Monday, June 09, 2014


Once upon a time, "jerkers" didn't mean songs like "I Touch Myself" by The Divinyls.

It didn't mean having The Who on the turntable while wanking to pictures of Lily...St. Cyr.

No, around the turn of the 20th century, a "jerker" was a woeful and sentimental song, designed to exude wetness from the eyes. Elton once sang, "Sad songs say so much." He (Bernie Taupin) was right. For many, a morbidly depressing tune purges the blues. You think YOU had a tough day? Listen to this…

"This" could be "Danny Boy" (which Saturday Night Live cast members once performed as "The Irish Crying Song") or "He Stopped Loving Her Today," "I Can Never Go Home Anymore," or "Gloomy Sunday."

Back in the 1890's, tear-jerkers were prone to involve mothers, fallen women (often the same thing), orphans, or death. There's probably a song out there about a fallen pregnant woman who died giving birth to an orphan.

George Jessel put out an album of "Tear Jerkers From the Not-So-Gay 90's" around the time radios were squealing "Teen Angel" and "Tell Laurie I Love Her."

The whole album is not below, not only because of bandwidth/storage issues, but because he recorded for such a cheap record label he wasn't paid enough to sing more than a few numbers. Most of the album features an unknown and lamely harmonic singing group.

Jessel, for those who've avoided him, was a legit star in the 20's. Aside from singing, he was known for his "Hello Mama" phone monologues. His rival was Al Jolson. Both were Broadway stars, and it was George who starred in the 1925 stage hit "The Jazz Singer." When he and Warner Bros. couldn't come to terms, Al Jolson was picked to star in the film version. Out-living Jolson by 30 years, George worked most often as a film producer. He also had a nostalgia act, as one of the last (Durante and Sophie Tucker were also around) performers of vaudevillian show tunes. He'd always remind people that HE could've been a superstar if he'd signed on for "The Jazz Singer." It might not have been a big hit film with him in it, but it still would've given Jessel immortality as the star of the "first talking picture."

Georgie was also America's "toastmaster general," giving eulogies each time an old star passed on. He also hosted tribute dinners to stars that were going to die fairly soon. He appeared often on talk shows hosted by Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson, but by the Vietnam War era, he wore out his welcome. He was just a rheumy-eyed old right-winger with a greasy flat wig on his head and a ludicrous Army general outfit, sourly declaring the anti-war New York Times to be "Pravda."

Actually in the proper setting (50's Friar's Roasts, mostly) George could be very funny, despite his slightly officious delivery style. He was a welcome presence on most any dais, with a good stock of classic jokes. At the same time, he issued both comedy records and bad albums of corny songs for the obscure indie record labels that would have him.

Well aware of being a nostalgia act, Jessel acknowledged that "tear jerkers" were corny, but hoped people could find some pleasure (campy or otherwise) in hearing them again. You can sense he's just a tad embarrassed to be singing "In the Baggage Car" or "The Pardon That Never Came." You at least, can download this stuff anonymously, and while playing it on your iPod, can pretend it's really the latest sappy ballad from Sir Paul or Sir Elton.


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