Images in the above collage include God from Michaelangelo's fresco scene at the Sistine Chapel and a cut out of the Devil on the sheet music, At the Devil's Ball, cover by E. H. Pfeiffer.
Heaven & Hell:
Tin Pan Alley Sings About Heaven and the Devil
This feature did not at all turn out as I expected it to. Given the usual plethora of songs about just about every subject under the sun, I anticipated a huge inventory of titles to fit this month's theme. I was half right. The subject of Heaven or the mention of it in song is a common one. I really had no difficulty in finding songs in our collection with reference to heaven. But even then, they were dominated by one composer. However, I was a bit surprised to find that songs mentioning Hell or the Devil are few and far between.
Perhaps there was a fear 100 years ago that writing about such a subject would somehow taint the songwriter or cause the public to wonder if there was some connection. In our collection we've a scant few songs out of thousands that reference the Devil. Curious, I also searched a number of very large library collections and found nothing much there either. Interestingly, as you will see, one composer was brave and strong enough to face up to the challenge. Irving Berlin wrote several songs about the devil and we've featured them here. It took a giant, one whose reputation for good music superseded any concerns about Devil worship to compose such songs and none other than Berlin seemed to fit that requirement at that time.
Another interesting aspect of this issue is that one composer also seemed to dominate the arena of Heaven. That composer was none other than Charles K. Harris who was king of the tearjerker songs and a man whose style and flair changed the face of American popular music with his seminal work, After The Ball (Scorch format).
In last month's feature about "moral songs" we said: "In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Victorian morality ran rampant and much of America's music carried strong and obvious moral messages. Of course not all songs were morally founded but some were very much so." That applies to this month's feature as well. There are some real gems that we've unearthed and hope that you enjoy hearing them as much as we enjoyed "discovering" them.
If you are new to us, to enjoy the full musical experience, we recommend that you get the Scorch plug in from our friends at Sibelius software. The Scorch player allows you to not only listen to the music but to view the sheet music as the music plays and see the lyrics as well. Each month we also allow printing of some of the sheet music featured so for those of you who play the piano (or other instruments) you'll be able to play some of the music yourself. It's a complete musical experience! Get the Sibelius Scorch player now.
Richard A. Reublin, March, 2006. This article published March, 2006 and is Copyright © 2006 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author or a company officer.
We begin with a song we featured one time before but with a different, less interesting cover. This version features a photo of "Baby Lund," a popular child performer of the period on the telephone and attributes performance "with great success" to her. Of course Harris was one of the era's greatest and most prolific of composers and was an innovator in the area of marketing and promotion of music. As we said in our November, 2001 feature about this song this work, is a sad, sad story of a young child whose mother passes away and the child is having trouble understanding death. Her father is in a terrible state and nothing can be done to console him in his loss. To help, the child decides to call heaven and ask mother to return home. A kindly telephone operator helps (?) by telling the child that mother will come home soon. Melodically, Harris hit the jackpot with this one and I think you'll find it really interesting and enjoyable. Harris also recounted in his autobiography the provenance of the story behind this song:
"I remember one morning at breakfast my wife called my attention to an interesting item in a newspaper. It was the story of a coal dealer in Chicago who had lost his wife, leaving a little daughter age seven. As he was reading his evening paper, his little girl suddenly climbed a chair so as to reach a telephone hanging on the wall. Cranking the small handle she said: "Hello, Central, give me heaven for my mamma's there."And there you have another Harris song and a great story behind it. Harris always seemed to have a great story about the inspiration for his songs. That was another crafty element of his marketing skill. The music is clearly dated and shows Harris's style and use of ornamentation in his songs. I've found this song over time to be quite enjoyable and it's dated style just plain charming. For this month's purposes, this song illustrates the concept that there is a paradise where clean souls go after death and the belief that it is a palpable and reachable place.
Kassell Harris was born in 1867 in Poughkipsie,
NY and died in NYC in 1930. He lived for many years in Milwaukee and published
many of his early songs there. His
After The Ball, (Scorch format) published in 1892 is generally
considered to be the watershed song that started the popular song industry
in earnest as a commercial juggernaught. Though Harris wrote many songs
over the years, none ever rose to the level of popularity as After
The Ball. See our in-depth
biography of Harris for much more information.
Hear this early heavenly song ( Scorch plug-in required)
A very somber gray scale cover on this song tells the entire story at a glance. In yet another case of a child trying to reach heaven to meet with a departed loved one, this child takes to the rails and tragically makes it to her destination. It is interesting how many of the "heaven" songs from the period played on the innocence and purity of children and their perceptions of the hereafter. It was not just Harris but other composers as well, including this one.
