a publisher in Tin Pan Alley and began to devote himself to writing songs teamed with Harry Williams as his lyricist. The teams first success cam in 1903 with Navajo, one of the earliest commercial songs to exploit Indian themes. They wrote two more "Indian Songs"; Cheyenne in 1906 and San Antonio in 1907. In 1905 they produced one of the greatest songs of that early decade, In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree which sold several million copies. For several years, the team cranked out hit after hit and music for two Broadway musicals, A Broken Doll in 1909 and Girlies in 1910.


In 1912, Van Alstyne wrote That Old Girl Of Mine with Earle C. Jones and that same year started his collaboration with Gus Kahn. Their first important song together was Sunshine and Roses in 1913 and then Memories. This is the same team that also gave us Pretty Baby, (midi) Old Pal, (midi) Your Eyes Have Told Me So and Sing Me A Love Song. Van Alstyne returned to Chicago in his later years and lived with his mother who enjoyed a late life (in her eighties) career as "Aunt Em" on the radio.


Gus Kahn (1886 - 1941) is one of America's greatest lyricists. Born in Coblenz, Germany, his family came to the USA and settled in Chicago in 1891. He worked mostly in non-music related jobs but persisted in seeking outlets for his song lyrics. His first song was published in 1907 and after that, he concentrated on writing lyrics for vaudeville performers in Chicago first, then in New York in the 1920's. In 1933, he moved to California and focused on writing for movies. The many eminent composers he teamed with over his long career include, Isham Jones, Walter Donaldson (My Buddy) , Egbert Van Alstyne, George Gershwin and Ernie Erdman (Toot -Toot -Tootsie). Many of his songs have become standards with Pretty Baby (1916) being perhaps the most notable. Other standards by Kahn include, Carolina In The Morning (1922), Makin' Whoopee, 1928 and Liza (1928). His movie biography, I'll See You In My Dreams (1951) starring Danny Thomas and Doris day is an engrossing story that is filled with many of his hits. Kahn died in Beverly Hills in 1941.

Listen to this 1915 hit song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version



See our resources page for a complete bibliography of all resources used to research this and other articles in our series.

WAIT! There are more Enduring Hit masterpieces to see and hear. The second part of this issue features more rare and different works.

More hit music and covers in this month's issue, go to part B.

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