American Music Goes To War,
World War One in American Song
Over There, Death, Destruction & Ooo-La-La
This month we continue our series on the music of World
War One. Last month we reviewed the music leading up to the war and
as America entered the war. Those songs expressed hope, optimism, good
humor and excitement. Once our soldiers were overseas and the reality
of death and the destruction of war began to hit home, the overall nature
of the music changed. Though we still had many songs of enthusiasm,
patriotism and good cheer, more songs about the loss of life, destruction
and concern began to appear. This month we will look at some of those
In addition to our featured works, we will be continuing
our major essay, also in three that reviews W.W.I as illustrated in
music. The essay includes extracts from an article written by Ann Pfeiffer
Latella, granddaughter of E.H. Pfeiffer (go to our Back Issues page
to see our Feb., 2000 E.H. Pfeiffer issue and essay). The article was
originally printed by "Remember That Song" in Glendale, AZ.
Remember That Song is an organization dedicated to sheet music collecting
and you can join them by contacting them at 5821 N.67th Ave., Suite
103-306, Glendale, AZ 85301. We appreciate the gracious permission of
Ms. Latella and Lois from Remember That Song for permission to extract
from her excellent commentary. Be sure to see the essay
on World War I music, part two, there are more songs to be seen
and heard there too.
This month we continue our new format for the presentation
of our music, SCORCH. Scorch is a plug in for your browser that
will allow you to not only listen to our songs but to view the playing,
real time on sheet music WITH LYRICS! Though we often find plug-ins
to be annoying, this is one that we guarantee will be well worth the
time to download and install.
It won't be much longer that will provide midi versions
so be sure to get the scorch player now as all music from here on out
will be in the Sibelius format. Download the Scorch player from Sibelius
right now, then enjoy an astounding musical experience! The player is
available for Mac and PC. Just click on the button below to go to the
Sibelius site and get your free plug-in.
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We want to continue to provide you with access
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Music by: George M. Cohan
Lyrics by: Cohan
Cover artist: Barbelle
(Note, all cover image links
now require the "SCORCH" player to play the midi file)
I usually try to walk the path less taken, I could not resist the obvious
choice for the first song for this month's installment. George M. Cohan's
Over There is arguably one of the most played and recognizable
World War I songs that ever was written. Of course, it helped that it
was a prominent part of the movie about Cohan's life which starred Jimmy
Cagney. We cannot escape the near perfection of this song as far as
what makes a hit and what makes a song last. First, it contains an extremely
memorable tune. A simple one but with that 'stuck in your head' sort
of quality that makes a tune stay with you for a long, long time. Secondly,
it has a simple refrain that is fun to sing and also infectious so that
you can just repeat it over and over and still enjoy it. As we entered
the war and our boys went over there, this is exactly the upbeat and
positive way we approached it. The honest belief was that 'it will soon
be over, over there'.
George M. Cohan was born in Providence, RI on either the
3rd or 4th of July 1878. Cohan always used the 4th as his birthday and
it certainly served him well to do so throughout his career and after
as he became our "Yankee Doodle Boy". From boyhood, he toured
New England and the Midwest with his parents and sister in an act called
The Four Cohans. By 1900, the Cohans were one of the leading acts in
vaudeville. He also played the violin, wrote sketches for the family
show and started writing songs by age 13. It was during these early
years that he adopted the swaggering and brash image that was so well
portrayed by Cagney. His first original musical was Little Johnny
Jones (1904), which he wrote entirely himself and in which he starred
as the lead. It was successful and included the hit Yankee Doodle
Boy and Give My Regards To Broadway. In 1906, his reputation
was improved more with the productions George Washington Jr., and
Forty-five Minutes From Broadway.
Cohan continued to write and star in musical comedies into the 1920's
but at the same time had formed a publishing house in collaboration
with Sam Harris with whom he also opened a number of playhouses and
theaters including the George M. Cohan Theater in New York. Cohan wrote
over 500 songs and it is said that Over There was the most popular
morale song for BOTH world wars. Interestingly, Cohan was untrained
as a musician and he professed to write only simple songs with simple
harmonies and limited ranges. Regardless, his contribution to vaudeville,
musical theater and popular music is undeniable and profound. Cohan
died in New York on November 5, 1942.
to this number one Cohan hit (SCORCH format)
to MIDI version
Say A Prayer For The
Boys "Out There"
Music by: Alex Marr
Lyrics by: Bernie Grossman
Cover artist: Starmer
Soon after arriving overseas, our soldiers saw that
all was not going to be a bed of roses. The magnitude of death and destruction
was horrific (see
our essay this month for some photos) and all of a sudden, we began
to realize that it wasn't going to be quick, nor was it going to be
a lot of fun. Though our music was generally full of patriotic optimism,
music began to address the less frivolous side of the issues.
Say A Prayer For The Boys Out There is one song that expressed the
fears that were beginning to make themselves known; there was real and
high danger over there and many of our boys would not be coming home.