The song has a simple melody and accompaniment that is pleasant but not particularly memorable or "hit" material. The verse in common time is marked "slow with feeling" and rightfully so as the story is a tender tear jerker if ever there was one. The chorus moves along with a little more energy in waltz time, again with a very simple melody and accompaniment. The story is longer than most songs with three verses and two choruses. The first chorus is sung after verses 1 & 2 then the second chorus finalizes the story after verse 3. This is in many respects a remarkable song and I'm a bit surprised it has not been as well known as the likes of In The Baggage Coach Ahead.
It is also interesting to note that the song lists Harry J. Lincoln as the arranger. All editions I've been able to find carry that credit so it may be that Schleif wrote the melody and story but needed a more experienced composer to complete the work. In any event, this seems to be her only work and I've been unable to find any biographical information about her.
Enjoy this wonderful heaven borne lament( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
And now we visit the home of the Devil; Hades or Hell. Thanks to Irving Berlin's fearless approach to any subject we enjoy a little trip to Hades and attend a dance that is, well, the dance from Hell. Hot dances, hot damsels and hot temperatures all teach us a lesson of the revelry that those in Hell must endure to placate the Devil. With his usual aplomb, Berlin tackles a sensitive subject and gives us a terrific story with some of his best music from that era.
The song tells the story of a man who dreams about visiting Hell and
attending a dance hosted by the devil. The verse has a bit of a mysterious
tone that conveys a bit of the scariness the dreamer faced while at the
Devil's Ball. However, soon we see that Berlin has added a great deal
of humor into the event and with some very clever lyrics that takes twists
and turns on the subject we move into a very upbeat and humorous chorus.
Perhaps in a nod to his own difficulties with his in laws, he takes a
humorous potshot at his mother in law with the line; "I caught a
glimpse of my Mother in law,
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 (Scorch format) in 1907 at age 19 and immediately had his first hit on his hands. It was at that time he changed his name to Irving Berlin. His total royalties for this first song amounted to 37 cents. In 1911 the publication of Alexander's Ragtime Band (MIDI) 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. One unique fact about Berlin is that he was not able to read or write music or play the piano except in one key (F sharp). He picked out melodies or dictated them and had assistants fill in the harmonies and accompaniment for him. Berlin never seemed to give credit for these very talented people. In his later years, he had a special device attached to his piano that allowed him to transpose any song into his "favorite" key. His initial start in the music industry was as a singer and then as a lyricist. It was only after great success in writing lyrics that Berlin turned to melodies.
Music by: F. R. Kimball
Cover artist: Unknown
Of course Heaven can be interjected in music in many ways and appears in a number of piano solo works, usually classified as reveries. Reveries are simply tone poems for piano that are usually intended to convey a feeling of place, time or emotion. In most cases they are dreamy sort of works that tend towards the emotional. As for naming them, it is often just based on what the composer had in mind as the piece was written or whatever struck them as a nice title at the moment. In this case, the connection to heaven is a little unclear.
Though written in 1904, this work has a startling affinity for and sound that is very similar to that of Amanda Kennedy's 1883 work Star of the Sea (Scorch format). That work had a long period of popularity that extended well into the time of this work and may have inspired Kimball in producing this work. Just as in Star of the Sea, Kimball makes liberal use of arpeggiation that gives it a harp like feel. After a short introduction, the work moves into a melody very much like Star of the Sea. The constant "harping" can get a little tiresome both for the performer and the listener but it was a popular effect. At about the time you begin to think that you've had enough, Kimball changes the tone, drops the harp effect and moves us into a more flowing section which then moves into a darker, more urgent section then back to the lilting tune heard just before. As we near the finale, we have a passage with right hand accompaniment in triplets with the melody in the left hand. All in all, this work seems very strongly grounded in the 19th century style of the 1880's rather than turn of the century. But, it is a nice diversion. We've made this one printable so you can try it at home.
I'm not exactly sure who F. R. Kimball was but he may have been associated with the Kimball piano company. He wrote at least two other works, Chanticleer (Cock-a-doodle-doo) rag and the Chanticleer March.
