Monday, October 27, 2014

Buy War Bonds And Stamps For Victory

Musical wartime propaganda .
Comin' In On a Wing and A Prayer contains a melody that is very close to an old hymn called The Sweet Bye and Bye, which was adopted by the Wobbly songwriter Joe Hill for his song The Preacher and The Slave. You heard it here first. It's odd that I can barely remember the chords for a song seconds after playing it but I had not heard The Sweet Bye and Bye in two decades but I recognized the melody and tracked it down in my brain to a particular rainy night in Santa Cruz where a street activist who modeled himself after Joe Hill was singing on the sidewalk. "There'll be pie in the sky when you die....and that's a dirty lie." Bob, was the singer's name and he's the character in my Santa Cruz epic. He's the guy who fills balloons with urine to defend himself when the police raided the abandoned squat we were all living in. It was good times.

Wing and A Prayer

Wing and A Prayer, written by Americans Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh (who received a Presidential Certificate of Merit from Truman for their patriotic songs contribution) begins with a droning message, "One of our planes was missing, two hours overdue." in a kind of Morse code rhythmic presentation. And it turns out the plane has lost an engine after hitting its target but with the full crew aboard and "trust in our Lord," they will make it back to the landing field. It's a generic description of a plane and a field...and I'm looking for American bombing missions in 1943 and, honestly, I can't stomach the news from 1943 so I'm guessing it was a European bombing mission. And what twin engine plane is that on the front of the sheet music? It's not a B-24 or a B-25. Maybe it's a Martin B-26 Marauder. Who knows? I now have the image burned in my mind of a huge airplane hanger in Berlin, all decorated for a Christmas dance...except the floor is covered with dead bodies waiting to be identified. War is awesome!
1941, silver wings guaranteed victory. It wasn't only military related songs that reminded the home pianist to buy war bonds. I have a few cowboy tunes from that era with the same War Bond logo.
<Caution, Non-music related rant: The conservative/liberal teeth gnashing today in American media is equivalent to 1931 Germany. Nobody really takes themselves seriously but the vitriol is awful to read. These assholes want a coup or impeachment, these assholes want segregation, these assholes want everyone armed, these assholes want no one armed. Everyone has an opinion and it's a lot of WWF digital chest thumping. Internet cowboys with lots of pantomimed hate typing vile thoughts about poor people and Ebola victims, but at the end of the day you can go to a Walmart in Mississippi and get a shitty job so you can buy some candy corn and ghost costumes for your kid. See? There is an undercurrent of extremism that is alarming, but when I look at the actual conditions, I see political comics making jokes, vibrant Industrial manufacturing, and mostly opportunity. Think about this: I can make money writing online used car descriptions from my house, or jerking off on a gay chat web cam. I don't need to sell anything; if I can sell the idea of selling energy drinks to enough idiots then they can sell the idea of selling energy drinks to other idiots and I will eventually make money off the opportunity to sell the idea of selling energy drinks. I sell memberships that give you the opportunity to sell memberships. That's total phantom commerce, and yet it exists. I don't even know if the energy drink exists, but I can sell the opportunity to sell it. I'm not interested in the product, I'm only interested in selling the idea. It's like AAA+ mortgages that are packaged and sold to people investing in premium mortgages. They are buying other people's debt like trading virtual baseball cards. This isn't fiction, it's actually a job, someone goes to school to learn how to package and do the paperwork on trading your house mortgage to people gambling on your ability to pay back the loan. And in 2008 it turned out the houses were owned by people who could not afford them. The mortgage broker didn't mention that part. Hell, some lady on Kickstarter was given $21,000 for her project. The project is making gourmet marshmallows. That's right. $21K for marshmallows with Bourbon in them. No way that happens in 1931 Germany. My point is that as horrible as some of the news events may seem, opportunities to make money are everywhere. Invent a new way to wipe your ass and you can retire early. Pimp out Russian teenagers to divorced Google Execs. There's no limit to the ways to make money now that all morality and philosophy have been flushed down the toilet with marshmallow flavored enema juice. That wasn't the case in 1931 Germany. People were equally extremist, divided and hateful, but they had no work. Like 20% unemployment in Germany in 1930. The war was their answer to lack of jobs. America still has under 10% unemployment so as long as that number stays below 10% we will not have major unrest. Until China calls for repayment of our debt everything is fine. This is the lullaby I sing myself to sleep with. End non musical rant.>
1943...victory not quite so guaranteed. Buy the bonds, you tightwad! Or learn Japanese quick.

