Monkey Business!


Songs about Monkeys, Monkey Romance and the Jungle, page 1


This month we feature a rather strange and funny phenomenon of Tin Pan Alley, the monkey song. Though there were a few songs about monkeys and apes that were written in the 19th century, they were few and far between. Then, in 1907 there was a flurry of novelty songs that burst on the scene related to monkey love, marriage and honeymoons. As with "Indian" (Native American) songs, the music used stereotypical musical passages, tempos and harmonies to depict the jungle or African music. And also, just like was done in the case of the "Indian" songs, the musical stereotype was an inaccurate reflection of the realities of the music it was supposed to depict. For more on this, see our feature about Native American music in our "In Search of" series of articles.


Notwithstanding the inaccuracies, musically these songs were innovative and extremely entertaining. Filled with humor and excellent musicianship, they represent a pinnacle of the novelty song genre and show the incredibly creative skills of the American Tin Pan Alley composers and songwriters of the early 20th century. The fad attracted many of the country's best songwriters but seemed dominated by a few. One in particular seemed to be the king of the jungle, Theodore Morse. In fact, though we've seen some earlier works, I believe his 1907 In Monkey Land followed by Down In Jungle Town in 1908 are the benchmark songs that ignited the fad. Though monkey songs continued to be written for years afterward, like other musical fads, this bubble burst as quickly as it started and by 1915 or so, monkey songs faded to a relative trickle. As for what prompted the burst of interest in monkeys, particularly their wedding habits, it seemed to be prompted by a rebirth of the mid 19th century nonsense song, The Monkey's Wedding, sung to a tune similar to Pop Goes The Weasel:

The monkey married the baboon's sister,
Gave her a ring and then he kissed her.
She set up a yell.
The bridesmaid stuck on some court-plaster.
It stuck so fast it couldn't stick faster.
Surely 'twas a sad disaster,
But it soon got well.

I've attempted to research watershed incidents that may have prompted the rush of interest in monkey weddings but have been unable to prove my theory that a side show or circus featured such an event as part of the show and that public attention was captured for a while. In 1907 the Ringling Brothers Circus bought Barnum & Bailey and the "Greatest show on earth" was created. The circus was known for its animal acts and I'm sure that some chimpanzee show, wedding two chimps may have prompted the surge in these novelty songs. Unfortunately, I've been unable to specifically tag an incident so any of you monkey or circus experts out there who can help, please let me know.


As always, if any of you have songs you'd like presented, we'd be happy to publish a "listener" feedback" feature on state songs with any rebuttals you care to make. The "rules" for submissions can be found here, we'd love to have submissions by any of our readers, anytime and would enjoy having a "reader submission" or "favorites" feature from time to time. Heck, get involved, help us out and write a feature for us!


Come with us now as we revisit the wonderful music of the depths of the monkey jungle. As usual, for speed in loading, this issue is on two separate pages so don't miss page two of this issue.

In Monkey Land


Music by: Theodore Morse
Lyrics by: Jack Drislane
Cover artist: Unknown


Theodore Morse seems to be the primary architect of the 20th century surge in monkey related novelty songs. As we'll see in this issue, he wrote a number of monkey related novelty songs with several of the era's best lyricists and each of them showed significant creativity and musical innovation. What appears to be his first effort in this genre is this song. In it the idea of a monkey romance, wedding and honeymoon are presented in a song that introduces a style and format that will be reflected by numerous other composers. Morse, himself will repeat the pattern several times as you will see later in this issue.


The song begins immediately with the ostinato bass line that symbolizes jungle drums (almost the same as the American Indian songs) and the strong chords that bring images of primitive jungle conditions. A short but interesting vamp leads to the verse which introduces us to the monkey maid and chimp who will soon be wed. The chorus is a pleasant tune, much different in character than the verse, till the end where the bass line returns to remind us we are in the jungle, not Brooklyn.


