The Songs of Jack O'Hagan
Songs by Jack O'Hagan
Singer-songwriter Jack O'Hagan wrote over 600 songs, including 'Along the Road to Gundagai' and 'Our Don Bradman'.
O'Hagan also composed scores for silent films and stage shows, dance music and advertising jingles and was a Melbourne radio personality.
Born in Fitzroy, Melbourne in 1898, O'Hagan began composing in his early teens. Allan & Co. music house later employed him as a professional manager and song plugger, getting the company's songs – including many of O'Hagan's own compositions – into theatres and dance halls.
After O’Hagan’s most famous song, 'Along the Road to Gundagai', was recorded by Peter Dawson in 1931, it reportedly sold 50,000 copies of the 78rpm shellac discs in three months.
O'Hagan successfully moved into advertising after the Second World War, joining O'Brien Publicity and penning jingles until his retirement in 1965. He was awarded an OBE in 1973 and died in 1987.
Four recordings of his compositions have been inducted into the NFSA's Sounds of Australia: 'Along the Road to Gundagai', 'Our Don Bradman', 'Wrap Me Up In My Stockwhip and Blanket' and 'After the Dawn'.
In his only filmed performance, broadcaster, singer, composer and performing artist Jack O’Hagan recites his most famous composition 'Along the Road to Gundagai’ (1922).
This performance was filmed for part of Frank Thring’s series of variety shorts called Efftee Entertainers (1931).
Summary by Poppy De Souza.
In this interview with David Johnston, composer Jack O’Hagan explains why he chose the town of Gundagai for his most famous song, 'Along the Road to Gundagai' (1921).
This footage was later included in the NFSA-produced series The Australian Image (1987).
In this excerpt from a 1982 interview with his son-in-law Bill Gray, Jack O’Hagan talks about the start of his songwriting career, penning his first song with pianist and composer Henri Penn in 1917, and its subsequent publication with Allans Music.
The cover image of this title is a photograph of Jack O'Hagan taken in Melbourne in 1978, courtesy Peter Luck. NFSA title: 638213.
An iconic Depression-era popular song, ‘Our Don Bradman’ pays tribute to one of Australia’s greatest cricketers, Sir Donald Bradman.
The song was recorded by radio announcer and singer Len Maurice, using his performance name Art Leonard. Written by Jack O'Hagan just in time for the broadcasting of the 1930 Ashes Test Series between England and Australia, it was an immediate hit, selling 40,000 copies of sheet music within a week.
The song was subsequently recorded by various Australian artists, including Maurie Fields, Jim Haynes and Greg Champion.
Jack O’Hagan discusses his hit song 'Our Don Bradman', released at the height of Bradman’s popularity.
It was first sung by O'Hagan on 3DB Radio, the evening before Bradman scored three centuries at Lord’s cricket grounds in London.
‘Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox’ is a popular foxtrot for voice and piano with words by 'Alf', and music composed by Jack O’Hagan. It was first recorded and released by Jim Davidson’s Dandies with vocalist Dick Cranbourne on the Regal Zonophone label.
The subject of the song is an Australian historical monument and tourist attraction, located at Snake Gully near the NSW town of Gundagai. The recording features Jim Davidson’s Dandies, one of the most popular dance bands of the 1930s, and the comic voice of Dick Cranbourne (1905–1971), musician, vocalist and later radio broadcaster.
James (Jim) Hutchinson Davidson (1902–1982) was a drummer who began leading his own orchestra in the 1930s. In 1936 Davidson signed a contract with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, expanding his orchestra to form Jim Davidson’s ABC Dance Band, broadcasting over the national network to all states on Friday and Saturday evenings and touring Australia.
O'Hagan wrote several songs about the town of Gundagai, including 'Along the Road to Gundagai' (1922) and 'When a Boy from Alabama Meets a Girl from Gundagai' (1942).
Cover image: Jack O’Hagan with his wife, standing next to the statue of the Dog on the Tuckerbox at Gundagai, 1956. NFSA title: 791768.
The third and last of Jack O’Hagan’s popular songs about Gundagai, after 'Along the Road to Gundagai’ (1922) and ‘Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox (Five Miles from Gundagai)’ (1938), was ‘When a Boy From Alabama Meets a Girl From Gundagai’. It was a hit upon its release in 1942.
