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American Popular Music, 3/e
David Lee Joyner, Pacific Lutheran University

Tin Pan Alley and American Popular Song

Listening Guides

Listening Guide 1.1

Listening Guide 1.2

Listening Guide 1.3

Listening Guide 1.1
"Puttin' on the Ritz" 4 beats per measure

iTune link = Puttin' on the Ritz

Elapsed TimeFormEvent Description
0:00 Intro Full band (8 measures)
0:09 Verse Voice, piano only (16 measures: 8 1 8)
0:26 Chorus 1Band enters (32 measures: AABA, 4 groups of 8 bars)
1:01 Chorus 2 Dance solo A, dialogue 2nd A, band/dance B, A (32 measures)
1:35 Chorus 3 Vocal; more improvised melody and rhythm (32 measures)
2:10 1/2 Ch. 4–1 Begins at B, piano and dance (8 measures)
2:19 1/2 Ch. 4–2 Vocal (8 measures)
2:28 End  

Analysis of "Puttin' on the Ritz" (American Popular Song, LP format, Smithsonian R031 P7 17983, 2/6)

"Puttin' on the Ritz" was written by Irving Berlin in 1929 and premiered in a film by the same name, but Fred Astaire's version is the definitive one. The song's form is a 32 measure AABA song form. The lyric describes the fashionable custom (in the 1920s) of Manhattan whites visiting the black clubs of Harlem.
       The most intriguing aspect of the song, however, is the rhythm of the melody. The accentuation given by the word-phrasing and the peak of the climbing melodic phrases constantly disorient the listener from the steady pulse of the meter. With four beats per measure, the beat accents of the melody are 1234&/1234/123&4/1234/1234/1234/1. The pattern works beautifully with the clever rhythm sequences in Berlin's lyric. This displaced type of rhythm is very similar to an earlier song by George and Ira Gershwin, "Fascinating Rhythm," written in 1924. It was recorded in London in 1926 by Fred and Adele Astaire (his sister) with George Gershwin at the piano (American Popular Song, 2/1).
       Fred Astaire is regarded primarily as a dancer, but most all Tin Pan Alley composers sought to have him premiere their songs. Though he did not have remarkable vocal technique—or perhaps because of that deficit—he rendered the songs simply and gracefully and true to the composer's intentions. Notice in this performance that he is carefree and swinging with the unusual rhythm, and his own background as an innovative rhythmic dancer only enhances the performance.3
       The accompaniment on the record is a jazz band made up of English session musicians. The introduction evokes the style of black Harlem jazz bands in the 1920s. Astaire enters with the verse with piano accompaniment only, cast in a happier sounding major key. The rhythm of the melody at this point is quite straightforward. Its climbing chord progression builds up to the chorus. The chorus is in a minor key, usually reserved for dramatic or sad songs, giving this lively number an urbane, bluesy quality. The band enters and keeps a steady four-beat pulse to anchor the wild rhythmic accents of the chorus melody. For the instrumental break, the band softly accompanies Astaire's dancing. One might ask, Why have dancing on an audio recording? It is important to understand that audible, rhythmic, specialty dancing from the black tradition, such as tap and buck-and-wing, made significant contributions to jazz rhythm and influenced many jazz drummers such as Warren "Baby" Dodds and "Papa" Jo Jones. Astaire was famous as a pioneer of this type of syncopated dance rhythm, particularly in the white mainstream. His own feet become an important featured percussion instrument in this arrangement. When his vocal reenters to sing the chorus a second time, Astaire sings with a much freer rhythm, similar to the approach of jazz singers like Louis Armstrong. The jagged rhythms heard in the first chorus are therefore not as apparent.

Listening Guide 1.2
"It Never Entered My Mind" 4 beats per measure

iTune link = It Never Entered my Mind

Elapsed Time Form Event Description
0:00Intro Full band (4 measures)
0:10 Chorus 1 Voice enters (34 measures: AABA 8 1 8 1 8 1 10)
1:34 Chorus 2 New lyric, two-bar extension of last A (humming), last two measures elongated to four for ending
3:07 End  

Analysis of "It Never Entered My Mind" (American Popular Song, 5/6)

