The Central Library Arts Division is happy to add Michael Lasser, host of WXXI’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm, to Bibliopod’s Music Advisory Team. Mr. Lasser frequently speaks about popular music and has taught the history of the Broadway musical and American popular music at several universities. His articles about the performing arts appear in numerous national magazines ranging from American Legion to American Scholar. Michael’s selections are songs made popular in America a century ago. All text by Michael Lasser.
Peg O’ My Heart/ Music by Fred Fisher, words by Alfred Bryan
Even though Fred Fisher came from Germany, he wrote more songs about the Irish than any other songwriter. Fisher was inspired to write the song after he saw a Broadway star named Laurette Taylor in the title role in a play called Peg ‘o My Heart.”
Aba Daba Honeymoon/ Music and words by Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan
Even though “Aba Daba Honeymoon” sounds like nothing more than a nonsense song about a monkey and a chimpanzee who fall in love and have a baboon marry them, it’s subtext is darker and more troubling. It was one of many racist songs that implicitly portrayed African-Americans as not-very-bright tropical natives or, even worse, as jungle animals, especially monkeys.
Ballin’ the Jack/ Music by Chris Smith, words by Jim Burris
The most successful dance tune of 1913 was different from most songs about dancing. Rather than saying how much the dancers are enjoying themselves, it gives instructions that involve moving the knees, arms, and feet, and then twisting around in an obviously sexy way. Chris Smith was an early African-American songwriter.
The Charleston/ Music by James P. Johnson, words by Cecil Mack
The major African-American composer and band leader James P. Johnson wrote “The Charleston” in 1913 as one of several numbers with a quirky dance rhythm, and used it again when he wrote the score for a Broadway revue in 1925. That’s when it swept the country on it way to becoming the longest lasting dance in American popular music.
Come Josephine, In My Flying Machine/ Music by Fred Fisher, words by Alfred Bryan
Automobiles and airplanes, along with telephones and motion pictures: technology was changing the way we lived with unprecedented speed. In the early days, when the inventions were new and exciting, songwriters wrote about them in love songs, and the public couldn’t get enough of them.
The International Rag/ Words and music by Irving Berlin
Our greatest songwriter, Irving Berlin established himself by writing ragtime songs – popular tunes that employed syncopation borrowed from Ragtime, and helped along by lyrics about dancing to Ragtime. He wrote “The International Rag” two years after his most important early hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
When I lost you/ Words and music by Irving Berlin
Irving Berlin married Dorothy Goetz in 1911. They took an extended honeymoon but in the course of their travels Dorothy contracted typhus and died six months later. Berlin was devastated. For a long time, he was unable to write and wondered if his career had ended. When he finally began to work again, he wrote “When I Lost You,” his first important ballad and his most personal song.
You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)/ Music by James V. Monaco, words by Joe McCarthy
Written as an uptempo ragtime song by a songwriter and piano player known as Ragtime Jimmy Monaco, “You Made Me Love You” became a ballad when Al Jolson recorded it at a slow tempo. It became popular again in 1938 when young Judy Garland sang it to Clark Gable on his birthday. Her performance was then added to the movie, Broadway Melody of 1938.
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling/ Music by Ernest R. Ball, words by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr.
Chauncey Olcott was one of a cluster of songwriters born in Buffalo. He went on to become a successful lyricist and a star in vaudeville and on Broadway. “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” was the most popular song of the decade, a sentimental tribute to a lovely Irish colleen by three of Tin Pan Alley’s most skilled professionals, none of whom was Irish.