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Printed lyrics of popular songs were extremely popular from the 16th century until the early 20th century. They were commonly known as broadsides or broadsheets. Over time, the name came to refer to any printed matter confined to one side of a single sheet of paper, such as handbills, advertisements, posters, etc.

Broadsides were generally printed on one side of a piece of paper, and included only the lyrics and a note designating the tune. Since folk tunes were used and reused, people generally only needed to learn the words. They were written by hand before the invention of the printing press, and only grew extremely popular after they could be cheaply reproduced. Broadside ballads were sold by travelling chapmen and peddlers, at shops and stalls at markets, and were pasted on walls or other locations before being learned; after the words had been committed to memory, the broadside was replaced or pasted by another.

One of the first known broadsides was A Lytel Geste of Robyne Hood, printed in 1506. Their popularity grew quickly—one merchant sold 190 ballads in 1520, a remarkable sum, which may be evidence of relatively high levels of literacy at the time. After 1556, printers were required to register with the Stationers' Company in London, and had to pay four pence to register each ballad beginning in 1557 and continuing to 1709. As well as being popular in the UK, they became popular in western Europe and the United States.

Broadsides were often folded into pamphlets called chapbooks. The collection of songs and ballads in chapbooks were known as garlands.

Although broadsides enjoyed a brief resurgence of popularity in the late 19th century, this proved shortlived. By the beginning of the 20th century, broadsides were declining in popularity due to the influx of newspapers, and the tradition soon died out.

It is not uncommon in the 21st century, however, to find broadsides published at local cultural events, in particular poetry readings or art show openings. In this case the broadsides commemorate the event with samples of the art in question.

For more information and samples of more than 80 broadside ballads see 'Broadside Ballads' by Lucie Skeaping, published by Faber Music 2005

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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