Irving Berlin: selected early songs, 1907-1914 + sheet music gallery

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See also the following related pages:

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For the following selection: music and lyrics by Irving Berlin unless otherwise noted

1907
Marie from Sunny Italy (m. Mike Nicholson, w. Irving Berlin)

1909
That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune

1911
That Mysterious Rag(Irving Berlin, Ted Snyder)
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Everybody’s Doing It Now

1912

At the Devil’s Ball
When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam’
The Dying Rag (m. Bernie Adler, w. Irving Berlin)
I Want to Be in Dixie (m. Ted Snyder, w. Irving Berlin)

1913
Down in Chattanooga
Snookey Ookums
When I Lost You

1914
He’s a Ragpicker
I Want to Go Back to Michigan
The International Rag

When It’s Nighttime in Dixieland

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1907

Marie from Sunny Italy (m. Mike Nicholson, w. Irving Berlin) written in 1907 became Berlin’s first published lyric. It was registered for copyright on 8 May 1907. From The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin, edited by Robert Kimball and Linda Emmet (2001), p. 4:

Written when Berlin was a singing waiter at…Salter’s Pelham Cafe at 12 Pell Street in Lower Manhattan, in response to a song called My Mariucci Take a Steamboat. There is an inscribed photo of a woman on the sheet music cover signed, “Sincerely, Leah Russell.”

In an undated article from the late 1930s, Ed Sullivan quotes Berlin describing how it was written. Berlin begins the story by claiming that he had never wanted to be a songwriter, and that a job paying $25.00 a week was “my idea of heaven.” The spur to write his first song came when a bartender in a neighboring Bowery saloon wrote and published a song. Berlin’s boss, the owner of the cafe where he was employed “sneered at us” says Berlin, evidently referring to himself and other pluggers working at Salter’s, and asked them why they didn’t write something. Their response:

So Mike Nicholson and myself wrote Marie from Sunny Italy, and split it 33 cents apiece. That was in 1907. Joe Schenk, the drug clerk around the corner bought a copy. I think he was the only one.

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1909

That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune

[1st verse:] Honey, listen to that dreamy tune they’re playin’
Won’t you tell me how on earth you keep from swayin’?
Umm! Umm! Oh, that Mendelssohn Spring Song tune
If you ever loved me show me now or never
Lord, I wish they’d play that music on forever
Umm! Umm! Oh, that Mendelssohn tune
My honey.

[Refrain:]
Love me to that ever lovin’ Spring Song melody
Please me, honey, squeeze me to that Mendelssohn strain
Kiss me like you would your mother
One good kiss deserves another
That’s the only music that was ever meant for me
That tantalizin’, hypnotizin’, mesmerizin’ Mendelssohn tune.

[2nd verse:]
Don’t you stand there, honey, can’t you hear me sighin’?
Is you gwine to wait until I’m almost dyin’?
Umm! Umm! Oh, that Mendelssohn Spring Song tune
Get yourself acquainted with some real live wooin’
Make some funny noises like there’s something doin’
Umm! Umm! Oh, that Mendelssohn tune
My honey.

[Refrain:]
Love me to that ever lovin’ Spring Song melody
Please me, honey, squeeze me to that Mendelssohn strain
Kiss me like you would your mother
One good kiss deserves another
That’s the only music that was ever meant for me
That tantalizin’, hypnotizin’, mesmerizin’ Mendelssohn tune.

[2nd verse:]
Don’t you stand there, honey, can’t you hear me sighin’?
Is you gwine to wait until I’m almost dyin’?
Umm! Umm! Oh, that Mendelssohn Spring Song tune
Get yourself acquainted with some real live wooin’
Make some funny noises like there’s something doin’
Umm! Umm! Oh, that Mendelssohn tune
My honey.

