ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 2 June 2023–THREE SONGS BY AN AMERICAN ICON– Borrowed And Bettered, You Betcha! 

A few weeks ago I did a musical musing on a song stolen and, ultimately, paid for by that most popular and respected singer, Johnny Cash. (Ca$h?)   I have come across quite a few more situations like this in my wanderings through musical history. But, in most instances, it’s just a case of an old and venerable melody put to a new use—the musical equivalent of revamping a historic building as part of the architectural preservation and adaptive use project, so to speak. 

Needless to say, this has been a common source of “new” songs ever since one musician listened to the work of another, liked what he or she heard, and repeated it or enhanced it or simply purloined it.  Ah, following musical traditions! Isn’t that what folk music is all about?

Now let’s take a look at one of the icons of American folk music—Woody Guthrie—and put the musical microscope on the sources of three of his most played tunes. 

Despite their melodic (and sometimes lyrical) origins with musical precedents, these songs have become so associated with Guthrie that we don’t even bother to think about from whence they came.  Simply, they ARE HIS.  Period.

The first one to look at is a song that Guthrie, a former merchant seaman himself, wrote and performed in remembrance of the torpedoing of the U.S. Navy convoy escort ship, the USS Reuben James, in the months just before America’s official entry into World War II.  

The Sinking of the Reuben James” is a song hurriedly cobbled together by Guthrie and Pete Seeger in an apartment they shared at the time in New York City.  These two were good friends and musical collaborators over the years and were moved to write a song about this headline event of the day about the first American ship sunk by German U-Boats. 

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image or link to hear the original Guthrie/Seeger collaboration.

Guthrie had started to write the song and, over ambitiously, wanted to include each name from the casualty list—over a hundred US sailors.   Seeger worked on the melody and, ever conscious of how a song would play out, prevailed in suggesting that Guthrie’s list be replaced simply by the chorus: “Tell me what were their names . . .”

Seeger and Guthrie borrowed the melody from a pre-Civil War love song written by one Joseph Philbrick Webster . . .

. . . called “I’ll Twine Midst the Ringlets.”  His song was later made famous when “harvested” by the Carter Family who recorded it in 1928 and retitled it “Wildwood Flower.”

You can go to YouTube to listen to the original Carter Family recording, but this is just too good an opportunity to hear the tune played by a cigar box uke and a banjo!  Tap or click on the next image or link to hear this one.

A second ever popular Guthrie song is “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh.”  This depression era moving on song, considered a “Dust Bowl Ballad,” was first released in 1935 and became a standard closing song during the so-called Folk Music Revival of the 1950s and ‘60s.  

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to listen to this rousing favorite of folkies!

As with “Reuben James,” this song also had musical antecedents.  Guthrie based it on Carson Robison’s early 1930’s recording of the “Ballad of Billy the Kid.” Robison both tweaked and added to the traditional “campfire cowboy song” lyrics.   Although Robison’s impact on American music is generally forgotten today, he played a major role in promoting country and western music in its early years through both recordings and the radio.

And, unlike Guthrie or even Seeger, Robison had a ukulele marketed with his image!  Here’s one from my collection.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to hear Robison’s original recording of this ballad. 

I have a feeling that Guthrie himself might have sung this ballad when in the 1920s he was a member of his hometown country music band in Pampa, Texas. That’s Woodie on the left, already an accomplished harmonica and guitar player, but only a “costume cowboy!”

Our last, but certainly not least, song is “This Land Is Your Land,” probably Americas most popular folk song.  Its lyrics were written by Guthrie in 1940 and, once again, based on an existing melody. 

This was adapted from another Carter Family tune called “When the World’s on Fire.”  Guthrie wrote his song in critical response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Guthrie said that he was “just plain tired” of hearing Kate Smith sing that song on the radio in the late 1930s! 

Guthrie sarcastically called his song “God Blessed America for Me” before thinking a bit more deeply and renaming it.  The rest is musical history!

But, let’s start with the Carter Family’s “When the World’s on Fire.”  Click or tap on the next image or link to hear this lead-in melody to “This Land  .  .  .” 

Both Guthrie and Seeger usually copyrighted most of the songs they wrote. But in Guthrie’s own words about his many song copyrights, he said: “This song is Copyrighted  .  .  .  for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it; that’s all we wanted to do.Take your music where you find it! He certainly did.

And the rest is a musical legacy for us all.  These songs are our songs even if they started as someone else’s! Tap or click on the triangle in the next image or link to hear and see my favorite version of “This Land . . .”

So, stay safe, be thankful we no longer have to stay masked, . . .

. . . stay in a musically aware and timely mode, . . .

. . . and STAY TUNED!


ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 26 May 2023, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” Sanitized but not hung out to dry!

Every once in a while I find myself musing about a song that has had multiple rebirths and, some may say, “upgrades” over the years. Take, for example, an old favorite of mine, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” or, as originally published, “In the Big Rock-Candy Mountains.

Our song started its musical life in the late 1890s as a lilting, lyrical “hobo ballad” put together and sung on city streets by a little-known at the time guitar-playing busker, one Harry McClintock (1882-1957).

