Sometimes I feel we’re obsessed so much with musical styles and techniques from the 1950s to 1980s that we forget the kinds of gems that were created before, during and after World War I. Much of the most famous songs from this time period was generated at the numerous music publishing companies in Tin Pan Alley, seen in the image here. As a hub for popular music of the era, an inordinate amount of now-standard tunes were penned here, including songs that are forever ingrained into American culture like Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and the Albert Von Tilzer classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game“, which, of course, is most famously known for being sung at the seventh inning stretch at all baseball games.
I put together a playlist below of some tracks from the 10s, 20s and 30s, many of which came out of Tin Pan Alley or were very clearly influenced by the sound, including a Wurlitzer organ version of “Bill Bailey [Won’t You Please Come Home]” that highlights that instrument’s ability to sound like someone playing the flute with a sledgehammer.
There’s also a few tracks by some of the standout figures of the period, including an original version of Al Jolson singing “Swanee” as well as a tune I usually associate with the Ricardos and the Mertzes, “California, Here I Come”. There’s also an old, vaudeville-ish version of “Lovesick Blues” sung by Emmett Miller, which would later be Hank Williams‘ breakthrough radio hit. Patsy Cline’s 1960 rendition is also one of my favorite examples of the Nashville sound.
There’s much, much more music to uncover in the early 20th century, and this playlist only barely scratches the surface. If you’ve got any favorites I might’ve missed I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.