Program : 
Early Chart Toppers: Pop Hits of the 20th Century

WC Handy's "The Saint Louis Blues" sheet music. Image courtesy wikipedia.orgEveryone recognizes the magic moment when a song becomes a hit. Suddenly it's in the air everywhere—on radio, on iTunes, on MTV, in record stores, on movie soundtracks and in TV commercials.


These days a hit single is often composed, performed and recorded by the same artist, and it's usually marketed to a very narrowly-defined audience.


For a song to become a hit in the pre-rock and roll era during the first half of the twentieth century, it had to be recorded by many different bands and singers in a variety of musical styles. People of all ages and from all walks of life were humming the same popular melodies of the day. For example, "Star Dust" was written by Hoagy Carmichael and recorded by more than one thousand different artists! Artie Shaw, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong are just a few who had big hit recordings with it.


"Stardust" vintage sheet music cover. Courtesy

From the beginning, jazz players have found inspiration in pop songs, using their melodies and chord changes as a basis for improvisation. All the songs on this week's show are chart toppers from the pre-Rock era. They've been identified and ranked in a list of the 100 most-recorded songs by Joel Whitburn in his book, Pop Memories 1890-1954. The list represents the most comprehensive survey made of the most-recorded pre-1955 songs. It encompasses: Edison and Columbia cylinders; 78s in the extensive collections of the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the Syracuse, Stanford and Yale University Libraries.


The Jim Cullum Jazz Band with special guests trombonist Rex Allen, pianist Dick Hyman, clarinetists Brian Ogilvie, Ken Peplowski and Allan Vaché; vocalists Vernel Bagneris, Becky Kilgore, Nina Ferro, Carol Woods and Linda Hopkins offer their interpretations of the most-recorded early 20th century hit songs. (For the complete list of 100 songs, see Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music.) 


Here are the top ten and others featured in our show:


1. Silent Night (1818, and Joseph Muhr and Franz Gruber)
2. St. Louis Blues (1914, WC Handy)
3. Star Dust (1929, Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parrish)
4. Body and Soul (1930, Johnny Green, Ed Heyman, Robert Sauer, Frank Eyton)
5. Summertime (1935, George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward)
6. The Old Folks at Home (1851, Stephen Foster)
7. Tea for Two (1925, Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar)
8. White Christmas (1942, Irving Berlin)
9. All The Things You Are (1939, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II)
10. Night and Day (1932, Cole Porter)
19. Ain't Misbehavin' (1929, Fats Waller, Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf)
21. What Is This Thing Called Love? (1930, Cole Porter)
42. Stormy Weather (1933, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler)
47. I Got Rhythm (1930, George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin)
79. Basin Street Blues (1929, Spencer Williams)
95. The Very Thought of You (1934, Ray Noble)


Photo credit for Home Page: Louis Armstrong's version of WC Handy's St. Louis Blues sheetmusic. Image courtesy bambootrading.