Where Have We Met Before?: Forgotten Songs from Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley
Where Have We Met Before?: Forgotten Songs from Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley
New World 80240

The qualification for inclusion on this record — that a "popular" song has been unjustly unpopular or not very popular, or is no longer popular at all — suggests those various senses in which songs have been characterized as "popular." There is the quantitative, majorative sense; and those modes of measurement that most reliably gauge an era's expressions of preference, along with those vehicles and procedures that are judged most effectively to secure and promote popularity, define the changing social and economic environments of popular music and its creators. Throughout the twenties and even before, such popularity was measured by the sale of sheet music, phonograph records, and player piano rolls, and a songwriter's income was derived chiefly from his royalties from these sources. Sheet music was hawked, performed, and plugged at counters in department stores, five-and-tens, and music stores, where songs were played and sung, on customers' request or at performers' discretion, by the salespersons. Those performers who could carry a tune across the country in their vaudeville acts or on their phonograph records were the primary target of song demonstrators and pluggers (Gershwin, Warren, and Youmans among them) employed by music-publishing houses to beguile, entice, or bedevil the superstars, stars, or even just opening and closing acts. The lifetime of a song, accordingly, was taken to be a theatrical season, during which the musical material of an act remained fixed.

By 1930, three factors fundamentally altered this climate: radio, sound films, and the Depression. The relative musical literacy required to learn or to reproduce songs from sheet music was not required to listen to those songs on the radio. Active amateur performance, centered about a family pianist or ukulelist, was replaced by passive reception of those professionals who could be heard on prime-time network radio: the Clicquot Club Eskimos, the Ipana Troubadours, the Vaughn DeLeaths, Kate Smiths, Crosbys, and Vallees, and that swarm of dance orchestras which broadcast on remote pickups from cities many of the listeners would never visit, from exotic roof gardens, restaurants, and dance floors few of them could ever afford. With such musical gratifications available gratis, player pianos disappeared, sheet music sales declined to near nonexistence, and by 1932 phonograph record sales reached an all-time low of six million (compared with the almost hundred million of but a few years before). Variety, as barometers of popularity, carried lists of "Songs Most Played on the Air" and those "Most Requested" at such sources of radio power as New York's Lexington and Plaza hotels. But, from the songwriter's desperate point of view, to what end was such popularity when royalties from sheet music and records had so declined? At first, there was no compensation whatever for radio performance, with radio stations insisting that such performances were free plugs. Then ASCAP began collecting small licensing fees, which were distributed to its members by a point-classification method that took into account not only, or even primarily, the popularity of a particular song, so that many (particularly new) writers received little or nothing for a "most-played" song. The continuing ASCAP radio-network contention over increased fees culminated in the 1941 radio ban when, for almost a year, no ASCAP music was broadcast, and BMI emerged as its full-fledged rival.

Under these economic circumstances, it is small wonder that most of the songs in this collection are from Broadway shows, for the songwriter who wrote a produced show received a percentage of the box-office receipts, an assured income if the show ran, and a means of having his songs presented — and a few even published or recorded in advance — even if it did not. The only comparable security was in Hollywood, while it lasted. In 1929 and 1930, over one hundred musicals issued from Hollywood's new sound industry, so satiating the public that by the end of 1930 motion-picture-theater operators posted signs outside their theaters reassuring possible patrons that what was being shown was "positively not a musical." And the trainloads of songwriters brought to Hollywood under salary contract to supply those more than one hundred scores were shipped back to Tin Pan Alley, along with the stars of stage and radio whose first, and often last, films had been unsuccessful, including Fannie Brice, Gertrude Lawrence, Beatrice Lillie, George Jessel, Harry Richman, and Rudy Vallee. When, some three years later, the second Hollywood musical phase began, only a few songwriters were placed under contract, and celebrated writers— Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Youmans — were secured on single-picture arrangements.

The Hollywood musicals of those first years understandably took Broadway as their model. There were book shows— operettas and musical comedies — often with the books (and sometimes some of the songs) of Broadway musicals: Show Boat, Rio Rita, The Desert Song, Good News, Follow Through, Heads Up, and many more. And there were revues, successions of acts — musical, comedic, dramatic, and uncategorizable — for which the studios emptied their dressing rooms: MGM's Hollywood Revue of 1929, Warner's Show of Shows, Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 and 1930, and Paramount on Parade. While Hollywood was thus imitating life upon the largely vapid Broadway stage, Broadway (perhaps in need of finding a new justification for its existence and its ticket prices, and surely as a reflection of the Depression and the competition) more directly than ever before began to reflect its remote but explicit historical roots — or, more exactly, root — The Beggar's Opera. That 1728 compound of political satire (directed at the accession of George II) and musical parody (directed at the dramatic and musical conventions of the voguish Italian opera in England) was a book show with a mere sixty-nine ballads drawn from the already popular songs of the time. Many Broadway musicals of the thirties were no longer bland satires of college life, or golfing, or boxing; such book shows as Of Thee I Sing, Face the Music, and Let 'Em Eat Cake and such revues as Ballyhoo of 1932, Americana, As Thousands Cheer, and Parade were incisive political and social satire. And in 1933 The Threepenny Opera, the Brecht- Weill version of The Beggar's Opera, made its own, albeit unsuccessful, Broadway debut.

The sense in which “'popular' song" defines a genre distinct from "’art' song" is, at the borders of the domains, even less clear-cut than that distinction, within the genre, between "popular songs," "show songs," and "movie songs." The differences among these three categories are more likely to be apparent in the words than in the music, for it was assumed that the Broadway show would appeal to a more literate, educated, and affluent audience than the musical film, and therefore the lexicon and references of its lyrics could be more esoteric, just as the musical demands of the tune, particularly in range and melodic details, could reflect its performance on Broadway by trained singers rather than band singers or the real or feigned voices of Hollywood stars. Also, the Broadway song should stand up and continue to attract customers for the run of a show, a hoped-for year or so, while the popular song—because of its primary mode of dissemination, radio — and the movie song were now anticipated to have life spans shortened by their instantaneous national exposure.

Various Artists

Where Have We Met Before?: Forgotten Songs from Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley

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We'll Be the Same
Rodgers, Hart
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You Forgot Your Gloves
Eliscu, Lehac
Buy
And So to Bed
Gordon, Revel
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How Do You Do It? & Riddle Me This
Harburg, Gensler
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Where Have We Met Before?
Harburg, Duke
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Let's Call It a Day
Lew Brown, Ray Henderson
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Are You Making Any Money?
Herman Hupfeld
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Coffee in the Morning, Kisses in the Night
Dubin, Warren
Buy
What Can You Say in a Love Song?
Ira Gershwin, E.Y. Harburg,, Harold Arlen
Buy
That Lucky Fellow
Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern
Buy
Boys and Girls Like You and Me
Rodgers, Hammerstein
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Only Another Boy and Girl
Cole Porter
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Nobody Else but Me
Oscar Hanmmerstein II, Jerome Kern
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Can't You Juat See Yourself
Cahn, Styne
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