His song was published and recorded some thirty years later minus, however, a final verse of his that we might find rather “linguistically questionable” and would probably be X-rated these days. Over time, his tune was further whitewashed to become one of the more beloved “folk” songs from the late 1940s and, still later with further scrubbing, an innocent children’s song. Long in the public domain, the song has been recorded by dozens of performers right up to today–a fit subject, gentle readers, for a musical musing! 

It’s a simple song about a hobo’s idea of paradise, a modernized version of the medieval concept of the “Land of Cockaigne”—an imaginary place of luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of peasant life does not exist. Nothing to do with the modern day cocaine, however!

Here, in a 1567 work, the Dutch painter Pieter Breugel the Elder gives us a rather unflattering, almost comic illustration of the spiritual emptiness of “Cockaigne,” a state believed to derive from gluttony and sloth, two of the “seven deadly sins.” Whew! Who knew?  

Specifically, “Cockaigne” was a land of “contraries,” where all the restrictions of society are defied, sexual liberty is open, and food and strong drink are both free and plentiful. 

Before recording his song, however, McClintock cleaned it up considerably from the version he had composed and performed as a busker in the 1890s. The story line of his original lyrics told of the efforts of an old hobo to entice (lure?) a young farm boy into hobo-hood with wondrous tales of life on the road and in the “Big Rock-Candy Mountains.” His song ended (the expurgated verse!) with a lurid description of the perils that might befall an innocent young boy amongst not so innocent older men “on the road.”  Today, we would probably see this much like the warning we might give our children to avoid a stranger in a car saying “Hey little boy/girl. You want some candy?” 

Now, if any of you gentle readers are really curious, you can easily check out the erased, rather coarse “hobo language” verse with our friends at Wikipedia.  Moving on  .  .  . 

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to hear McClintock’s original recording of his song–made more a tale of wonder rather than of warning and, of course, more suitable to radio listeners as well as families buying sheet music and records in the 1920s.  This recording was also used in the soundtrack of the 2000 Academy award nominated film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.” This YouTube version has some fun animation with it!

Here’s a more contemporary artist’s (not a cartoonist’s) take about our song, after Breugel, no less! More than a few similarities!   

Those who study such things agree that McClintock based his song on the old English ballad “An Invitation to Lubberland” that had been around since the 1600s and heard, no doubt, in the Scots-Irish mountain music of McCintock’s early Appalachian wanderings. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a simple singing of this ancient tune. Both the melodic and lyrical antecedents are striking!  

In 1949, “Big Rock Candy Mountain” was “sanitized” even more and recorded by the oversized, avuncular folk singer and actor Burl Ives.

This recording became, before “Oh Brother,” the version most of us had heard and grown up with.  Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to be reminded of this one. 

Notice the “sudsing” at work! What would they do with McClintock’s original lyrics today?

Other popular, so-called “itinerant songs” of McClintock’s day–such as “Hobo’s Paradise“, “Hobo Heaven“, “Sweet Potato Mountains” and “Little Stream of Whiskey“–likely served as further inspiration to him as they touch on concepts similar to those in “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”  One of my favorites of this genre was recorded by the late Doc Watson.  Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to hear his beautiful guitar accompaniment to this “whiskey” song sometimes known as “The Dying Hobo.”  Again, antecedents galore.

McClintock, also known by his hobo name of “Haywire Mac,” was born into a railroader family in Knoxville, Tennessee, and began his drifting when he ran away from home as a boy to join a circus.

He traveled the world as a railroader, seaman, soldier, and—most famously—a singing hobo.  

He was a lifelong member of the Industrial Workers of the World—the unionizing “Wobblies”—and, in the early 1920s, worked with and organized union men in the oil fields of west Texas singing and busking as he went along.

McClintock wound up in the San Francisco Bay area and worked as a railroad brakeman. He later became a popular radio and recording singer with his own country band . . .

. . . and even appeared in a few movies, including one based on his most famous song.

He was particular known for performing songs of the union movement in America. 

He is known for several other hobo songs . . .

. . . including one popular with the “Wobblies,” “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.” 

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen to this one and see why it appealed to labor unionists.

Now, of course, we need to add to this musing with, probably, the most “squeaky-clean” version of our song, one recorded for and by children! 

Keep the earworm alive by clicking or tapping on the triangle in the next image to hear this happy interpretation!

As a musing rule of mine, I like to explore themed ukuleles, this time having to do something with hobos. Not many out there but here is one decorated with those chalk-mark symbols that hobos used to “mark” their wanderings and communicate with hobo friends.

And, of course, one of our favorite cigar box ukes. I don’t know if the player is a hobo but he sure looks the part!

So.  While wandering or just waiting, stay safe, help those in need . . . 

.  .  . and don’t get lured into the hobo’s irresponsible life as a way of forgetting about the responsibilities of real life.

Join the Union and become a card carrying member . . .

. . . and, above all, STAY TUNED!

ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 20 May 2023: “A Musical, Historical, and Ukulele Trifecta”

Well, it’s not too often that my musing stars align with a trifecta–the anniversary of a feat by a young American hero, a link to neighbor Northampton’s Smith College, and vintage ukuleles in my collection!  Wow.  It’s fun to muse these days about something that has nothing to do with contemporary politics and international conflicts.  So, who is our hero?  None other than “Lindy” himself, Charles Lindbergh, with a bit of a tarnished reputation today but definitely not on this date back in 1927!

