If you’ve been following us over the last few weeks, you would have noticed a short lull in the proceedings. Don’t panic! We’re just taking a short break to let our challenge participants catch up with the song list. We’ll be back and ready to get back into ’50s rock ‘n’ roll on the 10th of December.
Written in 1915 during World War I, the poem was published under the title “Das Lied eines jungen Soldaten auf der Wacht” (German for “The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch”) in 1937, and was first recorded by Lale Andersen in 1939 under the title “Das Mädchen unter der Laterne” (“The Girl under the Lantern”).
Following the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia, from 1941 Radio Belgrade became Soldatensender Belgrad to entertain German armed forces; the song was played frequently and became popular throughout Europe and the Mediterranean among both Axis and Allied troops.
- While she was in London, officials of the Nazi Party approached Dietrich and offered her lucrative contracts, should she agree to return to Germany as a foremost film star in the Third Reich. She refused their offers and applied for US citizenship in 1937.
- In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musac Project, musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene Dietrich, the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use, recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including Lili Marleen.
- German Hollywood actress, and staunch anti-Nazi Marlene Dietrich became synonymous with the song, performing it for US infantrymen ‘for three long years in North Africa, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and in England’, as she later recalled.
- In December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to raise war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and it is said that she sold more war bonds than any other star.
- Dietrich, who was bisexual, enjoyed the thriving gay scene of the time and drag balls of 1920s Berlin. She also defied conventional gender roles through her boxing at Turkish trainer and prizefighter Sabri Mahir’s boxing studio in Berlin, which opened to women in the late 1920s.
- Her last great passion, when she was in her 50s, appears to have been for the actor Yul Brynner, with whom she had an affair that lasted more than a decade; still, her love life continued well into her 70s. She counted John Wayne, George Bernard Shaw and John F. Kennedy among her conquests.
“This Land Is Your Land” is one of the United States’ most famous folk songs. Its lyrics were written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 based on an existing melody, in critical response to Irving Berlin‘s “God Bless America“, which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent. Tired of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio, he wrote a response originally called “God Blessed America”. Guthrie varied the lyrics over time, sometimes including more overtly political verses in line with his sympathetic views of communism, than appear in recordings or publications.
Guthrie wrote the song in 1940 and recorded it in 1944. The song was not published until 1945, when it was included in a mimeographed booklet of ten songs with typed lyrics and hand drawings. The booklet was sold for twenty-five cents, and copyrighted in 1951.
The first known professionally printed publication was in 1956 by Ludlow Music (now a unit of The Richmond Organization), which administered the publishing rights to Guthrie’s song. Ludlow later issued versions with piano and guitar accompaniments.
- Guthrie’s melody was very similar to the melody of “Oh, My Loving Brother”, a Baptist gospel hymn that had been recorded by the Carter Family as “When the World’s On Fire” and had inspired their “Little Darlin’, Pal of Mine.” He used the same melody for the chorus and the verses.
- The original title was “God Blessed America”, but it was struck out and replaced by “This Land
Was Made For You & Me“. It appears therefore that the original 1940 title was “This Land”.
- According to Joe Klein, after Guthrie composed it “he completely forgot about the song, and didn’t do anything with it for another five years.” (Since there is a March, 1944, recording of the song, Klein should have said “four years”.)
- The song was brought back to life in the 1960s, when several artists of the new folk movement, including Bob Dylan, The Kingston Trio, Trini Lopez, Jay and the Americans, and The New Christy Minstrels all recorded versions, inspired by its political message.
- In 2010, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, the surviving members of Peter, Paul and Mary, requested that the National Organization for Marriage stop using their recording of “This Land is Your Land” at their rallies, stating in a letter that the organization’s philosophy was “directly contrary to the advocacy position” held by the group.
- Given the economic climate of the 1940s, this song was most popularly sold in a hand-printed booklet with nine other songs and a selection of illustrations for 25c. This made the song hugely popular among those struggling with financial hardship and the effects of WWII.
- In January 2009, Bruce Springsteen and longtime friend of Woody Guthrie – Pete Seeger performed the song together at the inauguration of US President Barack Obama at Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial.
“Rum and Coca-Cola” is the title of a popular calypso. Originally composed by Lord Invader and Lionel Belasco, it was copyrighted in the United States by entertainer Morey Amsterdam and became a huge hit in 1945 for the Andrews Sisters, spending ten weeks at the top of Billboard‘s U.S. Pop Singles chart.
Although the song was published in the United States with Amsterdam listed as the lyricist and Jeri Sullavan and Paul Baron as musical composers, the melody had been previously published as the work of Trinidadian calypso composer Lionel Belasco on a song titled “L’Année Passée,” which was in turn based on a folksong from Martinique. The original lyrics to “Rum and Coca-Cola” were written by Rupert Grant, another calypso musician from Trinidad who went by the stage name of Lord Invader. (The true credits for music and lyrics were restored in a plagiarism lawsuit won by attorneyLouis Nizer, the account of which can be read in his book, My Life in Court.)
- During World War II, around 20,000 US GIs were stationed in Trinidad, ostensibly to deter any invasion. Unhappy with the situation, a local musician using the stage name Lord Invader commented on this ‘American social invasion’ in his calypso.
