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New Project: Songs Of The Wwi Era.

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The ukulele version

I'll confess that when I first started toying with the idea of researching and recording a bunch of songs from that period, my first thought was to accompany them on a uke (though it would be just slightly anachronistic: full-blown uke mania was still a few years off during WWI).


"But that's so hip and trendy just now," I thought. "Let's see, what would be a more fitting instrument for a greybeard like myself...?"


Bob Michel

Near Philly

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The Hawaiian craze of the 1920s, which had a huge and lasting impact on American popular music (we owe it not just ukuleles, but every flavor of slide guitar), got its start at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915. Although the United States had annexed the islands back in 1898, 1915 marks the beginning of their hold on the popular imagination in this country. And nothing Hawaiian exercised a stronger hold--on the male imagination, at any rate--than the discovery of hula dancers, a cultural milestone commemorated in song #48, which was published in the following year:




Hula is of course a subtle and sophisticated art form which doesn't give up its secrets easily to a casual observer--an observation which could hardly be less relevant to the excitement engendered by the sudden appearance of scandalously bare-legged tropical dancers in the strait-laced America of 1915. The current item was the work of two Tin Pan Alley stalwarts, composer Halsey K. Mohr ("Give Your Smiles to All the Boys, But Keep Your Heart for Me," "Driving Home the Sheep with Mary," etc. etc.) and lyricist Joe Goodwin ("When I Get You Alone Tonight," "I'm Knee Deep in Daisies," etc., etc.).* It's notable as one of the first Hawaiian-themed songs written in response to the Exposition. The flood would not be far behind.


I know of no particular connection between Hawaii and concertinas; I imagine the climate must be a challenge to maintenance. Before settling on the Anglo as the accompaniment of choice for this series I did record a version (predictably) with uke:




Bob Michel

Near Philly


*Among his patriotic numbers Joe Goodwin also penned "Liberty Bell It's Time To Ring Again," and as a native Philadelphian I'm intrigued to learn that that local symbol was shipped to San Francisco by rail for the fair--the last time it ever left my home town.

Edited by Bob Michel
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  • 2 weeks later...

The forty-ninth and penultimate song in this series marks a transition to new themes and new styles, as well as our farewell to Irving Berlin, who in 1920 had already enjoyed a decade of prominence in the songwriting business, but who was just getting started on his long and staggeringly productive career.




In the U.S., the years of the First World War were also the climax of the decades-long controversy over Temperance, the battle between the Wets and the Drys. The Drys won, with the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the passage, over President Wilson's veto, of the Volstead Act, both in 1919. The vast and dubious social experiment of Prohibition commenced in 1920, and lasted thirteen years.


Prohibition is more or less coterminous with what we think of as the Jazz Age, a period radically different in its music and mores from the one we've been exploring these past months. Not surprisingly, Berlin was among the first writers of popular music to signal the change, and this song counts among the very first to respond to the new regime. It does so with a broad wink, or perhaps a rolling of the eyes. Alcohol had only been banned for a few months when it appeared, and already there's a very strong sense that this isn't going to go at all well.


A huge portion of the nation's energies over the next decade would be spent in arranging ways to get around the law. And one of the first ways to come to mind--at least, evidently, in Berlin's circle--was escape to an extraterritorial refuge which is just now in the process of once again becoming a destination for Americans, after a hiatus that's lasted nearly my entire lifetime. I've always wanted to go, and within the next few years I hope to plan a Wonderful Trip. One more Prohibition bites the dust.


Bob Michel

Near Philly

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And so we come, with entry #50, to the end of this little project:




Con Conrad (1891-1938), co-creator of this essential ditty, would go on to write the music for "Ma! He's Making Eyes at Me" (1928), and to win the Academy Award for Best Song in 1934 for "The Continental." His collaborator J. Russel Robinson (1892-1963), was a ragtime composer who had worked with W.C. Handy, and who played piano in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which had a hit with their (instrumental) version of this song. He'd go on to pen dozens of songs through the '20s and '30s, including Cab Calloway's "Reefer Man" (1932).