Theodore F. Morse (b. 1873, Washington, DC, d. 1924, New York, NY) was one of the most important composers of the period before and up to the First World War. He wrote many, many popular songs as well as the scores to several popular stage shows. His wife, Theodora Morse was also an accomplished composer and performer who often composed under the name of Dorothy Terriss. Theodore Morse was a privately tutored student of piano and violin and began his education at the Maryland Military Academy. At age 14 (1887), he ran away from the Academy and went to New York where he became a clerk in a music store. His first song was sold when be was only 15 and by age 24 he had his own publishing house, The Morse Music Co, which was in existence from 1898 to 1900. Morse is well represented on ParlorSongs and has a long list of popular hits to his credit. Among his most famous works are, Blue Bell (1904), M-O-T-H-E-R (1915), Down In Jungle Town (1908) and Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here (1917). In 1903, Morse wrote Hurray For Baffin Bay for a new stage show that would become the basis for a blockbuster movie, The Wizard of Oz.


Jack Drislane (dates unkn.) As with many of Tin Pan Alley's songwriters, Drislane's fairly prolific production did nothing to assure that the details of his life would survive beyond his name association with many important songs of the era. His songs include Arrah Wanna (1906), Keep A Cozy Corner In Your Heart For Me (1905) and Nobody's Little Girl (1907) all in collaboration with Theodore Morse. All of my references make scant mention of Drislane other than his association with Morse. Quite a shame and as always, if any relatives or others who know more about Drislane can inform us, we'll be happy to update our composers database.


Hear this early Monkey song Printable sheet music (scorch format only)

listen to MIDI version




Down In Jungle Town


Music by: Theodore Morse
Lyrics by: Edward Madden
Cover artist: unknown

A fabulous cover adorns Morse's next featured work in this genre. Subtitled, "A Monkey Ditty," I believe Morse outdoes himself and possibly creates his best monkey novelty song with this one. The cover is beautiful and in my opinion, among the two most artful covers in this issue and in our entire collection as well. It is almost criminal that the cover artist did not sign the work and has not been duly credited with his creation. This time, Morse teamed up with a different lyricist, one who is more well known and who collaborated with many of the top Tin Pan Alley composers.


Musically, the piece is a master stroke. Departing slightly from the drumbeat bass line, Morse uses a loping two note bass line that still conveys an exotic tone to the music. The verse is interesting and again brings us a monkey couple tying the knot and headed now for their honeymoon. This time we have the monkey king as the groom. The chorus is where this work shines. With a memorable doubled melody and a very clever and musically interesting accompaniment, Morse manages to create a delightful musical experience. At the end of each phrase he added a nice scale run that really emphasizes the harmony of the work. Later, the run moves to the left hand, lower scales and adds even more interest. Throughout his dynamics add emphasis and interest to the music. Musically, this song has less of the "jungle" sound than his 1907 effort and despite the monkey theme, comes off as a terrific song that might have been about any subject.


Edward Madden (b. 1878, New York City, d. 1952, Hollywood, CA.) was a charter member of ASCAP and a respected lyricist best remembered for a pair of moon songs"; By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, a 1909 collaboration with Gus Edwards, and Moonlight Bay (Scorch format) a 1912 collaboration with renowned composer Percy Wenrich. Madden collaborated with a veritable who's who of American popular song composers including Theodore F. Morse, Harry Von Tilzer, Louis A. Hirsch and Jerome Kern. Madden was educated at Fordham University and was a writer for the great Fanny Brice and other singers as well. He founded his own publishing firm and enjoyed great success as a key member of the Tin Pan Alley inner circle.


Enjoy this definitive Monkey song

listen to MIDI version



Monkey Doodle Dandy



Music by: Harry Frantzen
Lyrics by: Jack Drislane
Cover artist: unsigned


This cover is the second of the two most artistically striking covers in this month's issue. Again, by an unknown artist, we've lost the connection and credit that is much deserved for this stunning cover. Interestingly, Jack Drislane has migrated over to a different composer to write yet another set of novelty lyrics about monkey love and monkey kings. Not only that, it seems that Frantzen could have lifted Morse's 1907 In Monkey Land and planted it here with a different name. The opening is almost identical; same ostinato bass, same forte chords and virtually the same story line as the other songs we've already seen and will see as this issue progresses.


