Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Crash in Tin Pan Alley

Lest anyone assume that today's pop songs are any more contrived than those of yesteryear, here are some excerpts from John Ogden Whedon's fictional story "A Crash in Tin Pan Alley," which appeared in the April 6, 1929 issue of The New Yorker.

It makes some comments about popular songs that still apply today, but it does contain some interesting specifics about songwriting in that era.
"We'll write a song for the summer trade," Louis said. "Something soft and dreamy that bands can play in the park under the moonlight."

Sid caught fire at once. "'Dream's' good," he said. "'Dreamy's' just the thing. We'll put it in the title."

"Dreamy what?" I asked. "You can't just--"

"Dreamy Moon."

"That's lousy," said Louis. "Too many 'moon' songs lately. But 'moon' is a good rhyme--easy to sing. What rhymes with 'moon'?"

"'Prune,'" I suggested, "'loon,' 'balloon,' 'saloon.' 'Dreamy Saloon'--how's that?"

Louis looked disgusted. "'Lagoon' is the word," he said. Sid jumped to his feet.''
Having decided to call the song "Dreamy Lagoon," they next need to decide what the song's about. That's the easiest part.
"What'll we write it about? What does anybody write a song about, you sap? Love, of course. All about how some girl is the cream in your coffee and the salt in your stew, and jeest, she's driving you nutty, and what the hell are you going to do. That stuff."
The veteran songwriter in the story also declares that "You've got to have your title at the end of the first and last lines, and somewhere in the middle too, if possible." He says "You got to rub their noses in it, otherwise the music publishers won't touch it."

Gradually the song was written.
There were a great many important considerations I had never thought of. We had to find words of one syllable; words with open vowels that were easy to sing. We could not introduce any notes outside the limited range of an ordinary voice, nor thoughts outside the range of an ordinary intellect.
And the result? "Dreamy Lagoon."
I met my love beside a dreamy lagoon
We pledged our love beneath the gleam of the moon
The memory of her voice enthralls me,
Calls me homeward
I left my heart beside that dreamy lagoon
But in her heart she knows I'm coming back soon
There we'll live and love forever
Beside that dreamy lago-o-on!
So there you go! Now you know how to write a popular song. Your own mileage may vary in 2008, however, when lagoons are somewhat out-of-style.


Gary said...

Well, this post brought back a "discussion" about old-time song lyrics that we had a few months ago. It concerned the "Dance Me Loose" song written by Weldon Kees and sung by Arthur Godfrey. The refrain:

"I warm so easy, so dance me loose, dance me loose, dance me loose.

Nice bit of New Yorker history.
I warm so easy, so dance me loose,
It shines so bright, the moon;
It makes me want to spoon."

You had pointed out lyrics using the "Moon/Spoon" rhyming scheme were once commonplace. Okay. But I never came across "Lagoon" in that scheme - until now!

Perhaps the 1980 movie "The Blue Lagoon" (Brooke Shields & Christopher Atkins) put the kibosh on lagoons?

Nice bit of New Yorker history!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Yes, that discussion was what made this article really pop out.

You know, I wonder if "lagoon" is just a word that's slipping out of style? When I try to conjure up "lagoon" associations I automatically think "archaic."

Though the Brooke Shields movie comes to mind, as does the Laurie Anderson song.

Eli McIlveen said...

Hot cha. The KLF's got nothin' on those boys.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

"Ancients of...Lagoon?"