His solo flight from New York to Paris, on May 20-21 of that year, was a thrill for Americans living in the Roaring Twenties and adulation on both sides of the Atlantic poured out.  Men cheered and ladies swooned as Lindbergh’s picture was in every newspaper, magazine, and movie newsreel for months.

Needless to say, music publishers jumped all over this and a score of sheet music offerings—some joyful, some banal, mostly forgotten today—were on music store shelves all over America. 

Here’s a contemporary recording of the “angel” tune with some great graphics. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen.

There are more! The next one shows Lindy and his mother. By the way, his father was a US Congressman from Minnesota. Who knew?

Here’s a bouncy version of this George M. Cohan tune. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen.

Here are a few more of the dozens of songs that were out there in the sweet old days.

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to hear this hearty, fox trot salute to the hero.

Here’s a more modern version of a “Lindy” tune but well worth a listen and a look. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a historical treat.

Now for the second part of the trifecta–Ukuleles, no less ! As would be expected, most sheet music published in those days had uke chords printed right above the score. Here it is in the popular “D” tuning of the day.

Everyone seemed to be playing and singing the tunes and, of course, there were ukuleles to be had! Here are three in my collection.

The larger one is a Stromberg Voisinet “Aero Uke,” probably the rarest of the lot today–at auction about $2K! Here’s a reproduction I made to fill a hole in my collection. It sounds pretty good!

Here’s a banjo uke version, an original in my collection.

And, the latest addition–a trifecta within a trifecta!

Now for the third part of the trifecta, the Northampton connection.  According to our favorite local newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Lindbergh flew into the local airFIELD (it became a commercial airPORT in 1929) multiple times in order to visit his then girlfriend, Anne Morrow, a student at Smith College, class of 1928.   They were married in 1929.

That year, Anne–a budding aviatrix herself– flew solo for the first time.

Needless to say, aviation was in the couples blood and, in the 1930s, they explored and charted air routes all over the world. There was even a song about them!

Whether or not he courted her by taking her up in his airplane over our Happy Valley and Smith College has, alas, always been a matter of conjecture.  Let us simply note the fact that he was a frequent visitor. 

Anne went on to literary fame with her most popular book being Gift from the Sea. In 1955, she was described as “one of the leading advocates of the nascent environmental movement” and the book became a national bestseller.

There are, of course, autobiographies, biographies, articles, and all sorts of scholarship on the Lindberghs.  And, their life story is way, WAY beyond the scope of this simple musical muse.  Suffice it to say that the charmed life of Charles and Anne was shattered by the kidnapping and subsequent death of their infant son in the 1930s. 

The Lindbergh name was again plastered over newspapers and newsreels all over the country. Alas, in sadness this time. 

Alas again, Charles, a highly visible public advocate for keeping America out of Europe’s troubles in the years leading up to World War Two, had his reputation tarred by many (including Franklin Roosevelt in the White House and Woody Guthrie in song) as being a German sympathizer as well as an isolationist.  Whereas Anne became renowned for her writing, Charles faded from public esteem during the war years although he did join the American forces once the war started. He flew on fifty missions in the Pacific Theater, albeit as a civilian consultant rather than in the military.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to listen to Woody Guthrie’s musical diatribe on Lindberg. Sounds a bit like what we are hearing today. SAD.

But, at least, Lindberg’s early heroics were re-appreciated thanks to James Stewart in the way only movie magic can do.

 But we still have the stories, the songs, and the ukuleles! So, gentle readers, we wind up this musical trifecta with a peek at a dance that reached a peak of popularity in the late 1920s. Some say it got its name from the popularity of Charles Lindberg at the time; Some say something else. But, it’s too good not to include–“The Lindy Hop.” Click or tap on the next image to be flown away, musically speaking.  

Stay safe, keep strumming, work on that footwork, understand world history, study up on local lore, stay grounded, and STAY TUNED!

(As an aside, Alison’s mother was a Smithie, class of 1930, and remembered sharing a few classes with the then Anne Morrow. Small world . . .)   

ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 28 April 2023 “Music In A Mug, Light or Dark”

During these steaming hot times, as described in the several newspapers I read most mornings, I find a semblance of finely ground tranquility when I put the I-Pad down and brew up a wide range of musical thoughts. Well, gentle readers, with my second large mug in hand and my thoughts percolating from thought to theme, there poured out the answer! 

Coffee, Coffee, COFFEE!

So, pour another splash of something into whatever mug you have on hand, filled with coffee or whatever passes for coffee these days . . .

. . . and perk your mind between sips and listen to the “ghosts of songs gone by.But, first . . .

I grew up listening to my folks and their friends reminisce about when hamburgers were five for a quarter, with a free cup of coffee.  And, often I heard the oft-spoken opinion: “That and a nickel will buy you a cup of coffee.”  Those were the days, at least for coffee.  Can you get anything for a nickel at Starbucks today?

To get in the grind, how about a peek at a couple of so-called “teaching moments” from those creamy old days.

And another, for the guys too.

Well, gentle readers, time grab whatever perky musical instrument comes to hand and pour out the tunes!

