Posts Tagged ‘Paul Whiteman’

Instrumental Digging: 1900-1949

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Having caught the instrumental bug with Tuesday’s post about Paul Mauriat’s “Love is Blue,” I’ve continued in the past few days to dig into A Century of Pop Music, Joel Whitburn’s cataloging of the top records for each of the hundred years from 1900 through 1999. I wondered which instrumentals had ranked highest in the year-end listings in each of the decades of those hundred years.

So I did some digging in the book and at YouTube to satisfy my curiosity, and I thought I’d share the results here. We’ll look at the years from 1900 to 1949 today, and early next week, we’ll pick up the much more familiar years of 1950 through 1999.

There won’t be any in-depth commentary here today, because I really wouldn’t know what to say about, for example, Paul Whiteman, whose name shows up a couple of times in the 1920s. I know a very little about Artie Shaw, who shows up in the 1930s, and I know a bit more than that about Glenn Miller, who had (utterly unsurprisingly) the highest ranking instrumental of the 1940s, but I thought it better to leave this as simply a listing.

I will note that, again unsurprisingly, the music generally becomes more interesting to my ears the closer we get to mid-century. The one exception to that might be “Dardanella,” from 1920, which is a charming piece of music (and I found the photos used in the “Dardanella” video embedded below to be fascinating).

Here, then, are Billboard’s highest ranking instrumental from each decade’s year-by-year listings. Each record is also, I believe, the most popular instrumental of its decade (with the exception of the two Whiteman records listed below, which ranked second and third for the decade of the 1920s), but I’m not entirely sure; I’ve cross-checked the lists in Whitburn’s book, but I could have missed something. I’ve added in parentheses each record’s ranking for the decade if it showed up in Whitburn’s listing of that decade’s Top 25.

1900-1909
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” by [John Philip] Sousa’s Band, No. 7 in 1901*.

1910-1919
“Poor Butterfly” by the Victor Military Band, No. 3 in 1917 (No. 32).

1920-1929
“Dardanella” by Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra, No. 1 for 1920 (No. 2).
“Wang Wang Blues” by Paul Whiteman, No. 1 for 1921 (No. 24).
“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” by Paul Whiteman, No. 1 for 1923 (No. 18).

1930-1939
“Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw, No. 3 for 1938** (No. 20).

1940-1949
“In the Mood” by Glenn Miller, No. 1 for 1940 (No. 3).

I believe the videos all offer the original recordings, though I cannot be certain as there could be multiple versions. For example, Miller and his band seem to have recorded “In the Mood” several times, and Miller’s band also recorded the song after Miller’s death in 1944. I’ve dug through my library and compared versions, and I think that the version of “In the Mood” linked here is the original version, recorded in August 1939. I would not swear in court the same for the other tunes.

*I could not find a video at YouTube that offers the 1901 version of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” There are versions of the march from a recording session in 1911 and from a few other years available there. One thing I learned about the 1901 version – at several websites and forums – is that the recording is credited to “Sousa’s Band” and not to “John Philip Sousa” because Sousa disliked recording and was rarely present to conduct when his band and his works were being recorded.

**“Good-night, Sweetheart” by Wayne King, the No. 2 record for 1931, is listed by Whitburn as an instrumental, but the listings also credit Ernie Birchill for a vocal. I gave it a listen, and the record does close with a vocal, so that’s a rare error by Whitburn.

Amended slightly after first posting.