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New Project: Songs Of The Wwi Era.


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#19 Don Taylor

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Posted 15 August 2015 - 08:46 AM

"Oh! What a Lovely War!" was inspired by a BBC radio documentary "The Long, Long Trail" by Charles Chilton.  Chilton used a WWI song book "Tommy's Tunes" by a serving airman: 2nd Lieutenant Nettleingham, as his source for the songs.  This is still available in reprint.

 

Anyway, the original radio doc was, of course, deleted by the BBC, but Chilton kept a copy and on his death it was sent to the BBC Archives.

 

A kind soul has put it up on Youtube:

 

https://www.youtube....h?v=W319l1mtASs



#20 Bob Michel

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Posted 17 August 2015 - 11:26 AM

 
A kind soul has put it up on Youtube:
 
https://www.youtube....h?v=W319l1mtASs


Excellent! I'll have a look at that as well. Thanks, Don.

Bob Michel
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#21 Bob Michel

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Posted 17 August 2015 - 12:00 PM

For the first Tin Pan Alley song in the project, I've chosen the sentimental off-to-war number "Send Me Away with a Smile" (1917):

http://youtu.be/VJEi_QLAyS4

It was memorably recorded (as what wasn't, around then?) by John McCormack, whose vocal stylings are so far beyond my wildest dreams that I experience no anxiety of influence whatsoever. In fact I learned the piece directly from the sheet music, and only heard the McCormack version later.

It's a soldier's farewell much in the vein of "Goodbye Dolly Gray" and the like, but full (it must be said) of the clueless optimism that infects a lot of American war songs from 1917: General Pershing was going to go over there and lead a couple of cavalry charges, and that would be that. Well, that's the sort of bravado one expects at the start. But it must have sounded mighty strange in Europe, after three years of hell.

The ubiquitous Al Piantadosi, from whom we'll hear again, had a hand in this one, though he's better known for having coauthored "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier" in 1915. It's possible that Al (like many others) had a change of heart about military conflict in those years. More likely he simply didn't let his personal convictions, whatever they were, stand between him and his craft (or his income).

The song's jauntiness (not to mention its gender politics) can set one's teeth on edge a little, but I think it's a nice piece of work. At any rate I haven't been able to get it out of my head for the last few days.

Bob Michel
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Edited by Bob Michel, 05 September 2015 - 08:57 AM.


#22 Rod

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Posted 17 August 2015 - 03:49 PM

Well done Bob. You enjoy a bit of history and mention of Pershing took me back to my fathers WW1 memoirs.
After some considerable time amidst the mayhem of the front line trenches he was recalled and given instructions to find his own way to an Officer's Cadet Battalion at Trinity College, Cambridge and he set out without delay, on foot, to find his way towards the port of embarkation, Boulogne. He met up en route with another chap with similar instructions but when they eventually arrived at the docks they were confronted with the command 'All leave stopped, return to your units at once' Their repeated pleas that they were not on leave but on duty fell on deaf ears. Desparate to get home they somehow managed to gain access to the docks and came to a British railway steamer with gangway out and not a soul in sight, crept on board and stowed away in the toilets until the boat was well out to sea. They eventually had the courage to emerge from hiding and discovered that they were in line for VIP treatment as the entire passenger list consisted of no more than Commander in Chief, General Pershing, with a clutch of his staff chatting on the fore deck and two Australian corporals hiding in a WC. On arrival at Dover they fell in line with Pershings disembarking party down the gangway and all the officials were so busy bowing and scraping to the ' great man ' that nobody even asked them to show their passes.

#23 Bob Michel

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Posted 17 August 2015 - 04:38 PM

A wonderful story, Rod!

I'm afraid Pershing's actual performance didn't quite fulfill the messianic expectations that clung to him. In his tactics he was the quintessential general "fighting the last war," and one shudders to think of the casualty lists he could have racked up given a few more months' opportunity. He was lucky the conflict ended soon enough to let him emerge with his credit more or less intact.

