Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town
Chicago, Chicago, I’ll show you around
Bet your bottom dollar you’ll lose the blues in Chicago
Chicago, the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down
I’m off to Chicago for the American Library Association conference tomorrow, and this song is stuck in my head. It plays there pretty much nonstop every time I’m there. My father used to play the Bob Scobey record of this all the time when I was a child, and the lyrics fascinated me. I had no clear idea of what a “toddlin'” town might be, but it sounded cool. I assumed that “Billy Sunday” was a mythical character, like Mother Nature and Father Time, and assumed that this line meant that Chicago didn’t observe the kind of Blue Laws we had in Massachusetts, and that people there went grocery shopping on the Sabbath. I wondered about State Street, that great street, and wondered exactly what they did there that they don’t do on Broadway, but thought perhaps it was better not to ask!
Here’s a wonderful version of the song, featuring Blossom Seeley (voice), Lil Hardin-Armstrong (voice and keyboard), Jack Teagarden (Trombone) and Jimmy Noone (clarinet.) The video quality is pretty bad, but that gives it a hazy, dreamlike quality that I think works well here.