George Gershwin was 21 yeas old when he wrote “The Songs of Long Ago.” He had spent much of his teenage years playing songs for customers at Remick’s sheet music publishing house, so he certainly would have had plenty of exposure to the “old” songs and was eager to make his mark writing the “new” songs which were influenced by ragtime, jazz, and blues.
Arthur Jackson’s lyrics to “The Songs of Long Ago” give the viewpoint of one who longs for the old tunes and who eschews ragtime. This was certainly not Gershwin’s or Jackson point of view, so the lyrics can be taken ironically, and presumably was presented that way on Broadway’s George White Scandals of 1920. The song was sung by Lester O’Keefe and was recorded by O’Keefe with mixed quartet and released as a Brunswick 78. O’Keefe’s version weaves some of the old songs into it as a countermelody, and it is an interesting effect, but it could help explain why this song did not become a Gershwin classic: once Ragtime became old, the song lost its relevance to the listener. They all became the songs of long ago.
Download fake-book style sheet music to “The Songs of Long Ago” here: The Songs of Long Ago
Lyrics to “The Songs of Long Ago” by Arthur Jackson
I miss the songs of long ago.
The kind that we all used to know.
Why don’t they write them in that good old fashioned way,
not the raggy kind they write today.
I love the old ones, the good as gold ones,
the kind my mammy sang.
Everybody ought to know all the songs of long ago.
I hate the new ones, the raggy blue ones,
the kind they write today.
The ones I love so are the songs of long ago.