Alison and I are in Chicago this week so I thought it appropriate to focus on the song by that name from our Yellow Book, “Chicago, That Todd’ling Town,” first published in 1922.  The song has been recorded by many artists, but the best-known version is by Frank Sinatra in 1957.  This version is the one we all know well:


The song alludes to the city’s colorful past, feigning “… the surprise of my life / I saw a man dancing with his own wife”, mentioning evangelist Billy Sunday as having not been able to “shut down” the city, and State Street where “they do things they don’t do on Broadway.”     

The song was written by one Fred Fisher, who came to Chicago in 1900 from Germany.  Born Albert von Breitenbach, he changed his name during World War I to make it sound less Germanic. 

Based in New York’s Tin Pan Alley, he wrote dozens of popular songs and published hundreds more.  And, of course, the Toddle was a popular dance of the time described as a springier, bouncier version of the Foxtrot.

The Toddle:

The song has been used in a half dozen or so movies, but Sinatra’s version from the movie “The Joker is Wild” made it a radio and record hit in 1957.  He would continue to sing it throughout his career.

Despite living and working in New York, Fisher managed to get a musical handle on Chicago in the Roaring ‘20s, when it was wide open and hot.  It was said that he learned about the ins and outs of Chicago when he lived there for a while and had a few piano lessons from a black entertainer he met in a saloon on South State Street. 

Better than anyone else, Fisher pegged Chicago as the wicked town that even teetotaling evangelist Billy Sunday “could not shut down.”

Billy Sunday:

 When originally published, Fisher included lyrics that aren’t often heard today.  Listen to the original version below.

Original Lyrics:

In 1970, Fred Fisher was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame and credited—despite being German and Jewish—with writing more Irish songs than anyone else!   

A Bit O’ the Fred Fisher “Irish”:

Ah, the musicological potpourri of Tin Pan Alley!  And, just for fun, did you know that Wikipedia lists nearly 200 songs with Chicago as a theme?  Go figure!

And to close, a ukulele version:


Stay Tuned!

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton and, now, Easthampton, Mass.

Hi friends, neighbors, and 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. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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