Various Artists

Yes Sir That's My Baby: The Golden Years of Tin Pan Alley

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It is a given that popular music is big business. This was not always the case, of course, and the roots of the current economic model can be found in the 1920s, when commercial recordings and the machinery needed to play them had recently become readily available to a newly affluent and youth-oriented American culture, and vaudeville and cabaret shows fueled huge sales of sheet music and player-piano rolls. Songs that have since passed beyond the status of classic and into the realm of cliché -- think of "April Showers," "My Blue Heaven," and "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" -- were written during this period and were performed and recorded by singers whose names have likewise become cultural signifiers more than pop music referents: this was the era of Al Jolson, Rudy Vallée, and John McCormack. Many of them are represented in this wonderful collection, which includes Jolson's almost laughably bathetic "April Showers," a brilliant rendition of the Fats Waller classic "Ain't Misbehavin'" by Louis Armstrong, and Jack Smith's unintentionally hilarious "Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?." This is one of those rare records that functions equally well as a genuine amusement and as a history lesson. Highly recommended.

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