Category Archives: Songs

Comments on songs and lyrics…

Yes, We have no Bananas

no bananas
‘Yes! We have no Bananas’ by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, published by Salabert, Paris in 1923 and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

A newspaper article on the threat of a banana shortage brings to mind the song Yes! We have no Bananas. The origin of the song is not clear. Allegedly it was inspired by a shortage brought on by the Panama disease, a soil-based fungus which attacks the roots of the plant. As the banana is a monoculture crop, this means that if something goes wrong, the whole crop can be lost. The earlier and more tastier banana variety Gros Michel (or Big Mike) was thus completely wiped out in the 1960s. Today the Gros Michel is replaced by the Cavendish, but it is still a monoculture and it is no longer resistant to a more virulent strain of the Panama disease. About 10 years ago this new strain started to destroy plantations in Asia and Australia, threatening the Cavendish banana with the same fate as its predecessor.
Roger de Valerio, an illustrator with a vivid imagination, apparently didn’t read the original lyrics before illustrating the cover of the French version of Yes! We have no Bananas. He simply associated bananas with the stereotype of the black mammy and black people. To my dismay, this old stupid cliché is sometimes voiced on our soccer fields. For the cover of the original American sheet music Sol Wohlman straightforwardly illustrated the story: a Greek American greengrocer who tells his customers, in broken English, that he has no bananas to sell.

There’s a fruitshop down our street,
It’s run by a Greek,
And he sells good things to eat,
But you should hear him speak,
When you ask him anything,
Never answers “No”,
He just yesses you to death,
And as he takes your dough he tells you:

Yes! We have no bananas,
We have no bananas today…

no bananas original
‘Yes! We have no bananas’ by Frank Silver & Irving Cohn, published by Skidmore Music Co., Inc, New York in 1923 and illustrated by Sol Wohlman (not in our collection, Johns Hopkins University, Levy Sheet Music Collection)

Wohlman himself falls into the trap of stereotyping when, for another sheet music cover, he caricatures a typical Italian person. Notice the similar exotic mustachios, earrings and mischievous eyes.

A typical Italian man drawn by Sol Wohlman (partition musicale - illustrated sheet music), 1923
Caricature of an Italian man drawn by Sol Wohlman for the cover of ‘When it’s Night-time in Italy It’s Wednesday Over Here’ published by The Lawrence Wright Music C°, Leicester, 1923.

Back to our song. After Eddie Cantor used the novelty song in one of his Broadway revues in 1922, it topped the charts in America and became a smashing  success all over the world.

bananas europa
Left: ‘Si, non ho piu banane!’ by Frank Silver and Irving Kohn, published by Carlo Lombardo, Milano (s.d.) and illustrated by Roveroni. Right: ‘Bananen’, by Frank Silver and Irving Kohn, and translated by Fritz Löhner (Beda), published by Wiener Bohème – Verlag, Vienna in 1923.

The song inspired a follow-up song “I’ve Got the Yes! We Have No Bananas Blues”.

bananas blues copy
Left: ‘I’ve Got the Yes! We Have No Bananas Blues’ By Lew Brown, James Hanley & Robert King, published by Shapiro, Bernstein & C°, New York in 1923 and illustrated by Politzer. Right: The same song published by Salabert, Paris in 1923 and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

Again, Roger de Valerio gets the wrong end of the stick about the song’s content. It is obviously a mockery about a man who cannot stand the earworm, nicely illustrated by Politzer. Although de Valerio is to me the better illustrator, he once more gets his inspiration from a black people stereotype, palm tree and all.

In France the song spawned spoof versions, emphasising that the chauvinistic French didn’t suffer a banana shortage: Chez nous y a des bananes (We have bananas!). For illustrator Clérice, selling bananas is not a Greek merchant business, but a job for shrewd African vendors.

les bananes
Left: ‘La Marche des Bananes’ by Vincent Scotto, published by Salabert, Paris in 1923 and illustrated by Jacques Boullaire. Right: ‘Chez nous y a des bananes’ by René de Buxeuil, published by La Parisienne, Paris in 1923 and illustrated by Clérice frères.

