Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Music from the Doughnut Hole

One day in 1999 I stood on a subway platform in Boston as a banjo player named Bob Sundstrom played "Pennies from Heaven". I was mesmerized and I bought his cassette on the spot. The songs were old Tin Pan Alley numbers from the 1920's that were chock full of wit lyrical inventiveness. A few years later when I heard John Lithgow's "Singin' in the Bathtub" I had the same giddy feeling.

It seems like there is a doughnut hole in access to some historical music. Classical radio stations mostly emphasize music made up until 1900 and rock stations never play anything made before 1950, but there are many great songs from 1900-1950. Maybe you're like me and you sometimes get tired of the same three chords and the same story about couples breaking up. Maybe you also yell at your radio when you hear that Franz Ferdinand song that is ripped off of Led Zeppelin's "Talkin' 'Bout Love" or the One Direction song that is a copy of Sheila E's "Glamorous Life". If so, it's OK take a break and listen to some Songs from Halcyon Days (that was the title of "Banjo" Bob Sundstrom's cassette). Many of those old songs are more complex thought-provoking than a lot of the stuff you'll hear today and the beauty of Internet radio services like Pandora is you can discover this music easily. It won't force pop radio stations to include a few Cole Porter or Mississippi John Hurt songs when they make their lists of greatest songs of "all time", but you'll know they belong there. Now I think I'll go start up my Fats Waller station on Pandora.


Chris Hiester
Philadelphia, PA

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