This use and reuse of themes and musical ideas is not unique with these songs, we've seen it in other musical fads (Chime songs, "Indian" songs, Coon songs) and we've seen it in many of the later 20th century song fads. Once a composer starts a hit cycle, everyone else wants to jump on the band wagon and has to do it fairly quickly. Often the public's appetite for such songs is at first insatiable and then that appetite is quickly sated. It's a bit like a shark feeding frenzy. When such a fad strikes, every and any song is snapped up by the public and then, almost as soon as it began it's over. In today's market with mass communications, it happens much faster than in the early 1900's. As we've learned from many of our articles, Tin Pan Alley music was (still is!) a business first and an art second. As a result, sometimes the music suffers for the sake of sales and often the line between a new creative work and outright theft becomes clouded.


In spite of that, though this song sounds suspiciously like Morse's seminal work and the subject matter is essentially the same chimp meets monkey maid story, the lyrics are fresh and creative and include a smattering of nonsense that would often appear in novelty songs over the next few decades. Likewise, after a quite similar opening and verse, Frantzen manages to pull out an original song that is quite appealing.


Henry Frantzen (1850 - 1931) Is credited with a number of notable works including, College Life March and Two Step (1905) probably his most lasting work, Motor King (1910), and Sing A Good Old Ragtime Song (1909), also with Drislane. Frantzen in fact, seems to share the same fate as Drislane in that we do have records of his works, but little else seems to be recorded about the man and his life.


Listen to and see this 1909 song

Listen to MIDI version


On A Monkey Honeymoon


Music by: Theodore Morse
Words by: Jack Mahoney
Cover artist: J. Hirt


The following year, Morse added yet another work to his monkey chronicles and with yet another lyricist pitching in to complete the song. With a nice tropical cover by Hirt and graced by photos of Morse, Mahoney and the performers Revere & Yuir, we embark on yet another monkey love story that ends in matrimony and a honeymoon in the jungle. Also subtitled as "A Monkey Ditty," the song is billed on the cover as the "Companion piece to 'Down In Jungletown' by the same writer." Musically, the song is very similar to Down In Jungletown with a return to the basso ostinato and some of the scale runs. However, Morse introduces new melodies and soon departs from the original blueprint and cleverly includes a quote from the traditional Wedding march. The chorus is a fun and jaunty melody that is engaging and carries the sort of tune that sticks in your mind, at least for a while. The lyrics of this work are superior to the original companion piece, in my opinion. They are more creative, memorable and even fun. In this case, Morse teamed with one of Tin Pan Alley's greatest lyricists and the results reflect that.


Jack Mahoney was the pen name for Ruben Kusnitt, born in Buffalo New York in 1882 and died in New York City in 1945. Mahoney's greatest lyrics hit was When You Wore A Tulip, (Scorch format) with Percy Wenrich but as one of the early 20th century's more popular lyricists, he also wrote a number of other popular (at that time) works including, Kentucky Days (1912, MIDI), A Ring On The Finger Is Worth Two On The Phone (1911), On A Monkey Honeymoon (1909) and While Others Are Building Castles In The Air in 1919, The Girl I Left Behind Before, with Bob Miller (1937), The Statue of Liberty Is Smiling, with Halsey K. Mohr, (1918), Good bye Betty Brown, with Theodore Morse (1910), and The Ghost of The Terrible Blues, with Harry Von Tilzer in 1916.

