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The American 20th Century in 100 Songs – Volume 1 Liner Notes

(Back in October Peter Stampfel, who I am a huge fan, released The American 20th Century in 100 Songs – Volume 1, last October and I completely missed it. Here are the liner notes, a perfect act of music criticism, reprinted without permission from Peter, who write them -IL)
While stoned on weed in the early aughties, I got the idea of learning a song from each year of the 20th century. I had many reasons: I wanted to get my hands on all those basic musical structures and incorporate the knowledge of how to construct them into my skill-set. I also wanted to show people of all ages what the century’s music was like. The hours it would take to listen to them all would be a kind of total immersion in the whole damn 20th century. I’d come out of it with greater historical insight, or maybe a headache. Or something.
My criteria for choosing the songs:
1. I had to adore the song. Some years, I couldn’t find one I adored, but I did find damn fine period pieces. “Ida,” from 1903, is an example of one I like but don’t love. But it has a nice catchy tune, and is indeed a damn fine period piece.
2. The song had to be catchy—indeed, had to repeat-in-your-ears-in-the-most-delightful-way catchy. You will find that a surprising number of these songs find their way into your head.
3. As much and as often as possible, the song had to resonate with the general feeling of the year it was written. It had to feel like that year. Sort of. You know? Look up your birthday year song!
4. I had to be able to play them and pull it off, which was a serious consideration. By 1980, playing new music was harder. I was 42 and would be doing the music of people younger than I was, and increasingly so as the 21st century approached. Few geezers sing the songs of youngsters as well as Johnny Cash did, and that was one of my touchstones in choosing the 100. I was shooting for that level.
5. They had to all be 10s. (Except “Ida” 1903, as explained above, which is a 7)
6. Can’t be either too well known or too obscure.
Two factors made choosing songs of the 80s and 90s harder for me: So much more music was released than ever before, and I had been listening to the radio less. There was so much good stuff going on under my radar, stuff that I missed.
As the 21st century rolled on, Taylor Mac did a much more ambitious version of my idea—a 240-song history of the US. That’s 1776 to 2016. It culminated in a nonstop 24-hour show featuring every song.
The ones he chose often emphasized general social history as it passed by. I saw 9 hours of it, and it’s the only show I’ve ever seen that hit me as hard as Hamilton. I pray recordings of the whole show will become available. I’ve been unable to find a list of all his song choices, but so far I’ve found four that we share: “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” (1908), “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” (1910), “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (1922), and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973).
Behold! Da Hunnert!
1901/ I Love You Truly
1902/ Under The Bamboo Tree
1903/ Ida
1904/ Toyland
1905/ Whistler And His Dog
1906/ Nobody
1907/ School Days
1908/ Take Me Out To The Ball Game
1909/ Ace In The Hole
1910/ Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life
1911/ Put Your Arms Around Me Honey (Hold Me Tight)
1912/ Ragtime Cowboy Joe
1913/ Row Row Row
1914/ By the Beautiful Sea
1915/ They Didn’t Believe Me
1916/ Poor Butterfly
1917/ Look For The Silver Lining
1918/ Till We Meet Again
1919/ Stumblin’
1920/ Swinging Down The Lane
1921/ Charleston
1922/ I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles
1923/ Let The Rest Of The World Go By
1924/ Somebody Loves Me
1925/ I Never Knew
1926/ Who?
1927/ Blue Skies
1928/ My Heart Stood Still
1929/ Wedding Of The Painted Doll
1930/ My Ideal
1931/ Out Of Nowhere
1932/ Home
1933/ Lazybones
1934/ Moonglow
1935/ East Of The Sun
1936/ The Way You Look Tonight
1937/ Where Or When
1938/ My Reverie
1939/ They Say It’s Wonderful
1940/ Indian Summer
1941/ Oh, Look At Me Now
1942/ I Remember You
1943/ Pistol Packin’ Momma
1944/ Long Ago And Far Away
1945/ Love On A Greyhound Bus
1946/ All Through The Day
1947/ How Are Things In Glocca Morra?
