Sunday, December 1, 2019

100 years ago: “Oh What a Pal Was Mary” hit #1

Oh, What a Pal Was Mary

Henry Burr

Writer(s): Pete Wendling (music), Edgar Leslie (words), Bert Kalmar (words) (see lyrics here)

First Charted: October 25, 1919

Peak: 16 US, 14 GA, 16 SM (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 (sheet music)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.01 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Henry Burr was “the biggest star of the 1910s.” SM “The soft-voiced tenor became a major star soon after his first recordings in 1903, and remained so for the next quarter-century.” PM2 He is “said to have sung on some twelve thousand recordings – far more than any other vocalist in history.” PM2

“Oh What a Pal Was Mary” was his 13th of fourteen chart-toppers as a solo artist and his eighty-third chart entry overall. He’d also landed eight #1’s with partner Albert Campbell from 1912 to 1919. He and Campbell were also members of the Peerless Quartet, which reached the top seven times. This gave Burr 28 #1 songs as a soloist, duet partner, and group member. Burr took “Mary” to #1 in 1919, but it charted again in 1920 (Edward Allen, #10).

It “was a sad song that would end the decade on a sad note.” SM It is “a beautiful waltz that conveys heartfelt feelings of deep love.” TY2 Edgar Leslie, one of the song’s lyricists, was a founding member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) in 1914 and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972. “Among My Souvenirs,””Hello, Hawaii, How Are You?,” and “For Me and My Gal” are some of his best known songs.

Music writer Don Tyler notes that it wasn’t until 1920 that women got the right to vote and “there were many more women’s equality issues to be resolved.” TY2 As such, he ponders, were women “taking a different role by ’19? Could they really have gained enough equality that a woman could be a man’s pal?” TY2 Of course, the song cues the listener in that Mary was, in fact, the narrator’s sweetheart as well as his friend. We aren’t told exactly what happened, but she is gone now, possibly deceased.


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First posted 4/24/2023.

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