Culture as counterculture

Adam Kirsch in The New Criterion:

Eighty years ago, in the fall of 1941, the musical Best Foot Forward opened on Broadway. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, who would go on to write the songs for the classic film Meet Me in St. Louis a few years later, Best Foot Forward is not a classic—it’s a piece of fluff about a prep-school boy who invites a Hollywood actress to be his prom date, to the annoyance of his actual girlfriend. But it ran on Broadway for almost a year and then was turned into a movie, with Lucille Ball as the starlet, that’s still worth watching.

A standout number is “The Three Bs,” in which three high-school girls tell Harry James’s big band what not to play: “I never wanna hear Johann Sebastian Bach/ And I don’t wanna listen to Ludwig Beethoven/ And I don’t give a hoot for old Johannes Brahms.” Instead, the three Bs they demand are “the barrelhouse, the boogie-woogie, and the blues,” popular styles of the day that are each sampled in the song.

Aside from being fun, the song also captures an interesting transitional moment in American culture. By 1941, pop had already taken over from classical as the musical lingua franca, the sound everybody wanted to hear.

More here.