Many coffee songs from those days were pretty simple and spoke of the good things in life.

Here’s a lively rendition of this tune with some great Art Deco graphics. Mmmm good! Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to give it a sip.

A more lively one . . .

Here’s the quintessential version of this one by Frankie himself. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a “cuppa from Brazilla.”

Or, how about this oldie from the forties?

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to add a little sugar and hear the original version of this song by the King Sisters themselves–one of the original “Beautyshop Quartettes.”.

Or, a tune from the fifties.

Here you go with Bill Haley and His Comets. If you don’t mind a little rock and roll to stir things up, click or tap on the triangle in the next image.

Back thirty or so years for this more tranquil taste.

So, grab your mug, a plate, and a napkin and click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a steamy hot listen.

If you add a little “tot of something” to your coffee, things could even get a bit more risque!

Here’s a torchy rendition of this jazzy old tune. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to peek and listen in.

And, of course, you can sip slowly on the dark side.

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a song as dark as the coffee, made creamy by the voice of Ella.

But, enough of the dark side. To reach the end (dregs?) of this musing, here’s one of the best Depression Era “try-to-make-the-best-of-it” songs ever.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to hear some nice strumming and singing. I had to get a ukulele player in here somewhere!

So, stay wide awake, stay well brewed, listen (0r not!) to your percolator,

enjoy your coffee with whatever, and STAY TUNED!


ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING–21 April 2023,”Guess Who’s Back in Town!”

Every once in a while, I have an earworm about an old favorite that we don’t hear played too often these days —probably because the theme might be thought by some to be a wee tad non-PC.   But, it is 2023, and, after all, it even has been performed (sort of) by The Muppets! Anyway, gentle readers, why not? So, here goes another musical musing!

Our song is “Lulu’s Back in Town” written in 1935 by lyricist Alexander Dubin (1891-1945) and composer Harry Warren (1893-1981). 

The song was written for a movie musical “Broadway Gondolier” (slang for a Manhattan taxi driver) and sung by then heart-throb Dick Powell.  In simple phrases he sings about getting ready for a rendezvous with “Lulu,” focusing all his attention on this awesome-in-his-eyes woman who periodically revisits his home town.  We don’t know exactly who this Lulu is that has captured the gentleman’s ardor—an old flame, a vaudeville queen, a burlesque star, a lady of sterling (or easy) virtue, a you-name-it?  We don’t know, but our man is smitten.

Is she one of these?

Or is this her?

Who knows? Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to listen to the gondolier himself!

Alas, the film was not that great, but our song was popularized by Harlem’s own “Fats” Waller who’s 1935 upbeat (and a bit more risque) recording topped the charts. It’s a pop/jazz standard today, and—like so many catchy tunes of the age—has been recorded by dozens of performers in dozens of genres and interpretations with lyrical moderations suitable for different times and places. 

It’s become a true classic often performed in what some critics and reviewers in its day called a “rooster strut.”  (Your guess is as good as mine.) Anyway, click or tap on the triangle in the next image to pass judgement.

How about an instrumental jazz version with some real “Lulus” of the day! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen.

And, as promised, here is the Muppet’s take on this. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a PG treat!

Dubin and Warren collaborated with many other composers on many, many songs—particularly in Hollywood. 

They went on to win an Academy Award for their song “Lullaby of Broadway;” Warren also won an Academy Award for “Chattanooga Choo Choo”—the first “gold record” in history!  A bit off our theme this week, but–What the heck!–click or tap on the triangle in the next image for something not to miss.

As a further bit of a digression, there is an interesting musical quotation in the chorus of our “Lulu . . .”: “You can tell all my pets, all my Harlem coquettes; Mister Otis regrets, that he won’t be around.”  It borrows a phrase coined by another songwriter, Cole Porter, taken from his 1934 song “Miss Otis Regrets.” 

Late one night in a bar with a few of his cocktail party pals, Porter overheard a bartender’s frequent use of the word “regrets.” Porter, on a bet with his buddies , was inspired and improvised a bluesy, Manhattany, musical parody. He wrote about a butler who, politely, explains why his employer, a “Miss Otis,” can’t keep her regular ladies’ lunch appointment that day.  In Porter’s boozy ballad, she had been compromised and abandoned by a lover/seducer but had tracked down, confronted, and shot the cad in cold blood! She quite soon faced the consequences!

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to hear the Cole Porter bio-movie rendition of “Miss Otis… ” sung by none other than the famously bearded Monte Woolley! Oh yes, that’s Cary Grant at the piano in the Cole role.

Her butler’s understated but polite apology–“Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today”–soon entered entered the lexicon of American pop culture and became a punchline for sophisticates throughout the 1930s. Just about any “regret” or “unable” phrase had a “Miss (or Mister) Otis” tag, even in ads for gasoline! 

This song, needless to say, became a blues/jazz standard when sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and was even parodied by Fred Astaire himself. Click or tap on the triangles in the next two images for a look and listen.

So, whenever we have a chance to listen to someone sing (or strut) about “Lulu . . .,” it’s fun to take a look at those songs enjoyed, enhanced, and embraced by folks–in a variety of ways–over the past eighty or so years. 

