Thursday, October 27, 2016

The NRR Project #25: 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'

‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’
Edward Meeker
Recorded September, 1908

Why is this song so popular? It’s a straight-up novelty waltz, Tin Pan Alley-style, in the trend of songs of the period such as “Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine” and “Hello, Central, Give Me Heaven.” Neither of its composers, Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer, had ever seen a baseball game, or would until decades later. It wasn’t even played in a ballpark until 1934; it really wasn’t sung consistently during the seventh-inning stretch of major-league baseball games until Harry Caray popularized it during his time broadcasting for the Chicago White Sox during the 1976 season.

Here it’s essayed by the redoubtable Edward Meeker, a long-time Edison employee. We are still nearly 20 years away from the advances of electrical recording techniques, but the analog systems are getting better -- the sound here is less muddy, and the background instruments are balanced and differentiated.

The lyrics don’t contain a ton of inside data – the writers know that three strikes make an out, and that you’re expected to argue with the umpire. That’s about it. But, being good craftsmen, Norworth and von Tilzer came up with a nifty ditty – singable, easy to remember, jaunty, upbeat. The best songs seem to grab and hold an indefinable essence of their subject, and in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” there is something genial and sunny and optimistic, like a baseball game on a summer afternoon. To date, it’s the only non-religious or –patriotic song to be ritually sung by the general American public.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.’

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The NRR Project #24: 'No News; or, What Killed the Dog?'

Nat Wills, in tramp costume.
‘No News; or, What Killed the Dog’
Nat Wills
Recorded October 14, 1908

Nat Wills was the prototype of the modern standup comic. He used personas, most notably his tramp character, the visual of which became the template for the stereotype until Chaplin came along. He told funny stories and sang parodies of songs of the day. On Broadway, he appeared in sketches in variety shows such as the Ziegfeld Follies.

He was a natural for the recording studio. His strong delivery and diction, developed in theaters across the country, came through loud and clear. This routine, his most familiar, is a bit that’s been traced back at least to 1817. In it, a master returns home and asks his servant for the news. “No news,” replies the servant, “except the dog died.” “How did he die?” asks the master, and thus unravels a long, escalating list of disasters that have engulfed the home while the master was gone.

The idea of the add-on story is as old as nursery rhymes such as “The House That Jack Built,” “The Old Lady That Swallowed a Fly,” and others. The repetition, combined with the surprise of each added piece of the story, is an essential lesson about the power of narrative. This routine is hilarious the first time, mildly amusing the second, and annoying from thenceforth. Let us move on.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’

The NRR Project: Rachmaninoff and Stokowski

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff Performed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano Philadelphia Symphony Orchestr...