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#24 Bob Michel

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Posted 24 August 2015 - 02:09 PM

Tin Pan Alley took up the cause of the War in a big way in 1917, but of course they weren't all war songs. Here's one of that year's big nonmartial hits, one with enough staying power that its chorus (with a later boost from the movies) is still pretty familiar. On the other hand the verses, as usual, didn't make the Cultural Literacy cut, and it's fun to restore them.

http://youtu.be/FyKE2N7EQVg

The canonical version is probably the one by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in the eponymous 1942 film, but the recording that plays in my head when I think of the song is the late-career one Cliff Edwards made in the same year. In fact I largely blame Cliff Edwards (a.k.a. "Ukulele Ike," best known as the original voice of Jiminy Cricket) for steering me in the direction of this repertoire. But that's a story for another day.

It is unrecorded whether the unnamed Gal of the title was presently instructed by her new husband to Send Him Away With A Smile.

Bob Michel
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#25 Rod

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Posted 25 August 2015 - 02:08 AM

Well done again Bob. From your opening selection of August 12th I particularly fell for your delightful version of ' Mississippi Miss '. A distinct improvement upon the old scratchy Collins/ Harlan recording but then without that we might never have gained access to the tune anyway ? Can't get that one out of my head, and have no wish to ! The uke, guitar, bass combinations are just the job for your voice. No concertina, but what the hell. ! Looking forward to more.

Rod, Somerset, UK

#26 Bob Michel

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Posted 25 August 2015 - 02:32 AM

Well done again Bob. From your opening selection of August 12th I particularly fell for your delightful version of ' Mississippi Miss '.


Thanks, Rod. I'm pleased to know that I'm not the only one with a soft spot for that song. Among the countless "Dear Old Dixie" numbers from those years--most of which, frankly, have aged very badly indeed--it's a real standout.

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#27 Bob Michel

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Posted 28 August 2015 - 03:45 AM

For the next entry in the project I had two contenders, which we might characterize respectively as Pathos and Levity. Which to choose? Well, that's not too hard. To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, "Pathos tomorrow; Levity tonight."

http://youtu.be/R2PI49aTa_4

"Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder or a Private with a Chicken on Your Knee?" wins the prize (so far) for Longest Title in my repertoire of WWI songs. It was written by Sidney D. Mitchell (music) and Archie Gottler (lyrics) in 1918, but didn't peak commercially until the next year, in a hit recording by "Eugene Buckley" (a pseudonym for Arthur Fields). So you could argue that it's really a postwar number.

But that's true of many American war-themed songs of the period. Though it can't have seemed that way to the doughboys, U.S. participation in the conflict was relatively brief, and inevitably there was a lag. I have songs from 1919 in my little collection with specific references that made them obsolete by the time they were published. No matter; the mill grinds on.

This one has been recorded a few times in the years since, and it turns up in anthologies of period songs, but it's not terribly well known a century later (I found no other contemporary renditions on YouTube). Which is a pity, since it's one of my favorite treatments of a major Tin Pan Alley preoccupation of the era: the conundrum, in a prickly young democracy, of military rank.

Not to mention the ornithology. "Wee Marie" had her own wry perspective on all this, no doubt. But there were language barriers and whatnot.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 28 August 2015 - 03:46 AM.


#28 Jim Besser

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Posted 28 August 2015 - 06:07 PM

irst, some background:

My New Year's resolution for 2015 was to begin, at long last, to assimilate some of the sheet music from the early 20th century that I've been collecting for the past fifteen years or so. I was originally attracted to the covers by Albert Wilfred Barbelle and other illustrators, but sooner or later I was bound to get curious about the songs themselves.
 

 

Wow, somehow I missed this entire thread until today.

 

A fabulous project, well implemented. I'm going to through my own music collections and see what I have; I'd like to hear/learn more. I remember reading about the (allegedly) bawdy origins of "Do Your Ears Hang Low?' in the British trenches.  Interesting stuff!

 

Also a curious intersection of interests. I've been delving more deeply into the music of early Tin Pan Alley. As a non-singer, my focus is instrumental. DUH.



#29 Bob Michel

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Posted 31 August 2015 - 07:48 AM

Entry #6 in the WWI series is one of the best-known antiwar songs in American history, Al Piantadosi and Alfred Bryan's "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier" (1915).

http://youtu.be/Zfl7QBVDmNs

Al Piantadosi was one of the period's most prolific tunesmiths, and lent his talents as readily to the prowar cause a couple of years later (see "Send Me Away with a Smile," above). But in 1915 the country's mood was still anti-interventionist; Woodrow Wilson's famous (and effective) campaign slogan in the following year's Presidential election was "He Kept Us Out Of War."