From The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlinp. 14:

Published. Copyrighted December 22, 1909. Music “adapted” in part from Felix Mendelssohn’s Spring Song (“Lied ohn Worte,” op. 62 , no. 6 — “Frühlingslied”). Title page lists the year of copyright as 1910. A huge success for Berlin; it sold over one million copies of sheet music. Top-selling recordings were by Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan (Victor, Columbia, Edison Amberol, and U.S. Everlasting). The sheet music cover bears the subtitle “Mendelssohn Rag.”

asajol — who attaches the following explanation; video published on 9 May 2009

This song, written by Irving Berlin sung by Pat Phillips, listed as being recorded and sung by Al Jolson, early in 1910, along with “Come Along My Mandy” … Both ‘Unissued’ … However, there is no true evidence that they were ever recorded by Jolson: but rather; the contrary … This is my attempt, anyway, at re-creating such an event.

yukimatsuri — an instrumental performance on piano; published on 8 November 2008

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1911

That Mysterious Rag (Irving Berlin, Ted Snyder)one of the earliest Irving Berlin songs to be a commercial success, according to the Wikipedia page, which says:

According to Howard Pollack in a biography of George Gershwin, “That Mysterious Rag” was one of a trio of songs written by Berlin in 1911 that revolutionized American popular music, the others being “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Everybody’s Doin’ It.” Until the publication of this song ragtime had been so distinctively an African-American musical genre that the occasional rag whose lyrics and cover art indicated some other ethnicity would focus instead on some other marginalized group (usually Jewish or Italian) and apply the dichotomy toward comic effect. With “That Mysterious Rag”, notes Irving Berlin biographer Charles Hamm, ragtime music first sees cover art of a fashionably dressed white couple and lyrics that lack distinctive ethnic markers in dialect or syntax.

Did you hear it? Were you near it?
If you weren’t then you’ve yet to fear it;
Once you’ve met it you’ll regret it,
Just because you never will forget it.

Palais de Danse Orchester — Berlin, c. 1913

audio file presently unavailable

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(below) Harry Fay accompanied by an unknown orchestra and vocal quartet. Fay was a evidently a prolific British recording artist during the 1910s and 20s. A page of UK Music Hall audio files at a site managed by a Michael Thomas identifies Fay as “Another ubiquitous recording artist [who] made hundreds of records, mainly for Zonophone, Cinch, Parlophone and Imperial labels.” Recording date and other information unknown.

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Alexander’s Ragtime Band

On pp. 30-31 of the Complete Lyrics there is a long preface to the lyrics of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” I’ll quote the beginning and a couple of other fragments.

Published. Copyrighted March 18, 1911. One of the greatest successes in the annals of popular music and the song that made Berlin famous all over the world. According to Berlin, who was quoted in a 1914 article in Theatre Magazine, “the melody came to me in eighteen minutes surrounded on all sides by roaring pianos and roaring vaudeville actors.”

The story of how Alexander was written was told to his friend, Renald Wolf, who recounted it in the Theatre article. Wrote Wolf, “the greater portion of the song was written in ten minutes, and in the offices of the music publishing firm Waterson, Berlin, and Snyder (then known as Ted Snyder Co., Inc.), while five or six pianos and as many vocalists where making bedlam with songs of the day.” He continued:

Berlin was not impressed by it when the melody first came to him. In fact, after playing over a few times on the piano, he did not take the trouble to note the melody on paper. He might never have completed the song had it not been for a trip to Palm Beach, Florida which months later he arranged to take with Jean Schwartz and Jack M. Welch. Just before train time he went to his offices to look over his manuscripts in order to leave the best of them for publication during his absence. Among his papers he found a memorandum referring to Alexander, and after considerable reflection he recalled its strains. Largely for the lack of anything better with which to kill time, he sat at the piano and completed the song.

Later in the preface Berlin explains that he originally wrote the melody, in 1910, as an instrumental piece. It was intended to be his first instrumental song, a common form for a ragtime song to be published in. However, he noted that,

“No one liked it in that form so I set a lyric to it. It then lay on the shelf for some time as everyone thought the chorus was too long and the range to large for the ordinary voice. However, Emma Carus liked the song and introduced it in Chicago. It was a big hit for her and before long many other vaudeville acts were singing it.”

The song’s popularity was far-reaching.

