Bartley Costello was one of the original American Tin Pan Alley hitmakers, publishing songs as part of various collaborative teams as far back as 1910. Anyone assuming the man was a travel agent would be easily forgiven their error, however, given song titles such as "Coral Sands of My Hawaii," "Egyptland," and "My Own Home Town in Ireland". Like representatives of many other generations of commercial songwriters, Costello's job was to come up with ditties that either suited or predicted popular public notions and sentiments. At times composers of his ilk would come up with an original idea that would launch 1,000 imitators; at other times, he and his partners would be the ones whose efforts bordered on plagiarism.
Despite the tossed-off nature of many such ventures, a great deal of Costello's work has continued to be treasured by various artists through subsequent musical eras. A hit from the '20s might wind up reinterpreted in the '40s by the likes of Perry Como, while in the '60s and '70s artists as diverse as the lyrical but miserable pianist Bill Evans and the bilingual, ex-jailbird Tex Mex singer
Freddy Fender would find Costello's vintage sentiments appealing. " If You Had All the World and Its Gold" is perhaps the most famous of Costello's songs, created in partnership with Harry Edelheit and Al Piantadosi and featuring the following famous stanza: "You can't buy your way into heaven, though you may possess wealth untold. And just like your mother, you can't buy another, if you had all the world and its gold."
This song launched a wave of "mother" songs in the '20s, allowing Costello a chance to imitate himself with tear-jerkers such as "No Mother to Guide Her." When songs about states became popular Costello was right there with "Look for Me in Tennessee," written with Frank Papa and Joe Davis, the latter fellow using his real name on the credits for a change. (Another Costello opus, "Smiles and Kisses," features uncredited input from Davis, apparently). Costello came up with not only the aforementioned song, but the 1925 "Dark Hawaiian Eyes," written with Roxanne Hampton. "Alla en el Rancho Grande (My Ranch)" came up just in time for a Latin publishing binge; Silvano R. Ramos created a set of Spanish lyrics for this number, stapled into the binder of many a Latin fakebook and a big hit for both Bing Crosby and cowboy singer Gene Autry.
"A Fire Laddie-Just Like My Daddy" was a hit offering during a rash of songs dedicated to various noble occupations. Costello wrote the words to this song, with music provided by Johnnie Tucker. There is also straight-ahead romance in the Costello catalog, as would be expected from any songwriter, with titles such as "Just Sweet Love Thoughts and You" standing out. For the jazz fan, Costello's name may also come up in connection with material recorded by Fats Waller. "Ace in the Hole" is a typical example, Waller apparently also involved in an uncredited capacity as one of the composers, although it is Frank Crumit and Costello's names that are normally the only ones listed as songwriters for this great tune. Costello's "Hot Coffee" is often confused with "Black Coffee," mostly a problem for listeners who take cream with their java.