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TIN PAN ALLEY'S GIT-TAR BLUES
New York's writers of pop tunes look in envy and calculation at the 'country' snogsmiths now outsmarting the city slickers.
There's a revolution brewing in the music business. Already it has gone so far as to drive Tin Pan Alley's prolific composers out of Brill Building cubicles and send them, hand-painted neckties flapping in haste, to music libraries, where they startle attendants by demanding, "Where do I find folk songs? You know, stuff in the public domain."
Behind all this is the public's sudden, sweeping demand for folk-type music, which is precisely the type of melody that Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths have never provided and seemingly cannot provide now. "The boys are desperate," reports one observer of the Broadway scene. "Best they can do is dig through old songs looking for tunes they can touch up and put their name on."
Adding insult to misery is the fact that the bellwether song of the folk music trend seems destined eventually to unseat the Alley's favorite—Irving Berlin's "White Christmas"—as the top popular tune of our time. This song is a haunting little item called "Tennessee Waltz." And to make matters even worse it is a deceptively simple song. Without frill or furbelow, it is the plaintive cry of a girl who at a mountain dance introduces her best beau to her best friend and promptly loses him. Musically, it is a straightforward lament, and should be easy to duplicate. But it isn't—Tin Pan Alley has been breaking its neck trying and so far has failed.
"There is a lot of emotion in songs like that," declares one authority, "and Broadway composers just don't have it."
Still, if "Tennessee Waltz" and other country tunes have made Tin Pan Alley unhappy, they have made others glad. Especially the folk singers—the Weavers, Josh White, Burl
"Reprinted by permission from New York Times Magazine, Section 6, July 15, Copyright 1951, and by permission from Allen Churchill."