Hear this old Monkey song

Listen to MIDI version



Moonlight In Jungleland


Music by: J.E. Dempsey & Johann C. Schmid
Lyrics by: Dempsey & Schmid
Cover artist: unknown

What! No monkeys on the cover? No monkeys in the title? Surely this is a mistake. Nope, the only mistake is in that the songwriters forgot to include the monkey moniker in the title to ensure more sales. In spite of the innocuous title, be assured, the theme is the same; a monkey maid meets and a chimpanzee boy and the rest is history. Well, maybe not for here we have an odd combination of a kangaroo spooning with a chimpanzee and the monkey maid seems out looking for her match on her own. The lyrics of this song almost reflect some serious ambivalence in the songwriting team as to which way to go with the song. Is it about moonlight or is it another of the many monkey songs from 1909?


If we turn to the music to resolve the confusion, it seems clearer. The opening is a languid, slow motif marked "mysterioso" that leads to a dreamy verse that is much more reflective of songs about the moon featured back in April of 2001 than jungle or monkey songs. The chorus, marked rather oddly for a popular song as "tempo di Schottische," is a little more upbeat but still is not at all similar to the other songs we've heard so far (they are beginning to all sound alike, aren't they?). The chorus ends with a cute little Schottische that leads us back to the second verse. My personal guess is that this song was originally intended to be a moonlight and sweethearts sort of song but the composers added one mention of a monkey maid, a kangaroo and a chimpanzee to capitalize on the monkey song fad currently blazing across the country. In either case, though this is a wonderful song, I'm afraid that the songwriters missed the mark as far as a monkey song goes and may have been nearly 100 years too late for inclusion of a Schottische in a popular song as well. German for "Scottish," a Schottisch is a dance similar to the Polka. In it's original form it is characterized by the clapping of hands after having taken three hopping steps. It is typically written in 4/4 time. Immensely popular in Europe from around 1850 to 1860 or so, it tended to become more a dance movement included in classical music or piano solo works than a song related style after the 1870's.


J. E. Dempsey & Johann C. Schmid wrote several other songs together none of which seemed to reach lasting popularity. Among their works are, Gee! But the Moon Makes Me Lonesome in 1910 and Garden Of Roses (Beautiful Garden of Roses) in 1909, If You Must Love Someone Won't You Please Love Me? (19??) and You're A Grand Old Bell (1919). In spite of a fairly large output, I've been unable to find any information about their backgrounds and vital dates.

Enjoy this classic Jungle song Printable score! (Scorch format)

Listen to MIDI version



All Aboard For Monkey Town


Music by: George W. Meyer
Lyrics by: Jack Drislane
Cover artist: E.H. Pfeiffer


Jack Drislane came back in 1910 to team with the great George W. Meyer and together they transport us back to sameness land and the monkey story we've come to know, perhaps too well. By now the monkey story is maybe getting a little worn out as is the musical style, yet we still have a few more years before things play out entirely, at least in this incarnation. This tune returns us to the more common style we've seen for these songs and in fact, uses some of Morse's conventions musically such as the scale runs in the chorus. The story is a little different, but not appreciably for though here we enjoy a trip aboard some unknown conveyance to attend a jubilee, it is still all about a monkey wedding and honeymoon.


Musically, the verse is not particularly special but does convey the general "jungle" mood we've by now been trained to recognize. However, it is the chorus where Meyer & Drislane shine with a terrific melody and even a nice musical quote from A Hot Time In The Old Town coupled with some pretty singable lyrics. So now, that Meyer and Drislane have taken us back to monkey land, let's go to page two of this feature to see just how much longer this can last and who else jumps on the bandwagon before it mercifully ends.


George W. Meyer (b. 1884 Boston, Mass.- d. 1959 New York, NY) was one of the more prolific composers of the period with many, many hits to his credit that spanned many years. Meyer's biggest hit was probably For Me and My Gal in 1917 but he also wrote many favorites that have lasted such as; My Song Of The Nile, Lonesome, My Mother's Rosary and the great novelty song Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night? (Scorch format)


Listen to this great old song Printable using scorch (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version



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


WAIT! There are many more Monkey Songs, including Berlin's That Monkey Tune and The Monkey Jubilee to see and hear. The second part of this issue features many more rare and different works.

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

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