Hear and see this wonderful reverie ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
Lyrics (There are no lyrics for this piece)
As I played through this work for the first time I could not help but see the timelessness of the message that Berlin was sending through this song. In many respects the song has relevance to any period where war is an issue and Berlin is clearly in the anti war camp with this song. More propaganda than entertainment, Berlin still manages to pull off yet another of his masterpieces and again shows us his ability to take any subject and make it palatable. This song was written in the early days of W.W.I and is a rather scathing indictment of war and those who wage it. It is interesting to me that despite his obvious ant war feelings, once America joined the fray Berlin wrote some of America's greatest patriotic songs and songs in support of our troops. This was the case in both world wars. Berlin's music was an important part of the war efforts.
The song basically tells the story of Satan's son who wants to come up to earth to savor the good life. His father sits him down for a lesson in depravity basically pointing out that more evil seems to reside on earth than it does in hell! If you read what Berlin has written, there is an uncomfortable truth in what this song tells us about ourselves. Berlin starts out the verse with that mysterious scary sound we've heard before and moves into a very musical and more upbeat chorus. Again, Berlin strikes gold.
Enjoy this fabulous "rediscovered" song (Scorch plug-in required)
And once more, we are back to Charles K. Harris and his wonderful heaven songs. This song's sheet music is graced with a fabulous cover by Starmer that is unique and quite colorful. This may be one of Harris' and Starmer's best sheet music covers, it surely is the best one this month. Harris returns us to the sad waif story line, this time a sick one who is contemplating her soon to come journey to the beyond. Get the tissues out for this is a masterful tearjerker in Harris' best tradition.
The music in this song is some of Harris' best. Written in waltz time, the melody and harmony are a cut above most of his works. If we look back on his earlier works, we can see that Harris has matured into a better songwriter and musician as time has moved forward. Though still a bit "Victorian" in it's sound I find this song a very entertaining song with more of a timeless nature to it than many of his songs. Of course the story is pure Harris. We are told of a poor sick child who is asking her mother about what she might expect and what she hopes for when she soon passes into heaven. She asks about all those things in life that are beautiful and hope they will be in heaven as well. A very well written and touching story to go with an excellent melody.
Listen to this great old heaven sent melody (Scorch plug-in required)
This song was also featured once before on our site but way back in our early days (May, 1998) and certainly not with much contextual meaning. We wrote at that time: "This work illustrates the greatness of Irving Berlin. Not only was he a great composer but here we have him as lyricist and even a cover artist. This is the only work of it's kind by Berlin that I have found where he was composer, lyricist and artist. There were other composers who are notable for their cover art also such as the great E. T. Paull, but most from this period were focused as either composers or lyricists. As with any Berlin song, the music is captivating and rhythmically invigorating, be sure to listen to this one." Looking back on those comments, I have no idea why I attributed the cover art to him but stand corrected now some eight years later. I must have been completely blind for Frew's name is clearly visible on the cover!
We're running out of "real" devil songs so I just thought that this retro look at one of Berlin's best "devil" songs would be appropriate. This song has a wonderful memorable melody and a very humorous story about a home town trouble maker who is quite the ladies man as well. Though we did feature the song once before, it was well before we began producing viewable scores with the Sibelius software so this time we can present the song to you both aurally and visually. As well, the lyrics are included now so you can fully appreciate the story of this "devil." I'm betting you'll get this melody stuck in your head for a while!
Listen to this 1914 "devil" song (Scorch Format)
Now for my favorite of the month and my "discovery of the month." This is a song that is one of those occasional little masterpieces that go to my heart and soul. I suppose that is appropriate for this issue. As with the prior Berlin tune, we've moved from the spiritual to the earth bound where heaven is also associated with places and people on earth. Of course when it comes to love and the one we love, the word heaven is often included in whatever superlatives we tend to speak to them. The young actress on the cover is unknown to me but she certainly conveys that heavenly, angelic beauty that we often find in those we love.
My favor for this work is based on it's musicality. The melody in the chorus is divine and has all the makings of a memorable hit song. The verse is nice but short which is well and good because the chorus is where the real joy is. The words and music combine for a wonderfully expressive musical experience. Dare I say that the song is heavenly in and of itself? Perhaps the question might be, is this song from heaven? It is a beauty and deserving of a rebirth.
Anatol(e) Friedland (b. 1881, St. Petersburg, Russia D. 1938, Atlantic City, NJ). A noted songwriter, Friedland studied music at the Moscow conservatory and emigrated to the US sometime after 1900. In the US he studied Architecture at Columbia University and later operated the Club Anatole, a speakeasy on West 44th Street in Manhattan during the prohibition years. Friedland spent many years as a vaudeville performer. In 1911, Friedland wrote the score for a Broadway musical with lyricist Malvin Franklin called The Wife Hunters. Based on the success of this show, the Shuberts hired Anatole to write music for their Winter Garden productions, including The Passing Show. In 1912, Anatole wrote the score for the Shubert hit Broadway To Paris.
