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The Lost Lyrics Of 'Toddlin' Town' (And Other Fun Facts)

By DNAinfo Staff | August 14, 2017 6:09am
 Sheet music for 'Chicago, That Todd'Ling Town,' shows singer Blossom Seeley; Frank Sinatra; State Street
Sheet music for 'Chicago, That Todd'Ling Town,' shows singer Blossom Seeley; Frank Sinatra; State Street
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DOWNTOWN — Chicago, Chicago. That Toddlin' Town.

Let's show you around.

The unofficial city song — or maybe co-song with "My Kind Of Town (Chicago Is)" — is hitting a couple milestones: It was first published 95 years ago, with a rush of bands reportedly first performing it in August 1922. And Frank Sinatra gave the tune a second wind 60 years ago, recording it on Aug. 13, 1957.

Here are five things you may not know about "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)":

1. The song was written by immigrant Fred Fisher, who came to Chicago in 1900 from Germany. Born Albert von Breitenbach, he might have changed his name but, according to a 1949 Billboard profile of him, he never lost his "thick English-murdering dialect of a German burlesque comedian."

2. As Fisher told it, his musical career — he'd go on to write dozens of popular songs and publish hundreds more — propelled after he took piano lessons from a black entertainer he met at "a South State Street saloon."

3. When first published, sheet music covers called the song "Chicago, That Todd'Ling Town."

Todd'ling, toddlin'. What's it mean?

That's unclear. "Songwriting is a question of sounds, not sense," Fisher once said.

But some music historians have noted The Toddle was a popular dance of the time, described as a springier, bouncier version of the Foxtrot.

In 1921, a Tribune story announced the coming of a "$250,000 Toddle Palace" to Woodlawn. Another story advised women to find more time for relaxation: "If you don't know how to toddle, learn how, and get a handsome party frock and handsome man and dance till you have some of the good old youth back."

Perhaps it was the Toddle that Fisher observed when he conjured up the line, "I saw a man, he danced with his wife."

Click here to learn the steps.

4. The song has been used in a half dozen or so movies, but Sinatra's version from "The Joker Is Wild" made it a radio and record hit in 1957. Sinatra would continue to sing it throughout his career.

(More below)

Not everybody liked the song. A 1962 Tribune editorial called it ''a miserable thing."

"'Chicago' assures the public you'll really lose the blues here, presumably by wallowing in dissipation,'' the editorial said.

But in "America's Songs," writers Philip Furia and Michael L. Lasser praise it.

"What Fisher managed to do was get a musical handle on Chicago in the 1920s, when it was wide open and hot," they write. "Better than anyone else, Fisher pegged it as the wicked town that even teetotaling evangelist Billy Sunday 'could not shut down.' "

5. When the song was originally published, Fisher included lyrics that aren't often heard today.

At the start of the song, the singer explains how "I'm going to make, right to the lake, there with the boys, in Illinois, I want to be."

Why?

It appears that Chicago not only has "State Street, that great street," but it's also a great place to find a date.

"Any old Guy, over in Chi, he's got a chance, if can dance, he'll cop a Flo," Fisher wrote. "Any old maid, who's not afraid, powders her nose, puts on nice clothes, she'll get a beau."

Hear the original version below.