Those of you loyal readers and listeners, all 10 or 12 of you who follow my blog or chance to sit in on one of my readings, have probably realised by now that I have a great fondness for old music, the goofier the better. Being a bit of a lowbrow I especially love the really old Vaudeville and British Music Hall entertainments.
True, I also enjoy the classics. I can get as fired up as anyone when the first notes of “Toreador, O Toreador” ring out, and I get downright weepy over the rich voices of Dame Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas, but my real love is for the oldest of the Oldie Moldies.
As I headed for a shower one recent morning (it happened to be a Sunday) I suddenly found myself belting out one of my favorites:
“From the Indies to the Andes in his undies,
Oh he nevah took a bawth except on Sundays.
He nevah took a shave except on Mondays.
And he didn’t eat a thing but chocolate sundaes.
“T’was a veddy veddy daring thing to do.”
Now that’s a classic! And right up my alley.
Originally a poem, it was put to music and became a standard in British Music Hall entertainment and American Vaudeville. Both Music Halls and Vaudeville flourished from the mid 1800s to the 1930s when silent movies became talkies and took over their popularity.
Some of the zaniest songs of the day, including “From the Indies,” started out as poems and were later set to music. Does anyone besides me remember “Abdul Albulbul Amir” and its many verses? Sheik Abdul and his arch enemy, Count Ivan Skivinsky Skvar, fought their way through 25 or 30 verses before Ivan was finally dispatched into the Black Sea wearing cement boots. Their duel made a great song.
Another huge hit in Music Halls that had started out as a poem was the great Gracie Fields sensation:
“The Biggest Aspidistra In The World. It Stood Beside The Wotnot By
The ‘at Rack In The “all.”
Gracie would stretch out the first syllable, ASs-s-s pidistra, just long enough to get the big laughs. Her audiences loved her. A cockney accent was a must in those days.However, one of the most famous of the Music Hall performers, Sir Harry Lauder, was a rare exception with his heavy Scottish burr. He was a huge success in both England and Scotland. I’m not sure if he ever performed in American Vaudeville.
Among other favorites of those early years were Lilly Langtry and Sydney and Charlie Chaplin, who went on to become huge stars on the stage and in American Vaudeville.
Some of the most famous performers who made it big in movies and early television got their start in vaudeville. I was surprised to learn that Don Ameche started out as a comedian. Frank Fay, Fred Allen, Abbott and Costello, the Andrews Sisters , Fred Astaire with his sister, Adele, and Robert Alda were all seasoned vaudevillians. One of the Gumm Sisters found fame as Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney performed as a child with his father, Joe Yule.
Al Jolson was one of the biggest stars of all with his resonating voice. His black-face humor and his speciality song, “Mammy,” would never be accepted in today’s world but people loved him back then. Eddie Cantor, of course, had no problem breaking into early television. One of his trademark songs, “Barney Google with the Goo Goo Googly Eyes,” was unforgettable, as were Eddie’s own enormous googling eyes.
I’m not a great Country-Western fan although I do have a fondness for some of the goofiest of those tunes. Hank Williams senior had a classic that was my favorite.
“I Picked Her Up In A Pickup Truck On The Tennessee Bor-DER” was always good for a laugh.
However, I just came across a new C-W that is billed as “The Perfect Country-Western Song” and it just may become my new favorite. Supposedly it has everything needed to become the best. You decide; It goes like this:
“I was drunk the day my Mama got out of prison
And I went to pick her up in the rain.
But before I could get to the station in my pickup,
She got runned over by a damned old train.”
I haven’t heard the music to this yet but the words have to be a winner.
On the other hand, maybe I’ll just stick with the old Music Hall and Vaudeville tunes, all tried and true. They’re hard to beat.