Twenty mp3s of Great Songs from 1901-1920

30 June 2006 · 67 comments

New visitors may also enjoy Vintage Film Sampler: What to Watch When You Don’t Know What You Like (an introduction to the films of the 1940s and 1950s), Graphic Novels for People Who Hate Comics and Sesame Street Video Clips.

It’s a shame most people are unfamiliar with American Popular Music. It’s great fun. It occurred to me today that a lot of this music is in the Public Domain — I could rip mp3s from my collection and post them. So I have. All mp3s in this entry are in the Public Domain — download and share!

The best way to introduce this music is probably to offer the entire 1991 RCA collection called Nipper’s Greatest Hits: 1901-1920. This disc is long out-of-print. It sells for $190 on Amazon. One copy recently sold for $60 on eBay. In the early days of eBay, I lost a bidding war for this disc. I contacted the winning bidder, and she graciously made me a copy of the disc and the insert.

According to the liner notes:

The selections of Nipper’s Greatest Hits: 1901-1920, are redolent of those days when performers played and sang into a simple acoustical horn whose vibrations were sensitized onto the wax of a revolving disc. Today’s digital restoration of the early shellac records not only eliminates unwanted ticks, pops, and surface noise; it also amplifies the sound signal, so that in this compilation one hears those musical pioneers in their best guise.

Here are all twenty songs from the set, displayed in chronological order, not track order. The song title links to an mp3; the performer name links to additonal information (generally from wikipedia).

This isn’t a comprehensive list of popular music of the era. Two of the biggest songs — “After the Ball” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” — aren’t even included. However, it’s a good representation music that was popular one hundred years ago.

Many of these songs sound quaint to our ears. Recording technology was primitive before 1925, and the best way to get a good recording was to be loud. Opera singers and brass bands made great records.

If you like this music — and I doubt that many of you will — check out modern interpretations of the songs. I’m particularly fond of After the Ball, which I own on vinyl. Joan Morris does a good job with piano accompaniment (though her style is operatic).

For more information on early American popular music, explore:

I’d love to start a weblog devoted to this stuff, but with this blog, my personal finance blog, and my comics blog (not to mention some secret stuff), I’m positively blogged out.

Please please please forward other sites that feature early American popular music.

1 Nikchick June 30, 2006 at 09:50

One thing I just love about you is how earnestly you throw yourself into your various interests. Starting a blog devoted to early American popular music? I have no doubt you’d do it, too, if you weren’t blogged out from your other interests already.

I love your blog for stuff like this. Just love it!

2 J.D. June 30, 2006 at 10:16

Call me eclectic!

By the way, I tagged all of these tracks for iTunes. Because I care.

3 walkerbravo64 July 1, 2006 at 03:40

I have heard “Old is gold”. I m surely gonna listen to it and turn back to you.

4 Jough Dempsey July 1, 2006 at 07:19

These are fantastic. Thank you, sir.

5 Phil July 1, 2006 at 11:26

Nifty. The tags are much appreciated.

6 Brendan July 1, 2006 at 15:57

Wow. As soon as I saw this, I downloaded it all and listened to it with loving greed. Early pop music has a certain quality to it – acessable, but at the same time emphereal and forgotten. Plus! — It’s in the public domain, which is great.
Thanks for a great and appreciated effort.

7 J.D. July 1, 2006 at 16:48

I saw that one person who had bookmarked this at commented, “It’s hard to imagine listening to these on the radio.” I’m not sure how familiar you all are with history, so just in case: these acoustical recordings probably never had any radio play. These would have been played on phonographs (early record players) in the home. Before phonographs became popular, sheet music was the order of the day. Families and friends made their own music. Even during the early years of the phonograph, sheet music was more popular because it was cheaper.

Radio was invented in the 1890s, I think, but there were no radio stations as we know them until the 1920s, and they were scarce. Radio as a form of entertainment didn’t explode until the 1930s, by which time the music I’ve posted here was a distant memory. Big Band was king, and Big Band radio programs were big business.

