For all of us who love the music of the big bands, the 1930s and 1940s were very good to us. Let's take a walk down the memory lane of the 1940s this time and look at some of the fun songs, the war songs and of the love songs. The 1940s saw a variety of times in the preparations for World War II, the war itself, and the adjustment to peace. Music did its part very well.
There were many fine big bands of this era and also many fine vocalists during this time. They all began to fade shortly following World War II. As we look at the music of that time, we should also look at the vocalists who gave us the message of each song.
The fun songs helped us to keep our spirits up during the '40s. Here are some of the best. Do you remember the "Old Redhead," Arthur Godfrey and his "Too Fat Polka"? It began with "I don't want her, you can have her, she's too fat for me," With our present "political correctness" I wonder what would happen today.
There was a lady vocalist, Dorothy Shay known as "the Park Avenue Hillbilly" who made a name for herself when she sang "Feudin' and Fightin'". Do you remember "Li'l Abner" and the Hatfield and McCoys feuds? This song seemed to be related to these stories.
I'm sure you remember "I'm My Own Grandpa," made popular by the Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians orchestra. It may have been a little hard to follow the plan of the song, but it sure made a big influence on those who heard this song and loved it. I'll bet you will also remember Kay Kyser's "Strip Polka." Jack Martin and the Glee Club provided the words for this piece. It was certainly good for many laughs.
Kay Kyser had two fun songs that were hits during the '40s. "Playmates" and "Three Little Fishies" were written by Saxia Dowell a member of the Hal Kemp orchestra. You will remember the name of Sully Mason of the Kay Kyser orchestra who sang the lyrics.
There were at least two more novelty songs that were popular during the 40s.
Do you remember "Hut Sut Song (A Swedish Serenade)," which was made popular by Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights orchestra with Donna and her Don Juans doing the vocal? Another favorite was "Rum and Coca Cola" made famous by the Andrews Sisters.
There were several other novelty songs such as "Open the Door, Richard," "Toolie 0olie Doolie," "Bell Bottom Trousers," "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar" and "Zoot Suit."
There were also a number of songs written especially for the war years. I'm sure you will remember "He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings" played by Kay Kyser and sung by Harry Babbitt, which saluted the flying men of the war including the British Royal Air Force.
"I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen" was a favorite for many who remember the US0s, the Red Cross doughnut trucks and the canteens that provided for the service men. Charlie Spivak's orchestra and Gary Stevans, his vocalist, did a fine job with this song.
"Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" because famous, with a sales of a million records before the end of 1942. The phrase which was supposedly uttered by a chaplain and was immediately picked up by Frank Loesser, who made it into a song and handed to Kay Kyser for its success. The Kyser Glee Club provided the vocals for the recording.
"White Cliffs of Dover" became a favorite during the war. The white chalk cliffs of Dover on the English Channel became a handy guideline for the German planes regularly coming to bomb England. It was two American songwriters, Nat Burton and Walter Kent, who wrote this song, believing that better days were ahead when bluebirds would fly over the cliffs.
Kate Smith, who had so wonderfully recorded "God Bless America" in 1938, sang " "White Cliffs of Dover" with the Jack Miller orchestra. This song became a Top 10 record in 1942 and was also successfully recorded by the Glenn Miller and Kay Kyser bands.
"Till Then" has a very interesting story. A young enlisted man who was also homesick wrote this nostalgic-sounding tune. When he had his next furlough, he took the tune to a publisher in New York and told him that he wanted the fellows who had written "When The Lights Go On Again All Over the World," That was done and it became one of the-home-fires-burning gems of the war. The Mills Brothers did awonderful job in their rendition of the song.
There are many more songs from World War II: "You're in the Army Now," "Till Reveille," "Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland," "G.I. Jive," "I'll Be Seeing You," "When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World," "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me," "They're are Either Too Young or Too Old," "Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning" and "Johnny Zero."
Every one of these songs had special meaning for someone. Those who had the experience of actually being involved in military action saw this special meaning. These songs and all of the love songs, patriotic songs and those songs that helped us to relax a little are still cherished. Music is an international language. For example, "Lili Marlene" didn't require a knowledge of French to appreciate it.
The program accompanying the Readers Digest tapes have furnished some of the information above and are much appreciated.
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory group.