UKULELE MUSINGS 202I, No. 3–16 January 2021: A Counterpoint To Waaaay Too Much News!

For those of you who—like Alison and me—are glued to the news these days, it seems that everything is being split into EXTREMES!  There is right/left, red/blue, old/new, whew/whew . . .

An upshot of all this is that I keep returning to another musical earworm of mine, one that pulls extremes together but into a harmonious whole.  The song that keeps sticking in my mind is simplicity itself but, nonetheless, complex—“Play a Simple Melody” by the great Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriter Irving Berlin.   What could be simpler than that?  Old Time/Ragtime? Hmmm  . . .

Play a Simple Melody” is a song from the 1914 Broadway musical “Watch Your Step,” with all the songs and music written by Berlin himself. 

The show was the first stage musical he wrote and the production was conceived primarily to show off the fancy footwork of the famed ballroom dancers Irene and Vernon Castle, as well as Berlin’s songs. 

The one non-dancing number from “Watch Your Step” that is well-remembered today is our song, “Play a Simple Melody.

This song is one of musical extremes—called by musicians “counterpoint.”  While often used in opera, our song was one of the earliest examples found in American popular music.  Unlike in a “round” that uses the same lyrics and melody offset and overlapping, counterpoint uses a first melody played against a different melody, each with independent lyrics.  Berlin was a master of these so-called “double songs” and several of his are written this way. For those of you who are musically curious, here’s a look at the original sheet music.

After an intro “verse” to set the scene, the “simple melody” plays alone. Then comes the contrasting melody and lyrics.

Finally, the two play together, both within the same key and chord progression!

The lyrics of “Play a Simple Melody” also track  a counterpoint duet in that one singer yearns for the music which “mother” sang (the style of a bygone generation), but the other singer disdains such classic fare as lacking interest and rhythm.  That is to say, “It ain’t ragtime!”

The score’s roadmap is a bit tricky to follow, but you’ll catch on once you listen to the YouTube. 

Here’s a recording of our song made way back in 1916.  Most subsequent recordings skip the intro verse but it’s worth a listen.  Tap or click on the next image or link to listen to this scratchy but original one.

And, of course, here is one out of a couple of dozen offerings on YouTube with a ukulele accompaniment, and some tricky computer imagery.  Click or tap on the next image or link for this one—not in either our Blue or Yellow books, however, but often a “show stopper” when performed.

Moving on, here are a couple of other “counterpoint songs” just for fun—another by Berlin and then one by Meredith Willson from “The Music Man.” 

Tap or click on the next image or link for a 21st Century, Washington, DC, take on Berlin’s song “Old Fashioned Wedding” from his 1946 musical “Annie Get Your Gun.” (As an aside, I remember hearing these guys performing at the Obama, not the Trump, inauguration festivities! Counterpoint? You betcha!)

And here’s what has evolved into a barbershop standard, “Lida Rose” from the 1956 musical “The Music Man.”

Click or tap on the next image or link to peek at a computer enhanced “quartet” with soprano version of this one.

So, in these hectic and newsy days, let’s think “counterpoint” rather than “conflict.”  Needless to say, gentle readers, it’s much prettier that way!

Now, to wind (tune?) things up this week, let’s go back to our original song and listen to a 1990s recording of “Play a Simple Melody” sung by Jean Stapleton, with the Muppets, and—oh, yes—a ukulele (sorta) accompaniment.  Click or tap on the next image or link to chuckle along with this one!

So, as we all move along to the next week of “news to be glued to,” let’s all stay safely away from capitol buildings (not ukulele stuff) . . .

. . . stay sequestered (away from Washington, DC) . . .

. . . stay masked  .  .  .

.  .  .  and STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2021, No. 2–8 January 2021: Georgia On Our Minds

Closing out last year’s series of musings, I thought about taking a swing through the USA to see what the various states had to offer in the way of songs that would pique my rather benignly eccentric taste in music. 

So, I started to think about some of the states of the “Old South” as a jumping off point .

Needless to say, there is a plethora of songs that have emerged from that part of the country. Some, of course, originated there; most, however, conceived by our friends in Tin Pan Alley. Go figure!

Anyway, doing a song search through the southern states brings up dozens if not hundreds of songs. These range from reminiscences of the sweet old days of yore . . .

. . . to remembrances of sweethearts (or liaisons) past, present, and future. 

