Where can I find recordings of early American popular music?
October 2, 2005 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I enjoy early American popular music (say up until the late 1920s), and especially period recordings of the same. I have about a dozen CDs compiling this music, and have downloaded other songs from alt.binaries.sounds.*. I'm looking for other sources of free mp3s of early American popular music. (Don't fret about copyright issues: the stuff I'm looking for is old enough that it's in the public domain.) I'd also love recommendations for modern(ish) recordings of these old songs. I know Garrison Keillor performs some from time-to-time (and just did on his last broadcast, for example), and I know of Joan Morris/William Bolcome and Jody Dall'Armi.
posted by jdroth to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried the Smithsonian's American Memory Project?
posted by pessoa at 9:26 PM on October 2, 2005

Check out the Country Classics on WREK, 91.1 FM in Atlanta and mp3 streaming worldwide.

Show description

128 kbps mp3 archive of most recent show

If you're reasonably tech savvy (read: look at file properties in your streaming playback program), you can figure out how to download the shows (e.g. for your portable mp3 player).

See also Dust to Digital Records and their Goodbye, Babylon compilation.
posted by intermod at 9:52 PM on October 2, 2005

Here's a link to the Library of Congress American Memory performing arts and music catalogue. You should find some real gems in there.
posted by lambchop1 at 10:23 PM on October 2, 2005

You'll almost certainly enjoy Gillian Welch. She does some wonderful covers of classics, and her originals have a great old timey sound. You might find some of the artists on the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack to your liking as well. If you do, you should check out the O Sister! project while you're at it.

None of the above are free, but they're well worth paying for.
posted by aladfar at 10:55 PM on October 2, 2005

The Internet Archive's Collection of Digitized 78s from the early 20th century might be of some interest to you.
posted by bibliowench at 11:30 PM on October 2, 2005

Get a library card. Any respectable library system will have at least a few CD sets of exactly what you're looking for.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:17 AM on October 3, 2005

For what it's worth, and it might be a _little_ late for what you're talking about, but I love the CDs by R. Crumb & his Cheap Suit Serenaders. (Speaking of which, there's an awesome sampler CD that comes with the R. Crumb Handbook; the book is OK, but, to be honest, I'm more of a fan of Crumb's music than his comics, so, well, for me, it was a CD with a bonus 300 page hardback book..8)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:23 AM on October 3, 2005

See if you can find any of Jim Kweskin's Jug Band. They recorded several albums in the '60s that featured early-20th-century music. Most of it they played for camp effect, but it was pretty good.

The song titles I can remember off the top of my head:
Never Swat a Fly
Going to Germany
I'm a Woman
Ukelele Lady
K.C. Moan
When You're a Viper

posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:37 AM on October 3, 2005

I depends what genre you're looking for, but Bluegrasscountry.org actually has a broader range than the title suggests. The Dick Spottswood show in particular is excellent. You can listen to streams there, and there are plenty of ways to convert streams to mp3s.
posted by OmieWise at 5:41 AM on October 3, 2005

It depends what genre you're looking for

Mostly, I'm looking for mainstream American popular music, songs such as After the Ball, In the Good Old Summertime, Bird in a Gilded Cage, On the Banks of the Wabash, Shine on Harvest Moon, Alexander's Ragtime Band, etc.

I'm aware of — but had forgotten — many of the options suggested so far. Surely there must be some vast repository of mp3s that people have ripped from old phonographs. I have a couple of sites bookmarked, but their selection is rather poor.
posted by jdroth at 6:22 AM on October 3, 2005

Thomas Edison's Attic is a radio show on WFMU that plays music from cylinders and discs, dating from 1888 to 1929. You can listen to streams or download the program in MP3 format. You can also subscribe to the podcast of the show.
posted by mds35 at 6:59 AM on October 3, 2005

See also: Antique Phongraph Music Program and The Big Broadcast. (The Big Broadcast can be streamed from www.wfuv.org. Look at the program schedules for Sunday night.)
posted by mds35 at 7:32 AM on October 3, 2005

There's a great Smithsonian boxed set of early folk music... not sure if that's something you would enjoy or not. Bob Dylan knew these records when he was a teenager and I think he once said he could sing along with every song.

Perhaps you could find this at a library.
posted by kdern at 7:41 AM on October 3, 2005

I'm not sure folks are making the distinction between roots/traditional music, which is largely what you find on American Memory and similar sites, and pop(ular) music, created by songwriters for the mass market and sold as sheet music and as recordings. It sounds like the asker is looking for the latter.
posted by Miko at 8:10 AM on October 3, 2005

Miko is correct: I'm looking for the standard Tin Pan Alley stuff for which sheet music is available in abundance. These are the songs that your great-grandparents would have sung in a parlor on a summer evening. This was the pop music of its day.

Roots/traditional is a modern nomenclature for what I consider simply folk music. Folk, country, and blues all descend from what we now call "roots music", but it's not really what I'm after.

But please keep the suggestions coming. They've been good so far.
posted by jdroth at 9:15 AM on October 3, 2005

"Folk" as a label has become too diluted to mean anything and often gets confused with folk rock and singer-songwriter material. That's why, along with other folklorists, I prefer 'traditional' to refer to songs and tunes that carry cultural meaning and that are learned and taught outside the processes of commercial recording. It is a narrower term than "folk, and is thus more specific. "Folk" as a label for all types of social behavior (dance, art, literature, humor) has been problematic from its inception in the late 19th century and continues to be so - especially now that so-called "folk" material can be produced expressly for commercial consumption (for instance, calling John Gorka or Shawn Colvin a 'folk singer'). It excludes nothing (you can argue, for instance, that British punk and hip-hop are folk musics) and so is not terribly useful. Even the people we call paragons of 'folk' -- Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie -- performed commercially and sang a mixture of traditional songs and original compositions which can only be construed as pop songs, though they were often based on traditional song forms.

Here are some clarifications from the Princeton Department of Music:

Folk Music--In popular usage, this term refers to music of oral traditions, often in relatively simple style, primarily of rural provenance, normally lacking an identifiable composer and performed by non-professionals, used and understood by broad segments of a population and especially by the lower socioeconomic classes, characteristic of a nation, society, or ethnic group, and claimed by one of these as its own. Since this is a romanticized picture that has often been imbued with political significance, the term "folk music" is avoided by specialists in ethnomusicology,the study of musical cultures.

Traditional Music--A term used by ethnomusicologists in preference to "folk music," this refers to types of music that are handed down within a particular culture, by a variety of means that may include oral transmission, written notation, study with professional teachers, or improvisation within culturally-defined parameters.

Popular music-- Music accessible to a wide audience, distributed through the mass media as a commercial product. It tends to be associated with urban rather than rural cultures, and is performed by professional musicians.

But that's neither here nor there. Sorry to go OT.
posted by Miko at 1:59 PM on October 3, 2005

The Smithsonian's site has a lot of great stuff along these lines as does Honey, Where You Been So Long and Jukebox Selections.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 3:23 PM on October 3, 2005

Sorry to go OT

Not at all. I enjoyed the clarification!
posted by jdroth at 4:32 PM on October 3, 2005

Not quite the genre you're looking for, but Joe Bussard has an absolutely awesome collection of 78s and sells tapes.
posted by Vidiot at 9:38 PM on October 4, 2005

« Older Why is my shoe rolling off?   |   I need a drink. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.