American Music Goes To War,
World War One in American Song
Part 2:
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 songs.

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.

We want to continue to provide you with access to our music. We know that the Scorch player will not work with WEB-TV and are working on an alternative way for you to continue to listen to our music.
Much of our design of this site was done with WEB-TV in mind and we appreciate all of you and your visits to our site. Please be assured, we want you to continue to enjoy ParlorSongs so please keep visiting us. We will continue to provide the midi versions of our music for you until we have explored all options.

Over There

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)

Though 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.

Listen to this number one Cohan hit (SCORCH format)

listen 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 month's essay.

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 Going Over.

Hear this great war prayer song (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version

Just Like Washington Crossed The Delaware, General Pershing Will Cross The Rhine
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
In France

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 influence.

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 Rose.

Hear this French novelty song(scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

Come On Papa
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 implications.

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 month.

Enjoy this great novelty song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

WAIT! There's More Music and Covers..go to part B.

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