But, gentle readers, we do have a bit of a problem here.  Sadly, much of the sheet music of those days incorporated a lot of inferences and illustrations that today can only be politely described as “politically incorrect.” Some are actually “politically cringeworthy.” Pretty, but . . .

Alas, such were the songs that many of the sheet music or record buying–and parlor piano or ukulele playing–folks in those days found entertaining. 

Those were the days of racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural stereotypes readily accepted by too many and seen as hurtful by too few. In those days, folks laughed at them; in these days we learn from them—hopefully.

Many scholars of both history and music have written well researched and profusely illustrated articles and books on the subject.  All you have to do is Google, or head to the library (whenever it may open again!) to study this at your leisure.  Suffice it to say, we’re not going over to the unsunny side of the street in these little weekly musings.  After all, it’s 2021, not 1921!

Moving on . . .

As a politically in-the-news state, particularly in the past few weeks, I thought we might start our little tour of the South with a peek at Georgia.  Why not?

Probably the biggest category of early songs with “Georgia” in the title tell about folks who left the state—for whatever reason—and feel the urge to head back “home.”  And then there are folks nostalgic about those pretty girls named “Georgia.” Perhaps a bit of both!

Songwriters also had a bit of a josh with the state. Here’s a song that’s kind of fun.

Click or tap on the next image or link for a listen to this early recording by the popular singing Boswell Sisters from 1932:

And another. Why not?

Click or tap on the next image or link for this peachy song about the Peach State, with tenor banjos if not ukuleles:

Now let’s take a look and listen to one of the greatest of all Georgia songs, the one appropriately titled: “Georgia On My Mind.”  

This is a song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell (both from Indiana!) and first recorded in 1930. 

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear the 1930 recording by Carmichael with Bix Beiderbecke on trumpet.

Here’s another take from the 1930s, this time from the distaff side. Click or tap on the next image or link to hear a rendition of our song by Billie Holiday.

Needless to say, this song has found a home in Georgia and the 1960 Ray Charles (born in Georgia!) version has been designated as the official state song.

For a fun mix of performers of our song, here is Ray Charles and Willie Nelson making rather free with Carmichael’s original melody. Click or tap on the next image or link for a vocal.

And, of course, we have to have a ukulele version of what has become a jazz standard. The song is in our yellow book but here is a fingerstyle version by Canadian ukulele great James Hill. Tap or click on the next image or link for this one:

Most of the recent recordings of “Georgia on My Mind” tend to leave out the intro verse. Here it is for those of you would like a bit more lyrical context, and, perhaps, to join Hoagy at his bronze piano.

Melodies bring memories
That linger in my heart
Make me think of Georgia
Why did we ever part?
Some sweet day when blossoms fall
And all the world’s a song
I’ll go back to Georgia
‘Cause that’s where I belong.” Georgia, Georgia . . .

So, as we move along through the next couple of politically disconcerting weeks, it won’t hurt to keep Georgia on our minds!

Stay safe, stay sequestered, stay glued to the news, stay masked, . . .

. . . and STAY TUNED!

Even Georgia is not the way it was and, in the words of another song, “The Times They Are A’Changin.”


UKULELE MUSINGS 2021, No. 1, 1 January 2021: “High Hopes” for the Coming Days, Weeks, Months, and Year

Well, here it is: New Years Day 2021!  With all the nasty viruses floating around, and all the political squabbles taking place, it’s a disconcerting calendric transition.  And, with the incessant facts, alternate facts, and polarized opinions being bandied about, I keep searching for something positive on which to begin a new annual (my 6th year!) volume of musical musings. 

Alas, the raising of the globe on New Years Eve here in Northampton and the accompanying festivities were only memories this year. Wait until next year! Really stay tuned for First Night 2022 you AEIOUkers!

Hence, a 2021 New Years Day focus on “Hope.”  And, needless to say, gentle readers, another earworm begins to squirm in my head—the mid-century, Academy Award winning, kinda nonsense song “High Hopes.”

 Our song was first popularized by Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and child actor Eddie Hodges (1947-) in the 1959 movie “A Hole in the Head.”

Our song was written by James Van Heusen (1913-1990) with lyrics by Sammy Cahn.  Those two teamed up on dozens of songs for Broadway and Hollywood musicals including two other Academy Award winners: “All the Way,” and “Call me Irresponsible.” The team also wrote “The Second Time Around,” and “My Kind of Town,” both of which were gold records for Sinatra.

High Hopes” stretches the imagination by describing two scenarios where animals do seemingly impossible acts.

First, an ant moves a rubber tree plant all by himself, then a ram single-handedly puts a hole in a “billion-kilowatt dam.”  

The goals of these animals are described in the chorus as “high, apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes” although, as the song implies, they ultimately accomplish them! 

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear and see the film sequence of Sinatra and Hodges with this one. 

I hope we’re going to see as the ultimate accomplishment of our hopes this New Year!  As our song finishes by comparing problems to toy balloons, the problems have gone away when the balloons are popped–“Oops, there goes another problem, ker-plop.”

If only life were so simple!  Maybe we just need more balloons—or pins!

What makes this song a bit more interesting in todays political climate is the version that Sinatra recorded for the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign.  Click or tap on the next image or link to peek in on this tune from the first presidential election I was old enough to vote in.  Remember, in those days you had to be 21 to vote (or buy a beer)!

And, of course, we need a ukulele version of our song which has become a favorite for children of all ages, and found in our blue book.  

 Click or tap on the next image or link for a very nice fingerstyle version of our song. 

As one of those quirky musical asides, one of the more obscure film treatments of “High Hopes,” including an ever so slight nod to Sinatra, is in this great entrance scene.  Click or tap on the next image or link to try to make out what the rabid fans are singing to honor their hometown boy!

Now, it should be noted that there are a couple of new tunes out there that go by the same title as our “High Hopes.”  That’s OK.  Life goes on!  I’ll show my age, however, and stick with the mid-century original!

So, as we all lurch into the new year, I have high hopes that we will stay safe, stay sequestered, stay masked  .  .  .

.  .  . and STAY TUNED!

Oh yes.  Be careful with your rubber trees!

UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 54, 26 December 2020: Administrative Transitions in Music, Sorta . . .

Hi Fellow Strummers.  This is the last musical musing of mine for the miserable year of 2020.  Whew!

Here’s hoping that you and yours and us and ours have a much, much better year in 2021! Fingers crossed—except when moving through a few of those pesky chord fingerings.

Sadly, there will be no First Night AEIOUkes performance this year as we will all be in lockdown for this used-to-be gala holiday event. 

Again, here’s to a much better 2021, and to First Night 2022! Stay TUNED!

So, how do I end this year’s volume of over fifty weekly blog musings?  Well, my plan for 2021 is to do a musical journey around the country, ukulele style—and maybe the world while I’m at it. 

I’ll be musing about some songs from most of the fifty states–spiced up with a bit of international musical travel.  I did the same thing for the New England states (Musing No. 43) a few weeks ago and a lot of you gentle readers and fellow strummers found it to be fun.  So, let’s keep moving on with one per week (more or less) while my aging energy lasts and my youthful muse continues prodding. 

We’ll see how far we can travel as “administrative changes” are made.

Anyway, gentle readers, why not end this year with music about a faraway place—a song fairly off the wall as one might say but, in my humble opinion, a bit of needed mind diversion.  I’m all for anything that will give ourselves a different earworm and get our minds off the next month or so between now and Inauguration Day. 

Here we go with a song about—shall we say—an “administrative change!

The song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” was written with catchy lyrics in 1953 by Jimmy Kennedy and set to 1920s-vibe music by Nat Simon.  I warned you that it was somewhat “off-the-wall.”

What makes this an important reminder of the not-so-orderly process of “administrative change” is that the song takes its theme from the fall of the Byzantine Empire’s capital city, Constantinople, when it was conquered after a siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. 

As would be expected of the winners, they promptly erased the Christian name of “Constantinople” renaming it in Turkish as “Istanbul.”  Our song commemorates, in a way, the 500th anniversary of this bit of nasty world history.  What better reminder of 1400s geo-political change than a 1950s novelty song! Go figure.

Anyway, Here’s our song with all the lyrical and rhythmical nuances of “Middle Eastern Swing” as performed, through the magic of the computer, by an acapella barbershop “quartet.” Click or tap on the next image or link for a history lesson—of sorts.

And, of course, we have a fun ukulele version of our song.  Click or tap on the next image or link to give a listen to some nice strumming on this one–never mind the Tarboosh (Fez) or the fake beard.