Now that your morale is lifted I will point out the healing qualities of music. No, not the way I sing these songs, but the way professionals like Vera Lynn sang them in 1941 and 1943. Today's music is utterly devoid of morale lifting melodies simply because our morale is basically pretty high, entertaining jingles are inescapable since they are in commercials, video games, and our fucking ubiquitous cell phones. Yes, there is a 10% who divide their time between bullying online and shredding paper in political dungeons, but the world will never be perfect. Uplifting melodies, unifying themes of perseverance and bravery, admiration for the military; these themes are not needed in the music of today. For $1 I can get a perfectly disgusting but edible animal-based sandwich at a fast food joint. For $1 more I can get a big ass soda pop with ice. And if I don't have $2 I can stand at a corner with a sign that says "God Bless Our Troops, Please Help" and I'll make that $2 in less than 20 minutes. So, things are only grim if you are like me and equate the extremism with other historical incidents of extremism.

These two songs are Comin' In On A Wing And A Prayer, and He Wears A Pair Of Silver Wings from 1943 and 1941 respectively.

Musically, these two songs are worlds apart. Wing And A Prayer, as I've said, is a blatant rip-off of the hymn Sweet Bye and Bye. The F, Bb, F 'half cadence' arrangement reminded me of a hymn even before I sang the melody. 1943 is early in the Swing Era but still should have influenced these chords. I'm not puzzled because I know that when inspiration fails and the deadline is due then a musician will dig deep for a melody that is from 1868 and is pretty much public domain. Furthermore, the proud hymn quality makes sense for an American war song about brave pilots surviving a bombing run because their trust in the Lord. 1943 was the middle of America's involvement in the war. Late 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed, and in June 1945 America invaded Normandy so 1943 was a point when there were no clear victories and no one was yet talking about how to divide up Germany or The Middle East. Confidence was probably high but so was the certainty that hundreds of thousands would die. Prayer is a natural act in that kind of situation and McHugh may have known a song that sounded like a hymn but with secular lyrics would go over well. It was well received as the lyrics are common enough that when a Anne Shelton belts this out it's easy to feel patriotic. Speaking of sales tactics, this song sheet has a reminded to buy War Bonds and Stamps to fund the war effort...and the song itself is intended to inspire the sentiment that would make you buy those same bonds by utilizing two key elements: God and Country. The song is saying, "This plane has lost a motor, the crew is alive but it needs your help today or all the crew will die and we will lose the war. The American pilot is begging you to buy the bonds." Only a total communist would resist that request. The music will remind everyone of the hymn, but has a few tiny changes so it's only a reminder and not a parody. God and Country.

Pie in The Sky is the parody of 
Sweet Bye and Bye. Also called Preacher and The Slave. Same melody as Wing and A Prayer (Joe Hill wrote this in 1915 before he was assassinated by the state of Utah. That's before the Depression but this song gained popularity during the Depression)

He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings by Eric Maschwitz and Michael Carr is a totally different song. Firstly, it was published in 1941, which is interesting since America was only in the war in 1941 for three weeks. So one must look at the history of Maschwitz and Carr to find they are both English and England had been fighting Germany since 1939.
These are the wings the song is referring to. Royal Air Force.

Has anyone else read the book The Rainbow and the Rose by Nevil Shute? I found this book at a liquor store in Carrizo Springs, Texas. I bought a bottle of vodka and got the book for free. I think this book and this song compliment each other because they both involve English pilots, although from different wars. The book is a great read for a few reasons but my personal favorites are the way the point of view switches seamlessly from the past of Johnnie Pascoe from his point of view to the present of Ronnie Clarke and his point of view. It's not an easy technique to pull off and made me scratch my head at first. The second reason I love that book is because of Johnnie Pascoe's hard luck love life in spite of his charm. Shute's characterization of a decorated WWI pilot not only glamorized early 20th Century aviation, but also the hidden character of a pilot. Shute makes the case for Pascoe's bravado as economically as possible. In one scene he lands a plane, gets out, meets a beautiful actress and is asking to kiss her all in about 4 minutes. He marries her in a few months, has a kid with her, and then flies into certain death in The Great War against Germany, always smiling. He exudes confidence because in his situation he has to. The phrase "life is short" is never written by Shute or uttered by his character, yet he embodies that phrase. Shute is all show and no tell. It's not a masterpiece but it's a good book with worthy scenarios.

Silver Wings butchered by Oggy Bleacher. (For some reason I sing "Golden Wings" but I can't bring myself to try to sing this again. I'll pretend the key is wrong and that's why I can't sing it. I'm embarrassed.)

So, we have a piece of English war propaganda being borrowed by American publishers in 1942 to rally patriotism and raise funds on both sides of The Atlantic Ocean. And not only is this song interesting because it originates in England but it's interesting because musically it is from the Swing era. I hear remnants of Paper Moon in it, which was not a hit in 1941 but was published in 1915 and then became popular around WWII. Silver Wings has a vaudeville feeling to it, for instance when the singer hits the high note on the word "Fly". There is the 1930s traditionally awkward introduction (that no one ever sings in the recordings), and then there is the swinging refrain. The song is in the "sexist" ballpark since it's a woman who loves a man because he's a pilot.

Consider the lyrics:
"And tho' it's pretty tough, the job he does above.
I wouldn't have him change it for a king's.
An ordinary fellow in the uniform I love.
He wears a pair of silver wings."

Eric Maschwitz earned his money right there making those rhymes look easy. Maschwitz also wrote A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square but his musical career wasn't much more than a hobby considering his wartime work in security and his postwar work with the BBC and in television and theater. The lyricism and gait of Silver Wings is theatrical and the melody has the swinging vaudeville flavor that was still current in 1941. You won't hear many men sing this song so I dedicate my performance to all the gay lovers of male military pilots in our newly gay-friendly Air Force!

I think in 1943 there were three options for music: 1) Big Bands/orchestras playing dance songs. 2) Female singers singing for the troops. 3) Bing Crosby.
I might revisit an Andrews Sisters duet with Crosby but those are so popular that I'm tempted to concentrate on the more rare songs.

Speaking of Songs, I made a list of the individual songs I've got in this box. This is a small sample of my vast sheet music collection but these are the ones I'm picking from since they came to me randomly. The person who collected these songs originally must've died in 1950. The signature Marion Dubois is on many of these songs. She didn't collect any after 1950 and the two songs from the 1960s I believe were added by the junk dealer after they came to possess the box. The oldest songs are in rough shape. The newer songs are OK.

Anchors Aweigh  MCMVI 1906

That Hypnotizing Man 1911
Please Don't Take My Lovin' Man Away 1912
Bobbin' Up and Down 1913
You're The Dawn of A Perfect Day 1915
Back Home In Tennessee 1915
At The Mississippi Cabaret 1915
Sierra Sue MCMXVI 1916
Over There 1917
Little Sir Echo 1917
The Bells of St. Mary 1917
Who Said Dixie? 1918
Santa Rosa Rose 1918
When a Feller Needs a Friend 1919
The Alcoholic Blues 1919

The Love Nest 1920
When the Harvest Moon is Shining 1920
He Always Goes Farther Than Father 1921
Ma! 1921
The Melody That Made You Mine 1925
Always 1925
Daybreak 1926
When The Organ Played At Twilight 1929

Overnight 1930
Bye Bye Blues 1930
Good Night, Little Girl of My Dreams 1933
Deep Purple 1934
Little Old Lady 1936
Rosalie  1937
Once In A While 1937
I Live The Life I Love 1937
Bei Mir Bist Du Schon 1937
Sail Along, Silv'ry Moon 1937
Penny Serenade 1938
I Have Eyes 1938
All Ashore 1938
There's a Gold Mine In The Sky 1937
I Get Along Without You Very Well 1939
We'll Meet Again 1939
Scatter-brain 1939

When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano 1940
Tschaikowsky's Concerto No.1 3/4 1941
Tonight We Love (Tscaikowsky) 2/2 1941  (They not only spelled Tchaikovsky's name wrong but they changed the time signature to his first Piano Concerto)
An Old Country Garden 1941
The White Cliffs of Dover 1941
Along The Navajo Trail 1942
I've Heard That Song Before 1942
Where The Mountains Meet The Sky 1942
Light A Candle In The Chapel 1942
There's a Harbor of Dream Boats 1943
My Dream of Tomorrow 1943
Rum and Coca-Cola 1944
Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive 1944
Swinging On A Star 1944
Anniversary Song 1946
My Heart Is A Hobo 1947
April In Portugal 1947
Bella Bella Marie 1947
Buttons And Bows 1948


Angel On My Shoulder 1960
Love is Blue 1966

Creative Commons License
Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.