As you may recall from our last thrilling episode (if not, see above) we are considering the various ways postcard humorists made use of popular songs, whether these were destined to become classics or swept under the rug with the dust of a previous generation’s joys.
Old reliable songs were, of course, fair game. Everybody knew, for example, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye”, and songs like this were all over the place. Sometimes these expressions would be reverent
And at other times one just went for the gag.
And, in case you think they missed the other possible joke, here it is.
Similarly, a sweet little lullaby (this one from a previous generation, by Stephen Foster) had its obvious comic overtones.
But current pop music was where the iron was hot, where postcard companies wanted to jump into the fad wagon while it was still rolling. The song didn’t have to be, by its nature, a funny one to be taken advantage of. Dozens of artists tried their hand at “I’d Leave My happy Home For You”, a song about a young woman who falls in love with an impresario and heads off with him to pursue a career on the stage, only to be abandoned when the show goes bust in a distant city and her hero skips town without her. Just that title was fodder for any number of themes.
A good, solid hit novelty tune was the best target. The purchaser of a card based on a current humorous song could, with the expenditure of merely a penny, imply a) I know this song, too b) I am just such a humorous jocular fellow, and c) I have friends (like you) who are just as up to date as I am.
Let us consider a long-running song by Jean Havez, a man who wrote comedy songs for, among others, Bert Williams (mentioned in Monday’s column) and went on to write silent movie comedies. In a little number called “Everybody Works But Father”, he produced a song fondly remembered by vaudevillians for eons. It was funny enough that a literal presentation of the lyrics was all that was really necessary.
That postcard sums up the basic plot of the song. Father, having determined he had plenty of family members who could do useful work, now sits in front of the fireplace, smoking his pipe of clay. That “pipe of clay” could be taken as a jab at any one of a number of ethnic groups (pipes of clay being cheap, and used back in the old country by among others, the Dutch, the Irish, the Germans, the English….) Therein lay one of its glories: whatever ethnic character you played on stage, the song fit. EVERYBODY had a lazy relative (which the sequel song “Uncle Quit Work, Too” made us of.) Groucho Marx included the song in his repertoire for years, still performing it on TV talk shows when the rest of the world had forgotten it.
And, of course, it was ripe for any kind of parody. Several people wrote sequels, which one may or may not consider as a happy ending.
I don’t know about this ending, myself: everybody’s well-dressed but Father. Happy for whom? The original song, however, also played right into the popular theme of fathers dealing with fussy babies at midnight.
Perhaps it would be more comfortable to close considering a parody of another song, appropriated here to suggest that Father and Mother might live happily ever after, after all.