Now, to complement the Middle Eastern theme, here are a couple of ukuleles from my collection that would be quite at home in Istanbul, or Constantinople for that matter.  The first (lower half of pic) is a bowlback baritone “Baroqulele” set up with standard DGBE tuning.  The tone is really quite nice and mellow.  The trick is to keep it from rolling over as you strum—the hazards of a bowlback and my large belly!  

The second (upper half of pic) is a bowlback soprano “Baroqulele” tuned G-CC-EE-A—six strings in four courses.  The fingering is just like a regular ukulele, but the sound is much richer—once you get all six strings in tune using the wood pegs in the turned-back peg board. Needless to say a tad tricky!  Notice also that the frets are traditional “tied-on and dried gut,” not modern fretwire, a nice touch of authenticity.

Tap or click on the next image or link to listen to someone who really knows how to play one of these things!

A traditional Turkish ukulele-like instrument is the “Cumbus” which is a lot like a combination banjolele and resonator uke, sort of a flat metal can with a fingerboard attached. Alas, not in my collection. Yet. 

Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to what one of these things sounds like.

Now we can dive back a bit further in musical history for another appropriate tune–C-O-N-S-T-A-N-T-I-N-O-P-L-E–that some say was the inspiration for our song.  Yes, the hyphens are part of the title.  This 1928 foxtrot doesn’t have much to do with history but here it is anyway.  Click or tap on the next image for a recording by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra with some interesting period pics.   

As long as we’re having fun with our song, let’s end this musing with a Charleston version! Click or tap on the next image or link for a toe-tapping, leg kicking treat. Watch out for the loose Tarboosh!

Well, this musing doesn’t have much to do with either the presidential transition or the calendric transition from 2020 to 2021.   Who will write a song about THESE days 500 years from now?  At least there will be ukuleles! We’ll see . . .

So, stay safe, stay sequestered, stay masked  . . .

. . .  stay out of tiffs between the Byzantines and the Ottomans,

.  .  .  and STAY TUNED.

See you all as we strum our way into next Year!   

UKULELE MUSING 2020–19 December 2020, No. 53: “Some Old, Old Santa Songs for Today”

When I was quite young—way, way back in the early 1940s—I was more aware of Santa Claus than the Nativity around this time of year.  Hey!  I was only three or four years old.  Anyway, these days when I open up the big red storage box in the cellar marked “Christmas,” I reach for and unwrap “my Santa” first. 

This is a papier mache figure of the rotund gent himself that my mother bought in our local dime store back in 1942.  It’s been in my family ever since and the first bit of holiday décor I set out each year.  Ah, tradition!

As to music from those early days, I remember in grade school (public not parochial) my class singing traditional holiday songs and carols around our classroom Christmas tree just before lunch hour.  There was also the excitement of drawing names for our annual class gift exchange—a twenty-five cent limit!

In Junior High we would have the annual Christmas pageant with boys in bathrobes and dish towels tied to their heads as “shepherds” and “kings” and girls in white dresses with shiny wings and halos. 

The best singer did the “angel solo” and it didn’t matter to anyone that she was Jewish.  For that matter, so was Jesus.  Those were the days.

Anyway, a couple of my favorite songs from those early days were the really old ones: “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “Up on the House Top”—needless to say, Santa Claus oriented!  And there is one more of my childhood favorites, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” this time from the 1930s

There are differences of opinion about the origins of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” Suffice it to say that it was first published as a poem in the 1860s and subsequently set to music.  It was first published as a song in 1874 in “School Chimes, A New School Music Book” intended for use in grade schools.

Tap or click on the next image or link to give a listen to this jolly oldie with some great guitar picking by Chet Atkins.

Now that you are up to speed on the lyrics, tap or click on the next image or link for a really nice, simple ukulele tutorial for those of you yearning to play this one in chord melody.  Very pretty!

The song “Up on the House Top” has similar roots.  In fact, it is considered as the second oldest secular Christmas song after “Jingle Bells” and the first holiday song to feature Santa Claus!  Who knew? 

It was considered at the time a “follow-up” to the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas.” 

The song was first published in 1857 in the magazine “Our Song Birds.”   

 These two songs show up on just about every popular Christmas album of the last century.  Here is a rendition with the original lyrics.  Tap or click on the next image or link to hear this one with some nice old-time banjo accompaniment.

And, of course, we need a good ukulele solo here!  Click or tap on the next image or link for a listen.

 Moving on to something a bit more modern, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” was first recorded in 1934 by banjoist Harry Reser and his band. No Santa suit here but Reser did dress one of his band in Eskimo costumes. Close enough! 

This song became an instant hit with more than 30,000 records sold within twenty-four hours, to say nothing of a half million copies of sheet music.  Not bad for a simple Santa ditty!

Tap or click on the next image or link to hear Reser and his band with Eddie Cantor doing the vocals—some nice scenes of Christmas past also!

And, of course we have an instrumental version.  Click or tap on the next image or link to hear a delightful mandolin/banjolele version.

So, despite our sequestration, distancing, and absent friends and family, take heart. 

We can still dwell in simpler, safer times when thoughts of Santa’s visit, and visions of songs and sugar plums, danced in our young, young heads. 

Yes gentle readers, Santa is still out there. He may not be able to come into our homes this year, but–no matter what we call it or how we celebrate–the spirit of the season will be in our hearts.

And, of course, don’t forget an appropriately decorated ukulele or two!

So, stay safe, stay warm, stay festive, stay masked  .  .  .

And STAY TUNED! Are those sleigh bells I’m hearing?

Note: I don’t usually add a personal photo to these musing but, as we are getting to the end of this year’s fifty-three weekly postings (whew!), I’m compelled to close with one from a couple of years ago. 

And, remember, some sort of Santa is within us no matter what our age!

UKULELE MUSING 2020–12 December 2020, No. 52: A Melancholy “White Christmas”

Alas, I am of an age and circumstances that thoughts of seasonal snowfalls revolve more about the punctuality and skill of our “plow guy” than the transformative beauty—and holiday spirit—of the winter landscape.     

But, gentle readers, I digress  .  .  . So, back to the theme of my musing!  

During the early and middle years of the last century, music of the holiday season was in the form of traditional Christmas carols or what could best be called secular “jolly Santa or St. Nick” tunes. 

But, during the early World War II days, with so many families with members in the military, a sense of longing for “home for the holidays” took hold. 

Last week’s musing (N0. 51) touched on one of these songs, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”   But that was only the B-side of the recording that became the granddaddy of all holiday songs—“White Christmas.”

White Christmas” is an Irving Berlin song with lyrics reminiscing about the memories of an old-fashioned, traditional Christmas setting. 

The first recording was by Bing Crosby and released early in the war years—1942.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it was, and still is, the world’s best-selling song with estimated sales of over 50 million records worldwide!   Tap or click on the next image or link to hear Crosby’s original, unvarnished version of the song.

It was only when Armed Forces Radio began to play the song that American troops, in their first winter overseas, found its images of Christmas on the home front so appealing.   

White Christmas” spoke to the longing, nostalgia, and homesickness of the troops for home and for the sweethearts and wives and mothers and fathers they’d left behind. And, I’m sure, ukuleles!

 It was the enthusiasm and dreams of these GIs who were actually deployed at sea or on snowless islands that propelled the song and made it a hit.

Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song.   In fact, a lot of folks at the time believed that he was back in the Army  .  .  .

.  .  .  and himself deployed on some tropical battlefront longing to be back home in the relative comfort and safety of New York’s Tin Pan Alley. 

In fact, most song historians tell us that he wrote it (actually polished up an old tune from his vast file) in 1940, in warm La Quinta, California, while staying in one of those posh, palm treed hotels fancied by the Hollywood elite. The seldom sung intro to the song reflects this–alas, nowhere on YouTube!

At least it shows up in the sheet music. And with ukulele chords!

The story goes that, after staying up all night composing, he sensed that he had a good thing going and told his secretary, “I want you to take down a song I wrote over the weekend. Not only is it the best song I ever wrote, it’s the best song anybody ever wrote!” Who can argue with that?   

It has often been noted that the mix of Christmas melancholy—”just like the ones I used to know”—with comforting images of home—”where the treetops glisten”—resonated especially strongly with listeners during World War II. 

The song established that there could be commercially successful secular Christmas songs—in this case, written by a Jewish-American songwriter who, not so incidentally, was the composer of “Easter Parade” and “God Bless America.”  

It turns out, the song has a sad back story too.  Berlin’s three-week-old son had died on Christmas day in 1928, so every year on December 25, he and his wife visited their baby’s grave.   However, Berlin thought of Christmas as more of an American holiday than a religious celebration and is known for having a family Christmas tree and gift giving in his home. And, we have the gift of his song.       

In 1942, our song was featured in the film called “Holiday Inn” and cemented its popularity here in the US.

