Last week, I was looking through the Giant List of 1926 Copyrights, because of course I was. What struck me as something I’d never heard discussed that should’ve been is how many songs that year were about Florida. Now, there were songs about a fair number of other states, and it’s also true that Florida, in 1926, counted as interesting and glamorous. But also, that was the era of the Great Florida Land Boom, and it left its legacy in a way that has vanished now because probably quite a lot of those songs weren’t very good.
It’s not as common today, I suppose. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because you get tedious YouTube videos instead. But for a long time, any time there was something new and big, you’d get at least a half-dozen songs cashing in on the trend. I think it tailed off in what Stephen King described as the Universal monster movie arc, where at the end, what you’d get was the monster meeting Abbott and Costello. This is not meant to shame Weird Al, who is in my opinion a great artist and by all accounts a pretty cool guy, but he’s the only one still doing “this thing is popular” songs today.
It goes back to the days when you bought songs on broadsheets. Possibly before, but that’s as far back as we can trace it. You’d get a lot of songs about whatever hero, or at least “hero,” was popular in those days. You can see how it would happen. Someone catches the public eye, and a dozen or two small printers figure the best way to cash in on that is to slap together a song, quite possibly to the tune of something else. This would then pass on to the era of sold sheet music, music box cylinders, and eventually records.
Records? Oh, yup, the example that springs to mind for me from the modern era, relatively speaking, is the phenomenon of the Twist. Doing the Twist, or the Peppermint Twist. Twisting again like we did last summer. Twisting and shouting. Twistin’ the night away. There’s a Florida twist, to get us back to our introduction. In fact, Wikipedia has an entire page of Twist-related songs. Okay, sure, that’s about a dance craze, where the songs make a little more sense, but still. There are literally dozens of them.
Maybe we phased the whole thing out with the popularity of radio and records and so forth because the sheet music wouldn’t end up tossed out or gathering dust in a piano bench or similar. So fine, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard “La Leçon De Twist” before. But most of the things I mentioned in the last paragraph, I’m familiar with the song enough to muddle through at least the chorus. These are songs from when my mom was a teenager, and they’re not forgotten. It may also take longer to hop on the trend in recording than it does in printing broadsheets, and it’s entirely possible that the songs will be produced after the trend has faded. And maybe YouTube will at some point bring that back, as it did with the sea shanty trend. Remember that?