1948/ Blue Shadows On The Trail
1949/ Slipping Around
1950/ It Isn’t Fair
1951/ Jezebel
1952/ Night Train
1953/ Tennesee Wig Walk
1954/ Hearts Made Of Stone
1955/ Shambolar
1956/ I’m In Love Again
1957/ Chicken Baby Chicken
1958/ Rave On
1959/ Handy Man
1960/ Running Bear
1961/ Moon River
1962/ I Sold My Heart To The Junkman
1963/ Momma Didn’t Lie
1964/ The Years
1965/ Concrete And Clay
1966/ Along Comes Mary
1967/ Waterloo Sunset
1968/ Goodbye
1969/ Log Cabin Home In The Sky
1970/ Let’s Work Together
1971/ Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep
1972/ Eyes Eyes
1973/ Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
1974/ September Gurls
1975/ Tangled Up In Blue
1976/ I Wanna Be Your Boy Friend
1977/ 2 4 6 8 Motorway
1978/ Have You Ever Fallen In Love
1979/ I Will Survive
1980/ Girl’s Talk
1981/ Dancing With Myself
1982/ Stepping Out
1983/ Swingin’
1984/ You Take Me Up
1985/ Drink American
1986/ My Hometown
1987/ Don’t Dream, It’s Over
1988/ Everybody Knows
1989/ She Drives Me Crazy
1990/ Women And Men
1991/ Texarkana
1992/ Laura The Horse
1993/ Loser
1994/ Earth To Grandma
1995/ Common People
1996/ Wannabee
1997/ The Way
1998/ Tubthumping
1999/ In Spite Of Ourselves
2000/ Yellow
In 2002, I talked to Mark Bingham about the project, and he agreed to record, mix, play on, and produce the whole damn thing. None of this would have ever happened, or even begun, without him. My gratitude is boundless.
Despite this project was about American music, it came to include occasional music from the UK in 1967, because how can 1967 not be “Waterloo Sunset”?
The liner notes will be a crowdsourced Facebook site. The first batch will be 21 songs, starting below:
1906/ “Nobody”/ Bert Williams/ 1874-1922
Like most of the pre-rock songs in this project, I first heard it on the radio. (I also saw Bob Hope perform it in a 1955 movie, The 7 Little Foys.) The song struck me as being way more powerful than most of the stuff I was hearing on the radio. And of all the 100 songs I chose, this was the one of the ones that fooled me the most. I assumed it was written in the late teens or early 20s, so when I found out it was from 1906, I realized how advanced it was compared to all its contemporaries.
I wasn’t aware of Bert Williams until the 70s or 80s. W.C. Fields said of him, “The funniest man I ever saw—and the saddest.”
He was born in the Bahamas and brought to the US at the age of 11. He first found recognition as part of a duo, Williams and Walker. He went solo in the early aughties, by which time he was one of the biggest stars in vaudeville. You could say he was the first black superstar. However, he had to hire a white man to pretend to be his manager, because theatres wouldn’t put money in a black man’s hand.
According to the New York Daily News of the time, Actors Equity declared a strike against New York stage productions on August 23, 1919, which closed pretty much every theater in town. Bert Williams reported for work that night to a darkened theatre, because he wasn’t in Equity, didn’t know about the strike, and nobody told him. Despite 20-plus years as one of the most successful and respected stage performers in New York, he had never been invited to join. But W.C. Fields petitioned on his behalf, and in August of 1920, he became the first black member of Actors Equity.
1908/ Take Me Out To The Ball Game/ Jack Norworth (1879-1959) and Albert Von Tilzer (1878-1956)
Everyone thinks this song and ball games have been together forever, but the first time was prior to the opening game of the Los Angeles Prep baseball season in 1934. It has become one of the most performed songs in history. All but forgotten is the intro part:
Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry sou
Katie blew.
On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she’d like to go
To see a show, but Miss Kate said, “No
I’ll tell you what you can do
Take me out to the ball game . . .
The second verse ends with:
When the score was just two to two, Katie Casey knew what to do, Just to cheer up the boys she knew, She made the gang sing this song
Take me out to the ball game . . .
And I wondered: is this the first mention of cheerleading in a popular song? I did a little research and found that the first cheer is reported to have been cheered during a football game at Princeton in the 1880’s. Not long after, Princeton formed an all-male “pep club.” Men dominated cheerleading until World War II, and then, as happened with just about every profession during that war, women filled the vacancies. The rest is history. But it all began with Katie Casey.
1910/ Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life/ Victor Herbert/ 1859-1924
Herbert was born in Vienna and came to the US with his opera singer wife in 1886, just a year after Bert Williams’ arrival. He started out as a cellist, and ended up writing hundreds of compositions. I have a sweet spot for many of his songs. His music fell out of favor after the First World War, when jazz was popular—he was about as non-jazz as you could get. But he was also one of the founders of ASCAP.
“Ah! Sweet Mystery Of Life” is corny, but it’s corn of the highest quality. Alpha corn!