The great Maurice Chevalier performed another parody: We have pineapples! (Nous avons des ananas!).

les ananas
‘Les Ananas’ by Fred Pearly & Max Eddy, published by Salabert, Paris in 1923 and probably illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

This in turn was an inspiration for the silly song ‘Nana n’a pas d’ananas’ (Nana has no pineapples).

‘Nana n’a pas d’ananas’ by Dior & Delly, published by Dior, Paris s.d. and illustrated by Jean Chevalier.

Time to listen to the song. Mind you, it will stay with you for the whole day and slowly drive you mad as a box of frogs. I prefer the version by the Pied Pipers from the 1948 musical film ‘Luxury Liner’.

And because I adore Billy Wilder, I include a German version of the song from the Cold War comedy ‘One, Two Three’. The film features James Cagney as Coca-Cola’s head of West Berlin operations trying to get Coca-Cola into the Russian market.

I’m looking for…

'Ich suche Dich Titine (Je cherche après Titine)', by Léo Daniderff and German text by Friedrich Hollaender.
‘Ich suche Dich Titine’, music by Léo Daniderff and German text by Friedrich Hollaender (Victor Alberti Musikalienhandlung, Berlin, 1922).

This gorgeous sheet music cover was created by Katerina (Käte) Wilczynski. Born in Poznan (1894) she studied and worked in Leipzig and Berlin where she illustrated books. She travelled a lot in Europe, especially to Greece. In 1939 she definitely moved to London where she died (1978). She was known for her portraits and street scenes, later also for her landscape drawings.

A drawing of a street scene in Paris (1928) by Katerina Wilczynski.
Katerina Wilczynski: a street scene in Paris (1928).
Left: illustration for 'Kyrie Eleison' by Waldemar Bonsels (1922). Right: portrait of Joyce Cary by Katerina Wilczynski, pen and ink, 1954 (National Portrait Gallery, London, 4822).
Left: illustration for ‘Kyrie Eleison’ by Waldemar Bonsels (1922). Right: portrait of Joyce Cary by Katerina Wilczynski, pen and ink, 1954 (National Portrait Gallery, London, 4822).

Strangely, having discovered that she was ambidextrous she let each hand play its own part in the creation of the drawing. I love this greeting card that she made for a friend in 1974. Perhaps because travelling by memory is what we also do in this blog with many hands.

Wilczynski's good wishes for 1975, drawn when she was eighty.
Wilczynski’s good wishes for 1975, drawn when she was eighty.

The sheet music above is the German version of the original French song that was sung by so many poilus, as the infantrymen were called during the First World War. The tune of Je cherche après Titine’ had been written by Leo Daniderff (1878-1943), presumably in 1917 for his loved one, the physically disconcerting Gaby Montbreuse. Daniderff had ‘russianised’ his first name (he was born Ferdinand Niquet), which earned him the nickname faux Russe (‘false russian’). This (or his talent) also earned him success: he became the composer of hundreds of popular songs and helped the career of many celebrities.

We haven’t yet found a French copy of Je cherche après Titine’ with a worthy illustrated cover. Here and there you may find a petit format, a small and cheap publication of the song written by Marcel Bertal, Louis Maubon and Emile Ronn.

Petits formats (small sheet music) of 'Je cherche après Titine'.
‘Je cherche après Titine’, two ‘petits formats’ or small sheet music found on Du temps des cerises aux feuilles mortes.

In 1922, the same year as the German publication, Carisch launched the Italian version of the song: Io cerco Titina. The flapper on the cover for this ‘ultimo successo internazionale‘ is by Roveroni.

'Io cerca Titina'
‘Io cerca Titina’, with Italian lyrics by Guido di Napoli (Casa Editrice Carisch, Milano, 1922).

Not at a viral speed but still in a steady pace, the song conquered the world. In 1924 we find this beautiful American Titina sheet music cover.

