Texas Matters: What Tin Pan Alley Says About Life In 'The Wild West'

Dec 29, 2017

The song “Life in the West” became popular in the 1840s. The lyrics, written by American poet George Pope Morris, evoke the call of the fertile promised land and celebrates the freedom of living so close to nature. 

On this episode of Texas Matters, we'll discuss popular songs of the American West with Peabody-winning music scholar  Michael Lasser.


“Life in the West” doesn’t mention the constant danger and non-stop labor it takes to survive in the wild west. Rather, it’s a romantic portrait of how life would be much better away from the city and away from the rules of government.

It’s one of the songs highlighted by Lasser in his exploration of the "Sounds of the West: Settling The West in American Popular Songs." Lasser examines the great American songbook to see what it says about the frontier. And the tune smiths of Tin Pan Alley had a lot to sing about.

Lasser is presenting his findings with a concert Jan. 7 at the Briscoe Western Art Museum in downtown San Antonio.

Playlist:

  • Life in the West: C. Jackson, Where Home Is (New World)
  • San Antonio: Billy Murray, 1907 (Archeophone)
  • Rose of the Rio Grande: Duke Ellington with Ivie Anderson, numerous CDs
  • Across the Alley from the Alamo: Mills Bros, The Anthology (Geffen; also other CDs)
  • Ragtime Cowboy Joe: Anne Gibson and Frederick Hodges, Hello Frisco (Lovers Point Jazz)
  • Cow-Cow Boogie: Ink Spots & Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Legendary Decca Recordings (Verve)
  • I’m an Old Cowhand: Bing Crosby, Bing Legendary Years (UMG Recordings)
  • Way Out West on West End Avenue: Bobby Short, Songs of New York (Telarc)
  • Don’t Fence Me In: Bing Crosby, Bing Legendary Years (UMG Recordings)
  • Could You Use Me?:David  Carroll, Judy Blazer, Gershwins Standards and Gems (Nonesuch)
  • Oh, What a Beautiful Morning: Alfred Drake, Joan Roberts, Oklahoma (Universal Classics)
  • Surrey with the Fringe on Top: Alfred Drake, Oklahoma (Universal Classics)
  • Wandrin’ Star: James Barton, Paint Your Wagon (BMG)
  • Anything You Can Do: Ethel Merman, Ray Middleton, Annie Get Your Gun (UMG)
  • Embraceable You: Danny Carroll, Judy Blazer, Girl Crazy (Numerous recordings online)
  • People Will Say We’re in Love: Alfred Drake, Joan Roberts, Oklahoma (Universal Classics)
  • Let the Rest of the World Go By: Joan Morris, William Bolcom, After the Ball (Rhino)

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org or on Twitter @DavidMartinDavi