Do You Know Daisy Bell?

Daisy Bell is a song that lives in popular culture. Don’t recognize the title? You might know it better by the final line of the chorus: ‘….a bicycle built for two.’

Dacre: Daisy Bell

Dacre: Daisy Bell

English composer Frank Dean (1857–1922) immortalized the tandem bicycle, in 1892, after, according to one source, he imported his bicycle on one of his many international moves and had to pay import duty. A friend commented that if he’d imported a tandem, he’d have to pay double and so a song was born.

Harry Dacre: Daisy Bell (Joan Morris, mezzo-soprano; William Bolcom, piano)


Was it about, perhaps, the Countess of Warwick?

Frances Evelyn “Daisy” Greville, Countess of Warwick, 1899

Frances Evelyn “Daisy” Greville, Countess of Warwick, 1899

Infamous in her day for being a famous society figure, philanthropist, feminist, socialist…long-term confidante to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Her unorthodox conduct (see her Wikipedia) entry on her for just a hint of what she got up to make her ripe for parody.

Eloping on a bicycle might be the least of her adventures.

The tandem bicycle’s first patents date from the mid-1880s and by the late 19th century, tandem bicycles weighing a mere 24 pounds were available. Although both riders provide the power, only the front rider (aka the captain, the pilot, the steersman) is responsible for the steering.

Artwork from the period makes it clear that a tandem bike provides many opportunities for a couple to be closer than normal.

Daisy, German edition, Leipzig: Bosworth & Co.

Daisy, German edition, Leipzig: Bosworth & Co.

The song has a slow start but then hit the public imagination, and was quickly translated into many languages. Its most famous appearance, of course, was in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the astronaut Dave closes down the murderously misbehaving computer HAL 9000. As its functions are gradually turned off, it sings the first song it learned, the chorus of Daisy Bell.

Deactivation of Hal 9000

Why Daisy Bell? In 1961, the song was the earliest known computer-synthesized song created at the BELL Labs on the IBM 7094, ‘the first computer to ever sing.’

Daisy Bell Sang by an IBM 7094

Dacre followed his international hit with the non-hit Fare You Well, Daisy Bell, which tells of Daisy’s abandonment of her beau and the tandem, and, in the end, he rides off on his bike. On this sheet music cover, signed ‘yours fin-de-cycle-ly,’ we have the composer himself on his bicycle built for one.

Dacre: Fare you well Daisy Bell, 1894 ©

Dacre: Fare you well Daisy Bell, 1894 ©

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