Saturday 19 February 2022

Goodbye, My Baby

In a corner of the internet called “Facebook,” there is circulating a 1964 newspaper column by someone named Paul Jones upset at the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. He goes on to burn Sullivan for “catering to screaming teen-agers.”

People are ridiculing this guy for being on the wrong side of history. But they don’t seem to realise Jones was far from alone. Elvis Presley (who Mr. Jones doesn’t like, either) was “sinful” in the minds of many. And do a search of “record burning” on the internet to see what members of a certain generation thought of rock and roll.

The Jones column should not be a shock or surprise. Disliking the younger generation’s music has been going on for decades. Animation fans should know this. Bing Crosby and crooners in general came in for ridicule in several cartoons in the 1930s. We laugh in long hindsight. No one in this day and age thinks the Old Groaner is subverting morals. He’s considered pretty old fashioned these days, when he’s considered at all. To us today, the idea of getting worked up into frenzied anger about Rudy Vallee is ridiculous.

But let’s go back even further. Let’s go back to 1899. There’s outrage over a new hit record. Lots of outrage.

What’s this horrible song?

I’ll bet many people here, 123 years later, have heard it and may even know some of the lyrics.

The chorus starts off:

“Hello, my baby,
Hello, my honey,
Hello, my ragtime gal.”

Can you imagine today, much like they once did about the Beatles, people going ballistic about a song that was re-born in 1955 thanks to Chuck Jones, Mike Maltese and a cartoon frog?

The song was certainly ubiquitous in the Gaslight Era. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Atlantic City correspondent, in the August 6, 1899 edition, complained about the erection of new piers, then went on to another topic:

There are other affairs that will soon claim the attention of the authorities, however, unless some charitably inclined person comes along and devises a remedy very soon. That is the awful hold that "Hello, My Baby" has taken here. No matter where you go you will hear this mongrel ballad. There is no escape apparently, and the more one tries to get a moment's relief the worse are the chances. Yesterday a visitor was driven almost frantic in his endeavor to find a place where the strains of the song would not reach his ears. He took a seat early in the morning on one of the piers and prepared to enjoy himself reading the papers. Suddenly the band struck up "Hello, My Baby." For a while he did not mind it. But finally it dawned upon him that every time a person came through the gates the band director displayed a sort of sympathetic feeling for the newcomer, apparently thinking that he had never heard the piece, and the band would repeat it. He stood it for quite a while and then made a dash for a pavilion. Hardly had he become comfortably seated ere the dulcet strains came floating toward him from one of the merry-go-round organs. Then he went to a bath house, and, donning a bathing suit, plunged into the surf in a vain effort to find relief. But, alas! He reckoned wrong, for when, he had swam out a fair distance a pleasure yacht hove in sight. Perched upon the cabin was a gentleman of color playing a banjo and the tune was the old familiar one. Then the visitor became desperate. Hurrying back to the bath house he changed his clothes and went to his hotel. On the porch there was a strolling band of musicians and they, too, were playing the piece. Once more he made a break, this time going to the seclusion of his room, and, closing the windows he felt that he was safe. Again was he foiled, for a young girl at the piano in the parlor thumped the familiar air for all she was worth. There was no escape, and the visitor decided that he would endeavor no more to fight shy of it. Wherever one goes this tune is heard, and it is becoming a positive bore here.

The Washburn Review of Topeka, Kansas of November 24, 1899 called the song a “pest.”

The story page of the New Orleans Semi-Weekly Times-Democrat of January 9, 1900 included a tale by S. Rhett Roman, where he treated the year 1899 as a human. What Roman’s opinion was is hard to say, but no doubt he gave voice to what some people thought:

Some one just then coming noisily down the hall whistled cheerfully, if not over-musically. Hello, my lady! Hello, my baby! Hello, my rag time gal!" which seemed to set 1899's nerves more actively on edge than ever.
“Now, in heaven's name, what do you call that?” he snapped, thrusting his bands deep in his pockets and scowling aggravatedly [sic] at the door as he sat back.
“Here we are on the verge of a new century, which I'll wager a hat will be an improvement on mine, and this is the popular music which delights humanity!
“Some few centuries ago Mozart, Haydn and Gluck shed the glorious light of true melody over the world; Sebastian Bach wrote his marvelous Passions, and later Ludwig Van Beethoven donated to futurity those incomparable sonatas and symphonies which ought to have served a better educational purpose.
“Having learned the magic of such seraphic sounds, is it possible, is it credible, that the world should retrograde to “Hello, my baby,” and such trash? Bah!"

Yes, in 1900, the offending music was not the Beatles but (ugh!) ragtime. Only classical music would do outside the confines of those lowbrow theatres. The Kansas City Star put this on the editorial page sometime in June 1900. One other paper was so horrified, it printed this story in consecutive weeks. Unfortunately, the editorialist added race into the mixture. Newspaper stories of the day mention the song was heard in minstrel shows in certain parts of the U.S.

On the recent occasion of the commencement exercises of the Western Girls' High School in Baltimore, the ceremonies had been about concluded and the honors had been distributed, when one of the sweet graduates in white went to the piano and began to play, "Hello, My Baby!" In an instant the faculty was in a state of indignant excitement. The class song had been set to the tune of a coon song, but proceeded no further than the first stanza. It was embarrassing for the young woman, but the faculty felt that the line must be drawn somewhere, and that "Hello, My Baby" was about the limit.
It is reasonable to suppose that ragtime compositions will continue to do service as an inspiration to the votaries of the agile two-step and as a proper adjunct of vaudeville performances. It has its place and its proper sphere of influence, but it seems high time that the monopoly which has driven out the higher and better class of music which educates the ear and refines the taste, should be broken, and that the former standards should be restored.

Much like the people who chuckle at Mr. Jones’ attitude toward rock and roll, others enjoyed the song, even without a frog. The Los Angeles Record peeked in at the Orpheum Theatre and reported on January 20, 1900:

There is no question that Fougere, the amusing French artist from the Concert des Ambassadeurs in Paris, has been the magnet that has drawn many. While the Los Angeles audiences do not take kindly to an act which they do not understand, they wake up when Fougere sings in her broken English style. “Hello My Baby,” the popular telephone song, always wins applause.

Generational disagreements about music have been carrying for an awful long time. I suspect 20 years from now, “old” people will be dewey-eyed about whatever it is they listen to today as they snark about what their kids and grandkids are listening to.

And they’ll probably complain about the cartoons the youngins watch, too.


  1. Hans Christian Brando19 February 2022 at 14:49

    The song certainly isn't used happily in "One Froggy Evening," since it sets off a man's destruction. At least in the future the man will be able to record the frog's performance surreptitiously on his phone.

    The song also is used cynically in the unhappy ending of the 1955 Evelyn Nesbit biopic "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing," directed by Max Fleischer's son Richard.

  2. I'm honestly confused why that Beatles article is suddenly making the rounds on social media. I thought it was common knowledge that not everyone was as enamored with the Beatles on Ed Sullivan as the young studio audience. And like you said, this "new music sucks" attitude is hardly new, not even in the '60s.