In 1913, he met L. Wolfe Gilbert; a fellow Russian and the team turned out many successful songs. Sometimes they appeared together on stage singing their own songs. Other times, Friedland appeared as just a 'singles' act, playing the piano and singing. The long time collaboration with Gilbert resulted in many hits; among them are My Sweet Adair 1915; Are You From Heaven 1917; My Own Iona (Moi-One-Ionae) 1916 (MIDI); Shades In The Night 1916; Singapore 1918; and Lily of the Valley, A "Nut" Song, 1917. In 1936, Friedland lost one leg through amputation and he retired , and took up residence at the Hotel Ritz-Carlton, in Atlantic City, N. J.
Louis Wolfe Gilbert (1886 - 1970) was born in Odessa, Russia and brought to America when he was only one year old. He was a vaudeville actor and toured with the great John L. Sullivan. During the heyday of radio, he wrote for Eddie Cantor's radio show. Aside from Muir, he also collaborated with Abel Baer (Lucky Lindy, 1927) and other famous lyricists of the period. Some of his other hits include, Ramona 1927; O, Katharina 1924 , Don't Wake Me Up 1925; and Hitchy Koo from 1912. His longest running and most successful collaboration was with fellow Russian emigrant Anatole Friedland with whom he wrote a number of hits including, My Little Dream Girl, (Sibelius Scorch format) 1915; My Sweet Adair 1915; Are You From Heaven 1917; My Own Iona (Moi-One-Ionae) 1916 (MIDI); Shades In The Night 1916; Singapore 1918; and Lily of the Valley, A "Nut" Song, 1917
Listen to this great rediscovered song (Scorch plug-in required)
Words and Music by: Charles K. Harris
Assigning heavenly attributes to those we love was and still is a common practice for composers. In this case, our good friend Chas. K. Harris after many songs about children going to heaven, blesses us with a wonderful song about a woman whose eyes offer us a glimpse of heaven. When love is new, there is always that tendency to see heaven in every aspect of the one you adore. Sometimes it can get a little absurd and maybe even embarrassing but it is one of the joys of falling in love. After a few years, we sometimes see a gleam of the devil or hell in their eyes but that's a story better told in some of our other issues and songs.
For now, we have a case of love expressed through song. I have to say that in the verse, this song is not one of Harris' best, far from it. The chorus in waltz time is not a whole lot better. I found the piece rather simplistic and thin harmonically and even a bit amateurish. In this case, I think it shows that a "name brand" does wonders for sales, even when the product is below the standard of expectations. Nonetheless, the song is listenable and has a set of nice lyrics that as usual, tell us a lovely story.
Listen to "Just A Gleam.." ( Scorch plug-in)
Words and Music by: Irving Berlin
We end this month with what must be a work Berlin wrote on a day when he was miffed at someone or some thing. After all, why write a song with that sentiment (go to the Devil) in the title. The song has a hint of good humor but much like the above work, Stay Down Here Where You Belong, it seems to express Berlin's disgust with contemporary society. This work was written for the second of Berlin's Music Box Revues which ran from 1921 through 1924 and were performed at his own Music Box Theater in New York. The revues were loosely plotted collections of Berlin's own music and represented perhaps an annual retrospective on his music.
This work is a very complex and musically fascinating song. The opening (and much of the verse) carries a great deal of dissonance which provides for an outstanding feel of sinister. The chorus is also very sinister in sound but the pace picks up some and moves into a very jazzy style. This is one of Berlin's more unique works in my opinion. Not as singable as most of his songs, it strikes me as more of a virtuoso piano work than a song. A special treat at the end of the song proper is a patter section, again rarely seen in any of Berlin's works. The patter takes on a less sinister tone but still is a lot more musical and classier than many patters I've seen included in songs. Total playing time on this piece is quite long compared to most songs. The lyrics are both humorous and with deeper meaning than many songs. As he did in "Stay Down Here," it seems that Berlin is making a strong political or social commentary on the state of affairs "up above" and is telling us he thinks hell is in many respects a better place than up here. I don't think so and surely hope that Berlin is not finding out for himself right now!
Listen to "Pack Up Your Sins" ( Scorch plug-in)
This article published March, 2006 and is Copyright © 2006 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author or an officer of the corporation. Though the songs published on this site are often in the Public Domain, MIDI renditions are protected by copyright as recorded performances.
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