During 'The Phoney War', the early months of World War II, there appeared a rash of comic, almost infantile songs which poked fun at Hitler and his cohorts in most uncomplimentary ways. They fulfilled a need for the moment at a time when many people thought that the hostilities, if not exactly "all over by Christmas" would finish within a few months. At the same time, and for the most part more substantial, were patriotic (sometimes jingoistic) songs which reflected the prevalent mood. Then again there were the topical songs about black outs, rationing and of course the armed forces. Finally there were the songs which, while not alluding to the war per se, have become forever associated with that dark period in our island's history.
Noel Gay (born Reginald Armitage) was one of the most prolific British songwriters of the Thirties and early Forties. He is responsible, with Ralph Butler, for our two opening numbers. Leon Cortez & His Coster Pals begin with a good, punchy version of The Girl Who Loves A Soldier followed by a song forever associated with its creators, Flanagan & Allen. This is Run, Rabbit, Run. Both of these numbers featured in the George Black revue 'The Little Dog Laughed' which opened at the London Palladium on 11 October 1939 at a time when many of the major London theatres were still closed, as instructed by the Home Secretary on the declaration of war. Impresario Black commissioned another new song for the show from songwriters Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr. Inspired by a cartoon in the 'Daily Express', they came up with the well remembered (We're Gonna Hang Out) The Washing On The Siegfried Line delivered with much verve by the popular double act The Two Leslies (Leslie Sarony & Leslie Holmes). With The Crazy Gang at their best and a show with a high quality and peppy score, 'The Little Dog Laughed' ran for 461 performances. The Siegfried Line was in fact a line of fortifications built by the Germans before and during the war.
In The Mood is, as an instrumental, most closely associated with Glenn Miller and Joe Loss. More unusually we have a vocal version here, stylishly put over by the American 'sister act' The King Sisters (Alyce, Yvonne, Donna and Louise). This quartet flourished from 1939 under conductor Alvino Rey who married on of the sisters, Louise. 'A Song, a Smile and a Piano' was the sobriquet of popular entertainer Norman Long although the BBC changed his radio billing to 'A Song, a Joke and a Piano' on the basis that you can't hear a smile! Always proud of the fact that her was one of the first artists to broadcast on radio (November 1922), Norman retired post-war and spent his last years managing an hotel in Salcombe, Devon. His topical witty ditty, Where Does Poor Pa Go In The Black-Out?
It should come as no surprise that Sam Browne (1898-1972) makes four appearances on this collection. The most versatile and prolific of dance band vocalists, Sam was consistently in demand during his peak years from the late Twenties to the late Forties. Many solo discs were made too, including his biggest hit towards the close of his career ('Heartbreaker' from 1948). In his first offering Sam indulges in a bouncy performance of Berlin Or Bust in the company of George Scott Wood and The Six Swingers. With equal ease he goes on to inform us that 'They Can't Black Out The Moon' at a time when every British home was ordered to pull down close fitting blinds at night so as not to provide a sitting target for enemy aircraft. Jay Wilbur & His Band was a fine group of musicians who existed principally in the confines of the recording studios for the Rex and Decca labels during the Thirties and Forties - the Decca equivalent of HMV's New Mayfair Dance Orchestra. In 1940 he began leading his band on the popular Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon radio show 'Hi, Gang!' and a couple of years later took a band of his own on tour to play for the forces. The King Is Still in London gives us Sam Browne in the company of Ambrose (his one-time full-time employer). This song is an affectionate tribute to George VI and Queen Elizabeth who remained in Buckingham Palace during the bombing and regularly visited the most devastated areas of the capital and offered genuine heartfelt encouragement to the afflicted. Finally Sam's last contribution is his solo recording of There'll Always Be An England, a pleasing, feeling but unforced version of this wartime favourite which sustained the morale of many during Britain's darkest hours.
Common denominator on three out of four of Sam Browne's songs was the late Hugh Charles, responsible as 'collaborator' (as he liked to recall) with various partners - both providing some of the words and music. So it was wholly appropriate that Dame Vera Lynn should present BASCA's Jimmy Kennedy award to the veteran songwriter at the 1987 Ivor Novello awards. Charles' most famous song was probably We'll Meet Again (written with Ross Parker) and although associated with Vera Lynn, her original recording is marred by the dated accompaniment. We have Jack Hylton's fine version of this wartime classic, which takes on relevance as Charles became Hylton's manager in the bandleader's post-war impresario years. Also vocalist Dolly Elsie, Jack Hylton's kid sister, lived with Hugh Charles as man and wife for eighteen happy years until her death in 1961.
France's answer to The Siegfried Line was The Maginot Line; alas it proved ineffective against the German invasion. But the German breach of the French fortifications was a few months off when George Formby of the toothy grin and gormless stage persona strummed his ukulele and sang Imagine Me In The Maginot Line. George was at the height of his popularity during the first half of the war and delighted civilians and servicemen alike with his subtle (and not so subtle) double entendres and pokes at pompous commanding officers. Hear him too, minus his ukulele but no less effective, on Bless 'Em All (subtitled 'The Service Song'), the classic song for armed servicemen everywhere.
