Tin Pan Alley The Center of American Popular Music, 1900-1930

Tin Pan Alley
The Center of American Popular Music,
Tin Pan Alley’s influence on popular song
– Willing to adopt new sounds
– Ex: bringing in ragtime, jazz
American Dream:
– Wrote about middle-class aspirations, values
– Images of patriotism
Spread Pop Culture:
– Songs about U.S. pop culture (events,
– Versatile, sensational
ASCAP (American Society of Composers,
Authors, and Publishers)
“At the Telephone,” 1906
Tin Pan Alley and WWI (1914-1918)
Originally U.S. against involvement
in WWI (1914-1917)
1917: Tin Pan Alley helps sway
national sentiment: “Go to war to
end war”
– promoted “war spirit”
– Immigrant composers (I. Berlin) wrote
patriotic songs, became soldiers
Arrangement with Committee on
Public Information
– In exchange for propaganda songs,
paper rations lifted for song publishers
Tin Pan Alley Song Form
Tin Pan Alley established its importance in pop by developing a simple
– Write lyrics that convey a single, simple message
– Combine expected with unexpected
– Use a simple 2-part song form
Verse - Refrain form
– VERSE: sets dramatic context, tells story
– REFRAIN: 4 sections of equal length
A: main melody, chord changes, and lyric pattern (“hook”)
A: new words, repeated chords and melody
B: new words, melody and chords (“bridge”)
A: return to hook with new words
“My Blue Heaven” (Donaldson and Whiting, 1924)
Intro: Cello presents “A” melody to introduce “hook” up front
Verse: 2 short phrases set romantic tone (love makes the world go
Refrain: A section – “hook” end with words “my blue heaven”
A repeat – new lyrics, repeat “my blue heaven”
B “bridge” – new material; heaven becomes clearer: “cozy Recorded by crooner
Gene Austin in 1927
room” (domestic bliss) nature metaphor: “nest”
A repeat, new lyrics
Refrain 2:
A section on cello with “crooning” humming
A repeated
B “bridge” repeated with same lyrics
A with same lyrics
Refrain 3:
A with whistling, humming
A with whistling, humming
B bridge with same words
A last phrase, voice rises at end for finality
“My Blue Heaven” Arrangement
– Cello gives sense of intimacy, sophistication
– Accompaniment is soft, unobtrusive, tranquil
– “crooning,” soft, intimate vocal quality (new and exciting at the
– Never becomes intense
– Humming creates sense of intimacy
– Singing style made possible by electric microphone
Delicate, sophisticated instrumentation and vocal style compliment
each other and reinforce the song’s message
“My Blue Heaven” Lyrics
Lyrics reinforce melodic form and arrangement
– “A” section ends with words “my blue heaven”
– Images of tranquility & intimacy match musical sound
Simple message presented in verse: “Love makes the world go
Lyrics convey images of privacy, romantic domesticity
– Use of first person: “my blue heaven”
– “a fireplace,” a cozy room with wife and baby
– Combines tranquil images of nature with middle class American Dream:
whippoorwill’s nest = cozy den in the suburbs
“My Blue Heaven” Song History and Social
By Walter Donaldson (music) and George Whiting (lyrics)
– Donaldson was staff writer for Irving Berlin Music Co. on Tin Pan Alley
– Fought in WWI, returned to write songs that promoted mainstream
American values of privacy, stability, and romance
Signals a retreat from instability of war & Jazz Age
– Represents mainstream values of romantic and domestic stability
– Draws on cultural value of privacy, acquiring one’s own private space
Performance style and arrangement is a product of 1920s
technology and musical trends
– Electric microphone allows for soft crooning and quiet instruments
– Relatively short performance reflects recording limitations
“April Showers” (Louis Silvers, 1921)
Similar form to “My Blue Heaven”
“hook” taken from refrain
short, unimportant verse with message
Refrain A
Though April showers…
And if it’s raining…
And where you see clouds…
So keep on looking…
Refrain Repeated with same words & slight melodic
orchestra repeats hook
Sheet music for “April Showers”
featuring the singer who made it
famous, Al Jolson
“April Showers,” cont.
– Loud, theatrical, exaggerated
– Developed for vaudeville & Broadway
– Necessary for acoustic recording
– Accompanied by “sweet” dance orchestra
SIMPLE hook, SIMPLE message
– Hook ends with title: “April showers”
– Optimistic, reassuring message:
• “every cloud has a silver lining”
• “hard work brings success”
Vaudeville and film star Al
Jolson recorded “April
Showers” in 1921.
– Images of birds, nature as positive result of spring rains
• makes philosophy seem “natural”: “It’s only natural – see,
it happens in nature!”
“April Showers,” cont.
– Russian immigrant, grew up in NYC
– Famous as blackface vaudeville comedian
– Performed “coon” songs in blackface
– Performance style: exaggerated,
dominating “stage presence”
– Style made him perfect for early recordings
– Promoted himself as all-around entertainer
• Comedian, singer, dancer
– Took advantage of every kind of media
• Sheetmusic, stage, recordings, radio, film
– Public image made him likeable,
– His stature makes his “advice” legit
Al Jolson pictured in blackface in 1927
for his role in The Jazz Singer
“Makin’ Whoopee”
• Written by Walter Donaldson (also wrote “My Blue Heaven”)
for Ziegfield Follies on Broadway in 1928
Standard: continues to be recorded today (Rod Stewart, Elton
John, Cindy Lauper, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald)
Appeared in movies, Broadway, recordings, dance versions
• Dance bands integrating jazz arrangements into Tin Pan Alley
song form
• Crooners
• Post-war fun-loving public questioning middle-class values of
marriage and family
• Bing Crosby is smart, sophisticated, modern crooner
• Conveyed through jazz band backing, sarcastic, slang-filled
lyrics, intimate singing style
Sung by Bing Crosby,
accompanied by the Paul
Whiteman Orchestra
“Makin’ Whoopee”: ARRANGEMENT
Big dance orchestra
– Instrumental intro AABA refrain
– Short quote of “Here Comes the Bride”
– Verse: short, brings main message: “funny take on marriage”/advice about
– Refrain: A
lead singer with syncopated call/response
new words
bridge sung by crooning male chorus (contrast)
lead singer with call/response
– Refrain repeated twice by orchestra (no more vocals)
• Includes clarinet and trumpet solos (jazz influence)
– swinging, syncopated rhythm for dancing; strong emphasis on 2, 4
– Interlocking, call/response vocals
“Makin’ Whoopee”: LYRICS
Uses slang
Makes fun of domesticity with a warning about marriage “trap”
Uses repetition (song title in refrain) and short riffs
Another bride
Another June
Another sunny
Another season
Another reason
For makin' whoopee.
Picture a little love-nest,
Down where the roses cling,
Picture the same sweet lovenest,
Think what a year can bring.
A lot of shoes
A lot of rice
The groom is nervous
He answers twice
It's really killin'
That he's so willin'
to make whoopee!
He's washing dishes
And baby clothes
He's so ambitious
He even sews
But don't forget, folks
That's what you get, folks,
for makin' whoopee!