Parlor Songs in search of popular American Song



Rich BeilWhen I first started singing the "old songs", I was constantly wondering why the verses were dropped in more recent recordings. When you hear the complete lyrics and melodies, it's clear that they were intended to always be heard together. The verse provided a background story or introduction to the chorus and together the two made for a beautiful and complete "story" of the song. However, over time the more memorable choruses were all that we heard and as songwriting developed, over the decades songwriters stopped writing verses at all. Then, recently, I heard a radio interview with the former road manager for the Beatles. Listening to him, I realized that the most important thing that contributed to the elimination of verses was song length. When the songs were re-recorded electronically in the late 20s/early 30s, including the verses, as well as an instrumental introduction and "break" by the orchestra, the songs often ran well over 4 minutes long. So, the Beatles guy pointed me in the right direction. The rest I found through my own research.
In large measure, verses were dropped due to the advent of electronic recording and broadcast radio in the 20s. Of course, "radio" had existed since the 1800s but it was used principally for sending and receiving Morse code to and between ships at sea. The first commercial radio station was station KDKA in Pittsburgh. It went on the air on November 2, 1920. It took quite a while before the idea caught on and spread, leading to "networks". As radio stations began developing "formats", they began a policy that songs should be no more than about 3 minutes 25 seconds in length. Part of the motivation for this was the need to fit in time for advertisements that paid the bills and stations did not want the period between commercials to be too long or they would limit their ability to sell advertising time. The result was a balance between entertainment and advertising.
During the "acoustic" recording era, the singer sang, or shouted, into a megaphone. The sound waves were transferred directly onto a cylinder and, later, vinyl records. Folks went out and bought a Victrola (record player) and records to play. No one cared how long the song was. They had been singing these songs around the piano in the parlor for years. But, they were too long for radio and the quality was exceedingly poor. Artists now re-recorded the songs electronically, eliminating the verses, thus shortening the songs to fit the demands of radio stations. By the Swing era of the Big Bands in the 40s, if the "verse melody" was played at all, it was usually played as either the instrumental introduction or as a instrumental "bridge" between the singer's two times through the chorus. So, anyone born in the late 20s and beyond grew up hearing the songs sung without the verses. They had no idea there was any more to the song than what they heard on the radio.
The "taboo" against long songs began to be broken when the Beatles introduced "Hey Jude" in 1968. It was over 7 minutes long and Paul McCartney was concerned that they would not be able to get the song on the air. Their road manager sent a rough demo of the song to a disc jockey he knew in the U.S. The guy played it and the response was enormous. The Beatles were simply too popular for radio stations to refuse to play one of their songs. Many of you may recall the 1971 song "American Pie" by Don McLean. The original long version of that song is 8 minutes 46 seconds in length. To get airplay, McLean had to record a shorter version. The "underground" FM stations began playing the long version and it became such a big hit that the AM stations were forced to follow suit
The result of the trimming of verses over time is that though we still enjoy what many consider to be the best melodies of the songs from Tin Pan Alley, few if any of us have heard the entire song and have missed the overall story the songwriters wanted to tell us. With this CD, we want to revive these lost verses and share them with you in keeping with the Parlor Songs charter to preserve and exhibit America's popular song history to the listeners of today. We hope you enjoy the music and your own discovery of the verses you may have never heard and even a few songs you may have never heard before.
Rich Beil, January, 2009

About the Lost Verses Songs.
1. Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home (Words and Music by Hughie Cannon, 1902)
This very upbeat song is one that has been sung by jazz stylists for over 100 years, the chorus melody is infectious and very memorable and is likely all most people have ever heard. But, did you ever wonder where Bill Bailey was and why he left home to begin with? The original song verse lyrics heard here add that long lost perspective. The song was first introduced by John Queen in a minstrel show and became an instant hit. Recorded many times, the song also appeared in the 1959 movie The Five Pennies starring Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong.