1914/ By The Beautiful Sea/ music Harry Carroll/ 1892-1962, lyrics Harold R. Atteridge/ 1886-1938
I was going to say that everybody knows this tune. It’s been used in countless movies (Some Like It Hot, among them) and TV shows, not to mention its having been played tens of thousands of times on merry-go-rounds nationwide. Still, I’ll bet a lot of youngsters have never heard it. Until working it out on a juke—a steel body ukelele tuned like a banjo—I never realized how fun it was to play and how truly fine the words are. One damn jolly song.
I’d like to be
Beside your side
Beside the sea
Beside the sea side
By the beautiful sea.
1918/ Till We Meet Again/ Music Richard A. Whiting/ 1891-1938, lyric Raymond B. Egan/ 1890-1952
My mom used to sing this song. As a child, she played ukulele and sang it as a duet with her sister, Jeanette. But I never heard the intro until I worked it out. Like many introductory parts of songs, it’s largely forgotten, but the well-known section of the song is still often used as the last dance at old time ballroom dances.
In 1918, a Detroit theatre held a contest for a war song. Remick’s Music asked its employee, Whiting, to enter the contest. He and lyricist Raymond B. Egan worked on “Till We Meet Again” but didn’t think it was good enough and threw it away. His secretary took the song out of the garbage and entered it into the contest—and of course it won. It also went on to sell over eleven million copies of sheet music, the most of any song before or since. Being about a soldier and his sweetheart in 1918 certainly helped.
His daughter, Margaret Whiting, became famous for singing it during World War II and went on to a long career. Her father’s “My Ideal” became a sort of theme song for her.
Besides writing two of my favorite songs, “Beyond The Blue Horizon” and “My Ideal” (my song pick for 1930), Whiting wrote a song called “Rock And Roll,” which was sung by the Boswell Sisters in a 1932 movie called Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round. It was probably the first use ever of the phrase “rock and roll.”
Lyricist Egan wrote, among others, “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “Japanese Sandman,” and “Sleepy Time Gal.”
1923/ Let The Rest of The World Go By/ Ernest Roland Ball/ 1878-1927
Another one Mom used to sing at home and with my Aunt Jeanette. I only heard them sing together once, in Milwaukee in 1951. They sang in loud, clear, lovely voices. I forget who sang melody and who sang harmony, but they sounded beautiful together. Years later, I asked them to sing again, but Jeanette said her singing days were behind her. I found that sad and scary.
Ball’s most famous song was, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” He wasn’t Irish but he wrote a number of Irish-themed songs which include “Mother Macree” and “A Little Bit of Heaven.”
His grandson is Ernie Ball of guitar string fame.
1925/ I Never Knew (That Roses Grew)/ Ted Fio Rito/ 1900-1971, music/ Gus Kahn 1888-1941, lyrics
Here’s a beauty I never heard as a kid. There’s these two 1000-song fakebooks from around 1950, from which I learned the chords to many songs. I went through all 2000 songs looking for good ones that I didn’t know. Didn’t find many, but this is one, and “Blue Champagne” (1945) was another.
Fio Rito wrote many of my personal favorites, like “Willow Weep For Me,” “Temptation,” and “Let’s Face The Music and Dance,” three amazingly beautiful constructions.
Gus Kahn was prolific as well, writing classics like “It Had To Be You,” “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “Toot Toot Tootsie,” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” another last dance favorite.
1926/ Who (Stole My Heart Away?) / Jerome Kern/ 1885-1945/ Otto Harbach/ 1873-1963/ Oscar Hammerstein II/ 1895-1960
Jerome Kern is my favorite songwriter of the Great American Songbook era.
Five of my 100 songs are Kern’s (and, by the way, Jerry Garcia was named after him). Otto Harbach mentored Oscar Hammerstein II and advocated the radical idea that in an American musical, the songs should all further the plot and characterization, in the manner of Gilbert and Sullivan. Kern, Hammerstein, and Harbach put the philosophy into practice in Show Boat, which also had the distinction of being the first “serious” musical.
“Who?” was written for the 1925 Broadway musical Sunny.
1928/ My Heart Stood Still/ Richard Rodgers 1902-1979 /Lorenz Hart 1895-1943.
Rogers and Hart started composing together when they were students at Columbia University. “My Heart Stood Still” was written for the 1927 Charles Cochran review, One Dam Thing After Another. They had to purchase their own song back for $5000 so they could use it later that same year, in A Connecticut Yankee, a musical based on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. It went on to become a jazz standard. What a powerful beauty.
1931/ Out Of Nowhere/ music, Johnny Green 1908-1989/ lyrics, Edward Heyman 1907-1981.