I took my first trip abroad in 1912 and was delighted to hear it whistled by a newsboy as I stepped off the train at the station in London. I soon realized how big a hit “Alexander” was in England. Within a year or so it became an international song hit and was translated in almost every known language.

Much has been written about the fact that Alexander’s Ragtime Band is not itself an example of the ragtime musical idiom. It is a march. However, it was so infectious and popular that it helped, by association, to revive interest in ragtime which had evidently been waning in popularity since Scott Joplin’s heyday at the turn of the century.

Songfacts.com cites Alexander Baron of London England for the following song history notes:

Controversy also surrounded its origin; it was suggested that the song was written not by Berlin but by the black pianist Lukie Johnson, which Johnson himself denied. Later, Scott Joplin claimed Berlin had stolen the music from his opera Treemonisha; the two men do appear to have met, but that is as far as it went. Treemonisha was registered for copyright two month’s after “Alexander’s…”, but this did not deter Joplin, who died in 1917 convinced his work had been plagiarized. Towards the end of his life, Scott Joplin suffered from a degenerative illness which affected his mental powers, so the assertion must be treated with caution. His biographer Edward Berlin has made a careful study of this claim, but although, he says, there are similarities between “Alexander’s…” and “A Real Slow Drag”, this is hardly surprising, as a great many songs and instrumentals were written in the same style at that time.

The most popular early recording was that by the renowned comedy team of baritone Arthur Collins and tenor Byron Harlan, reportedly the top seller for ten weeks. Other important 1911 recordings included those by Billy Murray, and the Victor Military Band. It was later covered by many top artists including Bessie Smith, the Boswell Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and Connee Boswell, and Ray Noble.

The song is memorialized on screen by Alice Faye in Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938), and by Ethel Merman , Dan Dailey, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor and Johnnie Ray in There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954).

Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan – 1911

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Billy Murray – 1911

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The Boswell Sisters – recorded 23 May 1934 with a studio orchestra under the direction of Victor Young

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Bunk Johnson – 1945

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The Dying Rag (m. Bernie Adler, w. Irving Berlin)

From The Complete Lyrics, p. 30,

Published. Copyrighted February 18, 1911. Music by Bernie Adler. Alternate title (sheet music cover): “The Dying Rag.”

Classe di tecnica vocale di Lucia Mazzei Scuola di Musica di Fiesole — published on 25 June 2009

Esecutori: C.Cardini – soprano, I. Palatresi – soprano, D. Romei – soprano, C. Amerini – mezzosoprano, E. Busia – tenore, R. Di Mauro – tenore, G. Guastini – pianoforte

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Everybody’s Doing It Now

The Complete Lyrics, p. 40, says that the original title has “Doing” spelled with a “g,” and that “Everybody’s Doin’ It” is an alternate. However, “doin'” is used exclusively in the original lyric.

The top-selling recordings, according to Complete Lyrics, p. 40, were those by Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan, Arthur Pryor’s band, and the Peerless Quartet. Also mentioned is that many of the early sheet music covers bear the legend “As sung by Lydia Barry at the Winter Garden, New York.” Notable later covers include those by Alice Faye, Dixie Dunbar, and Wally Vernon in the film Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938). An ensemble sang it in Easter Parade (1948).

In a 1913 article Berlin spoke about the song, pointing especially to a key phrase with universal application, the use of which he humbly called “fortunate.” Of the hook,”Everybody’s Doin’ It,” he said,

Analyze it and it means nothing. As a line that suggests something it is unlimited in possibilities. Everybody might be doing anything or everything. But everybody is doing something and that was the great catch line of that song. I might call it the spark of the song.

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Collins & Harlan – 1912 (Lakeside Indestructible cylinder #445)

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Paul Whiteman and his New Palais Royale Orchestra — recorded in the 1950s says the provider, for Fred Astaire’s Cavalcade of Dance (1955).