Like George, Gracie Fields was Lancashire born and reached the heights in comedy and film roles. In the summer of 1939 'Our Gracie' underwent a very serious operation and was told by her doctors to go to her villa in Capri and recuperate for two years. She rested for six weeks. At ENSA chief Basil Dean's request she travelled to France in November 1939 to entertain the troops. We hear her in full flight, with just a piano, doing just that in a recording actually broadcast by the BBC. Wish Me Luck was from her very popular recent film 'Shipyard Sally' which took on a greater significance now that there was a war on. The Tom Webster to whom Gracie refers was the great sports cartoonist and animator. Gracie married film director Monty Banks in March 1940 and three months later Italy declared war on the Allies. As Monty held an Italian passport he risked being interned on account of being an 'enemy alien'. This threw Gracie into a quandary, so she arranged to do a nationwide tour of Canada to raise funds for the Navy League whilst Monty went to America. Whilst Gracie was in the States visiting Monty and her parents she faced a terrific backlash from the British press and public, accusing her (falsely) of 'running away' with vast amounts of money and jewellery. It wasn't until after the war that Gracie regained her former popularity with her homeland; meantime she pressed on with her fundraising and concerts for the armed forces. The Thing-Ummy-Bob (That's Going To Win The War)brings to mind the hard working girls and men working in munitions factories up and down the country for the war effort; the reason this disc wasn't released in the UK must have been a reflection of Gracie's rather persona non grata status at this time.
Elsie Carlisle is represented by two very topical numbers. Please Leave My Butter Alone, a song which must have struck home at a time when the butter ration was 2oz per person per week. The satirical Oh! What A Surprise For The Duce! (He Can't Put It Over The Greeks) celebrates the heroic Greek resistance to Mussolini's troops, though this turned out to be a short-lived victory as the Axis powers did overwhelm the Greek mainland for a while. It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow, the first of our two Irving Berlin songs, was sung and recorded in Britain before it appeared in the long-running Broadway show 'Louisiana Purchase'. One of the composer's best numbers, it receives stylish treatment from Denny Dennis, the 'British Bing Crosby'. In sharp contrast, 'Two Ton' Tessie O'Shea gives a 'sock it to you' rendition of her own I Fell In Love With An Airman and treats us to a turn on the ukulele as well. Subtle she ain't.
Powerhouse Tessie did sterling work on ENSA tours, boosting morale, throughout the war. Hutch (Leslie A Hutchinson), the sophisticated and elegant top-of the-bill entertainer was another who performed tirelessly for the troops. We have a lovely song of yearning, There'll Come Another Day and also Hutch's slightly over the top but heartfelt rendition of the patriotic song This Is Worth Fighting For. Impressionist and singer Florence Desmond gets a few double entendres in to The Deepest Shelter In Town, a somewhat risque song for 1940. As a rule, Jerome Kern wrote his music first, ready for the lyric writer, but he made an exception when Oscar Hammerstein II presented him with a finished poem, inspired by the occupation of Paris in the dark days of the war. The urbane Turner Layton, by now well established as a solo act, gives us his stylish version of The Last Time I Saw Paris. Later we have Turner's charming I Left My Heart At The Stage Door Canteen from the Irving Berlin All-American soldier show 'This Is The Army' which the composer brought firstly to the London Palladium in November 1943, later taking it on tour.
After Billy Cotton and Alan Breeze's lively comedy contribution Oh! How He Misses His Missus, we move on to Noel Coward. Like Berlin, Coward was intensely patriotic and here pokes fun in exasperated tones at the Home Guard of 1941 in Could You Please Oblige Us With A Bren Gun? Coward was, understandably, hopping mad when the BBC banned his recording of the exceedingly satirical anti-war song Don't Let's Be Beastly To The Germans in 1943. Apparently this had been taken at face value by some radio listeners who then lodged a complaint. Songs about the armed forces, especially the Air Force, were popular. Pat Kirkwood, one of the all-time great stars of the international musical theatre, gives us the self-explanatory Victory Roll, recorded early on in her long career. An atypical Rodgers and Hart number is delivered by Bing Crosby, no less. The Bombardier Song was dedicated to the bomber crews of the US Army Air Force. The affectionately remembered Anne Shelton (1923-1994) was a forces favourite who initially found fame with Ambrose in 1940. The song Comin' In On A Wing And A Prayer was inspired by a statement of an American Air Force pilot telling about an emergency landing. The legend of 'The Cheeky Chappie', Max Miller, endures today as strongly as ever, though his record sales did not compare with those of George Formby or Gracie Fields. As a live performer he was magical, and we have him here in a short but effective little number The Grand Old Man which pays tribute to Winston Churchill. This was taken from 'Max Miller Entertains The War Workers' and recorded at a canteen concert. The outbreak of war found Carroll Gibbons in his native America on holiday. Not surprisingly he experienced great difficulty in returning to London, finally making it back on 4th November. He had made Britain his home and wasn't going to conveniently stay away during the hostilities. Well in evidence on Mister Brown Of London Town is the magic Gibbons touch which also features a challenging, optimistic vocal from Leslie Douglas.
