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Notes on some recordings of popular music from the Higgins Archive

Gentle Readers will recall that YHB asked for help in mixing a CD for Opening Night presents, and just possibly have been waiting to find out the final score. Herewith the opening of the liner notes:

Notes on some recordings of popular music from the Higgins Archive


By W.G. Neppomuck

While it is well-known among scholars of historical linguistics that the Higgins Archive of recordings on wax cylinders includes many fine examples of early-twentieth-century dialects, a complete index of the Archive has only recently been completed. Even many researchers who have used the recordings by courtesy of the Royal Archive are unaware that in addition to the hundreds of recordings of London dialects and scores of recordings of dialects from elsewhere in England, Europe and Asia, there are a handful of cylinders of popular music. Whether Henry Higgins instructed the vocalists in phonetics, recorded them for study, or simply kept them for his own amusement, it is not now possible to know1.

The purpose of this note is to sketch out the variety of styles, accents and dialects and other matters of phonological interest found in these recordings. The accompanying CD provides scholars an opportunity for close study. It is, perhaps, worth mentioning that some of the recordings lack a modern sense of cultural sensitivity. Higgins himself was, as was typical for his time, profoundly chauvinistic and insensitive2; however, the modern scholar might also keep in mind that he collected many recordings of which he did not approve. We must reserve judgement. However, for the modern listener, this author apologizes in advance for any offense, but persists in hopes that doing so will advance the cause of phonetic science.

1 The notes kept with the cylinders are in Higgins’ own hand, and are incomplete, illegible and incoherent. Fortunately, the labels are in another hand, meticulous and feminine. The identity of this assistant is another mystery of the Higgins Archive, however, we are grateful to her for the names of the songs and of the vocalists.

2 see Higgins 1908, Higgins 1909a, Higgins 1909b, Higgins and Pickering 1913, Higgins and Pickering 1914, Higgins 1915 and Higgins 1919.


The song list is below. There were some good things I had to leave off, and a few lousy things I had to leave off, and there were a few things I couldn’t track down in time. After the fact, a cast member suggested Lonnie Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman, which would have been perfect and probably would have opened the CD, but I had never heard of it before, and although I’m sure I had heard of Lonnie Donegan (as he is a Big Deal influence on a bunch of musicians I like so much that I’ve bothered to read articles about them and their musical influences) I can’t say as I could have pulled his name out of my memory. With that sort of thing in mind, Gentle Reader, please chip in with other stuff that seems missing, as it may be a Learning Experience for YHB, and I can always use one of those.

“Mother’s Lament”, performed by Cream
“ I’m Henery The Eighth”, performed by Harry Champion
“ It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”, performed by Albert Farrington
“ Yes, We Have No Bananas”, performed by Billy Jones
“ I Love Louisa”, performed by Fred Astaire
“ Slow Down Krishna”, performed by The Bobs
“ In the Desert”, performed by Flanders & Swann
“ Rum And Coca Cola”, performed by Andrews Sisters
“ Me Pants Fall Down”, performed by Da Vinci’s Notebook
“ Run Joe”, performed by Louis Jordan
“ Road Man”, performed by Smash Mouth
“ Flat Foot Floogie”, performed by Mills Brothers
“ Angelina - Zooma Zooma (Medley)”, performed by Louis Prima
“ Mambo Italiano”, performed by Rosemary Clooney
“ Thou Swell”, performed by Count Basie & Joe Williams
“ Burlington Bertie”, performed by Julie Andrews
“ Bruces’ Philosophers Song”, performed by Monty Python
“ It’s You I Love”, performed by Beausoleil
“ Dos Geshrey Fun Der Vilder Katshke (The Cry Of The Wild Duck)”, performed by Klezmer Conservatory Band
“ What I Want Is A Proper Cup Of Coffee”, performed by Trout Fishing In America
“ Another Irish Drinking Song”, performed by Da Vinci’s Notebook
“ Autumn Leaves”, performed by Mel Torme

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.