Trip the Light Fantastic on the Sidewalks of New York

Alfred E Smith on Time Magazine 1928
To "Trip the Light Fantastic" is to dance. Scholars point to an early reference made to the phrase, if not the first, in a famous pastoral poem by John Milton, published in 1631, entitled L'Allegro: "Com, and trip it as ye go, On the light fantastick toe..."

A lot happened between 1631 and the 1890's era of Tin Pan Alley. A lot of dancing got done.

But during those late 19th century years when music began a commercial hey-day, particularly in New York, "tripping the light fantastic" came of age in a classic Tin Pan song called "The Sidewalks of New York."

"East Side, West Side, all around the town
The kids sang 'ring around rosie,' 'London Bridge is falling down'
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke
We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York..."

The song is very reminiscent of other Tin Pan compositions. In fact, the first line of the melody is virtually identical to an earlier popular song, "Daisy," commonly called "On a Bicycle Built for Two."

"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do..."

"East side, west side, all around the town..."

Probably the person most responsible for the enduring (and endearing) legacy of "Sidewalks" is the once govenor of New York, Alfred E. "Al" Smith.

Smith, a Democrat, ran for president in the election of 1928. "The Sidewalks of New York" was his campaign song. However, he tripped fantastically in the ensuing election and was defeated in a landslide by Republican Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States.

The week of April 30, 1928, Time Magazine featured Al Smith on the cover. Early in the campaign as it was, Smith's election chances were looking good. Said Time in the cover story, "Last week was Smith Week among the Democrats. East coast, West coast, all around the land, the Smith candidacy seemed to have reached a new high-tide line."

It wasn't to be however. Smith was still big all around "the town" -- a skyscraper was erected in his name in Albany, N.Y. that same year, 1928 -- but he failed to capture "the land."

"The Sidewalks of New York" has been recorded countless times and has attained the rank of a "standard," thanks in part to the likes of jazz greats Mel Torme, Duke Ellington and Cannonball Adderly, to name just a few.

The next time you travel the sidewalks of New York, have a nice trip. 

The Sidewalks of New York Lyrics
(Words and Music by James W. Blake and Charles E. Lawlor)

East Side, West Side, all around the town
The kids sang "ring around rosie", "London Bridge is falling down"
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke
We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York

East Side, West Side, all around the town
Sweet Mamie grew up and bough herself a sweet little Alice-blue gown
All the fellas dug her, you should have heard them squark
When I escorted Mamie round the sidewalks of New York

East Side, West Side, riding through the parks
We started swinging at Jilly's then we split to P.J.Clark's
On to Chuck's Composite, then a drink at The Stork
We won't get home until morning 'cause we're going to take a walk
On the sidewalks of New York

Alternate Lyrics:

Down in front of Casey's old brown wooden stoop
On a summer's evening we formed a merry group
Boys and girls together we would sing and waltz
While Tony played the organ on the sidewalks of New York

East Side, West Side, all around the town
The tots sang "ring-around-rosie," "London Bridge is falling down"
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke
Tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York

That's where Johnny Casey, little Jimmy Crowe
Jakey Krause, the baker, who always had the dough
Pretty Nellie Shannon with a dude as light as cork
She first picked up the waltz step on the sidewalks of New York

Things have changed since those times, some are up in "G"
Others they are wand'rers but they all feel just like me
They'd part with all they've got, could they once more walk
With their best girl and have a twirl on the sidewalks of New York
You can hear a midi version of "The Sidewalks of New York" here.

James W. Blake - The Sidewalks of New York - East Side, West Side - Sheet Music (Digital Download)

Charles B. Lawlor and James W. Blake - The Sidewalks of New York - Music Book

Traditional - A Bicycle Built for Two - Daisy Bell - Sheet Music (Digital Download)


Trip the Light Fantastic with the Gators!


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