The recording features Joy Nichols and The Youth Show Band. The Sun newspaper described the background to the creation of the song:
Picking up a day-old newspaper, O'Hagan saw eight engagement notices of Australian girls and American soldiers. That didn't keep him awake, but, when he went to bed, he didn't sleep. Around 4am he got it – the new hit number. He went to sleep then, thinking about how lightning could strike twice in the same place, if the place was in the song and it was Gundagai. This week recordings of 'When a Boy From Alabama Meets a Girl From Gundagai' went out to waiting radio stations, which proceeded to wear out the disc … 'When a Boy From Alabama Meets a Girl From Gundagai' has a honeyed lilt and just the right sort of sentiment to ring in dollars and cents, as well as shillings and pence, on the O'Hagan cash register. Radio stations say it will go high on the 'hit' list.
This newspaper report was in the context of recent changes to the Broadcasting Act requiring 2.5% of all music played over radio stations to be Australian-composed.
Cover image: 'When A Boy From Alabama Meets A Girl From Gundagai' (1942) sheet music, featuring Joy Nichols. NFSA title: 793146.
'Wrap Me Up With My Stockwhip and Blanket’ was recorded by Tex Morton in August 1936 for Regal Zonophone at EMI Studios in Sydney. Morton sings and plays guitar on this recording of the song. The song is a reworking of a 19th century folk song, with melody by Jack O’Hagan and Australian-flavoured lyrics adapted from Banjo Paterson’s poem 'The Dying Stockman’ (1905). This clip features the final thirty seconds of the song, including the last verse and yodelled chorus.
Summary by Graham McDonald
In his only filmed performance, broadcaster, singer, composer and performing artist Jack O’Hagan recites his composition 'Carry On' (1931).
This performance was filmed for part of Frank Thring’s series of variety shorts called Efftee Entertainers.
This song was considered very risque at the time of release. The lyrics refer to the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the political controversy between Colonel Campbell (head of the right-wing paramilitary group the New Guard) and NSW Premier Jack Lang. Francis de Groot, who rode up on a horse and slashed the official opening ribbon for the bridge was a member of the New Guard.
Composer Jack O'Hagan did not want his name to be associated with it and used the pseudonym John Quinlan. Len Maurice and Jack Lumsdaine who sung the song used the pseudonyms Quip and Quirk. When sold in stores it was from 'under the counter'.
Lyrics include 'Oh Colonel Campbell, why don't you scramble your precious gang? They have been a source of worry since we opened up the bridge, and the way they cut that ribbon was a downright sacrilege.'
Cover image is from Sydney's Harbour Bridge (1933).
Notes by Beth Taylor
This 1931 version of ‘Along the Road to Gundagai’, composed by Jack O’Hagan in 1921, is performed by popular singer of the day Peter Dawson. This clip features the lesser known opening verse of the song.
Summary by Martin Ford
In 1920 prominent music publisher Allan & Co. employed Jack O’Hagan as a 'professional manager' or 'song plugger', with the task of ensuring that the company's songs were heard in theatres and dance halls.
In this letter dated 10 March 1924, O'Hagan draws the reader’s attention to his newest song, 'Down By the Garden Gate'. Shortly after this, O’Hagan was engaged by the Auditorium to perform the hit.
Jack O’Hagan began broadcasting with the Melbourne radio station 3AR in the 1920s, and later regularly appeared on 3LO, 3AW and 3DB.
His work in radio spanned performing, announcing, writing, producing and compering.
Radio 3DB was the station where O’Hagan first sang ‘Our Don Bradman’ , in 1930.
A printed glass slide manufactured by Allan & Co. and featuring the lyrics to Jack O'Hagan's 'Let's Have One For the Road'.
This slide would have been used for cinema audience sing-a-longs, which occurred before the feature and at intervals during the evening's screenings.
The foxtrot 'Carry On', written and composed by Jack O’Hagan, was recorded by The Sundowners Harmony Quartette in 1931.
The Sundowners were Melbourne radio entertainers of long standing and high repute. The group – consisting of Bob Allen, Tom Senile, Herbert Sanderson and Ben Gillard (pictured) – was formed in 1927 and disbanded in 1956.
Cover image: 'Carry On' sheet music (1931). NFSA title: 611090.
This waltz was written by Jack O’Hagan to music by Tom Swift, and was recorded by the Diamond Trio featuring vocals by Roy O'Connor.
The Beeda label was made for sale exclusively by the long-established Australian music store Allan & Co., although the records were pressed variously in Canada and the US. Allans released about 20 Beeda recordings between late 1924 and mid-1926 and also marketed a brand of Beeda gramophones.
Jack O’Hagan’s ‘That Old Bush Shanty of Mine’ was first recorded by British baritone Billy Desmond for Aco in 1925, with subsequent recordings by Donn Reynolds and His Westerners, Doug Owen, Alan Fountain, The City Slickers, and Slim Dusty.
