Music to Wage War By
|Vera Lynn entertaining the troops in England.|
There are lots of ways to rank songs. I did not stick to a strict list. Instead, I picked what seemed to be the most significant and enduring songs of the war years. So, this is a selection that, if you listened to the radio from 1940-1945, you undoubtedly would have heard over and over and over.
They are in no particular order. You will hear them as the people of the time heard them, including the little record noises that were part of the experience in the days before digital music.
"White Christmas" - Bing Crosby with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers and for Decca Records.
"Paper Doll" - Mills Brothers
|Doris Day singing with Les Brown's band in 1941.|
Les Brown and His Band of Renown (Doris Day, vocal)
|Helen Forrest and Harry James from the introduction to "Private Buckaroo" (1942).|
"I've Heard That Song Before" - Harry James and his orchestra (Helen Forrest, vocal)
"Frenesi" - Artie Shaw and his Orchestra
|Jimmy Dorsey and Helen O'Connell.|
"Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)" - Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra (Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly, vocals)
"Swinging on a Star" - Bing Crosby with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra
|Glenn Miller and Ray Eberle in the studio.|
"Moonlight Cocktail" - Glenn Miller and his Orchestra
|Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra performing "I'll Never Smile Again" in "Las Vegas Nights" (1941).|
"I'll Never Smile Again" - Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers, vocals)
|Harry James and Kitty Kallen (left).|
"It’s Been A Long, Long Time" - Harry James and his Orchestra (Kitty Kallen, vocal).
Two Special Bonus TracksThere are some songs that are so associated with World War II that I couldn't leave them out even though they weren't actually huge hits in the standard sense. I include these two classics here.
"Lili Marlene" was a favorite during World War II among German soldiers - and also many British ones. It was composed by Norbert Schultze, who set a 1915 poem of three verses by Hans Leip to music. The original was sung by unknown singer Lale Andersen (that was her stage name, her actual name was Elisabeth Carlotta Helena Berta Bunnenberg). Lale Andersen's version is the one that the soldiers during World War II would have listened to the most.
The original title of the song as sung by Andersen was "Das Mädchen Unter der Laterne" ("The Girl under the Lantern"). It was more familiarly known simply as "The Lantern Song." Some of the earliest pressings had the title ""Song of a Young Sentry." However, ultimately it became known as "Lili Marlene" (with a variety of spelling of both "Lili" and "Marlene") because of the name of the girl in the song. "Lili Marlene" is a bit odd because it is a story told by a man but traditionally sung by a woman, but the formula worked.
The song, whatever it was called, was not a hit at first. However, after two years, the Soldatensender Belgrad (Belgrade Soldier's Radio), the radio station of the German armed forces in newly occupied Yugoslavia, was looking for something to play. Lieutenant Karl-Heinz Reintgen received an old copy of "Lili Marlene" from Vienna and began broadcasting it in 1941. Belgrade had a powerful station that could be heard throughout the Mediterranean and far into Russia. Reintgen would play "Lili Marlene" over and over because he had very few other popular German songs available, and people began to notice it. Eventually, due to its growing popularity, the station began playing it every night at the same time as a sort of "end of the day" song. "Lili Marlene" caught on due to its wistfulness and the female presence it created in otherwise drab circumstances and many on both sides stopped and listened if they could.
It is very important to note that "Lili Marlene" was not written as propaganda. In fact, the Reich Ministry of Propaganda viewed "Lili Marlene" with great suspicion and actually ordered it re-recorded with a more martial tone (fiercer drums and so forth). It was just a song that touched a nerve.
|Lale Andersen (left) and Marlene Dietrich.|
Marlene Dietrich, a refugee from Hitler, also recorded the song in German during 1944 for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor of the CIA). Dietrich's version laid on the pathos in an attempt to demoralize Axis soldiers. There is no evidence that it did that, but it probably did make some homesick. Marlene Dietrich's version now is the more famous of the two because of her movie star fame, but the more upbeat Lale Andersen record is the definitive version that was treasured during the war itself.
Oh, and Vera Lynn, who we'll meet below, also recorded a version in English, as did Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and other top artists. That's how popular the song was and, to a certain extent, still is.
"Lili Marlene" - Lale Andersen
"Lili Marlene" - Marlene Dietrich
And now, we get to the song that is most associated with World War II for many people who lived through it.
The song led to the release of a motion picture built around the song, "We'll Meet Again," released on 18 January 1943. It starred Vera Lynn, who by now had become closely associated with the song, and Geraldo and Patricia Roc. Vera Lynn recorded various versions of "We'll Meet Again" over the years, including one recorded in 1953 that Stanley Kubrick used in the conclusion to his 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove." That is the version most people now recognize, not the one with the Novachord. Dame Vera Lynn (who is still alive as of this writing in 2020) has returned to "We'll Meet Again" again and again over the years, including singing it on the 60th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 2004.
If you wish, you may listen to the 1939 version and the later, much more popular 1953 version that was used in "Dr. Strangelove." Draw your own conclusions on why one did better than the other.
Vera Lynn - "We'll Meet Again" (1939 Version)
Vera Lynn - "We'll Meet Again" (1953 Version)