The Authentic History Center Your current position is:
home > ww2 > american music > war in europe
WWII In American Music: The War In Europe, 1939-1941
curve
Part 2: The War In Europe, 1939-1941
With Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the Second World War began. Not surprisingly, some of the earliest songs related to the war were romantic ballads that were imported from England. Some of these were memorable, instant classics. Others had lackluster sales in the United States until after Pearl Harbor, when their lyrics of separation and longing for a happier time resonated with powerfully with an American audience. One of the first big war-themed hits was a song that wasn't even intended to be a war song, "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square." Written by Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin for the London revue New Faces/An Eric Maschwitz Revue, it was a top seller in the United States because of its quality. For English citizens, the song took on even more meaning after the Dunkirk disaster two months later and the subsequent Battle of Britain.
"A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" by Ambrose (1940)
sound "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" by Ambrose (1940)
"A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" by Eddie Allen (1940)
sound "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" by Eddie Allen (1940)
"The Mademoiselle From The Maginot Line" by Al & Bob Harvey (1939)
sound "The Mademoiselle From The Maginot Line" by Al & Bob Harvey (1939)

Other notable romantic ballads from England include "We'll Meet Again", Roy King and Stanley Hill's "I'll Pray For You," and "When the Lights Go On Again (All Over The World), and "Silver Wings in The Moonlight." Because these latter two didn't catch on in the United States until After Pearl Harbor, they'll be discussed later.

A few Canadian songs wafted down from north of the border, presumably before the war in Western Europe began. One of these, by comedians Al and Bob Harvey, was a tribute to British entertainer Dorothy Ward, who was well known with her husband Shaun Glenville for her Pantomime and variety routine. At the outbreak of WWII, Dorothy was among the first entertainers to tour France to entertain the troops. She became known as “Mademoiselle from the Maginot Line” after her hit number of the same name.

"Blitzkrieg Baby" by Una Mae Carlisle (1941)
sound "Blitzkrieg Baby" by Una Mae Carlisle (1941)
When the war for Western Europe commenced in 1940, the Low Countries and France were stunned by Hitler's Blitzkrieg, or, "lightning war." Despite facing superior forces and equipment, the Nazis employed new military doctrine derived from the lessons of World War I trench warfare, and deprived the enemy of any sort of coherent defense by attacking swiftly and cohesively. They avoided direct combat (including the Maginot Line) and instead used mechanized infantry and self-propelled artillery to attack enemy communications, logistics, command and control, and morale. Blitzkrieg found its way into popular music in an instrumental by Dean Hudson, and in a song by Una Mae Carlisle, in a way that probably seems naive in retrospect: "Blitzkrieg baby, you can't bomb me 'Cause I'm pleading
"Blitzkrieg" (instrumental) by Dean Hudson (1941)
sound "Blitzkrieg" (instrumental) by Dean Hudson (1941)

neutrality...Blitzkrieg baby, you look so cute, All dressed up in your parachute. Let that propaganda be Blitzkrieg baby, you can't bomb me." Eventually, the truncated word "Blitz" found its way into the American lexicon, used, for example to describe the defensive play in American football of rushing the quarterback.

One of the earliest hints that America might have to take a more active role in the war comes from "War Time Blues" by John Lee Williamson, who recorded as Sonny Boy Williamson, the first of two artists with that name. He was a pioneer in the genre of harmonica blues. "War Time Blues" was recorded on May 17, 1940. Four days earlier, President Roosevelt had asked congress for more money for American defense, and two days before, Elmer Davis had reported on CBS radio, "There is a growing realization that America is not properly prepared to defend this hemisphere." A few weeks later would come the British disaster at Dunkirk, followed quickly by the fall of France.


"War Time Blues" by Sonny Boy Williamson (1940)
sound "War Time Blues" by Sonny Boy Williamson (1940)
"The Air Battle" by Sanford Hertz (1940)
sound "The Air Battle" by Sanford Hertz (1940)
By the summer of 1940 Hitler and the Luftwaffe had turned their attention to destroying British morale and the RAF in what would become known as The Battle of Britain. Americans were, of course, fascinated by the war and devoured print and radio news. In this rather unusual recording from June 1940, accordionist Sanford Hertz attempts to recreate the tension and terror of an air battle over England.

The fall of France and the dire threat to the last European democracy inspired several other war-related songs in October and November 1940. Some of these songs too were recorded by British or Canadian artists, but were available in the United States as imports. These songs include, "There'll Always Be an England", "Till The Lights of London Shine Again", and "The Last Time I saw Paris". Another British recording that found its way to the states is the odd production by Quentin Reynolds
called, "Dear Mr. S...". This 4-part open letter to Hitler attempts to directly refute Nazi propaganda efforts in Europe and the United States. It refers to him derisively as "Schicklgruber," the actual surname listed on Hitler's birth certificate, a result of his father's illegitimacy.
"There'll Always Be an England" by Guy Lombardo (1940)
sound "There'll Always Be an England" by Guy Lombardo (1940)
"Till The Lights of London Shine Again" by Eddie Allen (1940)
sound "Till The Lights of London Shine Again" by Eddie Allen (1940)
"The Last Time I Saw Paris" by Dick Jurgens (1940)
sound "The Last Time I Saw Paris" by Dick Jurgens (1940)
"Dear Mr. S..." (parts 3-4) by Quentin Reynolds (1940)
sound "Dear Mr. S..." (parts 3-4) by Quentin Reynolds (1940)
"Stop The War (The Cats Are Killing Themselves) by Wingie Manone (1941)
sound "Stop The War (The Cats Are Killing Themselves) by Wingie Manone (1941)
"'41 Blues" by Peter Cleighton (Dr. Clayton) (1941)
sound "'41 Blues" by Peter Cleighton (Dr. Clayton) (1941)
"War Time Blues" by Jazz Gillum (1941)
sound "War Time Blues" by Jazz Gillum (1941)
As the war in Europe progressed, American artists began to write songs expressing their opinions about the war. Wingie Manone noted the efficiency of the new war weapons in his song, "Stop The War (The Cats Are Killing Themselves)". Peter Cleighton, otherwsie known as Dr. Clayton, had an idea on how to end the war quickly. His fantasy of sneaking into Hitler's bedroom in order to slit the dictator's throat with a razor vocalized what a growing number of Americans were saying by 1941. Jazz Gillum also recorded a version of the song at about the same time but with the title, "War Time Blues".
In the closing days before the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's involvement in World War II, two songs struck such a melancholy chord that they were recorded by numerous artists, both in American and abroad. One was a nostalgic yearn for a return to things as they were in England before the war began, "The White Cliffs of Dover." Almost a year later, after America was in the war, the song topped the charts.
Sheet Music: "The White Cliffs of Dover" (1941)
Sheet Music: "The White Cliffs of Dover" (1941)
"The White Cliffs of Dover" by Vera Lynn (1941)
sound "The White Cliffs of Dover" by Vera Lynn (1941)
"The White Cliffs of Dover" by Tommy Tucker Time (1941)
sound "The White Cliffs of Dover" by Tommy Tucker Time (1941)
"The White Cliffs of Dover" by Kate Smith (1941)
sound "The White Cliffs of Dover" by Kate Smith (1941)
"The White Cliffs of Dover"
sound "The White Cliffs of Dover" by Glenn Miller (1941)
"The White Cliffs of Dover"
sound "The White Cliffs of Dover" by Jimmy Dorsey (1941)
"The White Cliffs of Dover" by Kay Kyser (1941)
sound "The White Cliffs of Dover" by Kay Kyser (1941)
"The White Cliffs of Dover" by Louis Prima (1941)
sound "The White Cliffs of Dover" by Louis Prima (1941)
The other song was the ironic "I Don't Want To Set The World on Fire." Perhaps tinged by the horror of war, the narrator vows to have given up all ambition for worldly acclaim. Instead, he says, "Believe me! I don't want to set the world on fire. I just want to start a flame in your heart." After Pearl Harbor, such simple romantic notions would have to wait at least another four years.
"I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by Tommy Tucker Time (1941)
sound I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by Tommy Tucker Time (1941)

"I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by Vincent Lopez (1941)
sound "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by Vincent Lopez (1941)
"I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by Horace Heidt (1941)
sound "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by Horace Heidt (1941)
"I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by Dick Todd (1941)
sound "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by Dick Todd (1941)
"I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by The Ink Spots (1941)
sound "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by The Ink Spots (1941)
| top |
Creative Commons License
 
curve
curve
curve
Last modified July 21, 2012