It was just over a year ago, while recording an earlier version of this song (http://youtu.be/eUPp-s_z92s), that I first thought of putting together an anthology of WWI-era songs sung with only concertina accompaniment. The truth is that I didn't feel up to that sort of performance at the time: I had (and still have) a lot to learn about using the instrument to complement vocals. So for all these discussions of period songwriters' careers, historical background, cultural trends, etc., etc., the focus of my interest all along has been simply figuring out how to do that. I think that at the outset I assumed that my accompaniments would naturally grow more sophisticated and ambitious over time; if anything, I think they've become simpler. But I choose to regard that as a healthy sign. The songs, after all, are the thing.


Thanks to all who contributed comments, suggestions and links to related performances. I've learned a lot from this project, and may share my thoughts about it at some point. Apart from that, I'll try to put together a linked list of the fifty songs, in case anyone might find that useful. We still have nearly a year to go until the centennial of the American entry into the War, and as I've barely scratched the surface of the repertoire, I may yet choose to revisit this territory. But in the meantime I need to get out of Tin Pan Alley for a while and take on some new project that's a bit closer to my trad roots. I have several ideas.


Bob Michel

Near Philly

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I have enjoyed this series and what a great finale.

Bob, thank you very much.


Most kind of you, Don. I've certainly enjoyed your comments and our exchanges about the songs, etc. Thanks in turn!


Bob Michel

Near Philly

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Here is a linked index to all the songs in the WWI project.


Once I've checked that all the links work, I'll add this index to the description of each video on YouTube (once I figure out how to bring it in under the character limit).


If you notice any errors, will you let me know? Thank you!


Bob Michel

Near Philly




Fifty Popular Songs of the WWI era (1909-1920): a Centennial Commemoration.


Arranged for voice with Anglo concertina accompaniment and performed by Bob Michel. Recorded at home and uploaded to YouTube between August 2015 and May 2016.


Music and lyrics of all songs are in the Public Domain. Arrangements and performances ©2015-2016 by Bob Michel.




1. "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" (1912)



2. "Keep the Home Fires Burning" (1914)



3. "Send Me Away with a Smile" (1917)



4. "For Me and My Gal" (1917)



5. "Would You Rather Be a Colonel..." (1918)



6. "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier" (1915)



7. "I've Got My Captain Working for Me Now" (1919)



8. "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" (1909)



9. "Three Wonderful Letters from Home" (1918)



10. "Oh! How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning" (1918)



11. "America, Here's My Boy" (1917)



12. "When It's Orange Blossom Time in Loveland" (1915)



13. "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm" (1919)



14. "Yellow Dog Blues" (1915/1919)



15. "Hello Central, Give Me No Man's Land" (1918)



16. "They Go Wild Simply Wild over Me" (1917)



17. "The War in Snider's Grocery Store" (1914)



18. "Beale Street" (1916)



19. "He's Had No Lovin' for a Long, Long Time" (1919)



20. "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (1917)



21. "So Long, Mother" (1917)



22. "He's a Devil in His Own Home Town" (1914)



23. "Come On Papa" (1918)



24. "Over There" (1917)



25. "Smiles" (1917)



26. "We Don't Want the Bacon" (1918)



27. "The Last Long Mile" (1917)



28. "You Never Can Be Too Sure about the Girls" (1917)



29. "Are You from Dixie?" (1915)



30. "Goodbye Broadway, Hello France!" (1917)



31. "Oh, What a Time for the Girlies" (1918)



32. "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" (1918)



33. "The Rose of No Man's Land" (1918)



34. "Salvation Lassie of Mine" (1919)



35. "That's the Way That I've Missed You" (1919)



36. "There's a Quaker Down in Quaker Town" (1916)



37. "Madelon (I'll Be True to the Whole Regiment)" (1918)



38. "Peg O' My Heart" (1913)



39. "Stay Down Here Where You Belong" (1914)



40. "Ireland Must Be Heaven, For My Mother Came from There" (1916)



41. "There's a Long, Long Trail" (1914)



42. "If He Can Fight Like He Can Love..." (1918)



43. "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" (1919)



44. "Oh! Frenchy" (1918)



45. "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" (1910)



46. "Everybody's Jazzin' It" (1917)



47. "Put Me to Sleep with an Old Fashioned Melody..." (1915)



48. "They're Wearing 'Em Higher in Hawaii" (1915)



49. "I'll See You in C-U-B-A" (1920)



50. "Palesteena" (Leena from Palesteena)" (1920)


Edited by Bob Michel
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