Another Hit Parade

     It has been some time since we last considered the popular song on the postcard.  (Don’t start counting back through the blogs; just take my word for it.)  The pop song and the postcard are of similar age: there were certainly songs which stuck in the ear and were heard at every concert and recital.  But mass production of music aimed at selling large quantities is held to have started in the 1890s, when businesses started bragging about how many pieces of sheet music a song sold.

     (The business of selling sheet music is a shadow of a shadow of itself.  There were sheet music departments in department stores, with singers employed to perform any of the sheet music customers wanted to hear before buying.  And, as seen above, there were street vendors pushing the newest numbers.)

     Postcard publishers were not going to miss a good bet.  A fun picture might sell a card but a fun picture and a reference to or quotation from a song everyone was singing would sell even more.  They didn’t know they were in the business of musical preservation.  Some songs, popular for a few months, are now more famous for having been on postcards than having been sung.

     It took a bunch of hunting to find this little number, once so popular it was worthy of being reproduced in full on a series of seven postcards.  We see the gloomy ending of the song here, but it was a sprightly little number about a country girl who really hates having to climb the stile to get over a particularly high wall.  The young man seen here helps her to the top, but won’t help her down the other side until she tells him she loves him.  She promises to tell him something once she’s down.  He helps, she laughs him to scorn, and goes her merry way, leaving him to mope alone.  (How did she get home, by the way?)

     This postcard gives us a glimpse of postcard marketing.  The title and picture here have very little to do with the lyrics printed below.  “The Way Through the Wood” was a very popular poem at the time, a whispering little ghost story by Rudyard Kipling about bygone lovers from a previous century.  The lyrics are from a song called “Changed Her Mind”, which was about a quarter century old and cost much less to use (the young lady turns away a young man in a forest and cries about it until he comes back hours later and she can tell him she changed her mind.)

     Theochrom was a German postcard publisher who moved to the united States, and made a bundle on a varied line of postcards based on songs.  (Sometimes, as noted in a previous column, if he could not get the rights to a song, he could find a way to change enough words to elude copyright and use it anyway.)  I thought this card gave me enough of the lyrics to trace the song, but it has eluded me so far.  (These ARE the right lyrics, though, as he thanks the publishers of the original on the back.)  There have been, oh, five million songs about Broadway over the last century or so, and this one has slipped through the cracks of the Interwebs.

     THIS song I found.  Like a lot of the songs I have searched, it can be found on YouTuibe.  It is, however, a folk song, and I could find only clips of elderly men singing it in German taverns.  (The song is about as long as the printed lyrics here: drinking songs should not be too complicated to be sung by someone who’s had a few.)  I cannot, however, find anyone to translate these lyrics.  I suspect they simply make a logical connection between drinking a lot and other bodily functions, but no one will come out and say so.

     I didn’t even know this was a song: it stands on its own.  But when I looked up this little message from 1910, I found four other postcards, each with a different humorous illustration, each from the first decade of that century.   I found that it was actually a song hit in 1900 for May Irwin, a performer who presented problems for critics then and would cause them now.  (She starred in “The Kiss”, one of the first widely known scandalous motion pictures.)  I could write about May Irwin and the problems she poses for today’s listeners, but this column is long enough, and, hey, I have….

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