So, gentle readers, what will folks think of 2023’s popular music eighty years from now?  We’ll just have to wait and see. I’m looking forward!

Let’s wind this musing up with–what else–a rather bizarre ukulele version of “Lulu . . .

So, find your razor and perfume, get your old tuxedo pressed, and STAY TUNED! Because . . .

ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 14 April 2023–“Smoke Used to Get Into Our Eyes”

After writing and posting my so-called “musical musings” for the past six or so years, I find myself searching my bookcases and trolling the internet in search of topics I haven’t touched on before.  I do revamp some of my earlier postings by adding new YouTubes and images as well as commentary on life in our trying times; but, every once in a while, I stumble across something a tad different that might be fun to share—sometimes questionable, sometimes off limits (to only a few, I hope), and, suffice it to say, sometimes just plain tacky.

So, friends and neighbors, be forewarned! 

Times being what they are, however, a bit of tacky might be just what we need.

So, gentle readers, here is a take on that once glamorous, now ugly habit of smoking and how tobacco seems to have permeated life and music over the decades. 

This is certainly not an endorsement of a nasty, unhealthy habit for the youth of America But, bear with me as I light up.  Tacky-tak-tak, here goes!

Needless to say, there are many, many songs about smoke and smoking. To make things simpler, however, I’m just going to focus on the most ubiquitous–cigarettes. And I’ll touch as little as possible on what might–by a few of you gentle readers out there–be considered as “recreational” puffing. Alas, increasingly prevalent in these modern times and in our Happy Valley!

So, click or tap on the triangle in the next image for our first musical puff!

Now let’s move on to something a bit more musically sophisticated, to say the least.

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for this one. Not really about cigarettes but the quintessential “smoke” song. Who else but Fred, Ginger, and Jerome.

And there are a few dozen others out there. I don’t know about the music but the images are fun!

And then there are songs specifically about cigarettes,

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to join in.

Here’s another.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to light this one up.

Or how about cigarettes the old fashioned way, the way my grandfathers did it. With “makins,” you can roll your own!


About a bit more than rolling cigarettes, but a good commentary on the fashions of the day. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a prurient peek-a-boo.

And, where would we be without John Wayne? I tread a bit close to the boundaries on this but, what would Willie Nelson say? Click or tap on the triangle in the next image anyway.

And then, there is the moralistic take on smoking, and a couple of other related things of which I–and I assume more than a few of us–have little or no objection.

This song is pure country but here it is by–of all folks–The Muppets. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a bit of puppety fun!

And, course, there are a few sheet music images of ladies puffing away and obviously not singing.

And, how about a musical cigarette pack! Probably sold for about 25 cents in those days.

Now we have to dig into the collection of ukulele photos to take a peek at some of the glamorous guys with their omnipresent cigarettes! As they say, “there’s something about a sailor!”

Landlubbers too!

And of course some of the big names of ukuleledom. Here’s Arthur Godfrey “making love, ukulele style.”

And, finally, a new use for a ukulele–a cigarette holder! He’s not called “Ukulele Ike” for nothing.

Fair warning: This little journey into the mix of tobacco and music is certainly not an endorsement of consuming tobacco products in any form.  Tobacco, smoking, and related songs are part of musical history but, unlike history, we don’t have to inhale. 

But the music sure was fun, so let me repeat a tune and make sure to leave you with a musical earworm! Click on the triangle in the next image for a good old-time banjo version of our first song by nonother than “Grampa Jones.”

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke in music land. So, stay safe, stay home, stay busy, stay viceless (sort of), and STAY TUNED!  

ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 9 April 2023–An Old Melody All Dressed Up, “Easter Parade”

Sorry, gentle readers, but calendric quirks force me to touch on tunes by Irving Berlin two weeks in a row. Anyway, why not? By whatever authorities seem to be in charge of these things, it’s been confirmed that Easter is about as early in the year as it can be, so let’s take a look at that most non-bunny, non-religious of holiday songs–“Easter Parade.”

It seems that this year we all will be a bit less sequestered than in years past and that Easter celebrations with family and friends may again be a big thing. We hope your Easter baskets are as much fun as these!


So, let me delve into a bit of musical history and a little musical mind-candy. We all could use some of that before we suit up for the parade this Sunday. We are, aren’t we?


That’s one way to suit up but, as an architect, I feel the need to expand on the dress code just a tad. But, I digress.

Moving on, “Easter Parade” is nothing more than a simple boy-girl romancing song written around that depression-era fashion parade on New York’s most fashionable street—5th Avenue.  An event that lives on today albeit in a slightly less modest form.

Our song was written in 1933 by Irving Berlin who, not being one to waste a good thing, had originally written the melody in 1917 for another song called “Smile and Show your Dimple . . .


. . . a “cheer-up” song for a girl whose guy had gone off to fight in World War I.

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a musical treat (of sorts).

This tune achieved modest success by 1918, but was soon forgotten—by everyone except Berlin.  He resurrected it with a few modifications and new, quite secular “holiday” lyrics and title for the 1933 Broadway revue “As Thousands Cheer.” 


Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a listen to “Easter Parade” as it was performed in the original musical review. Believe it or not, it’s the four-time academy award nominee actor Clifton Webb’s voice on the early recording! Nothing “cheaper by the dozen” here.

