The Sidewalks of New York

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Not to be confused with Streets of New York (song).
Sheet music cover from 1914

"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 (23 September 1862 – 24 May 1935) and vaudeville actor and composer Charles B. Lawlor in 1894. The song proved successful afterwards, and is often considered a theme for New York City. Many artists, including Mel Tormé, Duke Ellington, Larry Groce, Richard Barone, 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.[1] The song is also known under the title "East Side, West Side" from the first words of the chorus.

\new Score {
  \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "one" \relative c'' {
        \clef treble
        \key g \major
        \time 3/4
        b2 d4 | a2 b4 | g4 b2~ | b2 r4
        g2 g4 | a4( g) e | g2.~ | g2
      \new Lyrics \lyricsto "one" {
        Down in front of Ca -- sey's, 
        Old brown woo -- den stoop


The tune, a slow and deliberate waltz, 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. 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").

Governor Al Smith of New York is credited for the legacy of the song having used it as a theme for his 1928 presidential campaign.[1] 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.[2]

The song was used as the post parade song for the Belmont Stakes horse race, the third jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown until 1996. Then, the management of the Belmont, trying to appeal to a younger demographic, decided to alter tradition and changed the post parade song to "New York, New York". As a result, there was speculation that a jinx has fallen over any horse attempting to win the Triple Crown ater having won the first two legs, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Although four horses between 1979 and 1996 had already failed to win the Triple Crown after winning the first two races. As of 2013, another eight horses failed since the song was changed, seven as competitors, and one horse, I'll Have Another, who was scratched the morning of the race due to lameness. It is said that the ghost of Mamie O'Rourke would never let another Triple Crown winner emerge unless and until "The Sidewalks of New York" was reinstated as the post parade song for The Belmont Stakes. If such a curse existed, it ended when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown with his wire-to-wire win at the Belmont Stakes on June 6, 2015.

Max Fleischer and his brother Dave Fleischer made a cartoon The Sidewalks of New York 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.[3] [4]

Although the song achieved cultural success shortly after its release, the two authors earned only $5,000 for their efforts.[1] 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.[5]

After the deaths of Blake and Lawlor, "Sidewalks of New York" achieved fame as a standard among jazz artists, namely Mel Tormé and Duke Ellington (in 1941), and recorded by musicians of various backgrounds. The song appeared in a 1954 medley (along with two other 1890s songs, "Daisy Bell" and "The Bowery") in a version by Don Cornell, Alan Dale, and Buddy Greco. It is also a standard among barbershop quartets.

The durability of the song was demonstrated once again in 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when recording artist Richard Barone and collaborator Matthew Billy wrote additional lyrics to reflect the fallen towers and honor the victims of the attack. While celebrating the perseverance of the city itself, the revised song was released as a single (The Sidewalks of New York 2011), receiving strong airplay and favorable reviews [6]


While variations exist depending on the artist performing the song, the chorus has been consistent. The original lyrics are as follows.[1]

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 Jay played the organ on the sidewalks of New York

East Side, West Side, all around the town
The tots sang "ring-a-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

Other commercial uses[edit]

The song is featured in a scene in the 1934 Shirley Temple film Little Miss Marker.

In the 1950s, the tune was used for a commercial jingle advertising the Hot Shoppes restaurants (owned by J.W. Marriott) in the Washington, D.C., area. The words were: "East side, west side, all around the town/Wherever you look for a place to eat, a Hot Shoppes can be found/Take a bus or streetcar, or drive right up to the door/Hot Shoppes food is the kind that always brings you back for more." Another 1950s' jingle used the song to advertise Rheingold Beer: "East side, west side, all around the town/Rheingold extra dry beer is the beer of great renown/Friendly, freshening Rheingold; always happily dry/The crisp, clean taste you want in beer is in Rheingold extra dry." Lastly, it was used in Old Gold cigarettes tap-dancing commercials.

In the 1957 film Beau James Mayor James J. Walker of New York City, Bob Hope, sings the song to convince New Yorkers that he is one of them and should be retained as mayor.

While not using the song itself, the title of the 1960s TV series East Side/West Side, starring George C. Scott; set and filmed in New York, used the familiarity of the lyrics to establish the series' location.

In the 1970s, the song was again used for a radio jingle. This time the client was the Scull's Angels taxicab company,[7] which has long since ceased to exist. The radio ad was very popular, and gave the cab company more business than they could handle. At that point they took it off the air. It was sung by a singer, Herb Wasserman, who had a very gruff voice, and an over the top New York cabbie accent. The lyrics were written by prolific jingle writer Joan Wile and produced by Don Elliott productions.[8]

The lyrics were:

"East Side, West Side, All around the town.
Scull's Angels will take ya, back and forth, and up and down,
We'll take ya to the theater, and the airport.
We'll pick ya, up at ya door.
'cause Scull's Angels will stick-to-the-streets-and-not-drive-all-over, the sidewalks of New York."

(lyrics used by permission of the writer)

This song is sung by Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) while learning to ride a bicycle on The Knick, which is set in New York City in 1900.


  1. ^ a b c d "Composer Tells of Sidewalks," New York Times, June 28, 1924, pg. 7 (retrieved November 28, 2014)
    Before I sold my rights in it, I was told that 80,000 copies had been sold. But I know that sales must have been up in the millions. How much did I get for that song? Why, just $5,000, and this I split fifty-fifty with my friend James W. Blake ... and who was good at writing little squibs.
  2. ^ Trip the Light Fantastic on the Sidewalks of New York,
  3. ^ "The Sidewalks of New York" (1925) at IMDB
  4. ^ "The Sidewalks of New York" (1929) at IMDB
  5. ^ untitled, Time June 3, 1935 (retrieved April 5, 2007)
  6. ^ "Trakin Care of Business: Baby, Baby, Baby, You're Out of Time," Hits (, September 9, 2011
  7. ^ "Scull's Angels Business Card," (retrieved January 12, 2015)
  8. ^ A Different Drummer: What Makes Me Tic, a Memoir, by Herbert Wasserman (1922–2001), Writers Club Press, 2000, pg. 243; OCLC 52229234