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December 30th, 2009

Nostalgia and old songs

Christmas and New Years is a time for remembering old times... chatting on iChat with my dad in Florida we got talking about a song he'd heard many years ago -- I remember hearing him sing it when I was a kid -- and we started looking for its roots on the internet.

He writes:

I first heard this song at a variety show at Stalag Luft III put on by American POWs in 1943. It was presented by a vaudeville act of two kriegies named Bud Gaston and Dick Coffey. They called themselves "Crowley and Shea."

The lyrics:

Let's all go down to Mary Ann's
And put a nickel in the pianola.
There's always something nice
Waiting on the ice
You never have to ask her twice
For even a Coca Cola.
It's not far
It's just around the block
The key is in the river
And the door is never locked.
You'll never know what time it is
The hands are off the clock,
Around at Mary Ann's.


Searching the internet, I find that there's a scuzzy student bar near Boston College called Mary Anne's. A little more searching found the liner notes (http://www.newworldrecords.org/linernotes/80291.pdf) to a folk music album that records a similar song, collected by the Smithsonian in the 1970's. According to the liner notes:

Round to Maryanne’s
Kenneth Atwood, vocal.
Recorded 1976 at Smithsonian Institution Festival of American Folklife, Washington, D.C.
“Round to Maryinne's” is a grown-up song that children like. It pokes fun at policemen who ignore obvious infringements of the law, at the mock heroism of sea captains, and at the “bravery” of generals in battle. It is the kind of song that your favorite uncle would always sing after Thanksgiving dinner, while your mother would object, “Not in front of the children.” (Such songs are often those that children remember with the greatest affection.) Its humorous advocacy of the workingman'a right to license is sure to appeal to young boys in search of a manly role model.Maryanne's is an Irish alehouse. The song probably stems from the period of the nineteenth century when the potato famines in Ireland drove many farmers from their homes to seek a livelihood in America. As a result of the influx of poor Irish competing for work, many songs were written from the fifties to the nineties both for and against the Irish, and the Irish policeman and the Irish biddy joined the ranks of American ethnic stereotypes (80265-2, Don't Give the Name a Bad Place: Types and Stereotypes in American Musical Theater—1870- 1900).

Kenneth Atwood is a lumberman who has worked most of his life in Utah. His repertoire reflects his identification with the American workingman. His original song “The Turkey Trail” tells of a wagon-busting, man-challenging trail littered with boulders strewn as thickly as hailstones, an image reminiscent of the Paul Bunyan tales. Other songs of his tell of the rigors of farm life or detail a hardened sailor's advice to a green sailor boy. Atwood learned “Round to Maryanne's” from a cousin.

Sunday night in your town,
Sunday night in ours,
Nothing to do on the outside,
nothing to do indoors.
They even shut the movies,
soon as it is dark;
They drive the people off the streets,
and then they lock the park.
But there's one place you can always find to go,
And as soon as the drugstore closes,
you will hear somebody say:

Chorus
“Let's all go around to Maryanne's
And pick 'em a tune upon the pianola!
There's something nice, it's always on the ice,
And you don't have to ask her twice
For a drink of Coca-Cola.
Her front-door key's always in the lock,
The door is standing open,
and you never have to knock,
For Mary is Irish,
and so is the cop that beats it around the block,
So you'll never go home till morning.
You're round to Maryanne's !”

Terrible thunder and lightning and storm from out the sky,
The good ship Helen Blaise is just struck on the rock.
One-half of the passengers lost their lives,
And the first mate lost his sock.
Well, then the captain cried, “It's up to you!”
And then the second assistant cook says,
“I know what let's do: (Chorus)

Cannonballs was flying, the fight was almost won,
Millions of people were dying, they had no place to run.
The general, he's the byros [sic], the pride of Mexico,
Was digging a hole to China, there or some other place to go.
And as he dropped his spade to take a rest,
The captain fell off from a bucking mule and cried,
“Well, I suggest: (Chorus)


From the internal evidence (references to pianolas, popular from 1890-1920) and Coca Cola, it probably dates from the early 20th century; and I suspect the scuzzy bar is named for the song, not the other way around.

Given the known overlap between my science fiction friends, my folksong friends, and my Boston friends, does anyone out there have any further information about this song?

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