The B-side is 'I Can't Do Anything Right', also composed by Jack O'Hagan, which is included on this recording after 'That Old Bush Shanty of Mine'.
The woman who features on the cover of the sheet music is Victoria Carmen. An English vaudeville and theatrical star, she toured Australia with JC Williamson Ltd in the second half of 1924. She was described as ‘England’s most shapely principal boy’, and was the first to sing ‘That Old Bush Shanty of Mine’ on stage.
Matrix number: C-6692-X
Cover image: ‘That Old Bush Shanty of Mine’ sheet music (1924). NFSA title: 1495054.
This jingle for Gilbey's Gin was composed by Jack O'Hagan in the 1940s or 50s.
After the Second World War, O’Hagan’s catchy comedic and topical songs declined in popularity. He successfully moved into advertising, joining O’Brien Publicity and penning jingles for 14 years, until his retirement in 1965.
Popular English gin brand Gilbey’s has had a long association with Australia. Local distribution began in the early 20th century, and continued through the establishment of the W&A Gilbey Distillery at Moorabbin in 1937.
'After the Dawn' was one of Jack O’Hagan’s most popular early compositions. Its popular success saw a spate of recordings – by O’Hagan himself and, in one of the earliest recordings produced by the Columbia Gramophone Company, by Sydney Simpson and His Wentworth Cafe Orchestra.
Further recordings were made by Billy Desmond, Foster Richardson, James Sasson and Keith Donaldson. Pianists Laurel and Edith Pardey also recorded a four-hand version on piano roll for Mastertouch, where they were two of the most prominent in-house pianists.
The success of the song also saw it win ‘most popular song’ on radio 3LO’s £100 perfect program competition, having been included in 2,240 of 10,000 programs submitted by listeners in June 1926.
As reported in the Daily Telegraph on 23 October 1926:
The Columbia Company has just released the first record not only pressed, but actually recorded at the Homebush factory near Sydney, and consisting of two items played by Sydney Simpson and his Wentworth Cafe Orchestra: the popular ‘After the Dawn’ waltz by Jack F O’Hagan, and a fox-trot 'Freshie', both with a vocal chorus (Col. 0514). It is claimed that the product is entirely Australian, for 'After the Dawn' has been composed, performed, recorded and pressed by Australians. This waltz with a captivating swing, which explains its increasing popularity, has been quite satisfactorily recorded, its only weak spot being the nasal quality of the singer’s voice, who sings the vocal refrain. However as long as the record serves its principal purpose, dancing, mediocre vocal quality matters but little.
Additional credits: Harry Larson – trombone, Sam Babicci – reeds, Harry White – piano, Percy Baker – banjo, Sammy Cope – drums.
Cover image: 'After the Dawn' sheet music. NFSA title: 1488438.
A 1930s song about female aviator Amy Johnson, written by Jack O'Hagan and sung by Bob Molyneux.
Cover image: Fairfax Corporation 1930, 'Amy Johnson with her aeroplane Jason, New South Wales, 16 June 1930'. Courtesy National Library of Australia. nla.obj-162255730.
This song, written by Jack O'Hagan and sung by Clement Q Williams, was recorded in 1934 to celebrate the centenary of Melbourne the following year.
The record topped the hit parade in 1935.
Regal Zonophone G22195
Summary by Beth Taylor
Jack O’Hagan’s most famous song, 'Along the Road to Gundagai', was written in 1921, and featured in J&N Tait’s pantomime Aladdin at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne, in December 1922.
With limited local recording facilities in Australia, it was not until 1931 that the song was recorded, in Britain by Peter Dawson. Reportedly, 50,000 copies of the 78rpm shellac discs were sold in just three months.
The popularity of the song continued in the following decades, with an instrumental version becoming the theme for the popular long-running radio serial Dad and Dave from Snake Gully (1937–53).
Since first being recorded by Dawson, numerous performers have recorded their own versions, from The Harmoniques and Col Joye, Slim Dusty and Barry Humphries, to Rolf Harris and Liza Minnelli.
O’Hagan wrote two further songs featuring the small New South Wales town of Gundagai, ‘Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox (Five Miles from Gundagai)’ (1938) and ‘When a Boy from Alabama Meets a Girl from Gundagai’ (1942).
'Along the Road to Gundagai’ remains one of the great Australian folk songs and Peter Dawson’s recording of it one of the best-known versions. It was inducted into the NFSA’s Sounds of Australia in 2007.