While recording technology existed in the 1900s, it took until the 1910s for one format to dominate. But recording technology wasn’t very good, not until the 1930s. Never mind one would have to be able to afford not only the player but records. During the Victorian era many homes had pianos. If not at home, there was usually somewhere to go to play piano because records were at this time like 3D printing technology now: foreign, scary, pricy.
While records gained popularity through the 1920s, they were still limited until the 1950s (78rpm, the format during this time, could only contain one song on each side but was the size of what we think of as a full record now.) Sheet music was extremely popular through the 1910s and 1920s, and remained something one could expect to easily find until the 1950s.
Films added a whole new layer to this. Though the technology for talking films existed as early as as 1899, they were too complicated to widely implement. Silent films needed music and it wasn’t until the 1920s that scores would be sent out (even then some players in small towns would just play whatever they could on loop.)
Considering it was hard to even track film earnings during the teens, it’s no surprise that celebrities images were constantly used without permission. To avoid conflict they’d usually say the song was ‘dedicated to…X’. This went on well into the early 20s. Mabel was a model in her early days, but it appears unless it was a soundtrack the rest of these songs are of that type, they probably had no authorization from her or her company.
A fascinating part of silent film history is the birth of what we’d now call the movie sound track. In these days you have some scores (instrumentals), maybe a few songs if its a musical, maybe several unrelated songs by various artists briefly used in the film. Almost every film has a ‘single’, a main song they make their theme or a song highly associated with the film (ex: (Everything I do) I do it for you by by Bryan Adams for the 1991 Robin Hood film.) Mack Sennett claimed to pioneer this with “Mickey” in 1918, but the most likely first ‘single’ was “The Perfect Song” from Birth of a Nation in 1914.
However the eponymous Mickey theme song was extremely popular, and could be seen as confirmation of ‘singles’ success. After Mickey’s release almost every major film of the 20s had a ‘theme’ song, officially released by the company. As of now the only period recordings of Mabel’s singles are “Mickey” (1919) and Kentucky Dreams. Sister of Rosie O’Grady is apparently a part of a trilogy of a popular song, but that version recording wise remains unknown.
Mabel’s sheet music will be up in a few days. For now enjoy a ‘music video’ of Mickey: