OVER HERE AND OVER THERE - SONGS OF THE GREAT WAR presents some of the most memorable and moving songs of World War I

In 2008, I met with Tracy Baetz, executive director of The Brick Store Museum in my home town of Kennebunk, Maine. We were trying to come up with a theme for a collaboration when Tracy mentioned the museum had a large collection of original posters from World War I. I was intrigued, since I knew a lot of songs from the era and had always been very moved by the trauma of the conflict. From that meeting came Over Here and “Over There!” Songs and Images of the Great War. Using slides and the actual posters to illustrate my songs, and the historical facts of the war, we created a program that was presented for Veterans Day of 2008 and Memorial Day of 2009. I was very proud of the results. Although the subject is far from pleasant, the songs are wonderful and compelling. I hope you enjoy them.

Over There

Words & music by George M. Cohan - 1917

Cohan was one of the giants of the American musical theater and a very patriotic fellow. Among his other hits were "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Yankee Doodle Boy," and "Give My Regards to Broadway." This rousing salute to the troops beautifully reflects the can-do attitude of the Doughboys. However, the last chorus reveals the macabre realities reflected in soldiers' renditions of the song, after having seen what trench warfare was actually like.

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Keep the Home Fires Burning

Words by Lena Ford, Music by Ivor Novello - 1914

An English song of the early war days, obviously more geared to the home front than the trenches. The song was immensely popular. Through its sentimental lyric, it gave the folks at home a rationale for sending their boys off to the front, with its evocation of the noble response to the "sacred call of friend," in this case, Belgium.

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The Hand that Holds the Bread

Words & music by George F. Root; 1874

It's difficult to overestimate the importance of America's farms to the Allies in Europe. While the fields of France were covered with trenches, America's prairie lands were producing grain in huge quantities. This was the era when the Great Plains was being plowed as never before, and because the weather was favorable the farms looked like they couldn't fail. After the war, the government would encourage more plowing, the banks would encourage more borrowing, and the climate would re-assert itself, eventually leading to the tragedy of the Dust Bowl. This song comes from an earlier era, when the Grange movement was uniting farmers against the monopoly of the railroads and suppliers in the East. It is very appropriate for the contribution of the farms in the Great War.

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The Farmer is the Man

From the Grange movement, circa 1870s

Also from the Grange songbooks, "The Farmer is the Man" has long been a favorite of mine, and again speaks to the contributions of American farms. There is a timelessness to these songs, since the cycles of boom and bust have a habit of repeating themselves.

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The Future America

Words by H.C. Dodge to traditional tune; circa 1890

A complaint against the power of wealth, I included this song mainly to remind us all that acid sarcasm is not exclusive to our own times.

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Pack Up Your Troubles notes & lyrics

Words by George Powell; music by Felix Powell; 1915

The chorus is well-known, and for good reason. I actually do not much care for the lyric to this song, except in its ability to show the absolute callousness of arm-chair warriors. There is something about the gung-ho attitude of good old Private Perks that tends to curdle the blood. The chorus is quintessential World War I, though, and was sung by the troops, I'm sure with plenty of irony.

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Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning

Words and music by Irving Berlin; 1918

Irving Berlin is, perhaps, the greatest of great American songwriters in his longevity, diversity and popularity. A Jewish boy from the lower East Side, he wrote "Easter Parade," "White Christmas," and "God Bless America." This song was written for a review called "Yip, Yip, Yaphank," while Berlin was a soldier in training in Yaphank, New York. It was very popular during the Second World War as well.

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I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier

Words by Alfred Bryan; music by Al Paintadosi; 1914

In the years leading up to 1917, America was strongly isolationist. We wanted no part of the European conflagration, and Woodrow Wilson was elected to a second term in 1916 on a platform of: "He kept us out of war." At the same time, women in America were agitating for the right to vote, and didn't want the country distracted from their cause. Women demonstrated in front of the White House all during our involvement in the Great War, and lost a lot of support for doing so. Written by two men, this song has become a women's and a peace anthem still popular today.

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Hangin' on the Old Barbed Wire

Written by troops to a traditional tune

No song that I know expresses the bitterness of troops who were ordered "over the top," only to die by the millions, better than this one. Only those who had experience of the front could have written it. I first heard this song in the film "Oh, What a Lovely War," which used the soldiers' songs to tell the story of the conflict, to devastating effect.

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How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm? (After They've Seen Paree)

Words by Sam Lewis & Joe Young; music by Walter Donaldson; 1919

Old Reuben may be a hick, but he knows a thing or two about boys who've seen the world. This song was very popular and was performed by many bands, including the "Harlem Hellfighters," the fighting musical unit led by James Reese Europe. After fighting in France with the French army, (since the segregated American army would not allow them to serve as a fighting unit), they returned as heroes and had a parade up Fifth Avenue to Harlem, the only victory parade to do so. The song is lots of fun, but quite poignant when one thinks of the men in Europe's unit.

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