Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Just a few months ago I spotted a brief mention in one of the New York papers about a portion of Tin Pan Alley being sold.

The most disturbing aspect of this story is a suggestion the new owner should raze all of the existing buildings and construct a new high-rise.

I have read nothing since about this situation. Are those historic music publishing buildings still standing?

Considering the significance of Tin Pan Alley in American music history, you may want to look into this.
—Marty Gordon, Gettysburg, Pa.

DEAR MARTY: I do and I did.

First, for readers who missed the story you reference, here is an excerpt from the October 9, 2008 New York Post story, “Tin Pan Alley's Sad Tune,” by Braden Keil, Irene Plagianos and Andy Geller:

“Much to the dismay of tenants and preservationists, five of the buildings on West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue — a block that for 60 years was the heart of the songwriting industry — have gone up for sale.

“The five buildings, at 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 West 28th Street, are being sold as a group for — hold on to your hat in these cacophonous economic times — a mere $44 million.”

The listing agent named at the time was Lois D. Thompson, an associate broker at Coldwell Banker's Syosset (Long Island) office.

I checked the company's web page, which apparently once served as the site for this listing, and it states succinctly: “property is no longer available.”

Now with amplified curiosity, I called Lois Thompson (February 20) and asked for an update on these properties. Unfortunately, the only reply Lois gave is “I can't say anything about that at this time. If and when I can I'll get back to you.”

Mmmmm … very interesting.

For now at least, you know as much about this piece of Tin Pan Alley as most of the world's population.

DEAR JERRY: A very popular Western song is “Little Joe the Wrangler,” one I've heard by many folks, from Marty Robbins and Roger Wagner to the Sons of the Pioneers.

No matter the singer, there is one thing they all have in common. Though a somewhat lengthy tale is told, not a single line or verse is repeated.

I don't know how uncommon this might be, but I can't think of another hit or famous song where every line is new.

Can you name one?
—Claude Kellogg, Boston, Mass.

DEAR CLAUDE: This is not a common technique, but it is not unique to “Little Joe the Wrangler.”

It may surprise you to know I don't even have to go beyond Marty Robbins to cite twice that many.

Marty's 4:47 signature song, “El Paso,” has no repeated lines. More impressive is the prequel, “Feleena (From El Paso),” which runs 8:18 with nary a line repeated.

Apart from the genius of Robbins, Rock and Roll poet Chuck Berry contributed several tunes to this category. Among those are “Let It Rock” (1960); “Our Little Rendezvous” (1960); “Promised Land” (1964); and “Memphis, Tennessee” (1959).

Like Marty Robbins did with two “El Paso” adventures, Chuck does with the “Memphis” sequel, “Little Marie” (1964).

As evidenced by these examples, this chorus-free style of writing is mostly found in songs that tell a story, as would be found in a book or any non-musical account of the events.

IZ ZAT SO? Coming up with some Rock Era No. 1 hits with no lines repeated is tough, but here are a couple to at least get you a passing grade if you're quizzed: Roy Orbison's “Running Scared” (1961) and “The Long and Winding Road” (1970), the last hit by the Beatles as a group.

Jeannie C. Riley's 1968 mega-selling “Harper Valley P.T.A.” just barely fails to qualify.

Not until the very last line in the song is there a repeat. Twice in a row she sings “the day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.”

And that is just one “sock” too many.

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