Kachank? That’s the sound that signals summer’s end as returning students slam locker doors while swarming high school corridors, yelling, jostling and creating general chaos. Nevertheless, in the windy, rainy and icy days ahead, the Library of Congress National Jukebox can provide you many songs that evoke summers past and prepare you to face the coming school (or work) year.
Should you find yourself snowbound in the coming months, a listen to “The Good Old Summer Time” will transport you back to summer — that is, an early twentieth century version of summer. The lyrics to this song were conceived by Ren Shields, after the composer George Evans commented while visiting the Brighton Beach Hotel in Brooklyn that he preferred the summer to the winter. Soon they worked the sentiment into a song, but when they tried to shop it to publishers, they were initially rebuffed because it was thought that the song would only sell during summer months. Nonetheless, the music publisher Howl, Haviland & Dresser took the risk, and the gamble paid off when the sheet music sold over a million copies. The version above was by the extremely popular Haydn Quartet (here a revised version of their 1902 hit). Singer Harry Macdonough had also performed a version for Sousa’s Band, which was the only song in the band’s long career to feature vocals.
Of course Sousa knew something of rousing music that could inspire, say, a returning student to roll up her sleeves. Posted below is such a march. Note that Sousa does not appear on this recording. In fact, because he had an aversion to recording he only appeared on eight of the hundreds of recordings that his band made.
Nora Bayes also performed a lively summer-themed song. Bayes was a vaudevillian and theatrical performer and recording artist with an unparalleled talent in interpreting popular songs. In the words of Douglas Gilbert: “No-one could outrival her in dramatizing a song. She was entrancing, exasperating, generous, inconsiderate — a split personality; as fascinating figure.” In the spring of 1916 when Bayes recorded the song “Are You Prepared for Summer,” the Preparedness movement was underway in an attempt to ready the nation for a war that Americans were beginning to see as the inevitable entry into World War I. Her response to the movement is somewhat ambiguous. She sings, “I’m going to do my share, but not for war/ I’m peaceful goodness knows.” Instead, she advises listeners to prepare to spend the “summer with someone you love.” Bayes, as well as much of the American public, would end up supporting the war by entertaining the troops and recording the hugely popular “Over There.” She also performed in “The Cohan Revue of 1918,” which one critic described as “a hit and run play batted out by George M. Cohan.” In the play Bayes’s character is so single minded in her attempt to knit a sweater for a soldier that she fails to notice as her house is burgled and set on fire!
Nathaniel Shilkret arranged and conducted the next tune, known as “The Happy Students Polka,” which is a lively arrangement that will surely energize students returning to school. Shilkret was an executive and house band leader at Victor Records who began work recording ethnic discs for the company’s Foreign Department. In his memoir, Sixty Years in the Music Business (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005), Shilkret describes the difficulty that artists had reproducing Czech dialects in a manner that would satisfy native speakers. Occasionally, he relates, they would give up trying to capture vocals and “record dances like the polka with a clarinet and accordion, if the melody was catchy, and place the recording in a different nationality catalog with a translated title.” Record stores would keep printed Swedish, German, Polish and other catalogs on hand and provide them to customers looking for ethnic recordings. According to Victor’s corporate files “The Happy Student” appeared in the German, Lithuanian, Polish, Swedish catalogs.
Nathaniel Shilkret would prove instrumental in such important innovations to the recording industry as the electrical recording of music and the recording of precursors to country music, but that is fodder for another post. Meanwhile, relax and enjoy some memories of summer, and then get back to work!