Brightwell’s Top 10: 1897

In 1857, Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patented his invention for recording sound, the phonautograph. Twenty years later, in 1877, someone first realized that his phonautograms could also play back recorded music. It was the same year, coincidentally, that Thomas Edison patented the phonograph and thus the age of recorded music began. In 2015, former Amoebite Matthew Messbarger posted an NME “Best of 1990” on my Facebook timeline and I decided to began reviewing the best songs of each year, from 1877 to the present, in random order.

Playing on the street in Mulberry Bend, 1897.
Young Boys in Mulberry Bend, 1897

In science, 1897 was the year the electron was discovered and that the word “computer” was first used to refer to a mechanical calculation device. England conquered the Benin Empire and France toppledMadagasgar’s Merina Kingdom and colonized the island. At the same time, the Philippine Revolutionended as did the Greco-Turkish WarMarguerite Durand‘s newspaper La Fronde and Rudolph Dirks‘s comic strip, The Katzenjammer Kids, were both first published. Oscar Wilde was released from prison, having served two years hard labor for homosexuality. Bram Stoker, a friend of Wilde’s ex-wife, published Dracula and In real life, evidence supposedly provided by the Greenbrier Ghost of her own murder successfully led to the conviction of her husband.

In popular American music, cakewalks, coon songsmarches, parlor music, and ragtime were all popular. John Philip Sousa and Tin Pan Alley singer Dan W. Quinn recorded several pop hits for major labels like Berliner Gramophone and Edison Records and soon recorded music would overtake sheet music in popularity.

10. “Badinage”  — Victor Herbert

“Badinage” performed by the The Eastman-Dryden Orchestra

Victor August Herbert was an Irish-born, German-raised, American cellist, conductor and composer of both operettas and Tin Pan Alley pop songs. From 1898 till 1904 he led the Pittsburgh Symphony. Afterward he founded the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he led until his death in 1924. The spritely ”Badinage” reminds me a bit of a mocking bird repeatedly singing the tune of a car alarm — in a good way. 

9. “Our Lodger’s Such a Nice Young Man” — Fred Murray and Laurence Barclay


Norah Blaney’s recording of “Our Lodger’s Such a Nice Young Man”

Thanks to Herman’s HermitsFred Murray’s best known lyric is for “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am.” Thirteen years before penning that he wrote theOrton-esque music hall number, “Our Lodger’s Such a Nice Young Man,” set to a melody by Laurence Barclay. Given this and “The Tuner’s Oppor-Tuner-ty,” it seems the late Victorian Englishman was tormented by thoughts of their wives and daughters spending time with louche young strangers.

8. “Danny Deever” — Walter Damrosch

Recording of “Danny Deever” by David Bispham (circa 1906)

Danny DeeverWalter Damrosch was a Silesian conductor and composer who as a child emigrated to the United Stateswith his family. His mother, Helene von Heimburg, had been an opera singer and as long-time director of the New York Symphony Orchestra (founded by his father, Leopold Damrosch, in 1878), Walter Damrosh helped popularize classical music in his adopted country. With “Danny Deever,” Damrosh took a Rudyard Kipling poem and set it to a fairly operatic tune that is a bit more ambitious than those of most of his parlor song competitors.

7. “Asleep In The Deep” — Arthur J. Lamb and Henry W. Petrie

Recording of “Asleep In the Deep” by Wilfred Glen & the Victor Orchestra (1911)

Asleep in the DeepAsleep In The Deep” is a parlor song about sailors lost at sea. The lyrics were written by Somerset-born Arthur J. Lamb and are as sentimental as you’d expect from the guy who also wrote “A Bird in a Gilded Cage,” “Out Where The Billows Roll High,” “The Banquet in Misery Hall,” and “The Mansion of Aching Hearts.” The music, written by Bloomington-born Henry W. Petrie (“I Don’t Want To Play In Your Yard”) appropriately descends, ending on a deep, sustained note. 

6. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” — John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa Stars and Stripes ForeverThe patriotic march “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is the official “National March of the United States ofAmerica.” “March King” John Philip Sousa supposedly wrote it on Christmas 1896 whilst returning via ocean liner from a vacation with his wife in Europe. The lyrics are no worse than those of most patriotic songs but that they’re generally not sung is, to me, a plus but it is a resilient tune — even with its associations with nationalism and politicians.

5. “Roustabout Rag” — Paul Sarebresole

Roustabout Rag
Paul Sarebresole
was a New Orleans-born ragtime composer. Little information is available about Sarebresole but composed the hip, innovative “Roustabout Rag” when he was about 22 years old and he seemed to like, like many New Orleanians generations after him, the latest slang. The following year he released “Get Your Habits On,” the title of which suggests to me a 1990s bounce tune. In 1911, Sarebresole had been living in the South 7th Wardwhen he died at the age of 36. He was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

4. “Ye Boston Tea Party” — Arthur Pryor

Ye Boston Tea Party” performed by the United States Coast Guard Band

Ye Boston Tea Party

Arthur Willard Pryor was the The Sousa Band’s resident trombone virtuoso as well as a composer andbandleader in his own right. He was born on the second floor of the Lyceum Theater in Saint Joseph, Missouri to Samuel Pryor, himself a bandleader. Although Sousa supposedly wasn’t a fan of cakewalks, Pryor convinced him to add them to the Sousa Band’s repertoire. Five years after writing “Ye Boston Tea Party,” Arthur Pryor left the Sousa Band and struck out on his own. He had his biggest hit in 1905 with “The Whistler and His Dog.”

3. “At A Georgia Camp Meeting” — Kerry Mills

Kerry Mills
At a Georgia Camp Meeting
(né Frederick Allen Mills) was head of the Violin Department at the University of Michigan School of Music when he began composing in the tunes in the 1890s. “At A Georgia Camp Meeting” was a cakewalk billed as a “characteristic march.” It was, incidentally, much later recorded by Sidney Bechet, who was born the same year that it was first published. 

2. “Harlem Rag” — Tom Turpin

“Harlem Rag” performed by Mark Pedigo

Tom Turpin Harlem RagTom Turpin was a Savannah-born composer who moved with his family to Missouri in the 1880s where ragtime was emerging as the US’s first great music form. Turpin composed “Harlem Rag” in 1892, the year the first ragtimes were published, and a year later the World’s Columbian Exposition introduced ragtime to audiences beyond the Missouri River Valley. Turpin didn’t publish the rag, though, until 1897, three years before he opened the fabled Rosebud Bar, an important ragtime venue in St. Louis

1. “On The Banks Of The Wabash Far Away” — Paul Dresser

“On The Banks Of The Wabash Far Away” performed by William Bolcom and Joan Morris

Paul Dresser (né Johann Paul Dreiser) was a singer, songwriter and comic actor from Indiana. “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away” was a wistful ballad about Dresser’s Indiana seemingly at odds with his own tumltuous upbringing, which involved stints in jail before leaving home at sixteen to joinHamlin’s Wizard Oil Company — at the time one of the nation’s two biggest medicine shows. ”On The Banks Of The Wabash Far Away” proved to be the second-biggest-selling song of the Tin Pan Alley era (after Charles K. Harris‘s “After the Ball“) and earned Howley, Haviland & Co. over $100,000 (roughly 3 million adjusted for inflation). Dresser spent his money lavishly, though, largely in brothels and saloons. At the same time parlor songs and sheet music were falling from favor at the same that recorded pop music was growing. By 1903 Dresser was nearly broke. Additionally, Dresser was ill — likely with syphilis — and he died in 1906 at the age of 48.

Other great songs of 1897 include Mrs Jessie Brown Pounds and John S. Fearis‘s – “Beautiful Isle Of Somewhere,” Charles K. Harris‘s – “Break The News To Mother,” and Theodore H. Northrup‘s – “Louisiana Rag.” Let me know what songs you think should be on the Top 10.


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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