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Ann Gibson & Frederick Hodges at the West Coast Ragtime Festival 2010

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1912

At the Devil’s Ball

Peerless Quartet – recorded on 6 March 1913

Henry Burr (tenor)
Albert Campbell (tenor)
Arthur Collins (baritone)
John H. Meyer (bass)

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When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam’

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I Want to Be in Dixie (m. Ted Snyder, w. Irving Berlin)

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When I Lost You

From The Complete Lyrics, p. 59:

Copyrighted November 8, 1912. This great ballad is believed to have been the first song that Berlin wrote after the tragic death of his young bride, Dorothy Goetz, in July 1912, only five months after their wedding. Top-selling recordings were by Henry Burr and Manuel Romain.

John Kovac, harpist and harpmaker

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1913

From The Complete Lyrics, p. 76, which gives the copyright title as “The International Rag” while noting the alternative title:

Published. Copyrighted August 12, 1913. Written in London during the first week of July 1913. Introduced by Irving Berlin in the English musical revue Hello, Ragtime during the week of July 7, 1913. Presented in the Broadway musical All Aboard sometime after it’s New York opening (June 5, 1913; Lew Fields’ 44th Street Roof Garden;) by Carter de Haven and chorusTop-selling recordings by Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harlan, the Victor Military Band, and Prince’s Orchestra. Among the artists whose photographs appear on the original sheet music is Sophie Tucker.

Billy Murray – 1913 — Video provider says,

(Edison blue amberol 4mn record) – played on my Amberola 30 – excellent 1913 Irving Berlin song.

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Classe di tecnica vocale di Lucia Mazzei Firenze — published on 25 June 2009

Esecutori: C.Cardini – soprano, I. Palatresi – soprano, D. Romei – soprano, C. Amerini – mezzosoprano, E. Busia – tenore, R. Di Mauro – tenore, G. Guastini – pianoforte

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Down in Chattanooga — registered for copyright on 21 November 1913. Introduced by Belle Baker. Major recording by the comedy team of Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan.

(2nd verse)
What’s mine you’ll find is yours
My folks keep “Open Doors”
Anyone who will come
Is entirely welcome
And you’ll be glad to stay
Where healthy chickens lay
Sixty cents-a-dozen eggs the livelong day

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Snookey Ookums

From The Complete Lyrics, p. 70:

Copyrighted February 21, 1913. According to music historian Robert Lissauer (Lissauer’s Encyclopedia of Popular Music), this song was introduced by Natalie Normandy. Some of the original sheet music cover bear the legend “As featured by Clark and Bergman.” Leading recordings by Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harding, and Billy Murray. Many years later Fred Astaire and Judy Garland sang the song in a medley in the musical Easter Parade (1948).

On the copyright title page and in the copyright notice “Snookey” is spelled with an “e” in the title and without an “e” in the lyric.

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Harry Carlton — recorded 8 April 1913

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Kate Willey — c. 1913-1914

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Judy Garland and Fred Astaire — medley: I Love a Piano / Snookey Ookums / The Ragtime Violin, in musical film Easter Parade (1948)

Video to be replaced

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1914

He’s a Ragpicker

The Complete Lyrics, p. 91, notes a major recording by the Peerless Quartet, and also that among the artists appearing on the original sheet music covers are Sophie Tucker and Ban-Joe Wallace. The song was copyrighted on 28 September 1914.

Mayfair Orchestra, according to the provider. Undated. I haven’t found any information on an orchestra with this name.

I Want to Go Back to Michigan

Billy Murray – 1914

When It’s Nighttime in Dixieland was one of the songs composed Irving Berlin for his debut Broadway musical, Watch Your Step, which opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on December 8, 1914. According to The Complete Lyrics, p. 120, the song was introduced in the pre-Broadway tryout by Elizabeth Murray (Birdie O’Brien). It was dropped before the New York opening.

The quartets and the choral group in the following videos necessarily use modified versions of the lyric that eliminate words and phrases used by Berlin to identify African-Americans that would certainly offend today (“darkies” and “bow-legged coons”).

Gotcha 2

Gotcha! barbershop quartet a cappella group — video published in October 2006 — Singers.com has a page on the group.

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Masterpiece — SoCal West contest, March 2008

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The Channel City Chorus of Santa Barbara, California at the Lobero Theatre

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Visit my Irving Berlin index page for links to more than two dozen pages on the songwriter:

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