A NEW RECORDING
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Photo by Dan Chapman ©2001
Stanyan Entertainment Group
A Thought for Today
With freedom comes responsibility.
Good Morning and to those of you who live in America, Happy Independence Day.
For a while now I’ve been hinting at a new recording deal that’s been in the works. Well, the first recording under that arrangement should be in the store right now. It’s not a solo album of mine (plenty of those are forthcoming) but one I produced for Varése Sarabande Records. Technically it’s Vol. 11 of a series of recordings I’ve been producing over the years but since this is a whole new chance to begin again and do it completely the way I want to, we’re calling it Vol. I of “Songs That Won the War: Remember Pearl Harbor.”
Those of you who are familiar with the other ten collections of songs previously released in this series know the “Songs That Won the War” project is very close to my heart. Finding a record company as interested in completing the series as I still am has been very important to me. And considering the subject matter, Independence Day is the perfect time to give you a preview of it, so here are the notes from the booklet accompanying the album. I hope you find them informative and along the way learn a few things about the project and about me that you might not have known before.
THE SONGS AND THE WAR
A Personal Memory by Rod McKuen
There was a shortage of just about everything for the duration of World War II, except good music. It blared from barrack and bedroom radios and sounded from battlefield and factory loudspeakers.
Early in WWII, a German officer was said to have remarked, “Even if I could defeat the Allied Armies, I could never kill their songs.” That statement may be just another bit of wartime folklore, but there’s no denying that the late ’30s to mid-’40s produced some of our best and most enduring popular songs. More than half a century later those songs, all kinds of them — patriotic, sentimental, some somber, some silly, danceable, hummable, thought provoking, sleep inducing and downright unforgettable — continue to be played worldwide. Many have entered into our lives as “Our Song.” Some have even become part of the language. More than a few were so laden with propaganda that they deserved the oblivion that greeted them once their uniting power had served its usefulness.
But songs of every kind were there to boost the morale of soldier and civilian alike. We may not have had new rubber tires and fresh beef very often but we had chicken every Sunday and music that helped fill the emptiness in our hearts every hour of every day of every week that the war dragged on.
We hope this collection and others to come from Varése Sarabande/Stanyan in the
"Songs That Won The War" series will help to illustrate the rich recorded legacy the songs, songwriters, singers and bands of the 1940s has given all of us.
I was seven years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into
WW II took place. It was a Sunday, I was outside playing in the yard and my mother called to me to come inside and listen to the radio reports. The first few bulletins were sketchy and scary. We lived in California, the state closest to Hawaii, and that could mean the bomb-dropping and bullet-firing airplanes would probably be visiting us next.
That didn’t happen, of course, but from that first Sunday in December of 1941 onward, everything about our lives changed. To a young boy the turmoil was exciting, even exhilarating. Troop convoys in the street, scrap metal drives, searchlights piercing the night sky, air raid drills in school, women going off to factories in hairnets and overalls, uniformed young men everywhere, ration coupons, savings bonds and stamps and the weekly newsreel at theatre matinees were all heady stuff.
Gasoline was scarce but there was more than enough fuel for anxiety, rumors, attitudes and dreams. No one dreamed more than the children who listened intently to grown-ups for whispered secrets and scraps of information. These could be knitted together to form taller tales than the kid at the other desk brought to school with his lunch box.
A knock on the door in the early evening could mean a block warden with an armband was there to make sure your blackout drapes were closed properly. In the daytime, a young man delivering a telegram or a military officer pulling up to the curb out front was far more menacing. Tears would start before the doorbell rang or the telegram was opened.
We had great patriotic slogans in those days; Put The Ax to the Axis, V. for Victory, Uncle Sam Wants YOU! and some like “Keep ‘Em Flying” and “Remember Pearl Harbor” became unifying songs.
I’ve been a collector of songs all my life with a heavy emphasis on morale building songs written during the 1930s and ’40s. Most of the lyrics of that era said something and the melodies could be remembered and whistled after a few hearings. Sure we had our “Mairzy Doats” and “Three Little Fishes in the Iddy Biddy Poo” but we also were privileged to be in on the ground floor when standards like “As Time Goes By,” “All the Things You Are” and “That Old Black Magic” got their start.