That’s a topic for another post, one where I use non-public domain mp3s and hope not to be sued. :)

8 CK July 1, 2006 at 20:57

Thanks for the files and links. I’m always looking for music of that era.

9 John July 2, 2006 at 07:46

Wow, thanks a lot! These are really cool.

Now that you made it to’s popular links, I hope you have plenty of bandwidth to spare. You might consider putting a torrent up with the whole album.

10 Shaun July 2, 2006 at 09:08

Very cool. I’m not a huge fan of most of the tunes there but I can never turn down Sousa. Thanks man!

11 AK10 July 2, 2006 at 20:24

These are really great! Thank you! I noticed that the last 5-6 tracks have what sounds like a “scratched CD” noise, a fast clicking/hissing that seems to happen when one rips a dirty CD. Any chance of giving it a good cleaning and re-ripping it?

12 ctmf July 2, 2006 at 23:57

The DB of Recorded American Music certainly does look interesting. Unfortunately, you need some sort of a password from a university on the list.

Anyone from one of those places want to, uh, shall we say,
accidentally leave it in a public place? Like here would be good.

13 Suri July 3, 2006 at 00:31

I moved out from listening to slightly heavier music into jazz and the blues only recently. Java city, a coffee house close to where I stay is home to a local band that plays all the old time music. And I’m hooked onto this genre for long now. Really love the granularity of Louis Armstrong’s voice and the instruments of the times. Thanks to you, I can listen to somemore of those greats now. Thanks again!

14 Marcus July 3, 2006 at 00:57

If it is a “1991 collection by RCA”, then it will almost certainly be (C) copyrighted 1991 by RCA, and NOT public domain. They do not get a copyright on the 1901-1920 originals, but they can (and do) get a copyright on the remastered edition, because that is a derived work.

Some digital reproductions may not have a significant contribution which warrants a separate copyright. For example, AFAIK, in England, digital scans of original artwork can not be copyrighted. However, these issues are on the fence and what is actually allowed is unclear until you go to a court. Remastering is a labor-intensive and difficult process, and I can imagine that this would be an easy one for the copyright holder to win.

This means that redistribution is only allowed with a license from the copyright holder, and that by providing these files you would be in violation of copyright law. It’s very sad.

This is a huge problem: The “public domain” can only be fed by *original* sources from that time. Because the copyright length has been extended several time, it is now so absurdedly large that in many cases the original work is no longer available, because it is destroyed or in the hands of a few people only, or because it is on media that is not accessible anymore etc. The most popular works will be re-issued, but they are more likely to be re-issued by corporations that have an interest in acquiring copyright protection for these derivatives. Without active efforts to battle and compensate for that, a work will never enter the public domain for all practical purposes.

15 Marcus July 3, 2006 at 01:02

Oh, and another thing: The copyright on the recording may have expired, but there *may* be further protection by rights on lyrics, sheet music, etc, that also affect the copyright status of the recording. A single piece of music has usually several stake holders.

Of course, checking and verifying the copyright status of only a single song is sometimes impossible and usually very hard. Even the companies holding the copyright often don’t know about these issues, because they are buying licenses in bulk and don’t have the information ready. It’s a huge mess.

16 Scott Richards July 3, 2006 at 02:20

Beware (and congratulations) – you’ve been Boing-Boinged (that’s a verb by now, isn’t it?)
Thanks for the music, I’m off to poke around your other blogs now – great tunes and especially appreciate the related link-list..

17 Tamyu July 3, 2006 at 04:28

This seriously made my day. I have been searching high and low for Smiles and Chuckles… We used to have an old record of it and I listened to it pretty frequently when I was small, but somewhere along the line it disappeared.
The song always sounded off sad to me despite having such a happy title.

18 J.D. July 3, 2006 at 06:02

A couple of points:

1. Bandwidth isn’t a concern at this point, though it certainly could become one. If you mirror these files, please let me know.

2. Marcus brings up some interesting issues regarding copyright, issues beyond my ken. (I am not a lawyer.) Based on my (limited) understanding of copyright law, I still believe these recordings are in the Public Domain, and will continue to host them until such time as a copyright holder demonstrates they are not. I’m certainly not trying to deprive anyone of revenue; I don’t believe there’s any revenue being made on these songs!