- The song is a ribald expose of the informal prostitution that took place (Both mother and daughter / Workin’ for the Yankee dollar’).
- ‘Rum and Coca-Cola’ was both the servicemen’s preferred tipple and a metaphor for the mixing of the two cultures.
- The song was the top single of 1945 in the United States. Despite its popularity, it was controversial and was banned by network radio stations because it mentioned an alcoholic beverage. The fact that it mentioned a commercial product by name also meant that it could be construed as free advertising when broadcast.
- After the release of the Andrews Sisters’ version of “Rum and Coca-Cola”, Belasco and Lord Invader sued for copyright infringement of the song’s music and lyrics, respectively. In 1948, after years of litigation, both plaintiffs won their cases, with Lord Invader receiving an award of $150,000 in owed royalties.
“Stormy Weather” is a 1933 song written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Ethel Waters first sang it at The Cotton Club night club in Harlem in 1933 and recorded it that year, and in the same year it was sung in London by Elisabeth Welch and recorded by Frances Langford. It has since been performed by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Clodagh Rodgers, and Reigning Sound and most famously by Lena Horne and Billie Holiday. Leo Reisman‘s orchestra version had the biggest hit on records (with Arlen himself as vocalist), although Ethel Waters‘s recorded version also sold well. “Stormy Weather” was featured in the 1943 movie of the same name.
The song tells of disappointment, as the lyrics, “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky”, show someone pining for her man to return. The weather is a metaphor for the feelings of the singer: “stormy weather since my man and I ain’t together, keeps raining all the time.”
The original handwritten lyrics, along with a painting by Ted Koehler, were featured on the (US) Antiques Roadshow on 24 January 2011, where they were appraised for between $50,000 and $100,000. The lyrics show a number of crossings out and corrections.
- The first line of “Weather with You” by the Australian group, Crowded House, is “Walking ’round the room singing ‘Stormy Weather.'”
- Lena Horne first recorded the song in 1941 for RCA Victor. In 1943, she recorded another version of Stormy Weather for the movie of the same name (which she made while on loan to 20th Century Fox from MGM). Horne recorded the song at least five times throughout her career. Horne’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.
- Horne was long involved with the Civil Rights movement. In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and worked with Paul Robeson. During World War II, when entertaining the troops for the USO, she refused to perform “for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen” according to her Kennedy Center biography. Because the U.S. Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she wound up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs. Seeing the black soldiers had been forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where the black troops were seated and performed with the Germans behind her.
- Horne died on May 9, 2010, in New York City of heart failure. Horne’s funeral took place at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue in New York City. Thousands gathered to mourn her, including Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minnelli, Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams, Lauren Bacall, Robert Osborne,Audra McDonald and Vanessa Williams.
Holiday’s version of the song was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1976. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
- In her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues Holiday indicated an argument with her mother over money led to the song. She indicated that during the argument her mother said the line “God bless the child that’s got his own.” The anger over the incident led her to turn that line into a starting point for a song, which she worked out in conjunction with Herzog.
- In his 1990 book Jazz Singing, Will Friedwald indicates it as “sacred and profane” as it references the Bible while indicating that religion seems to have no effect in making people treat each other better.
- The lyrics refer to an unspecified Biblicalverse: “Them that’s got shall get, them that don’t shall lose, so the Bible says, and it still is news. . . . ” This likely refers to Matthew 25:29 or Luke 8:18.
- It was included on the album The Simpsons Sing the Blues, performed by Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith); this version was released as a single, the third from the album.
- BioShock soundtrack: The three remixed tracks on the CD include “Beyond the Sea”, “God Bless the Child” and “Wild Little Sisters”; the original recordings of these songs are in the game.
“Guantanamera” (Spanish: “from Guantánamo [feminine]”, thus “woman from Guantánamo“) is perhaps the best known Cuban song and that country’s most noted patriotic song. In 1966, a version by American vocal group The Sandpipers, based on an arrangement by Pete Seeger, became an international hit.
The music for the song is sometimes attributed to José Fernández Diaz, known as Joseíto Fernández, who claimed to have written it at various dates (consensus puts 1929 as its year of origin), and who used it regularly in one of his radio programs. Some claim that the song’s structure actually came from Herminio “El Diablo” García Wilson, who could be credited as a co-composer. García’s heirs took the matter to court decades later but lost the case: the Supreme Court of Cuba credited Fernández as the sole composer of the music in 1993. Regardless of either claim, Fernández can safely be claimed as being the first public promoter of the song, through his radio programs.
- Given the song’s musical structure, which fits A-B-A-B (sometimes A-B-B-A) octosyllabic verses, “Guantanamera” lent itself from the beginning to impromptu verses, improvised on the spot, similar to what happens with the Mexican folk classic “La Bamba“. Fernández’s first use of the song was precisely this; he would comment on daily events on his radio program by adapting them to the song’s melody, and then using the song as a show closer. Through this use, “Guantanamera” became a popular vehicle for romantic, patriotic, humorous, or social commentary lyrics, in Cuba and elsewhere in the Spanish speaking world.
- The general tune of this song is an extremely common English football chant, such as “There’s only one (insert player name)” or “You only sing when you’re winning”.
- It was only when US folk icon Pete Seeger recorded Guantanamera in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that the rest of the world came to know this song.