My dream of producing a series of albums entitled Songs That Won The War was born in the late sixties and came to fruition with several LPs released on Stanyan Records in the early seventies. With the advent of compact discs I was able to expand on the collections and include new material I’d found and songs that didn’t make the initial cut. This is the first release of what I hope will be a long alliance with Varése Sarabande covering a wide spectrum of material from the Stanyan vaults. It’s fitting that our first joint release should be Vol. I of the rethought and remastered “Songs That Won the War.”
The songs in this collection are as hopeful and self-deluding as “Rockabye My Baby There Ain’t Gonna Be No War” and “Goodbye Dear I’ll Be Back in a Year” and as to the point as “Buy, Buy, Buy Bonds,” “You Can’t Say No to a Soldier” and “First Class Private, Mary Brown.”
“I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Let’s Get Away From It All” and “I’ll Walk Alone“ have become standards that generate new recordings and continued royalties for the writers and publishers year in and year out.
This V-Disc of Gene Krupa’s “Keep ‘Em Flying” with its engaging
Johnny Desmond vocal was one of the most played songs on Armed Forces Radio. And there was no shortage of requests for Frances Langford or
Helen Forrest singing just about anything. Helen’s “That Soldier Of Mine,”
which she performed with Harry James, was a particular favorite on the Home Front. A warning that this is National Tire Registration Week follows the song. Register that rubber or loose your ration points!
Harry Warren was one of the most prolific and melodic composers in Hollywood history. He worked with all the ‘A List’ lyricists including Johnny Mercer (“On the Atchison, Topeka & The Santa Fe,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby”), Arthur Freed (“This Heart of Mine”) and Ralph Blaine (“Spring Isn’t Everything”).
Warren had a long songwriting partnership with Al Dubin. In the 1930s, they wrote a string of hit backstage musicals for Warner Bros. These formula Busby Berkeley films invariably starred Dick Powell as the boy singer and Ruby Keeler as the novice who at the last minute stepped from the chorus to sub for the stuck-up, inept or ailing star and became an overnight sensation. Joan Blondell played the sidekick with the heart of gold who usually got left at the altar and Patsy Kelly and other Warner feature players nearly always came along for comic relief.
Not to take anything away from the talented players listed above, but the real star of these films was the cranky perfectionist Berkeley’s demanding, demeaning and punishing (to the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus) camera work and the Dubin and Warren songs. My! What songs: “Lullaby of Broadway,” “I’ll String Along with You,” “Lulu’s Back in Town,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “September in the Rain” and dozens of others.
By the 1940s, Warren had a new songwriting partner, Mack Gordon, and the two were under contract to 20th Century-Fox writing songs for all the Alice Faye and Betty Grable musicals. Songs they wrote together include “Serenade in Blue,” “The More I See You,” “You’ll Never Know” and “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.”
On this disc Gordon and Warren are represented by two songs from Sun Valley
Serenade, one of the films designed to showcase Fox’s ice-skating franchise Sonja Henie. “That’s Sabotage,” played by
Glenn Miller and his Orchestra and the more familiar “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” sung here in Portuguese by the Brazilian Bombshell
Carmen Miranda accompanied by her Banda de Luca.
Al Dubin continued to write lyrics for films including one of my favorite wartime songs,
“We Mustn’t Say Goodbye.” The line vocal by Rod McKuen can only mean I pulled producer’s privilege and vocalized it myself. The melody was written by James Monaco and the arrangement for this recording is by
Arthur Greenslade. That’s England’s most famous trombonist Don Lusher providing the instrumental solo. (I’ll probably perform “We Mustn’t Say Goodbye” in
In the case of “Rockabye My Baby There Ain’t Gonna Be No War” and
“Goodbye Dear I’ll Be Back In A Year,” it can truly be said ”they don’t write songs like that any more.”
Horace Heidt, who performs the latter song with His Musical Knights, was a popular bandleader of the day who had great success with both radio and television versions of The Amateur Hour. Of
Wayne Knight who performs “Rockabye My Baby”? Well, they don’t make artists like that any more.