Titina sheet music cover by Harms Inc. 1924.
‘Titina’, published by Harms Incorporated (New York, unknown illustrator, 1924).

Jack Hylton‘s orchestra popularised Titina as a hyper danceable foxtrot. But we’lll listen instead to a Billy Murray 1925 recording of Titina, and sing along its refrain:

I’m looking for Titina – Titina, my Titina,
I’ve searched from Palistina, to London and Peru.
I’ll die without Titina, I can’t eat my farina,
I don’t want Rose or Lena, Titina I want you.

Warning: the following old label has nothing to do whatsoever with our story, except the brand name and its roaring looks. We couldn’t resist…

Tinned tomatoes.
Titina label for a brand of tinned tomatoes.

There is no better way to conclude this article than by viewing the ultimate Titine dance and singing act by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936).  How very ironic that for his first ‘talkie’ Chaplin uses nonsense words, or what do you make out of “La spinash o la bouchon Cigaretto Portabello Si rakish spaghaletto Ti la tu la ti la twah” ?

And while for many years the whole world was looking for Titine, at last someone found her:

‘Titine’ by Jacques Brel, 1964.

La Samaritaine

‘Devant la Samaritaine’ by Gangloff, published by Delormel, Paris and illustrated by Faria.

The cartoon by Faria for the comic song Devant la Samaritaine shows a half-naked woman and a lecherous fisherman, the popular singer Paulus. The only Samaritaine in Paris we knew till now was the department store near the Pont Neuf (which closed definitely in 2005). This ignorance explains why we couldn’t make sense of Faria’s picture. So, it’s google time again.

The deparment store La Samaritaine and Pont Neuf in Paris before 2005.

Les Bains de la Samaritaine depicted on the cover was a floating construction on the Seine containing public baths. The stylish and stunning vessel contained 100 bathtubs, placed in small cubicles distributed over two floors. One could go there for a simple bath, or for medicinal baths, steam baths, showers and hydrotherapy.

Entrance to the Bains de la Samaritaine, ca 1900.
Bains de la Samaritaine, ca 1865-1870.

The hydraulic pump and the immense filters used to purify the water of the Seine were installed in the roof space of the building. The chimneys of the heating boilers with their decoration of metal palms were famous throughout Paris.

pompe samaritaine
The Pont Neuf with the building containing ‘La Samaritaine’ pump. Oil painting by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1777. Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

Les Bains de la Samaritaine, as well as the famous department store, took their name from a large hydraulic water pump. It was installed in 1608 to power the water of the Seine into the Louvre and the Tuileries. The pump was rebuilt in 1715. The facade of the building that housed the pump contained a sculpture representing Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, hence the name.

A view of the Bains de la Samaritaine on the Seine near the Pont Neuf by Charles Soulier, ca 1860.

It is not known when the baths were first installed next to the Pont Neuf. The first authorisation to build hot baths on a boat dates back to 1761. On a preserved plan for such a bathing establishment we see small cubicles. Some contain a bath, others also accommodate a bed or two baths. There is clearly a  physical separation for men and women, with different staircases.

baignoire plan
Plan of a boat with public baths in Rouen, 1762 . Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime.

The Bains de la Samaritaine disappeared in 1919. They were sunk by a flood of the Seine.

The flood of the Seine in January 1919: the Bains de la Samaritaine inundated. Bibliothèque Nationale de France

We wonder if the angler on the following picture is hoping, like Paulus, for a flash of female nudity.

Angler fishing in the Seine next to Les Bains de la Samaritaine, ca 1900.

But of course to understand all this we could have read the text of the song. Life can be simple.

Devant les bains de la Samaritaine
Je pêchais sur les bords de Seine
Quand dans un cabinet voisin
Je vis une dame qu’allait prendre un bain
Sa fenêtre était grande ouverte
A cette vue qui m’était offerte
Je me dis …crédu Quel tableau
Ca vaut mieux que de regarder dans l’eau.