"I Didn't Raise My Boy..." was a major hit, generated considerable controversy, and inspired numerous parodies. Ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, foaming at the mouth by 1915 to get himself back into power and the U.S.A. into any armed conflict available, memorably opined that the place for women who opposed war was "in China--or by preference in a harem--and not in the United States." Always a class act, was Teddy.

Emphatic and stentorian in the pre-electric amplification style, and quaint to modern ears, it's still a terrific song, and an icon of pacifist (and feminist) sentiment. I can't claim to do it justice, but this, to my way of thinking, is one of the great ones.

Bob Michel
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Edited by Bob Michel, 31 August 2015 - 07:57 AM.


#30 Rod

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Posted 31 August 2015 - 12:10 PM

I was waiting for that one Bob. Not perhaps altogether surprising that there were those who chose to parody and rubbish the lyrics. In so many respects civilisation has still barely begun to this day. Nice performance.

#31 Bob Michel

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Posted 01 September 2015 - 08:52 AM

I was waiting for that one Bob. Not perhaps altogether surprising that there were those who chose to parody and rubbish the lyrics.


Thanks, Rod; I could hardly have avoided including this song, even if I'd wanted to.

As for the various take-offs on the song, not all were mean-spirited. I love a good parody, and some of these were very clever:

https://commons.m.wi..._be_a_voter.jpg

Bob Michel
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#32 Bob Michel

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Posted 04 September 2015 - 05:18 AM

Seven songs into the project, it's high time we met Irving Berlin.

http://youtu.be/bu2ykWcNMdc

In 1919 Berlin was barely into his thirties, just out of the U.S. Army himself, and already the most famous and influential songwriter in America. He had nearly half a century to go.

If it ever comes to handing out medals, Arlen had a more finely tuned ear, Gershwin was more innovative and fearless, Kern was the subtler artist, Porter was wittier, Carmichael had a livelier sense of the absurd. But Berlin had a hefty endowment of all these qualities, and if you reliably finish second in every event you're probably going to win the decathlon. Plus he had that extraordinary staying power: his career fills all the space between George M. Cohan and Bob Dylan. Thank you, Nicholas II, you murderous bastard, for sending us his family (and the families of so many of the others).

Many of my favorite Berlin songs, including this evil little number about a rich boy's revenge, come from his early period, but I like nearly all his work. Ironically the two exceptions are probably his best known compositions, "White Christmas" and "God Bless America." The former has simply been played to death; the latter, to my ear, is just windy. I have nothing against a good patriotic song, but anthem-writing is a particular skill, one of the few Mr. Berlin, the great miniaturist, seems not to have possessed.

But even here he struck gold: "God Bless America" so infuriated Woody Guthrie that he fired off a response song which he called "God Blessed America For Me." Dissatisfied with that tag line, he changed it in short order to "This land was made for you and me," and birthed as thoughtful and stirring a patriotic song as I've heard in any language. Woody, now, knew how to write an anthem.

Bob Michel
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#33 Don Taylor

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Posted 04 September 2015 - 08:37 AM

Delightful!

Maybe there is another Irving Berlin trying to cross the Mediterranean right now...

#34 Bob Michel

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Posted 04 September 2015 - 08:52 AM

Delightful!
Maybe there is another Irving Berlin trying to cross the Mediterranean right now...


Thanks, Don.

Another Irving Berlin, another Charlie Chaplin, another Nikolai Tesla, another Arshile Gorky, another Albert Einstein...

Bob Michel
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#35 Rod

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 01:51 PM

Bob, Have you been tempted to compose any tunes/songs of your own. ?

#36 blue eyed sailor

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 02:13 PM

Delightful!
Maybe there is another Irving Berlin trying to cross the Mediterranean right now...


Thanks, Don.

Another Irving Berlin, another Charlie Chaplin, another Nikolai Tesla, another Arshile Gorky, another Albert Einstein...

Bob Michel
Near Philly


...and lots of nobodies-to-be, which I'm sure we feel sympathetic to as well...




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