8/13/09

1940s Hit Parade

Harry Connick Jr.
For reasons not unconnected to my current project, I've been listening to a great deal of music from the 1940s--and FYI, I count Harry Connick Jr. covering old standards as perfectly kosher! I feel like that scene in The Talented Mr. Ripley where Matt Damon, in order to perfect his role as a high society boy, repeatedly listens to jazz music until he finally begins to identify performers, tunes, and styles. But trust me, I'm not planning on killing anyone--at least not real people.

Soaking in these tunes, I've come to notice a few overriding and not entirely surprising themes, although one does puzzle me. I've included links to those I can find. They're all standards that have been performed through the years, so not every link is from the 1940s.

Bing CrosbyFirst: Saying Goodnight. Perhaps because it was highly inappropriate to suggest morning after breakfast plans in a 1940s courtship song, a great number of tunes reference saying goodnight. In "Give Me Five Minutes More," the male singer asks for those extra precious minutes before they must part. Another variant has to do with falling asleep when a loved one is far away. Bing Crosby (above) did a take on the country tune "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" (the link is Gene Autry), Harry Connick covered "Goodnight My Love (Pleasant Dreams)," Helen Clare and Harry Leader performed "Goodnight, Wherever You Are" (the link is Rosemary Clooney), and many artists sang "Auf Wiedersehn, Sweetheart," although Vera Lynn (below) was probably the best known.

Vera LynnSecond: The Future! This is by far the most dominant wartime theme. Everything has to do with the singers' plans for a postwar future. "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover," set to the old tune "Barbara Allen," is very poignant:
There'll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free.

The shepherd will tend his sheep
The valley will bloom again
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
"My Blue Heaven" references an ideal home life, as does "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To." "I'll Be Seeing You" is about a woman who glimpses her lover in everyday things, while "I'll Walk Alone," "I Don't Want to Walk Alone," and "I'll Never Smile Again" make promises of fidelity as they wait for a better day. "When They Sound the Last All Clear" and "We'll Meet Again" are pretty obvious, and although the sentiment behind "We'll Gather Lilacs" is very sweet and innocent, I think it's a secret wartime code for "we'll have lots of sex."

Third: The Military Perspective. "A Boy in Khaki, a Girl In Lace" is as adorable as the title, "I Met Her on Monday" references the speed of some wartime courtships, and "Ma, I Miss Your Apple Pie" is also a metaphor for missing the States. "Love Letters" and the holiday-themed "White Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" will jerk your heart out.

One of the silliest and cheekiest of these, probably intended to leaven the horror of sending a child to war, was "If A Grey-Haired Lady (Says How's Your Father)." Here's a sample of the lyrics, between two British men, to give you the gist:
DAD: You're going across the sea, my lad. I wish you luck, my son.
SON: Thanks, Dad.
DAD: You've got a great big job to do--a job that must be done.
SON: Yes, Dad.
DAD: If you should meet a lady there, who I knew years ago--
SON: Yes?
DAD: Just give her my kind regards.
SUNG: If the grey haired lady says, "Don't tell your Mother!"
That's Mademoiselle from Armentieres.
Jimmy Stewart as Glenn MillerJimmy Stewart as Glenn Miller (left)

Last: International, Baby! So many songs feature references to faraway places, such as "The Last Time I Saw Paris," "Moon Over Burma," "Mexicali Rose," "The Caribbean Clipper," and "Mission to Moscow." While all of this is understandable, what baffled me is the use of German lyrics in popular tunes, such as in "Auf Wiedersehn, Sweetheart." Unless this is another example of wishful thinking about the future--"You'll be over the Rhine soon, my love, and picking up a little German while you kick Jerry ass!"--then it seems odd to include lyrics sung in the enemy's language. I can't imagine that happening with Arabic today, although I'd love examples if you have them!

Can you tell I'm having fun with this?

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