One of the late Perry Como’s first solo recordings after leaving the Ted Weems Orchestra was
“First Class Private, Mary Brown.” It was written by Frank Loesser, who was yet to have his greatest success as a writer for Broadway. He fared just fine in Hollywood, however, writing “Anywhere I Wander” for Danny Kaye to sing in Hans Christian Andersen and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” as a duet for Red Skelton and Esther Williams.
In a misguided effort to silence jukeboxes, because he felt it was cutting into the earnings of live musicians, James Petrillo, head of The American Federation of Musicians, called a strike that prevented musicians from recording with singers. Como’s “First Class Private, Mary Brown” was made during the strike and if you listen closely you’ll note the only backup on the track is a vocal group called
The Song Spinners. This versatile chorus learned to imitate an orchestra well enough to provide backing for hits by Sinatra and Dick Haymes. The strike didn’t last long and even before ending it was relaxed in time for V-Discs, but not in time for this one.
Anne Shelton, Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn were just three of the songbirds that provided pinups for the British forces, Shelton represented here with
Ambrose and his Orchestra by Sammy Kahn & Jule Styne’s “I’ll Walk Alone.”
The song was a number one hit in America by Dinah Shore. For this set we’ve chosen Miss Shore’s rendition of
“He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings.” Dinah made movies and had a string of hit records and for years she was the queen of American nighttime and daytime television.
The Andrews Sisters were visible everywhere during the war years — on jukeboxes, radio, the movies and all over the charts. They were among the many stars getting “corns for their country” as hostesses at the famed Hollywood Canteen and they made countless cross-country tours drumming up sales of War Bonds. Only Bob Hope rivaled them for visits to our troops overseas. In fact, they often toured together. One of their hits as the war came on was
“The Beer Barrel Polka.” It’s presented here with special lyrics as
“Here Comes The Navy” and is drawn from a Command Performance radio show.
Florence Desmond (no relation to Norma) was a cabaret artist who specialized in rather bawdy songs. Her act was a favorite of military personnel on both sides of the Atlantic. Before deserting show business to become a WAC in 1943, she starred in her only film, the British wartime drama Are You A Friend of Bertha’s?, The title was shortened by RKO to A Friend of Bertha’s for release in the USA.
“The Deepest Shelter in Town” was one of her signature songs. She performs it here with her longtime pianist and short time husband, Alexander Wade. Wade of course is better known for his duo piano act with Frances Slade, “Wade & Slade. Their best-selling album “The Great Spaghetti Massacre” is still a major collector’s item.
Frances disappeared shortly before the breakout of WWII and was said to have joined The Walker Bros.’ Traveling Circus as a muff diver.
A NEW ADVENTURE
My life as a young boy wasn’t totally preoccupied with the adventure and wonder that WWII brought. My stepfather was declared 4-F (unfit for service) and so the miracle of his being drafted and a respite from drunken beatings he administered almost nightly never came to pass. By the time I was
11 I had run away from home so often I wound up as an inmate of The Nevada School of Industry, a nice phrase for reform school. Living and getting along with all male ‘kids’ from the age of 10 to 24 was an education I wouldn’t wish on or recommend to anyone. But even there my world was not without music. Every night after dinner we had the radio for a couple of hours before lights out. My favorite radio show was Your Hit Parade, a musical countdown of the past week’s top ten songs.
I’ve chosen a song from Your Hit Parade for inclusion here that went all the way to #1 and sat there for a while:
“A Fellow on a Furlough” as performed by Mark Warnow & The Hit Paraders. Although the show was sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes, I’ve picked a Kraft ‘fast food’ commercial to follow it just to prove to those who weren’t around at the time that the Big Mac wasn’t the first certified junk food. Come to think of it those Kraft Dinners, like bricks of Velveeta cheese, didn’t taste half-bad.
Lucky Strike’s slogan all through the war was LS/MFT (which meant “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco”). The kid on the street, as well as those of us who were incarcerated, came up with lots of alternate phrases to explain the initials; “Loose Sweaters Make Floppy Tits” and “Let’s Screw, My Finger’s Tired” are two that still come to memory after all these years.