When Ted Heath and his wife Moira wrote the evocative That Lovely Weekend, Ted was a member of Geraldos Orchestra. The opening trombone solo is by Ted himself, and the royalties he received from this song went towards the financing of his own mightily successful big band immediately after the war. The fine vocalist is Dorothy Carless, sister of the late Carole Carr. After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the Americans entered the war. Fats Waller was pretty quick off the mark with his marvelously rhythmic Cash For Your Trash. Glenn Miller, leader of Americas most admired dance band, disbanded at the peak of his popularity in 1942 to join the Army Air Force as a captain (later major). He continued to make great (perhaps greater) music with the bands of the AAF and AEF before his tragic disappearance over the English Channel in December 1944. Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me) was a wartime hit. In November 1941 Vera Lynn broadcast for the first time in a series of half-hour shows entitled Sincerely Yours, Vera Lynn. The format was purposely straightforward and candid and presented Vera as ‘the girl next door. Aimed at the armed forces, the programme was an instant and colossal triumph, earning her the title 'The Forces Sweetheart'. (There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover is strictly speaking inaccurate as bluebirds are endemic to North America. Never mind, it was a highly successful song for Vera and American songwriters Nat Burton and Walter Kent. The same duo penned the wistful When The Roses Bloom Again, admirably put across by Connie Boswell.
After Connie, we have a rude awakening with Spike Jonesclassic Der Fuehrers Face, originally recorded to accompany the Disney propaganda cartoon film 'Donald Duck In Nuttsey Land'. It achieved a separate life however when it reached No.3 on the American Hit Parade in October 1942. The evocative I Don't Want To Walk Without You was introduced in the Hollywood musical Sweater Girl. Celia Lipton, now resident in the USA, is the daughter of bandleader Sydney. This was one of the first great songs to come from the pen of London-born Jule Styne in collaboration with Frank Loesser. Loesser alone was inspired to write the defiant number Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition, basing it on words uttered by the US Navy Chaplain William Maguire during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Joe Loss & His Orchestra with Harry Kaye give it all they've got. Another from The Forces Sweetheart Vera Lynn, this time the well known You'll Never Know. Alice Faye introduced this song in the Hollywood musical Hello, Frisco, Hello. A British film from this period, one of the best to be produced during the war, was Powell & Pressburgers 'The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp'. Sergeant Jimmy Miller and the RAF Dance Orchestra (later Squadronaires) were involved in this Technicolor film and provided the catchy Commando Patrol for the soundtrack. Hubert Gregg recalls that he wrote I'm Gonna Get Lit Up (When The Lights Go Up In London) in 1940 but couldn't get it accepted until 1943. This was, in retrospect, timely as there was a mood of cautious optimism in the air which had not been the case three years earlier. The bands of Billy Cotton and Carroll Gibbons recorded this, but we've chosen the verse-packed version with Elizabeth Batey and Joe Loss.
In the UK we had the National Savings Movement; in the States civilians were encouraged to save too, witness Bing Crosby proudly informing us that he's Saving A Dime (Out Of Every Dollar). Following Billy Ternent and Ken Beaumont'sjaunty version of Cleanin' My Rifle (And Dreamin Of You) we reach the home stretch. Paula Green, just a couple of months before VE Day, gives us Hugh Charles and Joe Lubins Till All Our Prayers Are Answered. Paula sang with Joe Loss from 1940 before joining Tommy Handley's well-remembered ITMA radio team the following year. During the next decade she gave it all up to become a telephonist and today as Mrs Batchelor lives in contented retirement in Surrey. A little premature perhaps, but there was no harm in Harry Kaye with Joe Loss & His Orchestra giving us their joyous version of The Vict'ry Polka in January 1944. One of the songs of the war was Lilli Marlene. It began life as a German marching song which caught on with the British troops. English words were added and it became part of the staple repertoire of many singers including Anne Shelton, Doreen Harris, Vera Lynn and, in her own interpretation, Marlene Dietrich.
Our final Carroll Gibbons recording has vocalist Rita Williams lamenting the fact that all the eligible males are ...Either Too Young Or To Old. Bette Davis introduced this number in the film 'Thank Your Lucky Stars'. Written for a sadly short-lived musical 'Right This Way' in 1938, Ill Be Seeing You emerged as one of the biggest ballad hits of World War II. Enjoy Dinah Shores superlative, caressing rendition. A co-founder of Capitol Records, leading American lyricist and great rh American born, but proud to be a resident of Britain from 1938 until her death at ninety-two in 1993 was Adelaide Hall. Throughout the war she helped keep up morale by entertaining in underground shelters and joining ENSA. Adelaide promises Im Gonna Love That Guy (Like He's Never Been Loved Before) with such sincerity and conviction that you must believe her.ythm singer to boot, Johnny Mercer sings Phil Moore's I'm Gonna See My Baby. Optimism was more to the fore by this time (October 1944) and it shines through in this number.
1999 HUGH PALMER