Dan W. Quinn Sings Turn of the (Last) Century Songs
Meet Dan W. Quinn (1860-1938). Or at least hear him on a recent Archeophone CD, “Dan W. Quinn Anthology, The King of Comic Singers 1894-1917.” Here is a top recording star of his time who, without a beautiful voice but with great style, turned out about 2500 recordings, 30 of which appear on this disc.
Right away, I must quote from the back cover: “Contains racially derogatory language.” Although these songs, sung mostly by blacks to mock their own race but often enough by whites to vilify the former, are shameful to us today, they do form part of our musical heritage and cannot be ignored. Otherwise we would be like a certain nation that omitted World War II from its history books because it was too dreadful to remember.
At any rate, the only numbers I find familiar are “A hot time in the old town tonight,” “Ma blushin’ Rosie,” “Bill Bailey, won’t you please come home,” and “On the banks of the Wabash.” Among the catchier titles of unfamiliar songs are “The growler on a string,” “It’s not your nationality, it’s simply you,” and (my favorite) “How could Washington be a married man (and never, never tell a lie?).”
Among the inevitable love songs are “Pretty as a picture,” “My Jersey Lily,” and “Good morning, Carrie.” The rest represent a variety of subjects and moods that suited the tastes of the public during that particular year; and many of them found themselves inserted into then-current shows that had plots so thin that any new song could easily be placed into any situation.
Quinn’s Irish accent varies from song to song, but it is quite prominent in the protest song “Drill, ye tarriers, drill,” which tells the tale of a dynamite man who tarries a bit too long, is blown sky high, and then finds his pay is docked for the time he was in the air. Well, at least he wasn’t outsourced.
As always, Archeophone provides fabulous program notes, this time 50 pages of them, that are worth the price of the CD set alone. There is much about the life and times of Quinn, lots of illustrations, and details about each song heard on the disc. There is even an account of a (then) notorious dinner at which Little Egypt did her thing and Quinn had to testify that nothing indecent had happened.
Again, I urge teachers of history and sociology to bring some educational delight into their classrooms by using Archeophone discs to shed some extraordinary light on what life was like before all those dull textbooks were written!