It was on Your Hit Parade where I first became aware of the singer of the century,
Frank Sinatra. He was the most frequent guest star on the program and got to perform all the top hits of the day. Many, of course, were his own hits but he also took a whack at “Shoo, Shoo, Baby,” “All The Things You Are” and “Right In The Führer’s Face.” The assignment of songs from week to week for Frank, Joan Edwards and The Hit Paraders’ Chorus was like the material — very democratic.
When word got around in the 1970s that I was putting the first Songs That Won The War series together, Frank — by then a friend and one of the most influential men in this songwriter’s life — called and said, “Hey, don’t forget to save room for some sides by the kid from Hoboken.” As if any collection of WWII songs could be imagined without contributions from “The Voice.”
Frank is heard here with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and fellow singers
Connie Haines, Jo Stafford and The Pied Pipers on “Let’s Get Away From It All.” Many consider Sinatra’s 1957 recording of this Tom Adair and Matt Dennis song made for his Capitol album “Come Fly With Me” one of the singer’s classic performances. I like this version because it’s so indicative of the big band policy of giving every singer in the band a chance to take a chorus of a great song. This track ranks up there near the top of my favorite records of all time.
Jo Stafford’s wartime nickname was “GI Jo,” and for good reason. The songs she recorded, performed or introduced during WWII were some of the most poignant for GIs everywhere and those they left behind. Jo had the perfect girl next door demeanor to put the lyrics across and her musical range and timing endeared her to every major songwriter.
If there is a more meaningful song identified with WWII than “I’ll Be Seeing You,” I can’t imagine what it is. For the British forces it was “The White Cliffs of Dover” that brought back England, but “I’ll Be Seeing You” was the secret wish and prayer of every soldier and his sweetheart everywhere. In my collection I have six versions of Jo singing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” each with a slightly different
Paul Weston arrangement. They include two commercial recordings, a V-Disc version and three from radio appearances. This is my favorite and it’s taken from a broadcast she did on the Johnny Mercer radio show. Jo is the perfect singer in every way and her voice and this song were made for each other. It’s also clear from the nuances in each version that
“I’ll Be Seeing You” was one of Jo and Paul’s favorites too.
Meanwhile, back to my life as a child convict (there’s a point to all this I promise). The Nevada School of Industry was located just outside Elko where
Bing Crosby had a ranch with his wife Dixie and their five sons. After a couple of years of good behavior I became a trustee, and that meant I could go off the premises of NSI on a brush-clearing gang or work as a rodman on one of the state survey units. I was assigned to clear brush on the Crosby Ranch for a couple of weeks and that’s when I met Bing. I was there once while he worked on a medley of songs with his boys for a double-sided Decca Christmas single.
Years later, when I attended The Hollywood Palace show as he rehearsed “Love’s Been Good to Me,” did he remember our first meeting back in Elko? Right, as if I’d bring it up.
Bing was the boss baritone not just during the war years but from the thirties into the sixties. Three of his wartime movies (Dixie, Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s) were in the top grossing films of the war years. His contribution to music during WWII was formidable. Here he sings a musical public service
announcement written by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson, “Buy, Buy, Buy A Bond.”
“Swing Out To Victory” hardly ranks with “Ain’t Misbehavin’” as one of
Thomas “Fats” Waller’s more inspired compositions, but has anyone ever come close to the pure joy Waller engendered as he not only tickled the ivories but made them laugh out loud? The importance of black artists during WWII is often as underrated as that of the black serviceman. Many black Americans still fight for equality, but their music and music making in wartime was a giant foot in the rear-end of segregation.
The slogan “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye” played up the sweetness of Kaye’s musical aggregation, often obscuring the fact that he had one of the tightest and most musical orchestras of The Big Band Era. Sammy closes our musical salute
Remember Pearl Harbor with, what else, the title song.
It is said that man can live without bread but not without love. I would have to amend that statement to include music. Music has always been a necessity to help propel our lives and often say for us those things we’d like to come up with ourselves but that singers and songwriters say better.
- Rod McKuen, June 2001
Tomorrow I’ll continue with a list of some of the great songwriter’s who made outstanding contributions to the war effort. Sleep warm.
RM 7/3/2001 –from “Remember Pearl
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