3. My wife and I went to a local Farmers Market yesterday. A brass band provided music for the shoppers. They played both “Grand Old Rag” and “In the Good Old Summertime”. I liked that. Very much.

19 Andy July 3, 2006 at 06:20

This site is a veritable gold mine of old recordings:

There are hours and hours (weeks upon weeks!) of great recordings here.

20 grumblebee July 3, 2006 at 06:39

THANK YOU! And you’re not alone. About 50% of my iPod is filled with American Pop Mucic — by which I mean popular music from the 20s, 30s and 40s. (I stop “getting it” sometime in the 50s, even though I’m a relatively young guy).

(The other half of my iPod contains classical, jazz, the occassional film soundtrack by Bernard Herman or Miklas Rosza and a few Sondheim musicals. Very occassionally, I can get into some more modern pop — but it has to be groups like The Beatles or Billy Joel. Artists who are influenced by the melodic past. Someone should put together an album of contemporary pop for people who normally only like old pop.)

The biggest difference between old pop and new is that the older stuff was devoid of irony. For those of us who loath the modern, cool, removed attitude — or at least want a vacation from it — these songs are GOLD!

21 Marcus July 3, 2006 at 06:45

JD, I can only say, more power to you! :)

I consider it vitally important that people keep the public domain alive, even (or, in particular) when its well-being is threatened.

Unfortunately, the matter of revenue will only matter if you are in a civil law suit and the question of compensation comes up. I don’t think it matters much for a criminal proceeding, however, I am not a lawyer.

There are many sites that keep old arts alive, often in legal grey (or even clearly black) areas. For computer games, there are “abandonware” sites, which host out-of-print titles that do not even run on any modern hardware anymore, except through emulation. Unfortunately, a case can be made that even such old, cold titles can become “hot” again. For example, a number of games for old computers have been reissued on PDAs, mobile phones, and there is even a joystick that comes with a dozen or so C64 games in it (you can plug it directly in your TV).

By no means I want to discourage you from doing the right thing, however, I think it’s important to be aware of possible consequences.

Oh, if you need bandwidth for public domain data, there is which hosts a lot of this stuff, for free, and to everybody. However, it would be good to clear the legal issues beforehand. They should have contacts which can help you in that matter.

Here is a link to a page that collects what it claims to be the best of public domain music on

22 Gladwin July 3, 2006 at 07:15

thatz gr8 , nice site..

keep it up

23 Kip W July 3, 2006 at 08:05

Another source of old recordings is the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project:

Lots and lots of cylinders, in MP3 format or as raw WAV files.

24 Livia Labate July 3, 2006 at 08:11

Thank you so much for sharing this :)

25 conniedyer July 3, 2006 at 09:15

Thanks for making these recordings available — tears sprang into my eyes when I heard “Rings on my fingers” for the first time in many many years! My mother had an original single-sided 78 recording of this which *I* accidentally broke when I was a child. We both loved it so. My folks recently moved into assisted living after my mother had a stroke. I will play this for her the next time I visit.

26 silent July 3, 2006 at 10:58

Another good source for American vintage popular music is the Antique Phonograph Music Program ( streamed online by WFMU ( They keep a nice archive of old shows ( Enjoy!

27 Paul July 3, 2006 at 11:21

Its a Long Way to Tipperary is a BRITISH song. Its a shame its labelled as American Pop when it isn’t.

28 Brad the Impaler July 3, 2006 at 12:16

more 78s are on my blog too!


29 Matt July 3, 2006 at 13:25

Thanks so much, I had never heard this version of After You’ve Gone. Art Tatum plays excellent arrangements of that song, as well as his amazing 1933 version of Tiger Rag (highly recommended).

30 killerbobjr July 3, 2006 at 14:27

Marcus, I’m afraid you misunderstand what public domain means. In the U.S., all recording, writings, lyrics, sheet music, etc. before 1923 have fallen out of copyright and are hence in the public domain. This means they are free for use by anyone for any purpose. This includes audio works that are remastered. The remastering in and of itself does not consist of a derived work that can be copyrighted since there is no significant artistic change to the work.

