Thursday, 18 February 2010

Tin Pan Alley

I fear this may well be a post that my co-blogging, punk loving, country twanging, Ford fiesta driving, software testing co-blogger Peter will label as 'educational'. Being poorly educated myself, and in the business of educating poorly, I shall attempt to inform little, make spelling mistakes and riddle the thing with historical inaccuracies.

So, to New York and Tin Pan Alley, allegedly so called as the cacophony of noise created by so many music publishing houses being lumped together created a noise not unlike the sound of pans being hit.. The Bowery Boys are a couple of camp sounding podcasters who produce highly entertaining podcasts on New York history. They are free and regularly get me to work and back, transporting me from the sweaty hell hole of the Santiago metro to Pennsylvania Station, the slum of the Five Points or this week Tin Pan Alley (actually from December of last year).

Geographically speaking Tin Pan Alley doesn't actually exist. It was an area on West 28th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, which is now part of the Flatiron district. What we are talking about is the birth of the sheet music business, and songwriters and publishers touting their wares to artists as a way of spreading and popularising their songs. Of course, at the time, music was live. You had no way of listening in another way, so in order to make their money the publishing companies produced sheet music (often sold in department stores). Aspiring songwriters would try and sell their songs to the houses, who would probably pay them off with a one-off fee, or if they were any good they would employ them on contract to knock out song after song. Big stars would often be simply given a good song, as when they embarked on a tour they might spread its popularity across the nation and lead to a million copies of the sheet music being sold.  

The Tin Pan Alley heydey was really about 1885 to 1910, when the companies started to move out of the district, although wireless and movies then came along, then records, and finally rock n'roll kicked it to death. This era produced many songs still recognised and played today (Take me Out to the Ball Game, for example), as well as host of well known song writing names - George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Fats Waller, Cole Porter and Scott Joplin. You can read more of the history here or see how the place is threatened with re-development here.

So, here we go with the tunes. The brothers Gibb with Irving Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band (he also wrote White Christmas).

Here are the moptops with a version of the Yellen & Ager song Aint She Sweet.

And finally, everyones favourite mobster with the Donaldson & Whiting My Blue Heaven.

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