The singer on this recording is Shirley Ross, who introduced "It Never Entered My Mind" in the unsuccessful 1940 stage musical Higher and Higher. The performance is quite straight, true to the original sheet music. This recording does offer the rarely heard second chorus lyric.
       Richard Rodgers's melodies are often constructed from an almost relentless repetition of short melodic or rhythmic fragments. Such is the case with "It Never Entered My Mind," where five of the eight measures in the first A section (measures two through six) use the same three- and four-note descending scale pattern. Likewise, on the bridge, or B section, the 1234 rhythmic pattern occupies six measures of the eight-measure section (measures 1–4 and 7–8). In this particular song, the harmony is equally repetitive. The A section regularly oscillates between two chords every two beats. The form of the song is a 34 measure AABA song form. The last A section has one additional two-bar phrase spliced between the usual six and seventh measures.
       Lyricist Lorenz Hart always wrote words to Rodgers' completed music, not before or while the music was written. Influenced in large part by the repetitiveness of the song, Hart had a penchant for frequently occurring rhymes, especially triple rhymes. He was famous among his peers for the clever way in which he aligned his rhymed stresses with those created by the melodic contour or rhythmic emphasis in the music. Technical matters aside, Hart was also at the vanguard of the urbane, sophisticated style of lyric that gave a cynical, aloof flavor to even the most tender of heartache songs. Here again, "It Never Entered My Mind" is exemplary. The protagonist is abandoned and hurt by her lover. But instead of saying it with poetic utterances, Hart uses mundane and decidedly unromantic images, such as single orders of orange juice. In this way, Hart immediately reaches listeners with unglamorous, common associations we all make in our own experiences.

Listening Guide 1.3
"I've Got You Under My Skin" 4 beats per measure

iTune link = I've Got You Under My Skin

Elapsed Time Form Event Description
0:00 Intro Vamp with bass clarinet, celeste (6 measures)
0:10 Chor. 1, A1 Soft vocal enters; strings enter halfway through (16 measures)
0:41 A2 Add baritone sax and trombone to vamp, strings go higher in range
1:11 B Vocal swings more, insistent saxophone section figure and smooth strings
1:26 C Intensity is maintained
1:53 Interlude Vamp figure is heard expanded among the trombones, string climb higher
2:15 Chor. 2, A 2 Brass play the melody in a swing style; loud trombone solo mixed in, intense
2:45 B Similar setting as previous B but stronger
3:03 C Brass stabs help push to the end
3:27 Ending Vamp is reduced to bass clarinet and celeste once more; pause; string chord with celeste.
3:40 End  

Analysis of "I've Got You Under My Skin" (Songs for Swingin' Lovers, CD format, Capitol C2-46570)

Frank Sinatra's earliest major exposure was with the big bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. In the mid-1940s he was signed to Columbia Records as a solo artist and was also pursuing live concerts, the fledgling medium of television, and film acting. By 1952, however, he was without a record, film, radio, or television contract. He then signed with Capitol Records, founded a decade earlier by songwriter Johnny Mercer. He entered into a long-term contract, collaborating on a series of theme albums with the great arranger Nelson Riddle. A high point of this period was the 1956 album Songs for Swingin' Lovers, which went gold and almost made number one on its release.
       "I've Got You Under My Skin" is one of the most memorable Riddle arrangements and Sinatra vocal performances of all time. The song was composed by Cole Porter. Typical of Porter, it is not a conventional 32-measure AABA song form. The first section is 16 measures in length (twice the usual length); the second is a variation of the first. The third section is 8 measures long, then, instead of repeating the first section again, there is a fourth section 16 measures in length, making the chorus an unusual 56 measures in length.
       Nelson Riddle's arrangement opens with a low repeated figure, called a vamp, played by a bass clarinet, punctuated by high bell-like sounds from a celeste (a small keyboard instrument). This vamp will be a recurring and prominent feature throughout the arrangement and manages to get as much attention as Sinatra's vocal.
       Sinatra's vocal begins with an easy and dreamy demeanor. He carefully shapes the sound of each word to accommodate his vocal quality; notice the striking way in which he sings through the "ooh" sound of "you," the closed "n" sound of "skin," both in the opening line and in the resonant low note he sings in the fourth line. In the second A section of the song Sinatra uses a bouncier, more swinging phrasing that adds lilt and aggressiveness to the line. But notice when he comes to the word "baby" he brings back a moment of tenderness appropriate to the affection expressed in that name.
       The vocal and the arrangement continue their logical climb along with the shape of the melodic line and the nature of the lyric. At the end of the first chorus Sinatra's voice dies away, handing the spotlight over to the band. The vamp figure is now a chatter among the lower instruments of the band, while the string section's long notes climb higher in register, almost to a squeal. The brass section now enters with a pounding, swinging rendition of the song's second A section while a forceful trombone solo wails over the band. Sinatra reenters at the B section of the song, more forcefully than his rendition of the same section in the previous chorus. In the last C section the brass come in behind Sinatra with almost the same ferocity that they had when they were playing alone. At the end Sinatra again fades away, and the vamp goes out as gently as it began the arrangement. There is a brief pause, then a shimmering chord held by the strings with the chime of the celeste over the top.