These two guys also wrote “Body And Soul” and “I Cover The Waterfront.” (Whoa.) Green also wrote the Betty Boop theme for the Fleischer cartoons. Heyman wrote “When I Fall In Love.” Both of them were prolific.
“Out of Nowhere” is considered a jazz standard and has been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Dave Brubeck, and Coleman Hawkins, to name but a few. It was also Bing Crosby’s first big hit record.
1941/ Oh, Look At Me Now/ music Joe Bushkin, 1916-2004, lyrics John DeVries, 1915-1992.
Arguably, this is the song that launched a young Frank Sinatra’s career. Bushkin was a jazz pianist who wanted to live to 88, since there were 88 keys on the piano. He did it. This was DeVries’ first lyric, but he was mainly a visual artist and designed some of the very first LP album covers, as well as the interiors of many jazz clubs, like the Famous Door and Eddie Condon’s on West 54th Street.
I put this song into a sort of galloping hillbilly rhythm (basically, boom-tiddy boom-tiddy). The first country/pop mashup I heard was by Jo Stafford, in her persona as “Cinderella G. Stump.” As “Cinderella,” she used Fio Rito’s “Temptation” and it became “Tim-Tayshun.” It was one of my primal influences.
For this recording, I hillbilly-ized it like I did “Goldfinger” and “Midnight In Paris” a few years ago.
1942/ I Remember You/ music Victor Schertzinger 1888-1941 / lyrics Johnny Mercer 1909-1976/
Infodump alert! This melody has a bunch of strange shit about it. I first heard it in 1963, sung by Frank Ifield, an Australian, but I had no idea how old it was until years later. I thought it was a new song, or at least a fairly recent one. Unlike any of the songs here, it could have been written during any decade from the ‘30s to the 1960s. This melody has one of the strangest, most eerie vibes I’ve ever heard. I wish I were capable of writing something similar.
Schertzinger was a four-year-old violin prodigy who went on to play with John Phillip Souza’s band. In 1916 he was commissioned by Thomas Ince, the film producer/director, to compose music for the silent film Civilization. He would continue to do music for films as well as write, direct, and produce them for the rest of his life.
Johnny Mercer had no formal music training, but he wrote 1,500 songs over his career. He was from Savannah, Georgia and was one of the few white composers of the period who acknowledged being heavily influenced by black musicians. As a young man he bought records by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, among other Black artists. He teamed up with Hoagy Carmichael in the 30’s. Lazybones, my 1933 song, was his first hit. The two of them also wrote Skylark, a personal favorite of mine. He also wrote Moon River, my 1961 song. Allegedly, he wrote I Remember You for Judy Garland (who, it’s said, he had an affair with when she was 19 and engaged to David Rose).
1943/ Pistol Packin’ Mama/ Al Dexter 1905-1984
“Pistol Packin’ Mama,” the first country song I ever heard, is said to be the first crossover country hit of World War II. (I heard it about the same time as I heard “There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere”—definitely from the same period.) Dexter had a big hit with it and later in the same year Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters put the songs in the number one spot.
According to the October 11, 1943 New York Times, after the Yankees took the world championship back from the Cardinals, “songs boomed across Yankee Clubhouse in boisterous victory demonstration,” including “Pistol Packin’ Mama” which they’d “adopted as their marching chorus for this year.”
It made a big impression on me when I was about five years old. I found the idea of a woman waving a gun around most compelling.
1945/ Love On A Greyhound Bus/ Ralph Blane 1914-1998, George Stoll 1905-1985, and Kay Thompson 1909-1998
Another great forgotten song, and what a crew of composers! Blane, along with his partner Hugh Martin, are credited with writing “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy Next Store,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (though Martin says he wrote them by himself).
Stoll was another songwriter who’d been a violin prodigy. As a jazz violinist, he played with Bing Crosby among others. He was musical director at MGM for many years, and hired the first black arranger there, Calvin Jackson, with whom he wrote the score of Anchors Aweigh. After he died, his Amati violin sold for $625,000, the highest price paid for an Amati at the time.
Thompson was an American author, singer, vocal arranger, vocal coach, composer, dancer, and actress, and with the conductor Lennie Hayton, she co-invented the Lucky Strike Hit Parade in 1935. It played the top ten songs every week and later moved to television. She also wrote the Eloise children’s books. When asked if the character was based on the young Lisa Minelli, she replied, “I am Eloise!” She was also mentor of the young Andy Williams in the 50’s and early 60s. Williams, half her age, said in his 2009 memoir that they had had a secret affair. Go, Kay! Go Andy!