As a result, songs began to appeal to us to pray for peace and for the
well being of our soldiers and our loved ones. Though the melody to
this song is really quite upbeat, the message the song conveys is clear.
The lyrics of songs begin to acknowledge that death is in the cards.
Many other 'prayer' songs were written during the war (and later wars).
To see and hear another, very touching one from a child's perspective,
see Just a Baby's Prayer At Twilight, in this
The composer, Alex Marr is another off the many enigmas from the early
days of music in America, though I did find reference to one other song
by him. In 1921 he published Who's That Pretty Baby? in collaboration
with Bobby Heath. His partner on this work, Bernie Grossman collaborated
on a few other songs including at least one other war song, We're
this great war prayer song (scorch format)
listen to MIDI version
Like Washington Crossed The Delaware, General Pershing Will Cross The
Music by: George W. Meyer
Lyrics by: Howard Johnson
Cover artist: Rose
Of course, the eternal optimists continued to predict an easy victory
and here we have another song that is designed to boost the morale of
the troops as well as those at home. Calling on history's lessons about
the great leaders of the past, this song is meant to instill hope and
confidence that the leaders (in this case Pershing) will win this war
for us with minimal pain.
Musically, I really like this song, it has a great march sound combined
with an interesting melody. The composer, George W. Meyer (b. 1884 Boston,
Mass.- d. 1959 New York, NY) was one of the more prolific composers
of the period with many, many hits to his credit that spanned many years.
Meyer's biggest hit was probably For Me and My Gal in 1917 but
he also wrote many favorites that have lasted such as; My Song Of
The Nile, Lonesome, My Mother's Rosary and the great novelty song
Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night? The
Lyricist, Howard Johnson (b. 1887, Waterbury, CT, d. 1941, New York,
NY) (not the restaurant man) was also one of the greatest lyricists
of the period, also with many hits to his credit. His name appears over
and over in our collection in such famous works as M-O-T-H-E-R, When
The Moon Comes Over The Mountain, Where Do We Go From Here (featured
last month in our essay) and Freckles.
Listen to this Pershing
praise song(scorch format only)
Listen to MIDI version
You'll Find Old Dixieland
Music by: George W. Meyer
Lyrics by: Grant Clarke
Cover artist: unknown
In the meanwhile, what else was going on over there?
From the looks of the next couple of songs, plenty and it wasn't all
war. France was an exotic land and there was plenty for the boys to
do and see. At the same time, there was plenty of cross cultural exchanges
going on and certainly the music our boys brought over there had an
This song addresses two issues, first, the fact that
much of our talent and skills were sent overseas, leaving something
of a void here. This is expressed in the first stanza of the song. The
second stanza addresses the influence that that talent had over there,
in particular how you can hear the strains of American music being played
as the shells fall all around. Around this time we also started to see
songs that combined French lyrics with the English, presumably so the
song could be enjoyed in either country, or perhaps in an effort to
educate Americans in the French language. When you play this song using
our scorch player, you will see the French lyrics as well as the English.
Here we have another of Meyer's great works in collaboration
with Grant Clarke ( b. 1891, Akron, OH - d. 1931, California) who was
also a major hit lyricist from the period. Clarke wrote material for
such greats as Bert Williams and Fanny Brice. He was a publisher and
also a staff writer for several NY music publishers. His hits include
a number of classics including Am I Blue? and Second Hand
this French novelty song(scorch)
Listen to MIDI version
Music by: Edgar Leslie & Harry Ruby
Lyrics by: Leslie & Ruby
Cover artist: Barbelle
As for what else may have been going on over there, it seems there
may have been some hanky-panky and some Ooo-La-La going on too. After
all, what army overseas has not also tried to conquer the ladies?
This wonderfully humorous novelty song addresses this side of the equation
with a really cute and good humored look at the femme fatales of France
and the fun the boys may have been having. I am sure that many of the
wives and sweethearts left behind did not see very much humor in this
song and of course, songwriters of the times were not particularly known
for their sensitivity or political correctness. Nonetheless, this is
a very fun song with a great melody and full of innuendo and sexual
The team of Harry Ruby (b. 1895, New York City - d. 1959, New York
City) and Edgar Leslie (b. 1885 Stanford, CT - d. ?) was again, one
of the powerhouse teams of the period. Ruby was a pianist and song plugger
in his early years for Gus Edwards and Harry Von Tilzer. He performed
as a part of a vaudeville act called Edwards & Ruby. Some of his
greatest hits are; Timbuctoo, My Sunny Tennessee, I Wanna be Loved
By You and Hooray for Captain Spaulding. What? You say you never
heard of Hooray For Captain Spaulding? I'll bet you heard it
many times if you were born before 1960. That song was the theme song
of Groucho Marx for many years.
For one more song about what was going on with the boys over there
and some of the Ooo-La-La involved, be sure to see our essay
this great novelty song (scorch)
to MIDI version
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