Friday, 4 July 2008

2. All Time Top 5 from the olden days

I asked Dad to list his top 5 all-time favourite songs and, on the back of an envelope, he listed eight:

(Hey! You can right- click on the image, or whatever, to get it big and legible.)

The bottom one on the list you might note "Alexander's Ragtime Band", composed by Irving Berlin. If you go to the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project and search for the track you can find a version recorded in 1911, performed by Billy Murray.

Doing a quick search I found that 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' is hardly ragtime at all, but lyrically, there's a lot of references to emerging African American Music.

I just listened to the track and there's a kind of percussive thump to the way he sings, belting it out. In the olden days before microphones you used to have to sing into a metal horn to record. Interestingly, Murray's career started to wane when microphones came in. On The Billy Murray Article at Wikipedia (yeah) it says, his '"hammering" style, as he called it, essentially yelling the song into the recording horn, did not work in the electronic era, and it took him some time to learn how to soften his voice'.

But the ragtime connection is a good one. The term is a corruption of 'Ragged time', referring to syncopation, the musical practice of playing off-beat. Ragtime might be one one of the last musical styles to emerge before the advent, or at least widespread use, of recording technology, although it was typical for ragtime compositions to be printed. But all this points towards something old-world.

I found some interesting modern guitar rags on the 'Crumb' soundtrack by Craig Ventresco, (he plays in quite a forthright style, really twanging the strings) but if you're don't know anything about ragtime but want to, then Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, are early(-ish) standard examples.

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