My knowledge of popular music, especially that of the first few decades of the 20th century, is hardly encyclopedic. I’m at best an amateur crooner, armed with a ukulele and a guitar I can strum in time to whatever it is I’m playing (or trying to play). I’m not the world’s most gifted musician (I do have a mighty fine singing voice, however), and I accept my limits.
When I taught myself to play the ukulele in late 2010 (it was my Christmas gift to myself that year), I decided to learn a bunch of older popular tunes. I scoured a few websites, downloaded a few songs, and have been working on the ever since. Some are relatively easy to play — “Tonight You Belong to Me” by Rose & Lee, or “Paper Moon” by Arlen & Harburg are examples of that — but most have stretched me. Which is good.
Along the way, I have learned that popular songs, as they are initially published, and then as they are eventually popularized, are often very, very different.
Let’s take, as an example, “Carolina in the Morning” by Kahn and Donaldson (1922). Here’s Al Jolson singing this during his comeback in the late 1940s:
What Jolson is singing here are only the choruses. None of the verses, nor their melodies, that Kahn & Donaldson wrote, are sung here. And mostly, when this song is sung, some version of what Jolson is singing here is what is sung. It’s what everyone knows.
But there are two verses, with very distinct (more or less) melodies, and here’s a very early recorded version of the complete song by Van and Schenck from 1923:
A lot of songs have this structure. Whether it was a Tin Pan Alley requirement or not, I do not know. For example, “On Moonlight Bay” by Madden & Wenrich has two verses that hardly anyone ever sings, in part because they’re dark (the first chord is an E minor) in a way the chorus is not, and so many arrangers and singers decided they didn’t fit.
Here’s The American Quartet singing the whole song in a 1911 recording (probably the first):
And here’s Doris Day singing “On Moonlight Bay.” Not a minor chord to be found in this version. Because honestly, Doris Day was not a minor chord kind of girl.
Which gets me to “I Found a Million Dollar Baby,” the song I asked about recently. It has the same structure — verse, chorus, verse, chorus. And the verses are generally not sung, though Bing Crosby takes the first verse and turns it into something akin to a middle eight (or bridge, or whatever — I just play music, I haven’t studied it).
Bing starts with the chorus here, and eventually gets around to sing the first verse — “Love comes along like a popular song…” and so forth. But there is a second verse — I know, because years I recorded a very bad version of the whole song — and I have most of that second verse, but not all of it. Here’s what I have:
Love used to be quite a stranger to me
Didn’t know a sentimental word
Thoughts of kissing seemed absurd
Then came a change, and you may think it quite strange
But the world became a happy place
[And this very last line is what I do not have…]
Now, you’re reading this and thinking — well, idiot, just go listen to that old recording. Yes, THAT is indeed the answer, but it is on a cassette (I have no way of playing those now) in the bottom of a a box far away. I suppose I could just make something up, since no one would know anyway…
I don’t do this with all the old songs I play. For example, I came across some sheet music for “That’s My Weakness Now” and fiddled with the verse a bit (I believe there is a second one), but honestly, I’m not sure what the verse adds to this song.
So, here are two different versions of this song, one done by Helen Kane (the voice of Betty Boop) and the other by ukulele player Cliff Edwards (Yeah, I know, who?), who sings it this as it was actually written. (I always liked the “park and play” line…) Proving, as if we needed any, that cute girls singing suggestively about sex has *always* been a thing. And will always be more interesting than whatever any mere boy is doing.
And now really, I have work to do…