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Lost Song Fragments Medleyed

GUEST,Bob Coltman 27 May 09 - 10:14 AM
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Subject: Lost Song Fragments Medleyed
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 27 May 09 - 10:14 AM

Fresh from trying to figure out the origin of the song fragment "Merrily We Roll Along,"

(see )

I'm struck by the fact that while popular medleys often furnish the only survival for ancient bits of otherwise lost songs, they at the same time make the original song even harder to get back to.

Sometimes we even come to think those medleys ARE the original song—permanently burying the rest of the songs the fragments stemmed from.

1. I've Been Workin' On the Railroad   
Perhaps the prime example, this is a merger of at least two distinct songs, the title piece plus a "Dinah" song. Some would even argue that the "Dinah" lines in this song may derive from two different "Dinah" songs.

This is discussed in detail in
which turns up an origin song for "Dinah" ("Old Joe, or Somebody in de House wid Dinah"),
and in

For a while it also got medleyed with "Levee Song" / "Workin' On the Levee," but that didn't survive in versions much after 1940.

So there are two, three or four songs in "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad." Wouldn't it be great to hear the originals, complete? But the song as it now stands has pretty much erased any traces of most of its antecedents; and today no one so much as questions whether it is a song in its own right.

2. Roll A Silver Dollar / A Man Without a Woman
Several of us have been looking for the origin of these two songs; see

While "Silver Dollar" is credited as written 1907 or earlier by Alfred Williams, first recorded 1907 on Victor, I suspect it derives from separate earlier lyrics. But try to find them now!

Sometimes "Roll" / "A Man" have been further medleyed with "Abie and Rachel," not to mention "Moonlight Bay," "For Me and My Gal," etc. as quoted in

3. Merrily We Roll Along

As explored in
this was added to Christie's show-closer "Good Night" (Ladies) in 1867 by students at Hobart College; in the ensuing century most people without thinking accepted the two as one song.

The origin of "Merrily" itself is so far untraced.

4. Susan Van Doozen
(No, it didn't originate with Bill Haley in 1947.)

This 1899 song by Joe Lincoln and Henry Shepherd can stand as an example of many songs (just think how many used "I love my wife, but oh! you kid!") that have a catchy hook but don't stand up as a whole.
    Susan Van Doozen, the girl of my choosin',
    You stick to my bosom like glue,
    When this you're perusin', remember I'm musin',
    Sweet Susan Van Doozen, on you,
    So don't be abusin' my offer and bruisin'
    A heart that is willin' to woo,
    And please be excusin', and not be refusin',
    Oh! Susan Van Doozen, please do.
As the wonderfully silly "Susan" had the misfortune to stem from an otherwise mostly forgettable, clumsy song frame and a scarcely better melody, music publishers tried to keep squeezing money out of the copyright by putting it in medleys with any two other songs, sometimes as "Susan Van Dusen," sometimes as "Susan McGoozan" (the latter apparently to get rid of its Dutchness). By 1940 its origins were completely obscured.

I could multiply examples, but you get the idea. Getting included in a medley is a chance for survival, sometimes for more than a century, for the piece of the song that catches the public ear—the song's hook, and nothing else. At the same time, though it is a route to the death of the complete song.

Medleys were first used by 19th college glee clubs, who valued quick touches of instantly recognizable favorites. In the 20th century, dance bands got real tired of playing hackneyed old favorites and requests hundreds of times, so they too tended to offer medleys. Dancers and listeners got to like hearing the high spots, losing the patience to listen to the parts of the songs they didn't remember anyway. Numerous medleys got perpetuated in fake books and often in published songsheets—and presto: only the song's remnant is ever heard; the rest of it is lost, even to a historian's dedicated search.

I'm sure you all can think of many more medleys of this sort. (Suggest some!) Few have recognized the problems they pose in seeking out song origins.

Needless to say, if any of you can post solid detail about the pre-medley versions of any of these songs (except "Susan Van Doozen," which is found and available), I'd be most grateful.


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