Songs of the Century

Part one of a pre-millennial salute to the music that made America sing.

"By the Light of the Silvery Moon"
Written by Edward Madden and Gus Edwards
Perhaps the swooning/spooning song of its era, "Light," which is available on recordings by Judy Garland, Mitch Miller and Guy Lombardo, would seem to have little appeal to entertainers into more elemental forms. But so all-pervasive has been its influence that Gene Vincent, Jackie Wilson, Etta James and Johnny Winter have all taken shots at it--and more will surely follow.

"Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life"
Written by Rida Johnson Young and Victor Herbert
Part of the score to the musical Naughty Marietta, "Mystery" is an example of the vigorous melodrama at which Herbert excelled. It's prized by both aficionados of early 1900s theater and fans of 1974's Young Frankenstein, who remember it as the song Madeline Kahn belted out while orgasming beneath the grunting figure of the newly constructed monster.

"Alexander's Ragtime Band"
Written by Irving Berlin
Berlin was arguably the century's most fertile hitmaker, churning out indelible words and melodies over a staggering span; his name appears again nearly forty years further down this roster. "Alexander's Ragtime Band," written when he was in his early twenties, is as long-lived as any of his efforts: While it's closely associated with the likes of Louis Armstrong, the cut has been recorded by hundreds of other artists and is still a crowd-pleaser.

"The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi"
Written by Bryan Stokes and F. Dudleigh Vernor
Anymore, fraternities are associated with things like excessive drinking and sadistic hazing rituals. These activities took place at many frats of the past, too, but they were hidden behind a public image shaped to a large degree by the sentimental, close-harmony singing epitomized by "Sweetheart," indelibly interpreted by Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians.

"Danny Boy"
Written by Fred Weatherly
Start singing this emotional-bordering-on-maudlin classic in a pub anywhere in the land, and by the second line, at least half the patrons present will have joined in. The roots of the tune are embedded in Irish soil, but it has long since transcended those origins. Country belters as disparate as Conway Twitty and Johnny Paycheck have included it on albums, and Ray Price's 1967 turn took "Danny Boy" into the C&W Top Ten.

"St. Louis Blues"
Written by W.C. Handy
It's no coincidence that the Grammys of the blues genre are called the W.C. Handy Awards. "St. Louis Blues" isn't Handy's first blues song ("Memphis Blues" came out three years earlier), but it's a key source of his legend, and in the years since Marion Harris took "St. Louis Blues" to the top of the charts, it's become one of the most frequently covered compositions ever. The Internet-based All-Media Guide ( lists a stunning 691 albums on which it appears--and that's not counting those that are no longer in print.

"Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile"
Written by George Asaf and Felix Powell
The United States had not yet entered World War I when "Pack" was popularized, but from the beginning, it was associated with soldiers cheerfully marching into battle to bring the Huns to their knees. When the U.S. subsequently joined the fray, the song helped keep up the spirits of doughboys and non-combatants alike.

"I Ain't Got Nobody"
Written by Roger Graham, Spencer Williams and Dave Peyton
The sassy pun of this song's title and the flamboyant vaudeville feel of its music have an appeal that easily bridges the years. Sophie Tucker, a performer who bumped-and-ground with the best of them, put her thumbprints on it, and in 1985, David Lee Roth, fresh from Van Halen, found that it fit his persona just as well.

"The Bells of St. Mary's"
Written by Douglas Furber and Emmett Adams
A Christmas song of sorts, "Bells" exudes a teary-eyed religiosity that has made it irresistible to performers of every conceivable stripe. Bing Crosby, who turned the holiday season into his own personal cottage industry, not only covered the song, but used it as the handle for his 1945 sequel to Going My Way, and Phil Spector made it the tender centerpiece of A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, which may be the greatest yuletide rock album ever.

"Till We Meet Again"
Written by Raymond Egan and Richard Whiting
Any goodbye is enhanced by the inclusion of "Till We Meet Again," which more than eighty years later is as heartfelt a way to say farewell as any other. Virtually every crooner during the first half of the century kept the song on his or her set list, and the producers of 1951's On Moonlight Bay and 1956's The Eddy Duchin Story employed it to predictable effect.

"You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet"
Written by Al Jolson, Gus Kahn and B.G. De Sylva
Jolson was the superstar vocalist of his day--a singer so enormously popular that he had no peer. "Sonny Boy" and "My Mammy" were as closely associated with Jolson as was "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet," but the last track achieved a unique notoriety when Jolson spoke the title phrase in a sound segment of 1927's The Jazz Singer, the film that inaugurated the era of talking pictures.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Denver Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • February
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat