Originally released as Adelphi LP AD 4106,
now available as download as GCD 4106
through Amazon and iTunes.
It’s been long enough since this original history-documenting LP has been available – missing reprint in either cassette or later CD formats – that it needs a brief twenty-first century historical note itself. In the early 1970s, I was asked to sing and play on a variety of American history recordings in the run-up to the Bicentennial, including album sets for The National Geographic Society and Oscar Brand, who published a book and several albums of American Revolution period songs.
Throughout, I found it peculiar that almost all the material was political, as if singing about the war was the only music on American lips at the time, which was very much not the case. So, after a year or so of poring over period music collections, songbooks, sailor’s companions, broadsheets, and contemporary musical biographies at the New York Public Library, Julliard, and elsewhere, I came up with a collection of what were actually the most commonly found songs in the historical record of the late Colonial and early post-Revolution periods. From these I subtracted the political songs (already recorded) and with the generous help and support of Gene Rosenthal at Adelphi Records, went into the studio and recorded the cream of the crop. They were the songs of love, drinking, hunting, humor, entertainment and even wry cultural commentary that America was singing as it was born, mostly penned in mother England.
The reasons this effort has fallen into obscurity, without reprint, are both technical and economic...when release time for the spate of Bicentennial records came along in the spring of 1976, the press raised a terrific hue and cry about the “commercializing” of the event (in contrast to the mercantile bonanza of the 1876 Centennial), and the result was almost nobody made any money doing so. Even the most lavishly-funded and promoted productions lost money – indeed, this album was not even reviewed by a major newspaper, until it became the front-page pick of the New York Times art section exactly an entire year later.
So here it is, well-served by the .mp3 format so many years later. It contains many songs never before recorded, to this day. Indeed, Charles Dibdin’s jewel “The Hare Hunt” is no longer even available in his English sheet music collections and was fortunately saved by its reproduction in a contemporary American songster. The most obvious hit became “The Star Spangled Banner” for which we have also devoted an extra page. Now to the original introduction, from the last century…
-- John Townley, Sea Cliff, NY, July 2009, writing in his site AstroCocktail
For those of us born into the modern era of mass media and recorded pop music, the sounds of the top hits of our day kindle strong memories of the events of our lives. The songs we sang and danced to in coffee houses and discotheques or lost ourselves in between the earphones of a good stereo are forever entwined with the joys, love affairs, and personal memories which they accompanied. For the generations that grew up in the '50's and '60's, the recordings of Elvis Presley and the Beatles will always evoke images of more peaceful and prosperous days, as well as providing a lucrative market for endless reissues of "Golden Oldies".
But what of earlier and simpler days before the rattle of Tin Pan Alley evolved into quadraphonic stereo? What songs rekindled memories of the birth struggles of a young nation for an aging George Washington or Thomas Jefferson? Or memories of mixing wenching with diplomacy for a greying, bespectacled Ben Franklin?
Although the 18th century is now generally better known for works by Mozart, Handel, and Haydn than for its top 40, far more money and energy was spent on producing and publishing the hit tunes of the day than was ever afforded to the works of the great masters.
Wherever good fellowship and jovial harmonizing was to be found—in the local tavern, on the popular musical stage, or in the drawing room—there was a constant turnover of new songs, ballads, and humorous ditties that rivals the output of today's monolithic record corporations.
The center of the tangled web of the 18th century music business was London, and in the American Colonies the "English sound" was selling even better than it did two centuries later in the 1960's. Theatre-going audiences in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston flocked to the latest shows by hit English songwriters like Charles Dibdin, Thomas and Michael Arne, and William Reeve. And, not unlike today, the box office receipts more often found their way into the pockets of greedy and unscrupulous publishers than to artists and writers themselves.
But as with our own century, out of the prodigious output of the pop songwriters of the time comparatively few songs were memorable enough to survive in the later song collections of the 1790's and early 1800's. During the war years, very little music was published in America that is still extant, but after the war dozens of popular "songsters" were published—collections which reflected the cream of pop music from the century.
At the same time, musical periodicals sprang up chronicling all the latest hits, like Philadelphia's Musical and Instrumental Miscellany and New Haven's American Musical Magazine, both monthlies. The songs on this record were chosen based on the extent of their lasting popularity, judged loosely by how often they turned up in the various songsters and magazines toward the end of the century.
Songs at that time were performed by small groups of musicians singing and playing on the popular instruments of the time—the pianoforte, violin, cello, German flute, and guitar. The instruments were very like their modern counterparts except for the guitar, which was strung in six unison courses of two, more like the lute or folk 12-string guitar than the more modern 6-string Spanish guitar.
Full written instrumental arrangements were rare—most of the harmonization was left to the musicians with a basic pianoforte arrangement or simple bass line to refer to. Sometimes suggested flute or guitar harmonies would accompany a tune at the end of the manuscript, but often as not only the melody itself was included or simply the words alone if it was assumed everybody knew the tune.
The recorded performances here are a reflection of the fluid style of the day. Some parts were arranged, others simply made up on the spot by the performers, but all within the context of the popular harmony of the time. Likewise, the melodies themselves are the most common of the sometimes multiple variants to be found in different contemporary collections.
It is a curious note on popular music in general that so few of these wonderful tunes have maintained their popularity into the 20th century. Only "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes" and "To Anacreon In Heaven" (now "The Star Spangled Banner") are still in current usage in the United States, and over half of the songs on this album have never been recorded before any where. One wonders if our own current favorites will be as obscure to our grandchildren.
But good songs have a way of resurfacing. The recent revival of long-forgotten renaissance and Elizabethan tunes is a good example. So perhaps the renewed interest in the history and politics of the 18th century will bring back its music as well—not just the formal classics but the love songs and drinking songs that suffused the lives of the people that built the age. Truly they are the songs that memories are made of—"Golden Oldies" from the childhood of a nation.
---From John Townley’s site AstroCocktail
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