About this Recording
8.120841 - HITS OF THE 1920s, Vol. 2 (1921-1923)

Vol.2 1921-1923 Original Recordings

‘Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?’ That was the question posed by the Ladies Home Journal in August 1921. Prohibition had resulted in the rise of bootleggers, gangsters and speakeasies (five thousand in New York alone in 1923). Cabarets were re-emerging as night clubs. Bathing beauties adopted the one-piece swimsuit. Sheiks, vamps, flappers and bathtub gin – the Roaring Twenties were in full swing …

1921 The first Miss America pageant was held in Atlantic City. Radio stations began to blossom; the first major prize-fight covered on the air was on 2 July, when Jack Dempsey defeated French challenger Georges Carpentier. Attention was focused on the murder trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (many believed them innocent, but they were executed in 1927).

On the silver screen, Rudolph Valentino became a major star in The Sheik and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; other notable films in 1921 included The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Little Lord Fauntleroy. On Broadway, the hits included Anna Christie, Shuffle Along which introduced I’m Just Wild about Harry, Blossom Time, Bombo with Al Jolson (April Showers and later Toot Toot, Tootsie!), Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 which gave Fanny Brice two of her biggest hits in Second Hand Rose and My Man, and The Perfect Fool with Ed Wynn. Will Rogers went from the movies to vaudeville, and joked that he was the only movie actor so far to come out of Hollywood with the same wife.

1921’s popular songs included Zez Confrey’s piano novelty Kitten On The Keys (a staple of every player-piano as well, and which Confrey recorded again in 1922) and the devil-may-care Ain’t We Got Fun, while Mr Valentino’s influence combined with the wanderlust of the previous few years to produce The Sheik of Araby (from an unsuccessful Eddie Cantor show) and Palesteena.

1922 More fascination with exotica was born with the opening of the tomb of King Tutankhamen. George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth joined the New York Yankees and was soon dubbed the ‘Sultan of Swat’. Jimmy Doolittle flew an aeroplane from Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California in 21 hours 18 minutes, in two hops.

1922’s book list included T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, and The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The New York stage welcomed Abie’s Irish Rose, which established a long-run record (2,532 performances), Rain (in which Isham Jones’s record of Wabash Blues was played nightly on stage, making it a best-seller), Little Nellie Kelly, Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author and Karol Čapek’s R.U.R., which introduced the word ‘robot’ into the language. Movies included Nanook of the North, Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks, The Prisoner of Zenda with Ramon Novarro, and Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand. Off-screen, Hollywood scandals such as the Fatty Arbuckle trial resulted in a self-regulating group led by former U.S. Postmaster General Will Hays.

Hit songs of 1922 included a couple of Paul Whiteman classics: Hot Lips, featuring trumpeter Henry Busse who kept the tune as his theme in later years, and the waltz Three O’Clock In The Morning. And vaudeville stalwarts Ed Gallagher and Al Shean (the latter was the Marx Brothers’ uncle) recorded their two-sided Mr Gallagher and Mr Shean, full of comments on the foibles of the day.

1923 ‘Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.’ Those words were on millions of lips as Dr Emile Coué’s system of ‘auto-suggestion’ promised a cure for physical and mental problems. If that didn’t work, champagne could be had for $25 a quart, as could questionable Scotch for $20. And Time made its debut as a weekly news magazine.

Broadway hits included a rare visit by the Moscow Art Theatre as well as productions of White Cargo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Shaw’s Saint Joan, Poppy with W. C. Fields, a new edition of the Ziegfeld Follies, and Runnin’ Wild, which introduced the next dance craze, the Charleston. Lon Chaney was on the screen as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Harold Lloyd dangled from the minute hand of an enormous clock in Safety Last, and movies were more often part of an elaborate presentation including a theatre organ rising out of the orchestra pit.

Many of the hit records of 1923 were novelties: Wendell Hall’s It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’, Barney Google (based on the popular comic strip character), Yes! We Have No Bananas, and the strangest disc of the year: The OKeh Laughing Record. Originally cut in Germany three years earlier by comic singer Lucie Bernardo and orchestra leader Otto Rathke (and not by an anonymous saloon-keeper and his wife, as has been told elsewhere), the recording was issued anonymously in the U.S. on the OKeh label and was a sensation, inspiring sequels and imitations and remaining in print into the early 1950s. Ziegfeld star Will Rogers made his only commercial recordings in 1923, and dance music remained popular: as we opened this programme, so we close it with another hit from Isham Jones and his Orchestra, Swingin’ Down the Lane.

On the horizon: symphonic jazz, world flight records, and crossword puzzles. Coming up, in 1924.

David Lennick, 2006

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