One of Those Songs, Part Three

To conclude this week’s investigation of popular music and the postcard, I thought I would collect a few stories I came up with on my way to somewhere else.

We opened, above, with another comic postcard by travel photographer J. Murray Jordan.  This represents a hit song-Come Away With Me, Lucille, In My Merry Oldsmobile—and chooses, in this artist’s way, the raciest part of the song, that Lucille can “go as far as you like with me”.  Coming out in 1905, the song was written without the knowledge of the Oldsmobile people, who were so thrilled with the free advertising, the story goes, that they gave the composer and lyricist a free car.  The men pointed out that there were, after all, two of them, and two cars….  This did not go over and, again according to legend,. They retaliated by writing a song called Take Me Back in Your Cadillac, about Lucille getting disgusted with the way the Oldsmobile kept breaking down.  Cadillac was in talks with Oldsmobile at the time, however, and declined the honor of a song.

The era of the romantic Irish song, which coincided with a period when the Irish were one of the most reviled ethnic groups in America, overlapped into the golden age of the postcard, and there were plenty of Irish tenors professing their love on cards, especially those by Theochrom, a company which specialized in song lyric cards.  (More of them anon.)  What interested me about these is how many of these heroes were named barney…because it would rhyme with Killarney.

            This is an alarming photo, which raises the question “Why would you send a card with this picture on it to anybody?”  Behind its implied violence, however, waits a comic song which somehow lasted generations (The Interwebs finds it being sung in an early animated cartoon of 1930, an episode of I Love Lucy in the 60s, and an episode of MASH a generation after that.)

“I’m Afraid to Come Home in the Dark” was a hit for Billy Murray (who sang virtually every comic song of that decade) in 1908.  It is the explanation by a young husband about why he keeps coming home at dawn.  What with all the dangers of the big city, he was afraid to leave (the bar) until daylight was on its way.  He gets his comeuppance at the end of the song, when his wife comes home around NOON and sings the chorus to him.

It gave all manner of ideas to cartoonists.

The Theochrom postcards were the work of Theodor Eismann’s company (the “chrom” indicates the cards were colored) and his Song Series is easily recognizable by the gilded proscenium arch around his scenes.  I’m ridiculously proud of this one, because the lyrics to the song are, in fact, presented incorrectly here.  I’m guessing that could be because he couldn’t get the rights to the actual song, and just put down something close enough to them to pass without infringing copyright.

            A hit song of 1906 (we once had this sheet music for sale at the Book Fair, and I wonder how much this cover had to do with the sales) it tells the tale of a lonesome cowboy who is trying to convince his girlfriend (Shy Ann) to come with him to the big city (Cheyenne) and get married.

            It was more than a hit: it became background music for pianists to play during silent movies, it became background music in early westerns and in western-themed animated cartoons, and it is, in fact, one of those songs you have probably heard dozens of times without ever knowing it had a name.

            If you want to talk longevity, however, let us consider the song “Row, Row, Row”, a mildly scandalous pop song of 1912.  Not to be confused with Row Row Row Your Boat, this tells the tale of Johnny O’Connor who liked to take “girlies” out on his boat, which he would row row row when he wasn’t fooling around (to quote the song again.)

            Featured in the Ziegfeld Follies, it had a way of turning up in movies for decades afterward, and was sung by Wayne and Wanda on The Muppet Show.  But it isn’t the song I wanted to salute here.  It’s the joke.  This is hardly the first postcard (and definitely not the last) to feature a man trying to take his, um, curvaceous girlfriend out on the lake.  Putting the heavy lady in the boat so the man with the oars was left high and dry in the air would be a hit in the 20s, the 30s, the 40s, the 50s…any cartoonist who didn’t know what else to do, particularly if turning out postcards for vacationing couples, would produce spiritual descendants of this couple.

            I suppose saying the humor was a little heavy-handed would be anatomically incorrect.

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