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New Project: Songs Of The Wwi Era.


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#91 Bob Michel

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Posted 19 October 2015 - 02:56 PM

Entry #16 steps away from the War once again, in the direction of pure vaudevillian silliness from 1917:

http://youtu.be/kxxM850VcAs

Like "Red Wing" transformed by Woody Guthrie into "Union Maid," this song's place in history is probably better secured by a parody: T-Bone Slim's "The Popular Wobbly," which appeared in the legendary Little Red Songbook of the IWW. But it's enough of an earworm that it still gets performed occasionally with the original lyrics--which were, after all, pretty parodic to begin with.

Joseph McCarthy, the lyricist, also collaborated on "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (another wartime song I vaguely mean to work up at some point) and "Alice Blue Gown," among others. And Fred Fisher, the composer, left a pretty hefty legacy of memorable tunes, what with "Peg O' My Heart," "Chicago," "Your Feet's Too Big" and (my favorite; I do go for the silly ones) "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine." Fisher's family name was Breitenbach, which he changed to "Fischer" when he immigrated to the U.S. from Cologne. The "c" in that invented name went missing during the War, when like many other Americans of German background he was doing what he could to disguise his heritage. Popular prejudices ran deep, and were known to turn violent.

I can't hear or sing this song without vividly imagining it being performed in a vaudeville setting. Maybe that's why, although it's not remotely connected with the war drums of 1917, it evokes that year for me as well as any other selection I can think of.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 19 October 2015 - 02:57 PM.


#92 Bob Michel

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Posted 26 October 2015 - 10:39 AM

Entry #17 is easily my favorite American anti-war song of the pre-intervention years, and one of my favorite period songs in any genre:

http://youtu.be/PIfbHYZhKdY

I like it well enough, in fact, that I'd already recorded and uploaded a different arrangement last spring, playing uke and whatnot:

http://youtu.be/LZOc1DCIXlo

But I can't omit it from the current project. So once more, with feeling, and this time with a concertina.

Alexander Herzen famously wrote that "Voltaire's laughter was more destructive than Rousseau's tears," and it's been said that the most powerful anti-war movies are those--like "Duck Soup" or "Dr. Strangelove"--which refuse to take war seriously. You could make the same point about anti-war songs, citing this one as Exhibit A. Plus it's just sublimely silly, in that time-honored "Storybook Ball," "Toy Story" way. Deep down we've all known since childhood that inanimate objects come alive and raise Cain when we're not around to keep an eye on them. Here they do it wearing their national colors.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 26 October 2015 - 10:54 AM.


#93 Rod

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Posted 26 October 2015 - 12:28 PM

I'm not so sure that this should be called an ' anti-war ' song Bob. It is a fine example of the extent to which a bit of inoffensive humour can have a valuable part to play on occasions when despair may be threatening to take over. The tune alone should lift the spirits, and probably did so. A great little song and tune.

#94 Bob Michel

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Posted 26 October 2015 - 01:34 PM

I'm not so sure that this should be called an ' anti-war ' song


What it captures, I think, is the bewilderment and revulsion in this country at the first reports of the fighting in 1914. America was pretty deeply isolationist and (hard as it is to credit now) barely had a standing army. There wasn't much popular understanding of what was going on in Europe, apart from its being some corrupt Old World tomfoolery or other.

That changed very quickly. A year later, especially after the sinking of the Lusitania, no American house would have published this song--or indeed any song featuring a sympathetic German storekeeper like Herr Snider. There was still little enthusiasm for intervention, but public opinion had begun the about-face that finally led to the declaration of war in April of '17.

It's not anti-war, surely, in the same sense as the angry songs of soldiers who'd actually been in the trenches, and it's not a song with any sort of portentous political agenda. But it reflects what was a very strong (and arguably very naïve) strain of mainstream pacifism in the U.S.--one that wasn't long for this world.

Bob Michel
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#95 Rod

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Posted 26 October 2015 - 03:59 PM

Thanks for the history lesson Bob. ! I guess there was a risk of the ' antis ' and the ' pros ' generating a subsidiary squabble all of their own, but long live freedom of speech. We are fortunate that we only have to sit back and enjoy their music.,

#96 Bob Michel

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Posted 26 October 2015 - 05:28 PM

I guess there was a risk of the ' antis ' and the ' pros ' generating a subsidiary squabble all of their own, but long live freedom of speech.


Squabble they did, for a time, but once war was declared the Wilson administration wasted no time in silencing the antis. The Espionage Act of 1917 (extended by the Sedition Act of 1918) was pretty draconian, and it was used to suppress all kinds of political dissent; its most famous target was probably the Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. Then after the War came the Red Scare... They weren't banner years for freedom of speech.

But yes, the songs, both pro- and anti-, stand on their own!

Bob Michel
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#97 Bob Michel

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Posted 04 November 2015 - 06:35 AM

For entry #18, we return to W.C. Handy*, via one of his best-known songs, which also happens to be one of my favorite songs from the nineteen-teens:

http://youtu.be/-w7NkFtDrXo

(The title is given here as it appears on my copy of the sheet music.)

There are countless wonderful recordings of this one, but few that I've heard preserve the distinctive balance Handy struck between Tin Pan Alley conventions and the traditional blues. My version (such as it is) sticks pretty close to the original. (Parenthetically, in order to learn it I had to clear my head of Charlie Poole's very different string band adaptation from the '20s, which is often performed in American old-time music circles, and which I've been singing for nearly forty years.)

As for the accompaniment, though I'm still in the early stages of figuring out how it might be done, playing the blues on (Anglo) concertina turns out not to be such a great stretch. Mostly I try to hear what a harmonica would be doing. True, the instrument lacks a harmonica's ability to bend pitch; but after all blues pianists manage pretty well without that trick.

