Saturday, May 23, 2015

Name that Tune by Kaye Spencer

Let’s take a stroll along a nostalgic musical path for a brief look at the history of a song (melody, not lyrics) whose origin remains somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps this song was a traditional folk tune handed down through the generations. Maybe it was “born” in 1924. However it came about, over the years, this melody has experienced a host of lyrics put to its familiar, catchy tune.

While many singers recorded their versions of this song, between 1924 and 1952, this melody saw significant renditions of different lyrics and each new song enjoyed chart-topping hit status in the country music, hillbilly, bluegrass, and gospel music genres.
Seeburg Select-o-matic Jukebox (reproduction) c. 1949
Legend has it that in 1924, Vernon Dalhart copyrighted this song and lyrics in the name of his cousin, Guy Massey, after Vernon heard it sung by a family member who “may” have learned it while serving time in prison. This song went on to become a bit hit in the 1920s.
  •  First line hint: Oh, I wish I had someone to love me…
In 1925, two songwriters/performers, Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz, recorded their lyrics to this melody.
  •  First line hint: Looking back on what we both had together…
In 1927, Roy Harvey and the North Carolina Ramblers released their version with a similar, but abbreviated title to the one the Carter Family would release in two years.
  •  First line hint: I’ve been thinking today of my blue eyes…

Carter Family promotional portrait by the Victor Talking Machine Co. 1927
In 1929, the famous Carter Family recorded their version of this melody, but with different lyrics and title.
  •  First line hint: ‘Twould been better for us both had we never…
In 1936, it was Roy Acuff who had a hit with the same melody and, again, different lyrics and title.
  •  First line hint: What a beautiful thought I am thinking…
Then, in 1952, two country music artists—Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells—had hits with this same melody, and both with different lyrics and titles.
  • Hank Thompson – First Line Hint: You wouldn’t read my letter if I wrote you…
And the “answer” song:
  • Kitty Wells – First Line Hint: As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playing…
So, did you *Name that Tune*?

1924 – Vernon Dalhart – The Prisoner’s Song
1925 – Toomey and Boaz – Thrills that I Can’t Forget
1927 – Roy Harvey – Blue Eyes
1929 – Carter Family – I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes
1936 – Roy Acuff – The Great Speckled Bird
1952 – Hank Thompson – The Wild Side of Life
              Kitty Wells – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

Over the years, these songs not only achieved ‘country music standard’ status, they have achieved ‘signature song’ identification for many musicians. Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Hank Locklin, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter, Freddie Fender, Burl Ives, and Jerry Lee Lewis rank among the artists who come to my musical memory as having performed some version of this melody. I imagine you have your favorites, also.

A YouTube search will bring up a host of videos for each of these songs, and I am going to leave you with the one I associate the most with this tune.

Further reading:

**Music notes clipart courtesy
**Jukebox image:  "Seeburg Select-o-matic jukebox detail 01A" by Joe Mabel. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
** Carter Family photo: Creative Commons -

Until next time,




  1. Mark S. says,
    Johnny Horton added "The Child's Side of Life" an answer to Thompson and Wells, in late 1952.

  2. Mark S.,

    I'd forgotten about Johnny Horton's contribution to this melody. That's a good one, too. Thanks for the reminder. :-)

  3. I loved this. Of course it's music, so how could I not?
    Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

  4. Ah, thanks, Doris. :-) I'm a "classic" country music fan. I love the old songs.

  5. Good detective work, Kaye. I knew there had been recycles of that melody but had no idea there were so many.