As an example, say a hip-hop artist took one of these songs, cut it up into loops, then remixed it into a new arrangement — that artist would be able to copyright the mix as a derived work. If you, Marcus, decided that, “Hey that sounds cool,” took that mix, cut the loops back into the individual components, then remixed into your own arrangement, you would be in the clear and would not be infringing upon Mr. Hop-Hop’s copyright. This is because the underlying work is public domain and as long as you don’t copy verbatim any parts of Mr. Hip-Hop’s remix, you are not infringing on the derived work.

(The usual disclaimers apply — this is not legal advice and if you take any of this as such, you deserve a smack upside the head.)

31 mexist July 3, 2006 at 14:38

Thank you for tagging it with the meta data…

32 Seth July 3, 2006 at 16:00

Here is a bunch of great songs that were popular during the first world war.

Thanks for sharing these songs!

33 Sure July 3, 2006 at 16:24

Yet another blogger who thinks they can bypass copywright laws. Why don’t you just head over to your local store, and walk out with a few unpaid cds. Stealing is stealing. Get over yourself…

34 Bunk Strutts July 3, 2006 at 19:44

Excellent compilation. I have a stack of 78’s, including a couple of 1/4″ thick slate Edison recordings. How do I get them all transcribed into .mp3 format?

Also, the comment above about Billy Murray sounding like a cartoon character… Just like the early flickers, the speed of the recording depended upon the speed of the engineer’s “crank.” At that time there was no universal speed for recording, only the operator’s estimation.

Lemme know if you want a listing of my collection.

(Also, to the grumpy brit who was upset that “Long Way to Tipperary” was included: It was a very popular song in the states. We fought with you blokes in the trenches and elsewhere after the Kaiser’s letter was intercepted, promising support for an invasion by Mexico… and we fought to save your arses a few years later as well…)

Bunk Strutts

35 Evan July 3, 2006 at 21:00

Sure said: “Yet another blogger who thinks they can bypass copywright laws. Why don’t you just head over to your local store, and walk out with a few unpaid cds. Stealing is stealing. Get over yourself…”

Yes, sharing this music is EXACTLY like stealing, especially when there’s clearly an flourishing market for early-century public domain popular music, so much so that the compilation in question is out-of-print and being sold for ridiculous collectible prices. The whole fiasco just screams “lost profit”!

36 Brit July 3, 2006 at 21:39

Bunk Strutts — time get over what happened 60 years ago and what ‘you’ did. Jeez will you still be whinging on about this in 2040? No wonder your country is losing its place in the world.

37 Bunk Strutts July 3, 2006 at 22:34


All in fun. What is “whinging?” We yanks speak English here. By the way, looks like we might be bailing you folks out again before all is tickety-boo, eh? But this webpage is not the forum for that. Let’s talk about recorded archives instead.

Unless you want to talk soccer….

38 Paul July 4, 2006 at 01:20

(“and we fought to save your arses a few years later as well…”)

Yeah, well lets not get into that “We’ll enter a war once the British have fought off an army 10 times the size of theirs successfully, and once that army has turned and decided to fight on two fronts, then claim we saved everyone, even though the Nazi’s had already made their fatal mistake…” shall we?

39 Frank Carver July 4, 2006 at 02:03

I’ve also been enjoying two podcasts of old stuff from WFMU:

Thomas Edison’s Attic:

and the Antique Phonograph and Music Program:

40 James July 4, 2006 at 03:21

For those of you in the US: Happy 4th of July!
For those of you elsewhere: Happy Tuesday!
For the owner of this blog: Sorry about the folks above squabbling. I heartily thank you for the music – going straight to my iPod, it is. If I like what I hear, I’ll seek out more. So thank you. =)

41 BodziO July 4, 2006 at 05:52

Many thanks for such beautiful collection.
And greetings from Poland on the 4th July!

