Dear Mr. Alice:
We were kicking back one day listening to the Beatles and reading the lyrics that came with the album. We wondered, what was the first music artist to include the words with their music? Was it the Beatles or was it some obscure band or artist? We had a big argument over this, so we come to you, Matt, to help us out.
-- The Listeners, P.B.
The elves really sweated this question. We pinned down a lot of music historians and tried to whap some facts out of them. We took staffers at repositories of tuneful information and hung them by their ankles out their windows. Aside from a lot of loose change and car keys, we didn't get much. They're a cagey bunch. None had ever been asked this question before, and they did a lot of bobbing and weaving, commitmentwise. But with a few well worded threats, here's what we got.
All of music did not begin with rock and roll. The world had recorded tunes before Bill Haley and Fats Domino and the Beatles. Liner notes, if you stretch a point, go back a far as Edison was cylinders; and lyrics in liner notes appear in the first decade of the 1900s. The earliest reference we could dig up was to a lyric sheet included with a record of Scottish folk songs from that era. A popular set of kids records from the 1940s included the words so the tykes could screech along with the music. Opera records have occasionally come with libretti. But if you and your friends were arguing just the rock/pop era, post-'50s, then the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper was the first album to include lyrics in the liner notes.