Click here to skip to content

Web exhibitions

Singing the Dream: American Sheet Music at the British Library: Part 10

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Lifestyle and Leisure

From the Civil War onwards it seems that every aspect of American society provided fuel for the songwriters' imaginations; indeed, from the discovery of oil to the convenience of the telephone, from the private pleasure of a cigarette to the shared emotions at the ball park, no invention or pastime appeared too insignificant to warrant a tune.

American Petroleum Polka

American Petroleum Polka (13kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Watson, J.J.American Petroleum Polka. New York, 1864. h.1459.k.(19)
Copyright © The British Library

Oil was first drilled in the United States near Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859. As with the discovery of gold in California a decade earlier, news of this drilling quickly spread across the entire nation. Thousands of people soon stampeded the area, and hastily-constructed derricks were erected almost on top of one another. Many of these oil wells were extremely short-lived; indeed, it was not until many years later that it was discovered that putting wells too close together actually decreases the amount of oil that can be extracted. However, by the time of the East Texas oil boom of 1901, Pennsylvania's wells were producing half of the world's oil supply.

 

My Adored Cigarette

My Adored Cigarette (14kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Price, Rolly. My Adored Cigarette. New York: Howley, Haviland & Co., 1894. H.3981.k.(20)
Copyright © The British Library

Smoking was a popular activity in late nineteenth century America, and in the early twentieth century advertisements associating it with a glamorous, carefree lifestyle made it even more so. This song, likening the cigarette to womankind, extols the virtues of the former as a relaxing, non-complaining companion: "The only companion ne'er jealous/For daily she meets with her match/And in the same ease with her fellows/Lie side by side fearless of scratch/False woman, false friend and false paper/Our faults, one is glad to forget/But I'll live and I'll die in the vapour/That clings to my last cigarette."

 

Papa's at the Telephone.

Papa\'s at the Telephone (14kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Bingham, Charles D. Papa's at the Telephone.New York: Howley, Haviland & Co., 1898. H.3980.d.(4)
Copyright © The British Library

Many tug-at-your-heartstrings songs at the turn of the nineteenth century had an orphan at their heart, and this one is no exception. Here, the little girl gets out of bed, goes downstairs, lifts the telephone handset, and exclaims: "Hello! Central! Do you hear?/Ring up God in Heaven do/Tell him I want Papa dear/And my mama wants him too…" At this time, only the wealthiest Americans would have had their own telephone. However, during the first two decades of the twentieth century the phone was transformed from an expensive luxury or business tool to a common utility. Although the urban working class would still not have owned a phone, many would have used one in a drugstore or on a streetcorner.

 

Get an Automobile.

Get an Automobile (13kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Watts, M.H. Get an Automobile. Van Nest, NY: M.H. Watts, [1906]. H.3988.p.(30)
Copyright © The British Library

Not surprisingly, the automobile was an immediate hit with lyricists, and many songs focused upon the pressure women supposedly put upon their dates or their husbands to buy a car. This one is no exception. When the hapless hero innocently asks Miss Liza whether she would like to go for a trolley ride, or for a boat-ride up the Hudson, Miss Liza tersely responds: "I wants no trolley ride this afternoon/I wants no boatride in which to spoon/I wants a fast ride, one that is real/If you want me to ride with you/Get an automobile." Needless to say, our hero readily complies.

 

The Grand Old Game of Base Ball.

The Grand Old Game of Base Ball (12kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

O'Connor, Lawrence B. The Grand Old Game of Base Ball. Boston: L.B. O'Connor, 1912. H.3995.r.(37)
Copyright © The British Library

In 1869 the nation's first fully professional baseball club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was established and by the end of the following decade newspapers were already referring to baseball as the "national game". Not surprisingly, thousands of songs have been written extolling the virtues of the game, the prowess of its players, and the joys of being a spectator. This musical output was especially prolific during the first two decades of the twentieth century, as the composers and lyricists of "Tin Pan Alley" celebrated baseball's so-called "Silver Age" - a time when dual major-league status had been re-established, the World Series had been created, and Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were the heroes of the game.

 

They're All Going into the Movies.

They\'re All Going into the Movies (10kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Allen, Thomas S. They're All Going into the Movies. Boston: Daly, 1915. H.3988.pp.(33)
Copyright © The British Library

During American cinema's Silent Era, the weekly instalments of The Perils of Pauline were a massive box-office success. As the perpetual damsel-in-distress, Pearl White's character faced an apparently endless barrage of dangerous rogues and villains. Each episode would end with her facing almost certain death, yet the following episode would see her miraculously escape. This "Official Song" of Pearl White, celebrates the popularity of the movies and explains: "The great William Shakespeare wrote many a play/But now very seldom they're seen/For maybe you've guessed, they have more interest/In the perils of 'Pretty Pauline'".

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10


Top of Page Top of page