For all the many charms of American popular music in the WWI years, now and then you catch in a period song a whiff of much bigger things right around the corner. Nowhere more than here.

Bob Michel
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*Cf. his "Yellow Dog Blues" from earlier in this series:

http://youtu.be/eFm023F8I8k

#98 Rod

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Posted 06 November 2015 - 11:36 AM

Recalls memories of Ronnie Scott, many years ago, introducing a Handy number in his Soho, London jazz club with the muttered after-thought, ' it's always good to have a WC handy ' .

#99 StuartEstell

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Posted 13 November 2015 - 06:03 AM

This is a tremendous resource you're compiling here, Bob -- fantastic!



#100 Bob Michel

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Posted 13 November 2015 - 10:06 AM

This is a tremendous resource you're compiling here, Bob -- fantastic!


Many thanks, Stuart. I'm having a great time doing it!

Bob Michel
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#101 Bob Michel

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Posted 13 November 2015 - 10:24 AM

Some of the songs in this little archive ("Tipperary," "Oh, How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning") are still well-known. Some ("Hello Central, Give Me No Man's Land," "I've Got My Captain Working for Me Now") were big hits a century ago, less familiar now, but easy to track down on YouTube (etc.), in period recordings and even occasionally in modern covers. But some are more elusive. This selection, #19, is in the third category:

http://youtu.be/m6yMM3vXWNc

I bought the sheet music on eBay about fifteen years ago because I liked the cover and was touched by the sentiment, as poignant an example of wishful thinking as you'll find in American song this side of "Over the Rainbow." But I've never heard it sung. It's one of a genre--postwar reunion songs--that's always struck me as just a bit heartless, for the obvious reason that not every faithful "young girlie" had a homecoming to celebrate. But I'll give this one a pass because it's just so...silly. I mean...what was she...? Oh, never mind.

Thus did the Brave claim their deserts from the Fair. You can find the music (and the wonderful cover) at:

http://digital.libra....pdf/mapsto/pdf

Bob Michel
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#102 Rod

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Posted 15 November 2015 - 03:22 AM

If an accompanying tune is good enough, questionable lyrics can always creep in by the back door !

#103 Bob Michel

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Posted 15 November 2015 - 03:29 PM

If an accompanying tune is good enough, questionable lyrics can always creep in by the back door !


Oh, yes. They can, and usually do.

One unlooked-for outcome of my engagement with songs from this period is that I no longer think that any of the double entendre in the lyrics was accidental, or passed unnoticed.

Bob Michel
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#104 Rod

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Posted 16 November 2015 - 02:44 AM

I am sometimes curious to know whether a tune was created to match a lyric or a lyric was created to match a tune. Which came first, the chicken or the egg. The tune is what matters to me. I can always turn a deaf ear to a lyric but of course a 'song' has to be a combination of both.

#105 Bob Michel

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Posted 16 November 2015 - 06:38 AM

I am sometimes curious to know whether a tune was created to match a lyric or a lyric was created to match a tune. Which came first, the chicken or the egg. The tune is what matters to me. I can always turn a deaf ear to a lyric but of course a 'song' has to be a combination of both.


In the immortal words of Paul McCartney, "There's no rules": sometimes the lyrics are all in place before the tune is dreamed of; sometimes it's t'other way round; often the "hook" of a particular melodized phrase is the first step, and the rest follows.

But I agree with you (having done this quite a lot, for whatever that's worth) about the primacy of the music. If you're writing songs but shortchanging the tunes in favor of clever lyrics, you've probably chosen the wrong medium.

Bob Michel
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#106 cboody

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Posted 18 November 2015 - 12:18 AM

 

I am sometimes curious to know whether a tune was created to match a lyric or a lyric was created to match a tune. Which came first, the chicken or the egg. The tune is what matters to me. I can always turn a deaf ear to a lyric but of course a 'song' has to be a combination of both.


In the immortal words of Paul McCartney, "There's no rules": sometimes the lyrics are all in place before the tune is dreamed of; sometimes it's t'other way round; often the "hook" of a particular melodized phrase is the first step, and the rest follows.

But I agree with you (having done this quite a lot, for whatever that's worth) about the primacy of the music. If you're writing songs but shortchanging the tunes in favor of clever lyrics, you've probably chosen the wrong medium.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

 

Unless you're writing rap... :-)



#107 Bob Michel

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Posted 18 November 2015 - 06:14 AM

Unless you're writing rap... :-)


Fair enough. Let's revise, then:

If you're writing songs but shortchanging the tunes in favor of clever lyrics, maybe you should be writing rap.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 18 November 2015 - 06:15 AM.


#108 Bob Michel

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Posted 18 November 2015 - 12:23 PM

Entry #20 being something of a milestone in this little series, I've chosen one of the most familiar songs of the era:

http://youtu.be/qPXuPlcVvoQ

It was a major hit on the vaudeville stage in 1918, the year after its publication, and it's been a standard ever since. It bears the distinction of being possibly the best-known number in the American songbook with a melody matter-of-factly stolen from a classical composer (Chopin, in this case). It's also the second-best-known song referencing the meteorological phenomenon mentioned in its title.

Joseph McCarthy, the lyricist, also wrote the words to "You Made Me Love You" and "They Go Wild, Simply Wild over Me," the latter of which I recorded earlier in the series. As for Harry Carroll, he composed the music to "By the Beautiful Sea" and "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine," proving that he could also produce a hit without blatant plagiarism when the need arose.

So: twenty down, and who knows how many more to go? In the immortal words of Arlo Guthrie, "I'm not tired. Or proud."

Bob Michel
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