As would happen during World War Two, many prominent entertainers and songwriters joined the fight during World War I by enlisting (or being drafted) in the military. Irving Berlin was barely under the maximum age of 31 when he received notice of his induction into the Army in July of 1918. He never saw action but instead, spent his time at Fort Upton on Long Island, NY and there he used his talents in writing and producing an influential musical production Yip, Yip, Yaphank. His service record (below) shows his induction date, personal information at the time and his organizational assignments and grades. It is a bit interesting to us to note that for a very short period (4 days), Berlin was "busted" from Sergeant to Private, then back to Sergeant. We can't help wondering what infraction may have lead to that and why it was such a short period.
Regardless of grade, Berlin contributed greatly to the music of both wars and on this special "bonus" disc, we celebrate some of his most memorable songs from WWI.
Rich Beil, February, 2012
About Berlin's WW I Songs
1.Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning – 1918
According to a notation by Berlin on the earliest surviving piano-vocal score of this song, it was “written and composed at Camp Upton, June 20, 1918. During the war, Berlin was drafted and was stationed at Camp Upton at Yiphank, Long Island, a temporary camp for those about to head to the front in Europe. It was here that Berlin was exposed to the infantryman's bane, the wake up bugler. According to the sheet music, Berlin dedicated the song to a fellow private, Howard Friend, "who occupies the cot next to mine and feels as I do about the Bugler". It was also at Upton that Berlin, convinced that the troops needed to be entertained, wrote an show that starred only soldiers Yip, Yip Yaphank in 1918. Berlin was a terrible insomniac who worked all night and slept most of the day. So, getting up at the crack of dawn to the sound of the bugle drove him crazy. And, one of the reasons he proposed Yip, Yip, Yaphank to the Army brass was so he wouldn't have to get up at reveille. It worked
2. For Your Country and My Country – 1917
Annotated on the sheet music as “The Official Recruiting Song”, it was written at the request of the War Department to specifically target the large immigrant population. Boys who had come to America as babies in the late 1890s were now of military age and this song was meant to appeal to their patriotism for their new country. It was recorded by the Peerless Quartet, and by the opera star Francis Alda. Frances Langford performed the song in the 1943 film This Is the Army. As with this title, many of Berlin's WWI songs were so good at engendering patriotism and patriotic service that they were resurected for the second war in 1941.
3. I’ve Got My Captain Working For Me Now – 1919
After the war was over, it continued to have some effect on the music of the period. The subjects refocused from being away at war to the aspects of homecoming and adjusting to civilian life. One such after the war song was this tune, another of Berlin’s great novelty songs. The song one tells of a young man back from the war who hires his former commander and is able to exact “revenge” for the treatment he received while in the Army. As he says in the 2nd verse “I’ve agreed to give him $50 per. It’s worth twice as much to hear him call me, 'Sir'" This song was a number 1 hit for Al Jolson
4.I’m Gonna Pin My Medal On the Girl I Left Behind -1918
Introduced by Frank Carter (a Private) with Gus Minton (a General), Martha Mansfield (the Girl I Left Behind) and male ensemble in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918. The song was recorded by the Peerless Quartet in 1918. This song anticipates the return home of a brave soldier who has "stood the test" and won himself a medal for his bravery. As with most heroes of war, humility is a virtue and in this soldier's mind, the bravery and loyal support given to him by his sweetheart in his mind requires that she receive the medal, not he.
5.The Devil Has Bought Up All the Coal – 1918
Berlin at times seemed to be infatuated with the devil or the themes the devil could produce for song. In 1913, he penned A Devil In His Own Home Town and Stay Down Here Where You Belong. This song appeared in 1918. Then, even after the war, he continued with the 1922 song Pack Up Your Sins and Go To The Devil. Though all of these songs were good natured and generally made light of the Devil, I would say that Berlin was somewhat brave to approach a subject that so many songwriters and playwrights avoided like the plague. There was a belief in the mid 20th century that any song with Devil in the title was cursed and would not succeed. Berlin beat the odds on that belief long before it was openly stated.
6. They Were All Out of Step But Jim – 1918
The first recording of this song was done by Billy Murray. The rendition here is a duet between Rich and guest artist Peggy Wooden of Anderson, Missouri and is based on a rendition done in 1918 by Gus Van and Joe Schenck. The second great memorable song to come from Berlin during the War was this one, another novelty work that shows him at his best. Starting out as a private and eventually making it to Sergeant, Berlin certainly was wise to the ways of the front line soldier. Though he admitted he was not much of a soldier and that it was not his trade, Berlin served well and learned the basics in addition to helping morale of the troops and the folks at home. Certainly, a joke that has existed since soldiers started marching was the idea that when a soldier was out of step, it was everyone else who was wrong. With this song, Berlin codified the concept.
7.Goodbye France – 1918
A solo by Academy principal female vocalist Debbie Purdue, this is a song that reflects the affection felt by Americans for France at that time. On Volume 1 of this set, we featured a song, Good-Bye Broadway, Hello France. It seems only appropriate as we come to the close of this set of songs that we end with a fond good-bye by our soldiers to the brave soldiers and people of France who endured the war more so than any other country. This is a very upbeat song by the great Irving Berlin (see November, 1998 tribute to Berlin for more of his works) This song sparkles with the usual Berlin mastery of melody and lyrics
8.Let’s All Be Americans Now – 1917. (Co-written with Edgar Leslie and George W. Meyer)
Music composers, while entering the pro-war campaign for economic benefit, wrote songs which promoted the popular thinking aspired to by the government. Irving Berlin, (who had formerly composed some pacifist music), Edgar Leslie, and George W. Meyers released the patriotic song which was immediately recorded by the American Quartet whose members in 1917 were Billy Murray, John Young, Steve Porter, and William F. Hooley. The lyrics of this song reminded citizens about the ethnic diversity of the country while stressing the fact that all were joined nationally by citizenship. It encouraged all American citizens to put aside any previous loyalty to other homelands, and "fall in line/ You swore that you would,/ So be true to your vow, let's all be Americans now"! Wouldn't it be nice if all immigrants to America did the same today.
9.Kitchen Police (Poor Little Me) – 1918
Copyrighted September 19, 1918. Introduced as Poor Little Me in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918. Sung by Sergeant Irving Berlin and chorus in Yip, Yip, Yaphank. The songs is a bit of an enigma for us as finding a copy with a cover image has proven to be an endless quest. Even searching library collections as far away as the Australian National Library has left us empty handed. Aside from its connection to the soldier show, there seems to be little information available to tell us more about the song. Therefore, we shall let the song;s lyrics speak for themselves. The lament of the soldier assigned to KP (usually perceived as punishment) has been the source of a great deal of military humor. Once again, it was Irving Berlin who lyrically introduces us to the misery of KP.
10.We’re On Our Way To France – 1918
The finale of Act II of the all-soldier show. The show was presented at the Century (Aug. 19-31, 1918) and the Lexington (Sep. 2-14, 1918) Theaters in New York City, for a total run of 32 performances. Billed as “A Military ‘Mess’ Cooked up by the Boys of Camp Upton (In Aid of the Fund to Establish a Community House at Camp Upton for the Wives, Mothers, and Sweethearts Who Visit Their Boys at Camp)". Authorized and Given Through the Courtesy and Cooperation of Major General J. Franklin Bell.
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