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MMD > Archives > February 2003 > 2003.02.27 > 10Prev  Next

Cultural References in Popular Music
By Matthew Caulfield

I am familiar with the 1923 fox trot "Dream Daddy," but didn't know
there was a story behind it.  The Lester S. Levy sheet music site lists
the tune, but won't show the sheet music itself because it is still
under copyright.  It does state this: "Dedicated to the original 'Dream
Daddy' Harry E. Ehrhart."  Knowing that, I felt sure that a Google
search would tell the story.  But Google found no "Harry E. Ehrhart."
However,  there was a popular radio personality "Dream Daddy Harry
Davis" on radio station KYW.  Perhaps the two Harrys are one and the

As for Gallagher & Shean, there is a lot more to be found about that
famous vaudeville team.  This web site is good for a brief history:   On this web page,, you can hear
the original version of the song that made them famous.  The ethnic
format is one that was accepted in vaudeville days, and I would hardly
call it salacious or racist, though by today's hyper-sensitive
standards, it may be politically incorrect.

If you are going to deal with cultural references in popular music, you
must not make the mistake of judging yesterday's music and culture by
today's yardstick.  Coon songs were a genre of the times and a fact we
have to live with without liking it.  Today it would not be acceptable
for composers Charles, Paul, and Robert Kuhns to the billed as "The
Three White Kuhns," but in 1920 they were.

There are, as Paul Eggert said in yesterday's MMD, several popular
tunes that make you want to know the background for them.  Sheet music
can be helpful sometimes.  E.T. Paull is famous for telling the whole
story behind each of his descriptive marches inside the front covers of
his sheet music which is more often collected for the vivid color
lithography of the covers than for anything else.

I was once curious to learn the meaning of the 1925 fox trot "Roll 'Em
Girls (Roll You Own)."  I had been told that it did not refer to
cigarettes, since girls didn't smoke in 1925, but to the fashion of
rolling down one's silk stockings.  I bought the sheet music to see
what the words actually said.  While the tune is a good one, the words
were a bunch of nonsense.  I guess they were referring to stockings,
but the story line was so strained, it was hard to tell.  Eventually
I gave away the sheet music to a descendant of Mickey Marr, one of the
tune's composers, who wanted it for his family.

There are a lot of World War 1 songs, both pro ("Bing! Bang! Bing 'Em
On The Rhine") and con ("I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier"), and
I had assumed that Charles K. Harris' waltz "Break The News To Mother,"
popular in 1917, was one of those war songs.  But it was composed in
1898 and apparently originally had lyrics that described a fireman who
lost his life in a blaze; I suppose the 1917 version had revised lyrics
fitting the mood of the war years.

There are many odd tune titles, "The Woman Of The Year," "Wah-Hoo,"
"A Little Bit Of Soap," that make me wonder about their background.
But the titles are so numerous and time is so short that most will
remain unexplained mysteries fading into the mists of time.

Matthew Caulfield (Irondequoit, N.Y.)

 [ "Oh, give me a horse, a great big horse, and give me a Stetson,
 [ too, and let me Wah-Hoo! Wah-Hoo! Waaah-Hooo!"  Sung by the
 [ Hoosier Hotshots in the 1930s!  ;-)  -- Robbie

(Message sent Thu 27 Feb 2003, 16:40:02 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Cultural, Music, Popular, References

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