42 asdfas cfghd July 4, 2006 at 09:16

Thanx for this music at first! This old stuff normally is not my favorite kind of music, but because im interested in history it ´s very nice to listen to these very old songs. I think it might be from the very begining of recording tracks or does anybody know when the first gramophones where invented? (sorry my english is not good enaugh) bye

43 Lyle July 4, 2006 at 09:27

I keep getting a message that “The data that the plug-in requested did not download properly”
What am I doing wrong???

44 J.D. July 4, 2006 at 09:38

The first gramophones were invented in the 1870s. You can read more in the wikipedia article: English version, auf Deutsch.

45 Marcus July 4, 2006 at 13:43

First, to “Sure”: Copyright infringement is not stealing. Even Bill Gates agrees.

This out of the way, I want to respond to killerbobjr: I agree that all works published before 1923 are out of copyright, and can be copied freely. This means that we do not need to be concerned about third party rights like sheet music—that was a concern I raised because I thought of an example from a later period (namely the first Elvis Presley recordings, which are in public domain, but the rights to the sheet music etc are not yet). So, yes, I do agree that the original recordings are in public domain.

I also agree that if you have a newer derived work, and you can isolate the original tidbits, then you can freely use these tidbits as they are indistinguishable from the original work. However, this means that they really need to be indistinguishable. And the only way to prove this is to provide the original source as reference. In fact, people creating derived works will leave or even hide fingerprints that mark the work as theirs. This is what is done with street maps, for example.

I think where we disagree is the question if remastering creates a derived work or not. You seem to think the answer is clearly no. I am not so sure. I think a significant case can be made that the remastered work has a significant contribution. Also, the collection itself, ie the selection of titles and their order, may be copyrightable. The short story is: You are only safe if you only ever work from original sources.

That is what Naxos did, for example, and it *still* got them into trouble (because the works were from the 1930s, public domain in the UK but not in the US.)

Probably more important is that by not using original sources, you are making yourself vulnerable to a law suit, and once you are sued, it may be too late. The harm is done, even if you are right (and even if you theoretically can win the legal process).

I really wish the situation was easier, and more sane.

46 J.D. July 4, 2006 at 16:03

Another reader just forwarded a link to a wonderful site with more old music: The Hot-Dance and Vintage Jazz Pages.

47 gottaboogie July 4, 2006 at 19:16

Hurrah for old music!
I have been running a streamcast of old restored 78’s for years, mostly stuff from the 1930’s-40’s, but there are a few really old schellac’s in the playlist that I rescued and restored myself:)

Thank you for the downloads!

48 Kai Heinrich July 5, 2006 at 01:13

here are some french and english songs from the 20th

49 Matt July 5, 2006 at 08:43

Thanks a bunch! I’m a fan of this sort of music and I appreciate your efforts.

I have a lot of old-timey music, most of which I bought from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Their collection is fantastic. Anyone who doesn’t know about this site already might want to check it out. Highly recommended.

50 Silvio Ströver July 5, 2006 at 17:33


Fantastische Musik, thank you!

Good old music forever,

Gruß aus Deutschland,
Silvio Ströver

51 SUSAN July 6, 2006 at 04:01

I think this is great.I like to closing my eyes when listening to these old songs.It sends me back in time to what it must of been like ,in my grandmothers era.With silent movies..and the clothes…LOLOL.I think these song are quaint..and sweet..a little taste of the past..That I am so facinated about….thanks

52 heinz57g July 6, 2006 at 04:19

hi, just downloaded all twenty songs, made my day.

but: could somebody check if last four titles 17-20 are encoded badly? have a strong klick-klick-klick throughout the songs. re-downloaded twice, same effect. it is N O T the musisc, but the MP3-encoding!

greetings – heinz –

53 Evan July 6, 2006 at 20:38

I think you’re right about the bad encoding. You can get alternate copies of the songs from

Enrico Caruso, “Over There”
Marion Harris, “After You’ve Gone”
John Steel, “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody”
Ben Selvin and His Novelty Orchestra, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”

In fact, most of this compilation (17 out of 20 of these tracks, to be exact) are available on and the UC-Santa Barbara Cylinder Preservation website, for those interested in getting an absolutely copyright-free versions of these songs — albeit with a bit more noise and hiss, but nothing a touch of noise reduction couldn’t fix (get Audacity)!

