Friday, November 20, 2015

100 years ago: “They Didn’t Believe Me” hit #1

They Didn’t Believe Me

Harry MacDonough with Olive Kline (as Alice Green)

Writer(s): Herbert Reynolds, Jerome Kern (see lyrics here)

First Charted: November 13, 1915

Peak: 17 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 (sheet music)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Jerome Kern, best known for the landmark musical Show Boat, was “one of the most important pioneering composers of American Popular Song.” PS Born in New York City in 1885, Kern was the son of an upper-middle class family. He got a Master of Music degree at Germany’s Heidleberg University and started writing for Broadway shows by the time he was 19. PS

Over the next eight years, he wrote about 100 songs for roughly thirty Broadway musicals and wrote three full, unsuccessful musical scores. SS His style integrated “vaudeville, minstrel songs, ragtime and ‘coon’ songs” LW “into Broadway theatre songs, something new and intrinsicially American.” LW He hit paydirt in 1914 with The Girl from Utah after several failed stage productions. He wrote eight songs for the adaptation of an English opera, one of which was “They Didn’t Believe Me.” It was Kern’s first hit song and “may well be his best,” PS marking his “graduation to the status of major composer from that of a ‘mere’ pop tunesmith.” SS

“The song is held to be the earliest on the cannon of showtunes, or standards, which have become to be known as ‘American Popular Song.’” LW David Ewen said this song “stands out with beacon-like brilliance. Kern no longer submitted meekly to the song conventions of the day, but bent them to his own creative needs.” SS The song is “a model for the “thirty-two bar Tin Pan Alley ballad that became standard for the time. While not exactly slangy it is written in a conversational tone, [such as] ‘And I’m cert’nly goin’ to tell them;’ it is almost spoken yet remains sung.” RCG

Michael Rourke wrote the lyrics for “They Didn’t Believe Me.” He was born in England and moved to the United States to become a press agaent. Around the start of World War I, he changed his name to Herbert Reynolds for unknown reasons. He had provided lyrics to a dozen or so of Kern’s earlier songs under his original name. This was written under his new name and “the words work perfectly with Kern’s melody, which feels tender, and natural, and still sounds fresh today.” LW

The song became a #1 song in 1915 in the hands of Harry MacDonough and Olive Kline. In 1916, Grace Kerns & Reed Miller took it to #8 and Walter Van Brunt & Gladys Rice reached #9. Morton Downey had a #15 hit with it in 1934. PM Dinah Shore sang it in the 1946 Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By and Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson tackled it in the 1949 movie, That Midnight Kiss. PS Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Mercer, and Barbra Streisand were among the others who recorded the song. RCG


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First posted 11/20/2014; last updated 11/23/2022.

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