You might think a song can’t be a dance, and vice versa, but our song sheet collections show this to be wrong. So here, for your delight and delectation, are some tangos, together with the odd foxtrot and bolero, which are also happen to be songs.

Grosz & Kennedy  Tina – a tango-foxtrot ballad (publ. 1934)

Tina - front cover
The front cover

I’m not sure how a ballad can be both a tango and a foxtrot. The direction at the top of the music is ‘Tempo di tango’ and it certainly appears to be in a basic tango rhythm. The foxtrot was at the height of its popularity in the 1930s, so maybe it’s just there as a hook. The composer, Will (Wilhelm) Grosz fled his native Austria during the 1930s Nazi takeover. When he arrived in England, his avant-garde music didn’t garner much interest. Instead, he turned his hand to composing music for popular songs. His best known hits were Isle of Capri and Harbour Lights, with lyrics also written by Jimmy Kennedy.

Katscher & Leigh  Tell me I’m forgiven – tango (publ. 1930)

Tell me I'm forgiven
The striking, fractured front cover

Robert Katscher was another Austrian composer. He fled to the United States in the mid-1930s for the same reason as Grosz. Die Wunder-Bar (The Wonder Bar), a musical comedy, premiered in Vienna in 1930. A hit, it later played in an English version on Broadway, and the Savoy Theatre in London, before it got made into a movie starring Al Jolson.

Here’s a link to a recording of the song made at the time:

The front cover epitomises the Jazz Age for me. The colours, style, and energy in the illustration suggest the same from the music inside. I peered at the printed signature in the bottom RH corner and went looking. Gordon Conway was a Texan fashion designer and illustrator, famous for her pictures of flappers.

The song has a more sophisticated tango feel and rhythm, both for the voice and the accompaniment. Here’s a taste of the lyrics:

I long to tell you all that I feel, Ev’ry ideal of mine, dear, If I but dared to, I would reveal Love by some subtle sign. If I were brave and said what I meant, Would you resent my true love?

Gensler & Murphy and Simon  Speak Easy – Cuban dance (publ. 1931)

Speak easy (Cuban dance)
Another striking cover

Continuing our Latin theme, here’s a bolero which in Cuban tradition is usually a song and a slow dance combined. For Western classical music lovers, the only bolero they usually come across is the orchestral one composed by Ravel. The composer here, Lewis Gensler, was mostly known as a writer and producer of Broadway musicals, and films.

Published in 1931, this song appeared during the final years of Prohibition in the United States. Started just after the end of World War I, this amendment to the US constitution prohibited the commercial production and sale of alcoholic drinks. Not a problem in Cuba, of course, where the ‘Bacardi’, ‘Manhattans’, and ‘Martinis’ of the song were freely available.

Clandestine brewery in Detroit during Prohibition (Public domain)

The title of the song is a play on speakeasies – the underground bars in the USA which sold illegal alcohol. Here’s part of the lyrics:

Be gay While you may, Live for today, Play all the way, Yet, while you’re gay, Speak easy And sing. Have your fling!

And here’s an instrumental version from around the same time. The bolero rhythm is very strong.

As far the cover goes, I love the bold, stylised image of the man, dressed in a very Spanish style. His face is a little odd, only having a pair of eyebrows. Yet you still get a good sense of his expression.

Evans & Damerell  Song of the trees – fox-trot ballad (publ. 1935)

Song of the trees
The rather unsettling cover

To return to the top of this post, here’s a foxtrot ballad without any hint of a tango. In fact, there’s nothing Latin or exotic at all about this offering. The most startling thing about it is the lurid, deep red cover. If you had to choose a single colour for this, would this shade of red be your choice? It would make the sheet stand out amongst the rest, I suppose.

Tolchard Evans was a composer and band leader who also published his own music, as demonstrated by this sheet. Barcelona and Lady of Spain were his two biggest hits. Plenty of Spanish influence in those two titles. Our song is more a love ballad. Here’s the chorus:

Love is the voice of nature, Heard in a gentle breeze. Whisp’ring to ev’ry lover, That is the Song of the Trees! Love in the magic moonlight Sets Cupid at his ease, Shining for ev’ry sweetheart, That is the Song of the Trees! If your heart is sad, If your heart is glad, Love knocks at your door whether you’re rich or poor. Love, it is always master, and if it so decrees, Then all your dreams will come true, That is the Song of the Trees.