Category Archives: Sheet Music Covers

Comments on some special, funny or beautiful covers

Doing the Raccoon: the collegiate style

‘Doing the Raccoon’ by Raymond Klages & J.Fred Coots, published by Francis-Day (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Würth.

We see three couples dancing a foxtrot. From the academic gown and black cap we can assume that they are students. Possibly the building in the back is their Alma Mater. But the French illustrator Würth failed to draw the essence of the American song. Fortunately the original cover reveals what ‘Doin’ the Raccoon‘ is about, namely dancing gaily in a thick raccoon coat.

‘Doing the Raccoon’ by Raymond Klages & J.Fred Coots, published by Remick Music Corp (New York 1928)

The flashy full-length fur coat was the trend in the 1920s and 30s. Especially American college boys —and even some young women— adopted this fashion in the Roaring Twenties.

College men, knowledge men,
Do a dance called raccoon;
It’s the craze, nowadays,
And it will get you soon.
Buy a coat and try it,
I’ll bet you’ll be a riot,
It’s a wow, learn to do it right now!

The raccoon fur coat craze became identified with affluent students at the Ivy League colleges and universities:

Oh, they wear ’em down at Princeton,
And they share ’em up at Yale,
They eat in them at Harvard,
But they sleep in them in jail!


The coats were particularly popular among the playful students on campus: fun seekers or male jazz enthusiasts who got nicknamed collegiates or Joe College. These cheery types would drive dilapidated old cars, wear a straw hat or fedora and carry a hip flask of illicit booze. They made it very clear that you didn’t need to go to class to become collegiate:  slip into your huge fur coat and dance the raccoon!

The raccoon coat became a fashion symbol of the Jazz Age. It was popularised by celebrities: football players, actors, singers, 

‘I love no one but you’ by Phil Spitalny, published by Phil Spitalny (Cleveland, 1927) and illustrated by Geo Orpin.

 … and even by avant-garde artists like Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp wearing a raccoon coat (1927)

While the raccoon coat originally appealed to a white clientele, the modern and rich black American man and woman followed suit. James VanDerZee, recording Harlem’s growing middle class, took this beautiful photo of a couple dressed in similar raccoon coats in their luxurious sleek Cadillac. They embody sophistication and wealth during the Harlem Renaissance.

Couple in Raccoon Coats, Harlem by James Van Der Zee (1932).

I had never heard of raccoon coats before. I only remember Walt Disney’s romanticised version of Davy Crockett wearing a coonskin cap in the series from the 1950’s.

Portrait of Fess Parker, best known for his Davy Crockett role in the Walt Disney’s TV series.

But well, that wasn’t the real Davy Crockett. Neither was this stereotype of Davy Crockett on the cover of a 19th-century sheet music. In fact it is the actor Frank Mayo with moustaches and a dead animal sitting on his head. From 1872 until his death in 1896, he frequently played the role of Davy Crockett, the 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman and politician.

Davy Crockett March’ by George Loesch published by White Smith & C° (Boston, 1874).

Amusing Duplicates

'Das ist der Bimini...' sheet music cover by Dely
Das ist der Bimini…‘ by Stephan Weiss and Beda. Cover illustrated by Vertès for publisher Wiener Bohème Verlag (Wien, 1925).

Amusing double items, over the years we have grown to cherish these lucky finds. All of the graceful flavours of print and design become apparent: subtle similitudes, minor mistakes, lost details, delicate varieties in shade, colour or contrasts. However sometimes a duplicate is nothing but a gross replication. Take for instance the small Czech songbook, that would like to be an exact copy of the over-the-top incorrect but oh so cute Vertès illustration. A mediocre but bleak reproduction if you ask me.

Das ist der Bimini, song book published in
Das ist der Bimini, Accord-Sammlung für Gesang’, published by Accord in Prague (1925?).

Here is another example of how an ingenious and expressive design of Marcel Vertès is muddled, wasted and ruined. It is obvious that in the French version of the Passion waltz the red and green colour plates have ineptly been aligned…

Passion‘ a boston waltz by Otto Weber (1920). The cover illustrated by Marcel Vertès was published by Drei Masken Verlag in Vienna (on the left) and Smyth in Paris (right).

Have a look at a similar debacle, this one from the workshop of Hawkes in London. What happened, was the red ink too thick or too thin? Shouldn’t the gold have been printed  first? It may be that the red ‘Gold and Silver’ waltz was an ordinary printing press reject. Which we now ironically give the status of ‘collection item’. Anyway what a shame for the beautiful drawing by W. George.

On the left ‘L’Or et l’Argent‘ from Franz Lehar, published by Edouard Salabert (Paris, 1903). Right: ‘Gold and Silver‘, the washout from Hawkes & Son, London, s.d. Illustration by W. George.

Some ‘duplicate’ sheet music are just different. Having both versions in the collection is worthwhile, and brings on a few moments of delight. As does the gliding sound of the great-grandmother of all waltzes ‘Sobre las Olas’ (Uber den Wellen, Sur les vagues, Over the Waves) composed by Mexican Juventino Rosas in 1888.

Sobre las Ollas‘ by Juventino Rosas. Published by Otto June (Leipzig, s.d.). Illustration signed G.B.
Sobre las Ollas‘, waltz composed by by Juventino Rosas. Publisher: Schott Frères (Bruxelles, s.d.). Unknown illustrator.

Time now for a musical intermezzo: float and twirl over the ocean  waves!

All the duplicates above show essentially the same drawing. It is more fun when the same theme is drawn differently, as with this chucklesome waiter.

