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14 January 2016


As someone who is interested in both old-time popular music and vintage bicycles, I enjoy the 123-year-old song Daisy Daisy because the lady is offered a chance to ride on a tandem (‘a bicycle built for two’).

You probably know how the song starts: 
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do! 
I'm half crazy all for the love of you. 
It won't be a stylish marriage: 
I can't afford a carriage.
But you'd look sweet upon the seat 
Of a bicycle built for two. 

The song, actually called Daisy Bell, was written (both words and music) by Harry Dacre – the pen name of Frank Dean.
Harry Dacre and his own bicycle.
Harry was English but he visited the United States, complete with his bicycle, in about 1891. Apparently at immigration he was charged import duty on the bicycle and a friend told him he was lucky it was not a bicycle built for two, because he would then have had to pay double duty. Those words gave Harry the idea for the song.

It was composed in America and published in London by the company Francis, Day and Hunter in 1892.
Very shortly afterwards it was published by their partners Harms and Co in New York.

The English music hall singer Katie Lawrence was then working in America. She liked the song, brought it back to England, and made it so famous that it has become one of the best-known songs of all time.

It is possible that Harry Dacre used the name ‘Daisy’ as the lady of his song in tribute to the lovely 'Daisy' Greville, Countess of Warwick. She was an early advocate of women’s rights and she also cycled – in ‘modern’ clothes. (She was involved in many scandals in later life – but that’s another story.)
'Daisy' Greville
Harry tried writing a sequel - Fare You Well, Daisy Bell, but it did not achieve success. However, he hit the jackpot again when he wrote I’ll Be Your Sweetheart - another beautiful and deceptively simple melody in 3/4 time, like Daisy Bell.

Harry died in 1922.

What has all this to do with traditional jazz? Not a lot; though I have occasionally heard a traditional jazz band play Daisy Bell; and several play I'll Be Your Sweetheart, especially adapted into 4/4 time.