As with most of Berlin’s songs, it later appeared in musical movies of which the 1948 “Easter Parade,” with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, remains the quintessential version. 


In fact, the whole film was written around the song. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a cinematic treat.   

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history.  Born Israel Beilin in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States at the age of five. He published his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy” in 1907 and received 33 cents for the publishing rights.  That would pay for a spaghetti meal in those days, I assume.


Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen to this oldie by Irving.

The publisher misspelled his name on the sheet music and, ever after, “Beilin” became “Berlin.”


It is commonly believed that Berlin couldn’t read sheet music and was such a limited piano player that he could only play in the key of F-sharp. He “cheated” with a special piano he had made with levers that would allow him to change keys. It’s now in the Smithsonian Museum of American History!

So, as a kickoff to Easter Sunday, we have a Jewish songwriter, an immigrant born in Russia, who gave us this quintessential Easter song—only in America! He also wrote “White Christmas,” and of course, “God Bless America.”  

So, let’s wrap up our Easter musical musing with–what else?–a banjo/guitar treatment of “Easter Parade.” Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a down home treat. What’s not to like?

So, have your own kind of Easter fun this year, whether secular or sacred. Wear a beautiful bonnet . . .

Try to hide those Easter eggs where only you can find them . . .

Be aware of what those eggs might turn into!


ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 31 March 2023: A Counterpoint To Waaaay Too Much News!

For those of you who—like Alison and me—are glued to (stuck with?) the news these days, it seems that everything is being split into EXTREMES!  There is right/left, red/blue, old/new, whew/whew . . .

To clear my head a bit, I keep returning to another musical earworm of mine that pulls extremes together but into a harmonious whole.  The song that keeps sticking in my mind is simplicity itself but, nonetheless, complex—“Won’t You Play a Simple Melody” by the great Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriter Irving Berlin.   What could be simpler than that?  Old Time/Ragtime? Hmmm  . . .

Won’t You Play a Simple Melody” is a song from the 1914 Broadway musical “Watch Your Step,” with all the songs and music written by Berlin himself. 

The show was the first stage musical he wrote and the production was conceived primarily to show off the fancy footwork of the famed ballroom dancers Irene and Vernon Castle, as well as Berlin’s songs. 

As a bit of background fun, click or tap on the triangle in the next image to take a look at this once most popular dancing duo in action in a 1915 silent movie. Dubbed in music, of course!

That YouTube was a bit fuzzy, so here are Fred and Ginger doing their interpretation of Vernon and Irene in the 1939 bio-pic about the Castles. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a clearer view!

But, I digress. So, now back to our song. Not surprisingly, the most well-remembered and still performed song of the show “Watch Your Step” was a non-dancing number.

This song is one of musical extremes—called “contrapuntal” by musicians or, more commonly, “counterpoint.”  While often used in opera, our song was one of the earliest examples found in American popular music.  Unlike in a “round” that uses the same lyrics and melody offset and overlapping, counterpoint uses a first melody played against a different melody, each with independent lyrics but with the same key and chord progression.  Berlin was a master of these so-called “double songs” and several of his are written this way. For those of you who are musically curious, here’s a look at the original sheet music.

After an intro “verse” to set the scene, the “simple melody” plays alone. Then comes the contrasting melody and lyrics.

Finally, the two play together, both within the same key and chord progression!

The lyrics of “Won’t You Play a Simple Melody” also track  a counterpoint duet as one singer yearns for the music which “mother” sang (the style of a bygone generation), while the other singer disdains such classic fare as lacking interest and rhythm.  That is to say, “It ain’t ragtime!”

The score’s roadmap is a bit tricky to follow, but you’ll catch on once you listen to the YouTube. 

Here’s a recording of our song made way back in 1916.  Most subsequent recordings skip the intro verses but it’s worth a listen.  Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to tune in to this scratchy but original recording.

Moving on, here are a few more “counterpoint songs” just for fun—a couple more by Berlin and then one by Meredith Willson from “The Music Man.” 

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a tune from the 1950 Broadway musical and subsequent film “Call Me Madam” that has become a popular “dueling duet” over the years–“You’re Just in Love.” Here’s a lovely country/jazz, father/daughter take on this classic.

And, yet another one by Berlin.

Tap or click on the next image or link for a 21st Century, Washington, DC, take on Berlin’s song “Old Fashioned Wedding” from his 1946 musical “Annie Get Your Gun.” As an aside, I remember hearing these guys performing at the Obama (not the Trump . . .) inaugural festivities! Counterpoint? You betcha!

And here’s what has evolved into a barbershop standard, “Lida Rose” from Meredith Willson’s 1956 musical “The Music Man.”

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to take a peek at how folks can come together in counterpoint. Could but we all!

So, in these too-hectic and too-newsy days, let’s think “counterpoint” rather than “conflict.”  Needless to say, gentle readers, it’s much prettier that way!

Now, to wind (tune?) things up this week, let’s go back to our original song and listen to a 1990s recording of “Won’t You Play a Simple Melody” sung by Jean Stapleton, with the Muppets, and—oh, yes—a ukulele (sorta) accompaniment.  Click or tap on the next image or link to chuckle along with this one!

