Last year on the show, I spent an episode going back in time a century to explore the 1921 songs. And this week I thought I’d do it again, exploring songs from 1922. The Great American Songbook was still in its infancy 100 years ago, songwriters like Richard Rodgers and Harold Arlen had yet to hit song writing. But many of the songs that were the 1922 hits have continued to resonate through the decades, and we’ll explore some of those songs, including “Chicago,” “The Blues of Lovesickness” and “I will build a stairway to heaven.”
Gershwin, Berlin, Donaldson and Kahn
I’ll be honest – 1922 may not have been the most memorable year in popular music. Looking back 100 years is a fun exercise, but many of the best-known songs from that year are still barely known in the American songbook today. A few blues standards stand out, such as those by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” but there are no major hits from some of the most famous active songwriters of that era, including Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter or Jerome Kern. I don’t really know why either.
Additionally, some of 1922’s most popular songs explore topics considered politically incorrect today. To be honest, that’s been true for many years, not necessarily 1922 in particular. But songs like “China Boy” and “Limehouse Blues” aren’t doing very well today, so I’m going to skip them in this episode.
Let’s start with some familiar songwriters. Many of the best-known American Songbook songwriters, like Richard Rodgers and Harold Arlen, were still not really composing at all in 1922. Others like Cole Porter and Jerome Kern were active, but they were not write songs that we know at all today. Let us instead turn to George Gershwina songwriter who wrote songs in 1922 that did enter the songbook, even though the hits he wrote were minor compared to some others in his catalog.
One of these minor hits for Gershwin was the 1922 song “I will build a stairway to heaven” that he wrote with his brother Ira Gershwin and lyricist friend of sylva for the annual musical review entitled The George White Scandalsa popular song and dance showcase that resembled the The follies of Ziegfeld. conductor Paul Blancman had a hit record with that song that year. Gershwin’s other notable song from that year was “Do it again,” written only with lyricist Buddy DeSylva for the 1922 musical The French doll.
IrvingBerlin had only minor successes in 1922 as well. He rose to fame in 1911, so by 1922 he was already well established and diversifying his brand. He established his own publishing company in 1919, and in the early 1920s entered the world of theater management. He helped open the music box theater on Broadway (which still exists today), and was busy writing the music for the annual show titled music box review in the first half of the twenties, a showcase for his songs, and for theater in general.
His most famous song from the 1922 version of the music box review was the melody “Pack up your sins and go to hell”, which has since been performed by Ella Fitzgerald and others. That year he also wrote the song “A sunny day” which has since been performed by Bing Crosby and others.
Another active team of songwriters in 1922 was Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn. The couple actually worked for Irving Berlin’s publishing house for much of the 1920s and wrote some of the year’s greatest hits (although they were published by another publisher). ‘editing).
Both Donaldson and Kahn hits included “My friend” and “Morning Carolina.” These two songs were associated with the singer Al Jolson at that time, and have since been performed by singers like Chet Baker, Judy Garland and others.
In 1922, some of the best jazz in the country was performing in Chicago. It was the year Louis Armstrong followed his mentor King Olive there, helping to make this city the epicenter of hot jazz. It’s no surprise that one of the biggest songs of the year, a song simply titled “Chicago” by German-born songwriter Fred Fischer, celebrates this small town. “Chicago” was most famously performed by Frank Sinatra 35 years later in 1957 alongside Nelson Riddle’s orchestra For the movie The Joker is wild.
Chicago blues musician Love Austin and the Chicago, jazz and blues singer Alberta hunter co-wrote one of the biggest hit songs of 1922, the tune “Discouraged blues. Hunter was the first person to sing it, but the most famous recording of this song actually came in February 1923 by blues great singer Bessie Smith with pianist Clarence Williams.
Smith’s version of “Downhearted Blues” has been cited by the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for The Arts, and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame as one of the most important and influential recordings of all time. , making “Downhearted Blues” one of the most decorated songs of 1922.
Songs featured in movies
We discussed how Al Jolson, one of the most popular artists of the 1920s, helped cement the legacy of Donaldson and Kahn’s songs “My Buddy” and “Carolina In The Morning.” Jolson had that effect on more songs, in fact, including another one by Gus Kahn.
In 1922 Kahn co-wrote the song “Toot Toot Tootsie (Goodbye)” with songwriters Ernie Erdman and Danny Russo. What made him famous over the decades was his inclusion in the seminal 1927 film The jazz singerwith Al Jolson, the very first film to include sound.
Film, it turns out, is a remarkable way to preserve a song’s legacy. The 1922 song “Runnin’ Wild”, written by Arthur Harrington Gibbs, Joe Gray and Leo Wood, might otherwise have been overlooked had it not been memorably performed by Marilyn Monroe in the 1959 film Some like it hot.
The blues of lovesickness
Many songs from 1922 have been performed over the decades by jazz artists: in this episode I include more recent jazz versions of songs like “Blue and Broken Heart” by Edgar Leslie, Grant Clarke and Lou Handman, “Way Down There in New Orleans,” by Henry Creamer and Turner Layton, and “Marvellous”, written by famed 1920s bandleader Paul Whiteman, his arranger Ferde Grofe and one of Tin Pan Alley’s few female lyricists of the 1920s, Theodora Morse.
However, one of the most enduring songs of that year is a song that was somehow co-opted by country music, even though the year 1922 predates the distinction of a separate commercial genre called “country” or “hillbilly”. The first official country recordings were made in 1923.
The melody I’m talking about is “The Blues of Lovesickness” written by songwriter friend of the cliff and lyricist Irving Mills. It was originally a blues song that first appeared in a Tin Pan Alley musical in 1922. However, in 1925 the minstrel show performer Emmet Miller made a recording of it that included yodeling, and that country yodeling has been part of the song ever since. Miller’s version was imitated by Hank Williams in 1948, turning it into a number one country single, making it a country music standard.
Country artists like Marty Robbins and Patsy Cline recorded their own versions, but jazz artists like Kay Star and Jamie Cullum also recorded versions, borrowing a more authentic 1920s jazz sound on their records.