54 bill July 7, 2006 at 18:54

there are current artists who record this music – Leon Redbone comes to mind, or on a less famous level, Janet Klein ( and of course Ian Whitcomb. By seeking out these artists and going to their shows, you can keep this music alive and have a lot of fun also – both Janet Klein and Ian Whitcomb do great shows (and frequently appear together) – and Ian Whitcomb teaches courses on music, including early recorded music, as I recall

55 Maex July 8, 2006 at 00:05

This is amazing!!! I love this stuff and iam very happy to see the rights for the songs are free now. You made my day.

Free creativity… free art!!
Greetings from Germany

56 Ruth July 8, 2006 at 01:06

love this

57 Miguel July 11, 2006 at 06:40

Quisiera bajar las canciones Muchas gracias

58 josé carlos santos July 14, 2006 at 04:09

this is an amazing collection. thank you so much for sharing.

and by the way, congratulations on your blogging work, it’s quite inspiring, i’m a regular fan of both this and the comics one.

59 Bernd Richtsmeier July 18, 2006 at 08:46


60 SP July 20, 2006 at 07:39

What, no Irving Berlin in your list?

61 SP July 20, 2006 at 07:41

Oops, I just noticed that the list is a list of an LP or CD. AND you did note that Alexander’s Ragtime Band is not on it–which I believe is Mr. Berlin. Sorry!

62 TerryB August 5, 2006 at 19:02

You might try this one, too: The Virtual Gramophone (Canadian Historical Sound Recordings)

63 John Culme August 14, 2006 at 11:28

My Footlight Notes site features a number of old recordings that might appeal to readers of his weblog. The main pages change weekly, but these are eventually archived. This week the recordings, which are all from my own collection (which I began as a schoolboy in the 1950s) include Florrie Forde’s version of Joshu-ah! for the Zonophone label, in which she is assisted by Harry Fay. It was recorded in London on 25 September 1912. Incidentally, Florrie Forde, Australian by birth but adopted by the British as as sort of national mascot, was one of the original singers of ‘It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary.’
I know that ‘Joshu-ah!’, being written by the British composer James W. Tate, is somewhat off-topic, for which I apologise. So I shall compensate by giving you this recording of Irving Berlin’s ‘The Girl on the Magazine‘ sung by the American actor, Joseph Coyne. This song was included in Berlin’s Follow the Crowd, produced at the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London, on 19 February 1916, and the recording was made for the HMV label at Hayes, near London, less than a month later, on 7 March.

64 billy September 9, 2006 at 19:05

Hi, Just came across this site and was reading comments on “public domain”.
to set the record straight, U.S. copyright law of 1909 did not cover “musical recordings”.
Until 1972 when the copyright law was revised,
copyrights on recordings were covered and governed by state law. It is my understanding that while the words and music to works prior to 1923 are in the public domain, Recordings are not! This is according to the book “The Public Domain” by attorney Steven Fishman.
While some recordings from that era may be safe to use (as in the owners of the copyrights may no longer be around to sue you.) Any recordings
from companies still in existance are potential lawsuits.
I am an artist by trade, and often use a lot of public domain material in my artwork, especially art from old tradecards and antique advertiseing.
I am also a bluegrass enthusiast, a genre filled with public domain music.
Copyright law and public domain have become sort of a hobby for me. The “recordings” of “Nippers Greatest Hits” both original and remasted
are “NOT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN” Only the words and music are in the public domain. So you are free to copy the words and sheet music, and/or record these songs yourself for fun or profit,
but you cannot copy or distribute the “recordings”.
I personally feel that all recordings prior to 1923 “should be” in the public domain, however the owners of these copyrights disagree.
Also, here is a link with more info on recordings.

65 Lynne September 19, 2006 at 10:02

I just bought that Nipper CD at my local Borders last week for a 1920s retrospective at my school.

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