UKULELE MUSING 29, 20 JULY 2019—“AIN’T SHE SWEET.” IT’S NOT ABOUT WHO YOU THINK
“Ain’t She Sweet” is a song composed by our old friend Milton Ager (1893-1979), with lyrics by Jack Yellen (1892-1991). This is probably one of the most prolific songwriter pairs of the Tin Pan Alley era and our Blue and Yellow Books are well-salted with their work. This bright little tune was published in 1927 and epitomized the Flapper Era of the Roaring Twenties.
Like their song “Happy Days are Here Again,” a tune we talked about a few weeks ago, it became popular in the first half of the 20th century and became an oft-performed standard over the years.
The Flapper Era: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPe9qibckTw
We’ve talked about Ager a few times before, but it’s worthwhile to touch a bit on Yellen.
Born to a Jewish family in Poland, Yellen emigrated with his family to the United States when he was five years old. He was raised in Buffalo, New York, and began writing songs in high school. After college, he became a reporter for the Buffalo Courier and continued to write songs on the side. Early on he collaborated on a number of “Dixie” songs including “Alabama Jubilee,” “Are You From Dixie?,” and “All Aboard for Dixieland”—contributing to Tin Pan Alley’s nostalgic (by the standards of the day) perception of bucolic life in the “Old South.”
Yellen’s collaboration with vaudeville star, Sophie Tucker, for whom he was retained to write special material, produced one of her most well-known songs, “My Yiddishe Momme,” a song in English with some Yiddish text. Sorry, this one is in neither our Yellow or Blue Books!
But, here is a nice 1920s version of “Ain’t She Sweet” by ukulele virtuoso Johnnie Marvin.
Johnnie Marvin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozTeeMTrebo
Probably one of the more interesting musical links from the past to the near present was the 1964 version of “Ain’t She Sweet” by, of all groups, The Beatles. This rock and roll arrangement was recorded in Germany with John Lennon on lead vocals.
Popular also in Europe, it reached number 19 on the US Billboard Hot 100 at the time. Go figure!
The Beatles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1FSRMfNtLU
So, here we have a song most of us hear as a celebration of a 1920s fellow’s flapper sweetie. Actually, Ager’s musical inspiration was his daughter Shana, age 4.
Sweet! (Later in life, she became the author and TV journalist Shana Alexander.)
Anyway, here is—perhaps—a more age-appropriate interpretation of the song.
Shirly Temple: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0HO_g6_0sQ
Now, gentle readers and fellow ukers, I can’t leave you without a serious, contemporary ukulele version—with all the verses, no less!
Ukulele with Verses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ap6SgJpbB9o
Now I ask you very confidentially to . . .