So, as we all move along to the next week of “news to be glued to,” let’s all keep an eye on the capitol . .

. . . Don’t get lost and confused!

.  .  .  and remember the musical gifts of a Jewish immigrant from Russia who gave us those other simple earworm melodies of “Easter Parade,” “White Christmas,” and “God Bless America.


ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 24 March 2023, Songs of the Great Depression–From the Dark Side to the Sunny Side

I don’t know about you, gentle readers, but I am increasingly finding the news of the day disheartening if not depressing; too much “this and that,” too little “that and this.”  I thinking not just of the deeply worn depressions found in too many of the streets in our little part of New England, but also thinking back on that rocky rubble of American history known as the “Great Depression.”

Few of us around today lived through those days, but all of us have heard the admonitions of our parents or grandparents: “Make do or do without;” “Poor folks have poor ways;” or “Think about the poor children from—wherever—who don’t have enough to eat.” 

However, there were silver linings on the dark clouds and those fit right in with these musical musings I have been posting for the past five or six years. It’s in many of the songs we remember, play, and sing today as we troll through our songbooks and strum, saw, tap, or toot away on our favorite musical instruments.

There were Dozens and Dozens and DOZENS of songs written in the time span between presidents Hoover and Roosevelt. 

As would be expected, many of these were in the blues, country, and protest song traditions. They reflected in song the woes of the time. 

Still others, mostly in the jazz and popular traditions, focused on the optimism that everyone needed to survive. 

After all, songs on the radio (if you were lucky enough to have one in those days) were free and (it was said by many) that: “You can’t be sad when you’re dancing!” 

So, let’s take a look at just a few of these songs–from both sides of the cloud, of course–to illustrate my point and, then hopefully, give us a bit of cheer once we set aside our newspapers (screens today) and sing along!  

To begin, gentle readers, let’s “eat our spinach before our desert” and look at the most quintessentially woeful song of the times, the one that defined the Great Depression: “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

Without a doubt, this is one of the best-known American songs of the era of bread lines and soup kitchens and, in effect, has become THE anthem of the Great Depression. Written in 1931 by lyricist Yip Harburg (who, incidentally, wrote all the songs for “The Wizard of Oz”) and composer Jay Gorney, the song was part of the 1932 Broadway musical revue “Americana.”

The melody begins in a minor key—unusual for a popular song at the time—and is based on a Russian-Jewish lullaby that Gorney had grown up with as a child. The song tells the story of the universal everyman, whose honest work was towards achieving the “American Dream.” 

Although blues songs often reflected a dark, more rural or racially oriented take on the times, . . .

. . . Brother Can You Spare a Dime” became one of the few Tin Pan Alley or Broadway songs of the era to shine on the darker aspects of the county’s collapse.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or to listen to this song that defines the dark side of the era.

But, enough of the dark side!  Let’s, indeed, move over to the—shall we say—sunnier side of the street. 

American popular music reacted to the Great Depression with optimism—albeit guarded—and a spate of lighter songs became radio, movie, and Broadway hits.  Many of these have endured and, in fact, have found their way into our songbooks.

A happy song from the sad days is “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” a 1930 tune composed by Jimmy McHugh, who wrote another great depression era song, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Her other contribution to this “try to feel good” genre includes the lyrics for “Pick Yourself Up, And Start All Over Again.”  All three songs have been covered by scores of performers over the years. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to hear a modern version of the “Sunny” song.   

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to hear Cliff (“Ukulele Ike”) Edwards’ version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” with the rarely included verse as well as the well-known chorus. 

Now, click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a Fred and Ginger take on “Pick Yourself Up.” Then, just for fun, click or tap on the triangle in the image after that one to see their phenomenal dance routine to our song.

Now here’s another happy tune from our songbooks. Although written a couple of years before the 1929 Stock Market Crash that sparked the Great Depression, “Side by Side” became one of the most popular songs of the 1930s and, today, is considered a standard. 

It was written by Harry Woods, who practiced songwriting only as a sideline, and, as a bit of trivia composed his songs on the piano despite the fact that he was born without fingers on his left hand!  He wrote a couple of other favorites: “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin Along,” and “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover.”  

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to see a movie version of “Side by Side”: 

Oh yes, here are a couple of Art Deco style ukuleles from my collection in a style that was popular, to say nothing of symbolic, during the Great Depression—an inexpensive uke fancied up with an inexpensive paint job.  What’s not to like?

And, of course we have to end with probably the most optimistic song of the Great Depression—at least at the beginning of its end—you know what it is! 

Here’s our happy days song in its original, Broadway version from 1930–before it became a campaign song. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen. Then, click or tap on the following image for a performance of our song from the 2000s coupled with another appropriate tune. Same optimism? We hope!

So, stay safe, stay un-depressed, keep up with those boosters, and STAY TUNED! Because, perhaps, hopefully . . .

If we all work together as a community!

A MUSICAL MUSING, 17 March 2023–Saint Patrick’s Day, When Everyone is Irish (Sorta . . .)

Musical tales of the “Emerald Isle” and St. Patrick’s Day are low hanging fruit for Alison and me who indeed have bent over backwards and actually kissed the Blarney Stone!  There are, however, way too many blossoms and branches on this tree for a simple musical musing.  Nonetheless, with a dram or two (or three) of Jameson “in the jar,” try I must and do I will.

