Noho Banjo and Ukulele Musing–“Side by Side,” and “Ain’t We Got Fun.”

UKULELE MUSING 36, 7 SEPTEMBER 2019—“SIDE BY SIDE,” AND “AIN’T WE GOT FUN”—GOOD TIME SONGS OF THE 1920S!

During the so-called roaring ‘20s jobs were plentiful for men and available for women who had to work for a living.  Confidence and prosperity were in the air and the Great Depression of the ‘30s was years away.  Still, a few songs reflected the simple things of life—just having a good time, just getting by, not going it alone.  A couple of songs in our Yellow Book remind us of this musical point in history: “Side by Side,” and “Ain’t We Got Fun.”

One of the simplest songs in our Yellow Book—easy to play and telling a simple story—is the 1927 tune “Side by Side.”  This was written by Harry Woods (1896-1970), a Massachusetts native and Tin Pan Alley songwriter of many of the so-called standards that were first recorded in the ‘20s.

Nick Lucas, 1940s:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjNX_gayY1E&t=30s

A couple of other tunes he wrote that show up in our books are “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobin’ Along,” and “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover.” 

He composed his songs on the piano despite the fact that a birth defect had left him with a deformed left hand.  Amazing!

A Harvard graduate, Woods lived on Cape Cod until drafted into the Army for World War I.  It was during that time he developed his talent for songwriting.

Once again, a fun recording of “Side by Side” was made by our old acquaintance Cliff Edwards, better known as “Ukulele Ike.” 

Ukulele Ike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0lwl4eu0HM

Needless to say, dozens of other performers recorded the song all the way into the 1990s.  With simple lyrics and a simple beat, it was a favorite “shuffle dance” duet on the vaudeville stage. 

Here are a couple of more “off the wall” takes on this simple tune!

The Beatles:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afxtvVViXvM

Parody: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNffFJGaquM

Moving on, “Ain’t We Got Fun” is a jaunty foxtrot recorded a few years earlier with music by Richard Whiting (1891-1938) and lyrics by Raymond Egan (1890-1952) and Gus Kahn (1886-1941)—all stalwarts of the Tin Pan Alley music scene during the Jazz Age and beyond.

1920 Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y041-eT6QrI

Both of our songs use abrupt, colloquial—even ungrammatical—phrases. 

Piano Roll with Verses:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haFzMBk4fXI

Because of its universal theme, a variety of timely verses have been added and subtracted by performers over time.  Both songs, despite their jocularity, reveal a certain resignation to economic forces beyond the control of working people. 

It’s a small step from “Ain’t we got fun,“ to “The rich get richer and the poor get laid off.”  Still, the singers will survive “side by side.” 

A good read on this topic is “The Poets of Tin Pan Alley,” by Philip Furia—a little-studied genre of American literature.  The film “The Great Gatsby” dealt with this era and used these songs in the soundtrack.

Great Gatsby:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1AcnI0B2-o

Whiting, Egan, and Kahn collaborated on many, many popular songs including “Ukulele Lady,” and “Japanese Sandman” just to touch on a few.  

Here’s how some fellow ukers had fun with this one.

Ukulele:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-0ZFUDIVMw

So, here we have a couple of simple songs that reflect the optimism—despite the uncertainties—of the so-called sweet old days.  What will the songs of today tell our grandchildren—uncertainties despite optimism?   

Stay Tuned!

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton, Mass.

Hi Fellow Strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. These are my personal thoughts, not those of any group or sponsor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: