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It has been claimed by some that the Golden Age of Popular Music was in the first half of the 20th century where several periods can be distinguished: Pre-World War One, the “Roaring Twenties” the Great Depression, and World War Two. It was the era of romantic music, with songs centered on the theme of love.

In the period from the beginning of the century to World War One, a sampling of popular tunes includes “Just-a Wearyin’ for You”, “Mighty Lak’ a Rose”, “Because”, “In the Good Old Summertime”, Sweet Adeline”, “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree, “Shine On Harvest Moon”, “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland”, “I’d Love to Live in Loveland”, “Oh, You Beautiful Doll”, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, and ”Love’s Old Sweet Song”.

Eddie Cantor was a popular vauldeville performer during World War One. A radio pioneer, Cantor remained on top from the 1920's through the 1940's.
By 1914, a world war was destroying much of Europe and the songs began to reflect the uncertainties. “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier”, “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag”, “Roses of Picardy”, “Goodbye Broadway, Hello France”, “Mammy’s Soldier Boy”.”Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning”, and “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”. One tune asked “How Ya Gonna Keep them Down on the Farm (after they’ve seen Paree)?”

It was a good question. Ironically, in1920 the census indicated that for the first time the majority of Americans no longer lived on farms.

Click the Play button to hear the Pasadena Roof Orchestra play a few songs popular during the Roaring Twenties. The vocalist is John "Pazz" Parry. Recorded: October 1974 in England.

1. Nagasaki 2. Muddy Water 3. Varsity Drag 4. Can't We Be Friends 5. Eccentric 6. Charleston 7. Come On Baby
The “Roaring Twenties” spawned their own style of music, jazz: “Ain’t We Got Fun”? “Three O’Clock in the Morning”, “Wild Rose”, “Who Cares”?, “Charleston”,”Last Night on the Back Porch”, “Steppin’ Out”, “She’s Everybody’s Sweetheart”, “There’s Yes Yes in Your Eyes”, “If You Knew Susie”, “Nobody Knows What a Red-Headed Mama Can Do”, “Black Bottom”, “Tonight You Belong to Me.” “Let’s Misbehave”, “Makin’ Whoopee”, and “You Took Advantage of Me”. Of course, there were scores of romantic tunes as well, but these indicate a recognition of a change in the social mores.

When the Great Depression began on Black Monday (October 28, 1929) with the crash of the stock market, America faced previously unknown poverty, joblessness, and hunger. It would be assumed that the popular music would reflect misery, despair, anger. and uncertainty. Surprisingly, there were few such songs. Apart from the best known “Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?”, the music was upbeat. Comedian Eddie Cantor, on his Sunday night program, joked of the man who asked a hotel clerk for a room. The clerk said, “Is it for sleeping or for jumping”? He sang “Now’s the Time to Fall in Love,” claiming that the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker had given their prices a downward shove.

Hundreds of new songs were produced during the Depression. “I’ve Got Five Dollars”, “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee” suggested hope, as did “Happy Days are Here Again”, “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, “New Sun in the Sky”, and “Here Comes Cookie.” They brought smiles and lifted hearts with hope and optimism even during the darkest days.

It took the advent of World War Two for a different style of music. With the shortage of men, who were in the armed services, women went to work in the factories for the first time. “Rosie the Riveter” put this social change into music. Soloists sang of there being “Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover”, and how “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square.” While the forces of Hitler sent buzz bombs over England they were greeted with “There’ll Always be an England.” Spike Jones put smiles on many faces with his mocking “Der Führer’s Face”.

Back home sweethearts were urged “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me” while servicemen promised “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time”, “We”ll Meet Again” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” Our flying fighters claimed they would be “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” while troops on the ground could sing “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”

To bring back some memories, listen to these songs from World War Two:

For the wives and sweethearts back home, there were songs reflecting the sadness of separation. “Long Ago and Far Away”, “It’s Been a Long Long Time” and “They’re Either too Young or Too Old”. At the popular servicemen's canteens around the country, one song was especially appropriate: “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen”.

With the termination of the war, and the return of the troops, there was a decided shift not only in the tunes but in the style of music. The dance orchestras were gradually replaced in the late 1940s by an emphasis on improvisation rather than melody. Most of the dance orchestras disbanded shortly after the war. Swing was replaced by bebop and progressive jazz, rhythm n'blues, rock n'roll, and doo wop.

In the 1960s, the Beatles revolutionized popular music completely. In time, soul, rock n'roll, hip hop, and other forms became popular. The music of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, Hoagy Carmichael, and so many other fine songwriters gradually faded away.

In spite of it being considered “uncool” by later generations, much of the music of the earlier years has been preserved as “standards”. The influence of Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, and several of the so-called “ghost bands” has kept the music alive. For example, Glenn Miller’s music lives on some 60 years after his death. Those who tune in to “Easy Listening” stations on radio and channels on television will recognize many songs from this era.

Those who mourn the death of the music of their youth need not despair. The CD has even improved the quality of the music, and fans may buy tunes that they listened and danced to a half century or more ago. Like old soldiers, it appears these old songs never die, but rather ever so slowly fade away.

One thing is certain: those who grew up in the early 20th century, as I did, will always prefer the music of their youth to anything that will be produced in the 21st century!

Doug Clark
Spring Hill, Florida
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