Music and Song · Vintage Entertainment

Music Hits of the Twenties: 1921

1921 Victrola phonograph advertisement. Victrola sits in a room next to curtained windows and a low table.
A popular 1921 Victrola model that sold for $150.

How did people listen to the music hits of 1921? Only city dwellers listened to the hits on a radio station in the early Twenties. Unless, that is, an enterprising youngster in the household fell in love with radio and rigged up her own wireless for everyone to enjoy. Even then, only one person could use wireless headphones at a time.

If you wanted to actually listen to music in 1921, the phonograph was your best bet. With a phonograph and a stack of recorded disks (what we today call a record player and records), an owner could listen to classical, popular music, or opera. However, a phonograph could be expensive. In 1921 a Victrola cost a purchaser anywhere between $25 and $1500. Victrola advertised heavily, and they became a household name in phonographs.

If you didn’t have a phonograph or a wireless, several options existed. Most people consumed their music via the piano. Companies produced sheet music for all the hits (and some not-so-hits) and you bought it at the local store. Sometimes you found sheet music in a sheet music store, but by the Twenties you increasingly found it at your corner general store. If the store carried many miscellaneous items, it probably also carried sheet music.

Some of the Year’s Greatest Hits

This year we listened to Marian Harris sing I’m a Jazz Vampire. Here are the lyrics. This song shows all kinds of promise for inclusion in Twenties-themed parties through the year.

Paul Whiteman, who called himself the King of Jazz, scored yet another hit with an Irving Berlin melody, Everybody Step. This foxtrot appeared in a 22-scene stage production called Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue. The Music Box Revue opened at the Music Box Theatre in October of 1922 and ran for nine months. Irving wrote the music.

Eddie Cantor sang “I’ll tell the world I love you, Don’t forget your promise to me, I have bought the home and ring and everything” in Margie. This site offers lyrics and a little more about the song and its creators. Even if you don’t follow 1920s music, Margie is a song you may recognize when you hear it.

Ain’t we got fun?

Ain’t We Got Fun? was featured in the musical revue Satires of 1920, which opened in California in August of 1920. After that this foxtrot took on a life of its own, appearing in vaudeville, on various artists’ recordings, and even appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The song takes a devil-may-care look at a life of poverty, with lyrics like:
Landlords mad and getting madder
Ain’t we got fun?
Times are so bad and getting badder
Still we have fun
There’s nothing surer
The rich get rich and the poor get laid off
In the meantime, in between time
Ain’t we got fun?

And a chat about 1921 music wouldn’t be complete without that timeless gem, I’m Just Wild About Harry. This song is part of almost every 1920s revival. “He’s sweet, just like chocolate candy/ And just like the honey from the bee./ Oh, I’m just wild about Harry/ And he’s just wild about/ Cannot live without/ He’s just wild about me!

So the next time you want to trot or jitter or sway to the hits of the Twenties, give some of these a try. You also might be interested in an earlier post where I talk about about vintage Forties music and how to locate it online.