UKULELE MUSING 2020: No. 42, 3 October 2020: Musical Memories and Romance in the Air, “Aeroplanes” in Song

I started making model airplanes—balsa wood, tissue paper, rubber band powered—when I was in the third grade.  Razor blades, tubes of airplane glue, jars of “dope,” Comet Kits–all from the local dimestore (kits for 10, 25, 50 cents apiece according to wingspan, or OMG, the ultimate, a whole dollar!). 

Despite messes around my bedroom worktable, cut fingers and clothing ruined with glue drips, the final products—hanging from a ceiling string or trashed in a backyard crash—were all memorable parts of my growing up. Building things, reading plans–maybe that’s why I became an architect!   

My favorite models were what I called “double wingers” and I still wax nostalgic when I see, on rare occasions, a biplane buzzing overhead.  Open cockpit, spinning propeller, one wing above and another below—those were REAL airplanes! Or, as they were called in the early days, “aeroplanes.” 

So much for youthful reminiscences! Now, back down to the ground with our musical musing of the week!

Airplanes, aeroplanes, airships, aviation, and aviators—aviatrixes too—have featured in imagination (even here in our Happy Valley) . . .

. . . as well as music since the early 1900s and fanciful depictions of aircraft have appeared on sheet music covers since then. 

Let’s get in the “aeroplane mood” by listening to a ragtime piano version of this tune from the early 1900s. Tap or click on the next image or link to play and hear this one.

Needless to say, the romance of flight captured the attention (if not the technical understanding) of Tin Pan Alley and the result is a great number of “aeroplane tunes,” using the spelling of the day.

Some of the aeroplanes on the covers were rendered fairly accurately.

Others were decidedly not! Imagination took flight, so to speak.

Here’s a jazz band version of this blues tune with folks cavorting high in the air on a rather wobbly surface. Click or tap on the next image/link to dance along with this one–sans contorted wings, of course!

And, some aeroplane covers were imaginatively weird!

The adventure of flying and traveling by air–“fixed wing” or “lighter-than-air”–was a popular musical theme.

Here’s another hapa haoli take on air travel to that exotic destination–Hawaii! Click or tap on the next image or link to join the adventure!

There was also a plethora of patriotic aviation-themed songs, particularly during the World War I era.

How about a ukulele version of this patriotic tune? Tap or click on the next image or link to hear and see some really nice fingerpicking of this oldie!

I can’t seem to stay away from a ragtime song, particularly one from BRUCEville! Click or tap on the next image or link for a ragtime version of this 1918 song.

And, of course, there was romance high up in the sky! What, no autopilot?

I just couldn’t pass up one more ragtime piano take, and on an aeroplane tune too! Click or tap on the next image or link to follow the music on this oldie.

Click or tap on the next image/link for a listen to this one. This time with lyrics.

Now here’s a novelty song from the 1920s that warns a young lady that she might have difficulty thwarting the advances of an ardent suitor while in an aeroplane. Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to the warning!

And, of course, this is probably the one aeroplane song that most of us have heard a few hundred times over the years.

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear the original 1910 recording of this flying chestnut! The period graphics are a real treat.

Above all, “aeroplane” and aviation songs—like the automobile songs that soon outnumbered them—are part of our musical history.  Enjoy looking back.  But, don’t look down!   

Now, we mustn’t forget about those ukuleles that were part of the whole aeroplane and aviation thing. Here are a few from my collection.

So, it looks like it will be a few more months–or even next year or so–when we can hop into an aeroplane (more likely a plain old airplane) and get back to the traveling and visiting that we all enjoy.

Meanwhile, stay safe, stay socially distanced, stay masked . . .

. . . and STAY TUNED!

By the way, how many of you remember this one? Click or tap on the next image/link to reminisce. Don’t forget your goggles!

Do you still have your membership badge?

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton, Mass.

Hi Fellow Strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. These are my personal thoughts, not those of any group or sponsor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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