Unsung Heroes

   I cannot offer any explanation for WHY you sometimes find yourself humming certain songs.  A phrase or a word may trigger the memory, or that background music at the grocery store, hardly noticed while you’re picking up an emergency supply of potato chips, may resurface later.  Nor can I explain why certain songs are more likely to come to your mind more readily than others.  I have enough trouble tidying my own brain to concern myself with yours.

   But I can tell you where some of the songs came from, supplying you with some well-worn trivia to xc consider while you try to stop humming any of the following.

   According to legend, it is the first song ever to be recorded so you could hear it only when the record was played backward.  It is a song which in the United States screams “Christmas is coming!’ and is believed to be the first Christmas song ever recorded, though it does not mention Christmas at all, and was written in a hurry just to make a quick buck.

   But “Jingle Bells”, composed around 1856, got James lord Pierpont elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Pierpont spent the 1850s writing chirpy pop songs which did okay, but they didn’t make feeding his family easy, so he dashed off a little thing he published as “The One Horse Open Sleigh”.  It took off, being republished over and over, leaving him and his family after him fighting hard to keep his name on it.  Other songs of his are still listenable, I am told, but only this quickie became immortal.

   Arthur de Lull, on the other hand, wrote only one song.  But what a song.  She was sixteen (her real name was Euphemia Allen) when she wrote a little novelty piano number for her brother’s publishing company, a simple piece where the player put her hands palm to palm and played the song just with her little fingers, performing a sort of chopping motion, hence the name “The Chop Waltz”.   For reasons not thoroughly known, this 1877 piece was renamed “Chopsticks” and was heard round the world in no time, inspiring variations and complications.  (It also has its Christmas associations, inspired when someone realized you could simply sing the words “Merry Christmas” to the notes as they bounced along.)

   Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser, together and individually, were responsible for a LOT of numbers in what people call The Great American Songbook, starting with Stardust and exploding in all directions.  You may find yourself humming any one of their dozens of classics.  But, um, it is apparently due to a man named Robert Schultz that one of their songs can be heard wherever two or more young people are gathered near a piano.  I have heard toddlers perform this song on YouTube; I heard it dozens of times during my distant youth, in church basements and school music rooms.  Let the authority figures turn their backs on that piano for a moment and….

   Boomp-a-da-da, boomp-a-da-da, boomp-a-da-da, boomp-a-da-da would begin and someone would cry “I know the top part!”  Plink Plink Plink.  Plink Plink kaplink kaplink, Plink Plink….

   “Heart and Soul” debuted on records in 1938, and if you listen to the early versions (at least three of which charted in the first year alone), you can hear hints of the classic arrangement, but not exactly what was pounded out on pianos.  THAT came about because the Robert Schultz Music Company released it as a piano duet for beginning music students.  The duet is credited to Robert Schultz himself, but I am not familiar enough with the company to say whether his was the mind behind the music, or if he was just a CEO who got credit for anything his company published.  I’m not saying he shouldn’t get the blame; I just don’t know if he deserves ALL of it.

   I think we’re about out of room for today, so I will have to hold off on the complex history of Kum-Ba-Ya, the long litigious tale of Happy Birthday to You, the meanderings of The Happy Wanderer, or the folk tradition behind I Love the Mountains (Oh, you remember “Boom-de-ah-dah, boom-de-ah-dah, boom-de-ah-dah”.)

   If I have soured your day by forcing a mindworm melody on you, why, at least I irritated you without having to discuss religion or politics.

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