Words & Music: Irving Berlin (1911)

Lyrics

Come on and hear,
Come on and hear
Alexander’s Ragtime Band.
Come on and hear,
Come on and hear –
It’s the best band in the land.

They can play a bugle call
Like you’ve never heard before,
So natural that you want to go to war –
That’s just the bestest band what am,
My honey lamb.

Come on along,
Come on along,
Let me take you by the hand
Up to the man, up to the man
Who’s the leader of the band.

And if you want to hear that “Swanee River”
Played in ragtime,
Come on and hear,
Come on and hear
Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

Background

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was Irving Berlin’s first major hit. The song sparked an international dance craze in places as far away as Berlin’s native Russia, which also “flung itself into the ragtime beat with an abandon bordering on mania.” Over the years he was known for writing music and lyrics in the American vernacular: uncomplicated, simple and direct, with his aim being to “reach the heart of the average American” whom he saw as the “real soul of the country.”

Performances

Here is recording by the fantastic vocal trio The Andrews Sisters. This recording includes the verse, and the chorus starts 25 seconds in.

And here are the immortal Al Jolson and Bing Crosby fooling around with the song. It starts at 40 seconds in.