Portrait, from above, of American musician and composer Irving Berlin as he plays piano, Hollywood, California, 1936. (Photo by Soibelman Syndicate/Visual Studies Workshop/Getty Images)
It is funny how some songs become part of the pop culture of an era. But when songs can transcend their own time period and enjoy popularity for decades or more, then they have become true American classics. All of these songs were written in the 1910s, more than one hundred years ago, yet we still know them from television shows, movies, commercials, and more. How many of these songs from the 1910s do you know?
"Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning"
Irving Berlin’s comical tune, “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” about life in the military was a hit in 1918. Berlin was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army at the tail end of World War I and really, really didn’t like being awakened every morning to the sound of Reveille played on the trumpet. It turns out that Berlin’s hatred of reveille and early mornings was universal. The song was an instant hit among fellow soldiers and spread to mainstream popularity.
“It’s A Long, Long Way To Tipperary”
Another World War I song, this Irish melody was said to be the product of a bar bet. The story claims that, in January of 1912, Jack Judge, a singing fish seller, bet his friends five shillings that he could write and perform a song overnight. The next day, Judge sang “It’s A Long, Long Way To Tipperary” to the astonishment and delight of his buddies. It could be, however, that Judge plagiarized the tune. It is strikingly similar to the 1909 Harry Williams song, “It’s A Long Way To Connemara.”
"Oh, You Beautiful Doll"
“Oh, You Beautiful Doll” was a 1911 ragtime hit with catchy lyrics…so catchy that the tune has been recorded by several hundred singers, including Mel Tormé, Nancy Sinatra, Billy Murray, and the American Quartet, Al Jolsen, and more. The flirty love song was written by Seymour Brown and Nat. D. Ayer. It has the distinction of being one of the first songs ever written with a twelve-bar opening.
Judy Garland covered "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" in 1941.
“I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”
You may think that “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” was written for Judy Garland, and it would be understandable if you did. After all, Garland famously sang about rainbows in The Wizard of Oz and she recorded “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” for the 1941 movie, Ziegfeld Girl. But the song was written in 1917 for a Vaudeville act. Harry Carroll wrote the music for the song and Joseph McCarthy penned the lyrics.
Porky Pig famously covered the 1912 song, "Moonlight Bay".
Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, the Beatles, and Porky Pig all famously covered the 1912 song, “Moonlight Bay”. The original music was written as a barbershop quartet song by Percy Wenrich with the whimsical, catchy lyrics by Edward Madden added. The American Quartet, the group that backed up Billy Murray on “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” was the first to record “Moonlight Bay.”
"Let Me Call You Sweetheart"
Written in 1910 and recorded in 1911 by the Peerless Quartet, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” was a swing-style tune. The song’s music was written by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson is credited with writing the lyrics. One interesting thing about the original sheet music for “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” was that the model who was hired to appear on the cover was Virginia Rappe. A decade later, Rappe’s name was forever linked with that of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Rappe may have been the victim of a sex crime perpetrated on her by Arbuckle.
George M. Cohan, the prolific singer, composer, and lyricist, who penned such memorable hits as “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy,” wrote a World War I tune, “Over There”, in 1917. The upbeat, patriotic song shows the optimism on the part of American troops that the war would be a quick one.
Bing Crosby remade "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" in 1939.
"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"
A playful nod to the Emerald Isle, the happy ditty, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” made everyone want to be Irish. You still hear this song a lot, especially on St. Patrick’s Day and at Notre Dame football games, but it was first published in 1912. Ernest Ball was the song’s composer and Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr. wrote the lyrics. Olcott sang “When Irish Eye Are Smiling” in his musical production of The Isle O’Dreams.