The Sidewalks of New York

The Sidewalks of New York

"The Sidewalks of New York" is a popular song about life in New York City during the 1890s. It was created by lyricist James W. Blake and vaudeville actor and composer Charles B. Lawlor in 1894. The song proved successful afterwards, and was once considered a theme for New York City. Many artists, including Mel Tormé, Duke Ellington, Larry Groce and The Grateful Dead, have performed this song. Governor Al Smith of New York used it as a theme song for his failed presidential campaign in 1928. The song is also known under the title "East Side, West Side" from the first words of the song. The song was also recorded, with slightly altered lyrics, by the Kidsongs Kids.


The tune, a slow and deliberate two-step, was devised by Lawlor, who had been humming the tune while stopping by the hat store where Blake worked. As the two became increasingly enthusiastic about the song, they agreed to collaborate, with Lawlor putting the tune to sheet music and Blake creating the lyrics. [ [ Family Stories] .] The words of the song tell the story of Blake's childhood, including the friends with whom he played as a child, namely Johnny Casey, Jimmy Crowe, Nellie Shannon (who danced the waltz), and Mamie O'Rourke (who taught Blake how to "trip the light fantastic," an extravagant expression for dancing). The song is sung in nostalgic retrospect, as Blake and his childhood friends went their separate ways, some leading to success while others did not ("some are up in 'G' / others they are on the hog"). [ [ Up in G (1889)] American Dialect Society Mailing List, September 23, 2006. Retrieved April 5, 2007.]

Governor Al Smith of New York is credited for the legacy of the song, used as a theme for his 1928 presidential campaign. The urban-centric tune proved symbolic of a campaign that failed to find its footing in America's more rural areas, where Herbert Hoover was more popular. [ [ Trip the Light Fantastic on the Sidewalks of New York] ,]

Max Fleischer and his brother Dave Fleischer made a cartoon with the song in 1925, using the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process. The Fleischers re-released the song on 5 February 1929 with a new soundtrack in the RCA Photophone system. Both cartoons used the "follow the bouncing ball" gimmick.

Though the song achieved cultural success shortly after its release, the two authors earned only $5,000 for their efforts. Lawlor died penniless in 1925, while Blake fell ill and died in 1935, their song reputedly having sold 5,000 copies a year by the time of Blake's passing. [ [,9171,883418,00.html TIME Magazine] , untitled, June 3, 1935. Retrieved April 5, 2007.]

After the deaths of Blake and Lawlor, "Sidewalks of New York" achieved notoriety as a standard among jazz artists, namely Mel Tormé and Duke Ellington, and recorded by musicians of various backgrounds.


While variations exist depending on the artist performing the song, the lyrics to the chorus are commonly sung:

"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"

ee also

*Trip the light fantastic (phrase)


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