2. Carolina in the Morning (Words by Gus Kahn, Music by Walter Donaldson, 1922)

Twenty years after “Bill Bailey,” this perennial favorite was introduced in the Broadway production The Passing Show of 1922. It has appeared in a number of films over the years including Jolson Sings Again (1949) and April Showers (1948) sung by Ann Southern and Robert Alda. This is another of those universally recognized melodies but always heard without really knowing why “nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.” Now, thanks to Rich, you’ll find out why..

3. When You Were Sweet Sixteen (Words & Music by James Thornton, 1898)

This song is a little less familiar today as the melody is not quite as timeless as many of the others that still are performed. Despite that, it has continued in the current repertoire and is a song that many of us more annually experienced listeners easily remember. The song has been most heard in recent years as a continuing favorite sung by Barbershop Quartets. The song was Thornton’s last successful song and his most lasting.

4. Anything is Nice if it Comes From Dixieland (Grant Clarke / Geo. W. Meyer / Milton Ager, 1919)

During Tin Pan Alley days, songs about Dixie were all the rage and this jazzy number is about the charms of Dixie and what Dixie brings to the table, so to speak. The chorus amounts to a list of the good things that Dixie has to offer. We hear of the cotton of "Alabam," Virginia ham, Louisiana sugar, Tennessee music and Carolina tobacco. The verse gives us an introduction as to why the “birdies fly south” and why everybody loves it (Dixie).

5. Bring Me A Letter From My Old Hometown (Music by Will Anderson, Lyrics by A. G. Delamater, 1918)

The World War One era gave birth to thousands of wonderful patriotic, ant-war and even sad songs related to the conflict and its consequences. Many of the songs were about wounded, homesick soldiers and brought many a tear to the folks back home. The stories these songs told just are not complete without the verse and lyric though unfortunately, many of them like this one and the greatest of all, Over There came down to us without the verse. You’ll enjoy the entire story as told to us by Rich.

6. Dear Little Boy Of Mine (Music by Ernest R. Ball, Lyric by J. Kiern Brennan, 1918)

Songs in earlier times were so much more expressive and emotional than most of today’s music. People were unafraid to openly express love for mother, dad and the kids. Though Ball and Brennan are most remembered today for their “Irish” ballads, this song is an incredibly expressive treasure from the past that is performed with great feeling.

7. Down Where the Swanee River Flows (Music by Albert Von Tilzer Words by Charles S. Alberte & Charles McCarron, 1916)

Though it could be said this is another “Dixie” song, the Swanee river was singled out during the pre-war period as a particularly important subject for songs. Of course the 1919 song simply titled Swanee is the most remembered but in its day, this song was a huge hit. First recorded by the Peerless Quartet, it continued as a favorite for many decades. Buy this song and listen as Rich tells us the entire wonderful story of where the river flows.

8. For Me and My Gal (Music by George W. Meyer, Lyrics by Edgar Leslie and Ray Goetz, 1917)

This song was one of the biggest sheet music sellers for the year it was published. Performed by all the greatest singers of the era and beyond, it is one that has survived to this day, unfortunately usually in the form of the chorus only. In 1942 a film with the same name featured the song sung by Judy Garland and Gene Kelley. At last, you can find out just why the bells were ringing “for me and my gal".

9. Hello! Ma Baby (Words by Joseph E. Howard, Music by Ida Emerson, 1899)
Yet another song that has now bridged three centuries that many people will recognize is this snappy number. Often heard in cartoons sung by a frog or some other such creature, the verse was long ago lost in favor of the infectious chorus tune. Enjoy hearing the whole story beginning with a very unfamiliar tune and lyrics.

10. I’m All Bound ‘Round with the Mason Dixon Line (Words by Sam M. Lewis & Joe Young, Music by Jean Schwartz, 1917)

This song, lesser known today was a feature song of the great Al Jolson who also first recorded it on Columbia A-2478 the year it was published.

