Q: Now that the baseball season has begun, can you tell me the origin of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”?
A: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was written in 1908 by the vaudeville performer, Jack Norworth. Legend has it that he was riding a Manhattan elevated train one day when he noticed a sign advertising a New York Giants game at the Polo Grounds. He reportedly had never seen a professional game in his life, but he cobbled together enough baseball references to craft a song which he planned to use in his act. He asked his friend, Albert von Tilzer, who also had never been to a game, to write the now instantly familiar tune. As a vaudeville song, Norworth’s creation failed miserably. However, it was popularized by nickelodeon song-slides which encouraged fans to sing along. Interestingly, despite the song’s popularity today, we only sing the song’s chorus. The rest of the song is about a young woman who is “baseball mad, had the fever and had it bad.” Norworth published a slightly revised version of the song (although it kept the same chorus) in 1927.
Q: Where can I purchase Ray Boltz signing “An Honor to Serve”? I heard the song for the first time on a balmy August morning at 2 a.m., going home after 14 hours at work. It was awesome and sent chills down my back. Rarely do songs have such an effect.
A: Ray Boltz is a contemporary Christian singer/songwriter who, according to his website, has sold over 4.5 million records since his debut in 1986. The song you seek, “The Call/An Honor to Serve” is from his 1998 album, “Honor and Glory,” which rose to No. 17 on the Contemporary Christian album chart. We were able to find used copies of the CD on eBay, but Boltz offers it as a digital download through his website, rayboltz.com. Just click the link for “online store.”
Q: What is the meaning of the late '50s hit “Mack the Knife”? I like the song but the words don’t make sense.
A: “Mack the Knife” was surely one of the most unlikely hits of the 1950s. The song’s title character was based on the character MacHeath from English playwright John Gay’s 1728 play, “The Beggar’s Opera.” In 1928, “The Beggar’s Opera” was adapted by German writer Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill into “The Threepenny Opera.” Brecht and Weill found that Gay’s contrast between criminals and government officials (and the conclusion that they are the same) was perfect for post-World War I Germany. Marc Blitzstein translated the song to English. The song is also known as “Theme from the Threepenny Opera.” The main character of “The Threepenny Opera” is also called MacHeath, a.k.a. Mack the Knife. In the play, MacHeath, a criminal, marries the daughter of Jonathan Peachum. Displeased by the marriage, Peachum conspires to have MacHeath killed. After being imprisoned, escaping, and being imprisoned again, MacHeath is ultimately pardoned and set free. “Mack the Knife” was made popular by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitgerald, but Bobby Darin’s 1959 recording was the most popular. Recorded in December 1958, the song was released in August 1959. It was No. 1 on the charts for nine weeks and won the Grammy for “Record of the Year” in 1959.