1951/ Jezebel/ Wayne Shanklin 1916-1970
Shanklin also wrote “The Big Hurt,” “Primrose Lane,” and “Chanson D’Amour.” He had a total of ten children with a total of three wives, which may—or may not—have had a hand in inspiring “Jezebel.“
It was a big hit for Frankie Laine. He recorded it with the Norman Luboff Choir and Mitch Miller and his orchestra. It reached #2 on the Billboard chart and was a million seller. I’ve always liked songs about bad women.
1954/ Hearts Made of Stone/ Eddy Ray 1926- , and Rudy Jackson (not to be confused with the Duke Ellington clarinetist with the same name). I was unable to find out much about him.
Co-writer Rudy Jackson was a member of the Jewels, who originally recorded it. (The Charms had the big R&B hit, and many thought theirs was the original.) But it being 1954, the white Fontane Sisters had the biggest hit and took it to #1. Then Red Foley recorded a country version, which was also a hit, and a long list of musicians and singers have recorded it since. I gave the song a rewrite. It’s better now.
Eddy Ray went off to become Vice President of A&R at Capitol/Tower, the first black executive of a major label. Eventually, he went even further when President Reagan appointed him Commissioner and Chairman of the US Copyright Royalty Tribunal (CRT).
1956/ I’m In Love Again (not to be confused with Cole Porter’s song of the same name) / Fats Domino 1928-2017 and Dave Bartholomew 1918-
Up to this point (spring of 1956), the white cover of an R&B hit would always outsell the original version. But in this case, although the song was widely covered, none outsold Domino’s. A huge breakthrough. This was the year I had four new heroes, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino. I liked dozens of other R&B stars, but they were my main men.
Co-writer Dave Bartholomew started one of the first “jump” groups—small groups that played music you could dance to.
After World War II, the big bands mostly faded fast when the crowds began to spend their postwar money on cars and appliances that had not been available before. At the same time, bebop replaced swing, and became the first non-dancing jazz. Even tapping your feet to it was frowned upon. So jump bands like Bartholomew’s and Johnny Otis’s were important and laid the bedrock for R&B and rock ‘n’ roll—and kept the dancers moving. In fact, it was said of Bartholomew that his 1945 group, Dave Bartholomew and the Dew Droppers, were the bedrock of R&B in New Orleans. Robert Palmer said they were a model for early rock ‘n’ roll bands the world over.
1958/ Rave On/ Buddy Holly 1936-1959
Truthfully, I never heard this song, one of his greatest, until the 70s. I loved his music, but never bought any of his albums. What can I say about Buddy Holly? I once had a dream that I was back in 1959 trying to talk him out of taking the plane. In 1960, I also dreamed I was trying to talk Jimmie Rodgers into going into a TB treatment facility. He was in an expensive car and waved me off, just like Holly.
1969/ Log Cabin Home In The Sky/ Mike Heron 1942-
This song was recorded by the Incredible String Band on their album Wee Tam and the Big Huge, and is the second non-US song in this project. The ISB made a number of great albums in the 60s and 70s, and I like the twist this song gives to the 100.
1970/ Let’s Work Together/ Wilbert Harrison 1929-1994
Right, the Wilbert Harrison who did “Kansas City.” Originally recorded in 1962, the perfect version that Harrison released in ‘69 was eclipsed by the less than perfect Canned Heat version. My version here is less than perfect as well. I even forgot a verse, making it even more lesser.
1976/ I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend/ Tommy Ramone 1949-2014
Slowing it down like this and making it bluesy was Mark’s idea, and it took me a while to get used to, but I sure did. I had a bad case of the don’t-wannas in the mid 70s regarding live music, and never went to CBGBs to see them, or the Talking Heads, or Blondie. Whatta dummy. I did see Television and wasn’t that knocked out. But I played there a number of times with the Unholy Modal Rounders (1975-77). For the definitive take on Punk Rock on the Lower East Side, see the Jeffrey Lewis epic musical explanation on YouTube. It ends with the Ramones going to the UK, and people are thinking: Punk is born. But Jeffrey says it was already a quarter-century old, beginning with Harry Smith’s arrival on the Lower East Side in 1950.
My take on Punk is that it was a reaction to the often bloated arena rock that arrived in the 70s and an attempt to get back to the simpler days of rock ‘n’ roll, only with a potty mouth. I felt the Fugs were the first Punks—bad attitude, no musical knowledge, let’s write 60 songs, like “Coca-Cola Douche” and the immortal “Bull Tongue Clit.” Lewis predates them in his Punk history with the Holy Modal Rounders (1963). I can live with that

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