11. Leave Me With A Smile (Charles F. Koehler and Earl Burtnett, 1921)

The post war (WWI) period brought change to America’s music. The innocence of the past was gone and modernity began to creep in to replace the Victorian ideals that had ruled for so long. This song was written as we began to approach the anything goes jazz age and our music became more complex The distinctive octave and sixths harmonies of the older styles were replaced with new ones. The somber and fearful music of the war was replaced with happier more hopeful tunes and this song is reflective of those changes. Still though, songs told a complete story with verse and chorus and we were still about ten years from the phase out of verses or songs written with none at all.

12. Let the Rest of the World Go By (Music by Earnest Ball, Lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan, 1919)

Another favorite from the team of Ball and Brennan was this post war song that became more famous and popular in the 1940’s than it was in 1919. That late bloom was the result of the song being recorded by the superstar Dick Haymes and a featured song in Morton Downey’s radio show. Downey recorded it in 1940 and Haymes sang it in the Ernest Ball movie biography, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (1944).

13. Oh, You Beautiful Doll (Lyrics by Seymour Brown, Music by Nat Ayer, 1911)

I would say that if you were to ask anyone on the street to sing this song, (or the next two) 98 percent of those you asked could sing the chorus. Ask those same people to sing the verse and I suspect you’d either get a blank stare or a “what verse” response. An exceptionally recognizable song and a joyful one.

14. Peg O' My Heart (Words by Alfred Bryan, Music by Fred Fischer, 1913)

This immortal song first appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1913 sung by Jose Collins. The song was actually inspired by a real person, Laurette Taylor who had appeared in a Broadway play with the same title. Recorded countless times by many stars over the years, it was revived in 1947 by the Harmonicats and BuddyClark. Maybe you’ve never wondered just who “Peg” was and what led up to the chorus but now you’ll know the whole story.

15. Pretty Baby (Music by Egbert Van Alstyne & Tony Jackson, Words by Gus Kahn, 1916)

First introduced in the 1915 stage musical A World of Pleasure, the song languished till the following year when a performance by Dolly Hackett in the Passing Show of 1916 ignited public interest in the song. The song has appeared in more than a dozen movies including the Gus Kahn biography, I’ll See You In My Dreams (1951, a must see for any fan of Tin Pan Alley music and composers.) But, does anyone remember the verses? You’ll be among the lucky few who can say you know the entire song and the story it tells.

16. Rose Of Washington Square (Words and Music by Frank Hanley, 1920)

This song was a signature song for the famous “funny girl” Fanny Brice who first introduced it in the stage musical Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic. Over the decades the song has appeared in several films sung by stars such as Alice Faye (1939, movie of the same title) and Ann Dee (1967, Thoroughly Modern Millie.) Barbara Streisand immortalized Brice in the 1968 film Funny Girl but did not sing the song in that film. These reincarnations have helped this song stay fresh and alive over the decades.

17. Take Your Girlie To The Movies (If You Can't Make Love At Home) (Words by Edgar Leslie and Bert Kalmar, Music by Pete Wendling, (1919)

This song is also one of my top favorites on this disc. It is much lesser known than the other songs on the disc but an absolutely delightful discovery and blast from the past. Back in 1919 the movies were just emerging as an important form of entertainment and this song mentions several of the movie stars from that period. It also shows us that from the beginning, boys had more in mind at the movie theater than watching the film! This one also enjoyed a later revival thanks to Kay Kyser and his orchestra in 1935.

18. My Wild Irish Rose (Words and Music by Chauncy Olcott, 1899)

This song was one of the first Irish ballad songs to come out of Tin Pan Alley and has remained perhaps the premier Irish ballad of all time (next to perhaps Danny Boy). The song is sung year after year by inebriated revelers on St. Patrick’s Day but I would challenge any of them to sing the verses. Drunk or sober, I suspect very few if any could do it.

19. Say It With Music (Words and Music by Irving Berlin, 1921)

As a look forward to our second CD offering, we’ve provided one of the great Irving Berlin’s works from Tin Pan Alley. Not as well known as some of his earlier and later works, this one is nonetheless one that has often been recorded and performed.

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