Because of the plethora of Irish and Irish-related songs out there, I’m just going on an un-thematic rove of some of the more interesting that I have found. Just a good listen and look, with the blessing of the Good Saint I am sure! Move to the next tune if you tire, or come back after you’ve drawn a fresh pint. Just be prepared to do a jig or two!

A rowdy celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in the US but only lately in Ireland itself.  It was always a religious holiday over there but seldom rowdier than a night of music and good “craic” (definition later) at the neighborhood public house or “pub.” 

Sad to say, the ukulele is not a traditional Irish instrument although some can, of course, be found.

Surprisingly, however, the tenor banjo is traditional! It doesn’t quite sound like the bluegrass or old-time banjo playing styles we hear around here–a bit more like mandolin picking. So, tap or click on the triangle in the next image to listen to the late, great Irish banjo player with the Dubliners, Barney McKenna.

Of course, there is a long, long tradition of Irish music going way back to the early days.  Irish–and similarly, Scottish, Welsh, and English–traditional music has been collected, studied, and played to this day. It’s known as Celtic music, pronounced “Keltic.” That’s for music; for basketball its “Seltic.”

Leave it to say that the “Keltic” pronunciation (from the Greek “keltoi“) is preferred by those who study the Celtic culture, language, and history, to the point that if you call it anything else, they’ll be lookin’ down on you. But if you are attending a game in Boston, you’ll be rootin’ for the “Seltics” (from the old French “celtique“). Go figure.

Much of the early Celtic music we know followed the Ulster (Scots/Irish) migrations to the US and Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries.  This “first wave” migration of mostly Protestant “Orangemen” settled in the mountainous frontiers of America, such as Appalachia, and their music became the foundation on which today’s old-time, hillbilly, country/western, and bluegrass music was built.

As another linguistic aside, Scots/Irish followers of William of Orange, in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 were known as “Billy’s Boys” and were identified by their bright red neck scarves. Settled in America, over the years they became “hillbillies” and “red-necks.”

The Wearing of the Green” is a traditional Irish ballad lamenting the repression of supporters of the “Rebellion of 1798” against British rule. It is based on an old Irish air, and many versions of the lyric exist proclaiming that “they are hanging men and women for the wearing o’ the green,” the color of the shamrock adopted by these supporters.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to listen to this early Irish song that is still sung today.

Later, during the potato famine–“starvin’ times”– of the mid- 19th century, these traditional dance tunes and nostalgic ballads from Ulster and the lower counties of Ireland were carried to towns and cities all over the world with the diaspora of mostly Catholic Irish immigrants. While the early migration brought traditional Celtic music to the countryside and mountains, the later, “second wave” migration also spawned newer, Irish/American music in the cities. 

It was in American cities where musical nostalgia for the “Old Sod,” or “Emerald Isle,” rose and “American/Irish songs were born. Here’s one from the early 1900s.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen to this oldie.

Needless to say, American sheet music publishers profited, particularly as Irish immigrants found their way into the workplace, settled themselves in towns and neighborhoods, and brought their music into their pubs and parlors.

How about this one from 1915.

Tap or click on the triangle in the following image for the song and the scenery.

Now here’s one originally published in 1901 that has become a favorite among barbershop singers to this day.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a “one-man quartet” version of this oldie!

And, another bit of nostalgia from the 1900s.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen to this tearjerker.

Needless to say, the “Irish theme” was quickly picked up by enterprising songwriters—most of them non-Irish, many Jewish—on New York’s Tin Pan Alley and performed on Vaudeville stages and parlor pianos throughout the country. Needless to say, The whimsical, often satirical, and too often pejorative portrayal of the Irish immigrant rose.

Alas, no YouTubes of these. Perhaps for the better!

There are a few dozen YouTubes of the next one, however. It’s been around since 1898!

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen.

After 1860, Irish Americans also wrote songs to reflect the discrimination they felt first in England and then as newcomers in America. The protest song “No Irish Need Apply” was inspired by this. It’s the pride of this latter migration, however, that gave us St. Patrick’s day as we know it in this country and the “wearin’ o’ the green” that is celebrated today.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a more contemporary take on this old, old lament.

And, let’s not forget the great Irish tenors of the past—a unique contribution to popular vocal music.  Anyone remember Dennis Day on the Jack Benny radio show?  And that great English/American/Irish Song  . . .     

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a listen.

In Ireland, the fellowship, banter, and fun conversation over a pint or a few at the local pub is said to be “good craic!”  (Pronounced: crack.)  And, a pub is a favorite venue for song.  

Here, folks with pints in hand will shout/sing chorus after chorus as the house band runs through verse after verse.  Here is what is said to be the most popular tune of this tradition— “The Wild Rover.”

Tap or click on the the image below to join the crowd at the neighborhood pub!

To end on a bit o’ good craic, let’s not forget the other musical Irish saints, such as Saint Ukelelaigh.

So, Avoid rowdy Saint Patrick’s Day crowds, stay as masked as you need be, . . .

. . . enjoy whatever craic you may be given or give, wear a bit o’ the green, and . . . STAY O’TUNED!