A World War One Playlist: Downhearted Yet?

Written by | March 17, 2012 0:08 | No Comments

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In the UK, there may have been no way to write songs about WWI -the amount of death was mindboggling and the poets at the time, the Wilfred Ownes, couldn't translate to song.

The folk songs of the day are wearying and the the pop songs are bizarre mixes of promises and lies. The dead and deadly wounded were being shipped home and the army were coming to a town near you and just plucking out the men of the town and shipping them off. Those not gullible enough to believe the recruitment concerts.

As odd as it might sound, there is a caustic edge to these songs. They feel satiric.

1. Oh, It's A Lovely War – "We never get up till our Sergeant brings our breakfast up to bed?" By making a light of the horrors awaiting the men conscripted, it is the sound of a brass band puncturing a series of self-evidently false claims about the pleasure of WWI. "It's a shame to take the pay", they claim. This is deflection and brain washing, the more you think it, the easier it becomes to ignore the truth. 1915 and perfect.

2. It's A Long Way To Tipparary – This isn't about the war, it's about a man leaving London to find his true love in Ireland. But since it is a travelling song and written just in time for WWI

3. Are We Downhearted Yet? – Well, yes, but on this answer song to Tipperary the War is clearly up ahead. The singer is still suffering from a Victorian hangover, and Brittania rules the waves.

4. Now You've Got the Khaki On – Propaganda? You betcha. This is modern pop circa 1915, John is gonna get an extra cuddle because she finds him more sexually attractive, "I didn't like you much before you joined the army, John…"

5. Pack Up Your Troubles – This song jumped through the mists of time: "What's the use of worrying? It never was worth while…" is a catechism that will last till we all go. Of course, if YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD PROBLEMS BEFORE, just wait till you get gassed in a trench. Now that's worth worrying about. It is so plainly a lie, that your troubles will end if you join the army. Unless you're idea of ending worries is dying.

6. Good-Bye-EE – A series of perfect rhymes, half rhymes, nonsense rhymes, syllabels. A relation to rap. A flat out masterpiece.

7. Keep The Home Fires Burning – Not a generation removed from the 19th century and singers stil sounded like they'd stumbled out of a Gilbert And Sullivan

8. Your King And Country Want You – Still in the 19th Century, "to play your part in war?" Remember, the men had to choice. It wasn't whether, it was when. "We don't want to lose you but we think you ought to go…" All the powers of advertising being landed on these poor bastards heads.

9. If You Were The Only Girl In The World – A pure pop dream of escaping from the living hell.

10. Have You Heard The News Of My Boy, Jack – The Kipling song of worry and hope translated into an operetta.

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