Thursday, February 25, 2016

2/25/1905: Billy Murray takes “Yankee Doodle Boy” to #1

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Billy Murray “Yankee Doodle Boy”

Writer(s): George M. Cohan (see lyrics here)

First charted: 2/25/1905

Peak: 18 US, 12 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: George M. Cohan “virtually invented musical comedy” LW-16 by pioneering the idea that a show could intersperse songs into a narrative structure. LW-16 He was “the dominant force on Broadway during its heyday,” LW-16 predating future musical theatre greats like Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers. Like Irving Berlin, his best work celebrated young immigrants and American patriotism.

He was born July 3, 1878, although to bolster his fiercely patriotic image, he claimed to be born on the fourth of July. He was born into a vaudevillian family and by the 1890’s was selling his music to performers. PS By the 1900’s, Cohan tried his hand at producing Broadway musicals. His first two attempts, 1901’s The Governor’s Son and 1903’s Running for Office, were failures, but his third attempt, 1904’s Little Johnny Jones, was a hit. PS

It was the first time Cohan wrote the complete book – and all the songs – for a show. It elevated Cohan “from merely a successful pop songwriter to the toast of the Great White Way.” SS-350 The show featured Cohan as an American jockey accused of cheating and then cleared. The show also birthed two of his most enduring hits – “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.” PS

Billy Murray, who became the unofficial interpreter of Cohan songs, took his 1905 recording to #1 and gave Victor, the record company, its biggest seller up to that point. SS-350 In 1942, James Cagney memorably performed the song in his Academy Award-winning portrayal of Cohan in the biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy. He reprised it in a dance in The Seven Little Foys. JA-219 The song charted again in 1943 when Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians took it to #21.

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


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