Lest you think that our musical culture started going to hell with the creation of rock’n’roll, read this. It’s fascinating. From Salon:
In the spring of 1909, American popular song got sexy. Of course, love and courtship, and by extension sex, had been Topic A in pop music for decades. But while songwriters had long trafficked in euphemisms and innuendo—coy talk of “sighing” and “spooning” beneath the old oak tree and by the light of the silvery moon—it was a 1909 hit by composer Harry Von Tilzer and lyricist Jimmy Lucas, “I Love, I Love, I Love My Wife—But Oh! You Kid!,” which opened Tin Pan Alley to brasher, bawdier, more raucously comic songs of lust.
In 2014, “I Love, I Love, I Love My Wife—But Oh! You Kid!” is forgotten by all but a few antiquarians. It deserves better. It’s a landmark, worthy of a place in the pantheon alongside “Give My Regards to Broadway” (1904) and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911)—and, for that matter, “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Rapper’s Delight.” Like “The Twist” and “Call Me Maybe,” it was a viral hit, inspiring hundreds of spinoffs and rippling through American culture for decades before dropping out of earshot. It was a succès de scandale, which brought roars from vaudeville audiences and censure from social reformers, with all sides agreeing that “I Love, I Love, I Love My Wife—But Oh! You Kid!” had captured the zeitgeist, that it was a sign—the sound—of the times. It incited countless newspaper editorials, fulminating sermons by preachers, and at least one fatal shooting.
Today, to the extent that we think at all about the turn-of-the-century hit parade, we regard it as prehistoric: quaint old music, redolent of ill-tuned pianos and gas-lit Rialtos, that was swept aside by grittier sounds, by the triumphal rise of jazz and rock ’n’ roll. If we listen closely to “I Love, I Love, I Love My Wife—But Oh! You Kid!” we may hear a surprising lesson: that the culture-quaking shocks, the salaciousness and transgression we associate with blues and jazz and rock and hip-hop, first arrived in American pop many years earlier. There is more than a nostalgia trip in this 105-year-old opéra bouffeabout an adulterous husband and wife.