Postcards from Tin Pan Alley

     We considered in Friday’s column a few series of song postcards, and publishers who brought out lines of postcards devoted strictly to popular songs.  Today, we are going to look at a few where the publisher  just took a hit song and made a joke of it, knowing the audience would get the reference.  Popular music being what it is, some (most) of these jokes slip past us today, though some of them are funny even if you don’t know where the joke came from.

     I take it the lady is saying this to a bird, whether it is real, plush, or a hanky bunched up to LOOK like a dove.  The line is from “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden”, a massive hit in 1899 and 1900.  Chorus girls had been a staple of American musicals since 1869 and “:The Black Crook”, but in “Floradora”, a sextet of dapper men flirted with a sextet of ladies in “Tell Me, pretty maiden, Are there Any more at Home Like You?”, which concluded with this philosophical observation.

     It’s hard to realize that what WE think of as classical music  could ever have been the latest craze, but so it was with The Merry Widow Waltz.  There were  parodies, movie versions, and, of course, postcards within the first three years of the debut.  (Don’t know a lot about the history of the corset: sorry.) This came out shortly after Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” debuted, and actually includes the opening notes of the melody, just to hammer it home.

     This refers to Irving Berlin’s oh, second or third smash hit.  Not only was this song played everywhere, but the line “Everybody’s Doin’ It” could be used in dozens of postcard situations, from people scratching mosquito bites to downing a beer at the bar to, well, about anything.  Look closely and you’ll see this card from the 1910s combines that craze with another: the British housewife dog is pasting trading stamps in a folder.

     I have been unable to track down the song, but the sheet music for this number features William Howard Taft, the heaviest human being to serve as Chief Executive.  Men at the beach, chubby puppies, and small round children appeared on postcards bewailing the truth of the title.

     The punchline is obvious here; in the original song, though, the story was more dire.  A popular musician gives up his job on the stage to sleep with an audience member, only to have her throw him out in the morning, after the show has left town without him.  Many songs of that era had morals, but this one had very few.

     This little number has its analogues throughout musical history.  The picture is for once a literal representation of the theme of the song, which is about people who are having various problems with their stomachs.  Because referring to that part of the body was considered ill-bred, they call it their Mary, Mary, Darling Mary, and I guess it was funnier to people who might have blushed to say “belly”.   (Word Denied songs are adored by audiences who feel they’ve been clever in figuring out exactly what word was left out.)

     This tender postcard came out RIGHT after Irving berlin wrote one of his less immortal song hits, “Snooky Ookums”, about a man who lives next door to a pair of newlyweds, and wails that all night long the man calls his bride “Snooky Ookums”.  THIS sort of song is popular because if you sing it long enough somebody nearby is bound to scream, “Will you STOP!”

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