Thursday, January 28th, 2016...9:47 am

Driven bananas by popular songs

Jump to Comments

Have you ever had an “earworm”, a song stuck in your head? From the Historical Sheet Music Collections, here are some funny takes on show business’ response to the omnipresent songs of the day. The Merry Widow was a popular operetta composed by Franz Lehár, and in 1907 the public’s craze for the music, especially “The Merry Widow Waltz,” apparently captivated some (there was a film, The Merry Widow Waltz Craze) but aggravated other folks – and the aggrieved response was swift:

SHEET MUSIC 169

SHEET MUSIC 169

I’m looking for the man that wrote “the Merry Widow Waltz”
Seymour Furth, music, and Edgar Selden, lyrics
1907

The ‘Waltz’ was entrancing,
That strain set her dancing,
She’s waltzed the shoes off of her feet;
There’s trouble now cooking,
Says Charlie, “I’m looking
For one that I’ll brain if we meet.
(Chorus)
I’m looking for the man that wrote “The Merry Widow Waltz!” …

Here’s the tune, and Alfred Hitchcock referenced the original waltz tune in an extra scary way in 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt.

Later, the popular song “Poor Butterfly” from the Broadway musical The Big Show (the song in turn inspired by Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly) got stuck in the heads of the American public:

SHEET MUSIC 195

SHEET MUSIC 195

Poor butterfly
Raymond Hubbell, music, and John Golden, lyrics
1916
The tune, without lyrics.

Apparently it wreaked havoc with sensitive folks:

SHEET MUSIC 168

SHEET MUSIC 168

If I Catch the Guy That Wrote Poor Butterfly
Arthur N. Green, music, and Jerome Williams, lyrics
1917

(Chorus)
If I catch the guy who wrote Poor Butterfly
he’ll find out why
I’ll paint and decorate his eye …

And of course, this prime example of a novelty song –

SHEET MUSIC 196

SHEET MUSIC 196

Yes! We have no bananas
by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn
1923

was written when there was an actual banana shortage, and was perhaps inspired by an real greengrocer on Long Island. It was hugely popular when first recorded, and became the theme song in 1932 for the outdoor relief protests in Belfast. (Tune) But in 1923, its ubiquitousness resulted in this song, which credits the original’s composers/lyricists on the cover:

SHEET MUSIC 167

SHEET MUSIC 167

I’ve got the Yes! We have no banana blues
James F. Hanley, music, and Lew Brown, lyrics
1923

Here the verses repeat the melody from the chorus of the original work (tune).

I wish I could go
To a cabaret or show
Where someone wouldn’t come along
And sing that doggone song:
(Chorus)
I’ve got the ‘YES!’ We have no banana blues …

What tune have you grown tired of? Watch out for these!

UPDATE: Thank you to a reader on Twitter who sent us another “Yes! We have no bananas” response song – in Yiddish: “Gevald! Di Bananas!”

[Thanks to Dana Gee, Project Sheet Music Cataloger, for contributing this post, and to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger, for the Hitchcock reference.]

Comments are closed.