Im Hotel zur Grünen Wiese‘ by Edvard Brink, illustrated by Otto Dely and published by Wiener Bohème Verlag (Wien, 1922).
A l’Hôtel de la Prairie Verte (Théodor)’ by Edvard Brink, illustrated by Robert Laroche (published by Smyth, Paris, 1922).

A last surprising duplicate which brings joy is The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

The Teddy Bears Picnic‘ by John W. Bratton. Illustrator unknown. Published by Feldman & Co (London, s.d.).

The UK branch of American publisher Witmark resolutely chose  for an extra row of bears.

The Teddy Bears Picnic‘ by John W. Bratton (Witmark & Sons, London, 1907). Unknown illustrator.

German publisher Roehr on the other hand preferred chubby Teddies for its Baby-Bären Parade.

Baby-Bären Parade – The Teddy Bears Picnic‘ by John W. Bratton. Cover of the sheet music published by C. M. Roehr (Berlin, 1907).

Strangely The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, copyrighted in 1907 by American composer John Bratton, was for many years just an instrumental number. Twenty-five years later,  in 1932, Irishmen Jimmy Kennedy wrote the lyrics that beautifully accompany the two-step rhythm:

If you go down to the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today
You’d better go in disguise!
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain,
Because today’s the day the
Teddy Bears have their picnic.

 

Now comes the special moment: a scene from the Eighty’s serial drama The Singing Detective, wherein Michael Gambon plays crooner, detective, and psoriatic patient. Thank you Dennis Potter.


Previous posts on duplicate sheet music covers:

In Love with Nanook: Eskimomania

Amoureuse de Nanouck (Oogie-Oogie Wa-Wa)’ by Archie Gottler. French Lyrics by Léo Lelièvre & Henri Varna. Published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by Dorothy Dulin.

The Parisian flapper dressed in her fashionable fur-trimmed winter coat is obviously infatuated with Nanook, an Inuk hunter. We can imagine that she travelled so far up North to meet the subject of her fancy, after having seen him in a Paris cinema. Nanook of the North, a docudrama filmed by Robert Flaherty in 1922 was a world-wide sensation that prompted an ‘Eskimo craze’ in the Western world.

From 1910 Flaherty had made a few explorations to the North. At one moment he started shooting film of the Inuit life. In 1916 he had collected enough footage for a movie, but he lost almost all of it by dropping a cigarette onto the highly inflammable film. Flaherty returned to the North and this time concentrated on one Inuit family. His cinéma-vérité tour de force is considered a masterpiece even if most of it was staged. Nanook wasn’t the real name of the protagonist and his children were not his real children, nor were his wives his real wives. During the filming these ‘wives’ even became Flaherty’s mistresses. And with one of them he had a child that he later abandoned.

Promotional poster for the 1922 docudrama Nanook of the North. Wikimedia Commons.

Since it would have been impossible to film inside the dark interior of an igloo, a special set was built consisting of half an igloo. The film was meant to give impressions from the far north of the Polar Regions. In reality Flahertys shots conveniently came from the north-eastern part of Hudson Bay. But at that time there were no rules for filming a documentary.

Nanook of the North was a kind of advertising film distributed by Pathé. It was financed by the Parisian fur traders Revillon Frères. They were the largest fur company in France with branches in London, New York and Montréal, and 125 fur trading posts. Nanook of the North was filmed near one of their trading posts at Inukjuak, Quebec.

Oogie Oogie Wa Wa‘ by Archie Gottler, Grant Clarke & Edgar Leslie, published by Mack Stark & Rubey Cowan (New York 1922). Cover illustration by Rosenbaum.

After the release of the film, Margaret Young introduced the humorous song Oogie Oogie Wa Wa in vaudeville, a song with the usual double entendre. Quickly the song became one of the popular tunes of the day and was translated in French as Amoureuse de Nanouck. It was one of Al Jolson’s greatest hits. At one point it was banned from being played at local music pavilions until it had been analysed by the Morals Committee.

Girls like simple things,
Beads and ten cent rings,
They kiss you for a chocolate drop,
Imagine if a fellow had a candy shop…

Around the same time, Salabert published the song South Sea Moon. I don’t know what got into Roger de Valerio when he illustrated the cover for this song with a couple of Inuit resembling Nanook and one of his ‘wives’. One normally associates the South Sea with tropical Islands and blue lagoons.

South Sea Moon‘ by Louis A. Hirsh, Gene Buck & Dave Stamper, published by Salabert (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

Maybe he confused it with the Southern Ocean? But then again, in his drawing de Valerio combined penguins (living in the Antarctic region) with the happy-looking Inuit couple (living in the Arctic).

Still from the mockumentary ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny’.

In the mockumentary ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny’ a man from the Book Correction Division is crossing out with a marker all the penguins in drawings where they are pictured together with polar bears. The film is written from the Inuit perspective on the oddities of Qallunaat, the Inuit word for white people.
Quite Humoreskimo!

Humoreskimo‘ by Alfred Bryan, Pete Wendling & Henri Berchman. Published by Sam Fox (1928, Paris), unknown illustrator.

I have to end this post with one of my favourite songs from the seventies: Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow by Frank Zappa, about a man who dreams that he was an Eskimo named Nanook.

And my momma cried:
Boo-a-hoo hoo-ooo
And my momma cried:
Nanook-a, no no (no no . . . )
Nanook-a, no no (no no . . . )
Don’t be a naughty Eskimo-wo-oh
(Bop-bop ta-da-da bop-bop Ta-da-da)

An’ she said
(Bop-bop ta-da-da bop . . . )
With a tear in her eye:
Watch out where the huskies go
An’ don’t you eat that yellow snow