The movie brought together Crosby and Fred Astaire along with Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale.  The song “White Christmas” won the Academy Award for best original song that year. Click or tap on the next image or link to see the film version of our song. 

Our song was was reprised in the 1954 film, also starring Crosby, unsurprisingly titled “White Christmas.”

Now, if you don’t have an earworm already, click or tap on the next image or link to see the costumed and choreographed (a bit over the top?) 1950s version.

Although Crosby dismissed his role in the song’s success, bantering later that “a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully,” he was associated with it for the rest of his career.  Just go to any shopping mall this season and I’m sure you’ll hear his crooning once or twice or, probably, more!

Although you won’t find “White Christmas” in either our Blue or Yellow books, or in either of “Jumpin’ Jim’s” holiday songbooks, there are dozens of tutorials on YouTube. I’ll go with a couple of ukulele versions of our song that are too good to pass up. Click or tap on the next two images or links to hear something that, probably, only we strummers will appreciate!

Also, we have a few ukuleles that reflect the mood of a white Christmas even though we would need to dig out our fingerless gloves,and have a sip or two of “Black Jack,” to get into the strum of things!

So, as we head toward the Winter Solstice, be on the lookout for the inevitable white stuff, seal the contract with your plow guy, stay warm, stay safe, stay (sadly) distanced, stay masked . . .

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas Face Mask | Bobotemp

. . . and STAY TUNED!

Oh, yes. Forget politics for a bit and think snow!

UKULELE MUSING 2020–5 December 2020, No. 51: A Child’s Memory of Pearl Harbor Day–A long, long time ago.

I was just about three years old lying down, probably dozing or daydreaming, in the backseat (no such thing as seatbelts!) of my parents 1940 Mercury. 

It was a Sunday morning in early December, and we were on the way to visit and have lunch with my grandparents in a nearby town.  We were listening to the car radio (AM of course), probably my father’s favorite swing music station, when the music stopped and words began. 

Loudly.  In a few seconds, my father braked the car and quickly turned around in the first driveway we came to and we raced back home.  I was vaguely aware of a change and a bit disappointed—no chicken and noodles with Grannie and Grampa that day.   Back to my nap.

I was too young to fully understand the whats and whys of that day.  My mother simply told me that we had to turn around and that my father, who was teaching in the Army ROTC program at the University of Illinois, had to go back to the school for “something special.” 

He, like all active service members on that day, had been ordered to “report to his unit”—immediately and in uniform. 

This is my pieced together, toddler’s memory of 7 December 1941—Pearl Harbor Day.

With that fuzzy but forever memory in my mind as we head toward the anniversary of that day next Monday, some of the songs of those early days of World War II began to earworm their way into my thoughts. 

As a child, I understood nothing of war.  But whatever war is was everywhere in my world at the time.  Nearly every man that I and my family knew was in uniform or in some way, shape, or form and—with the women—”doing their bit.”

And we children played soldier with every stick becoming a “gun,” every blanket a “pup tent,” and every sandbox a “foxhole.”

 

We kids knew all the popular “war songs” from the radio and, needless to say, many were written and recorded in those big-band days.  Here are some of the “earworms” I still hear today.

 This is the first real “rouser” of a song written in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.  This simple, 1942 version was recorded by the popular country and western singer Carson Robison.  Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to this early recording of “Remember Pearl Harbor.”

This song was recorded by many, but Robison’s is of special interest to we ukulele buffs.  Here’s a pic of his signature model in my collection. But I digress.

 A second song that every one of us kids knew was “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” a song inspired by a US Navy “fighting chaplain.” Click or tap on the next image or link to give a listen.

We kids also thrilled at the thought of airplanes and “fighting aces.”  Here’s a song we all knew and sang as we buzzed each other with our arms stretched out like wings–just like “Johnny Zero.” 

Click or tap on the next image or link to listen a lively version of this one.

And, with the season fast upon us, another song from those early World War II days is “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” 

Even as children we understood that this melancholy song told the story of a soldier overseas, like many of our friends and family, who longed to be home at Christmas time—if only in his dreams.  Click or tap on the next image for the 1943 Bing Crosby version of this one with some good photos.

On that note, gentle (and nearly all younger than me) readers, I hope to have transferred a few of my childhood earworms to your ears as we head into the 2020 version of a “bleak midwinter” still in sequestration.  So, stay warm, stay safe, stay masked,

and STAY TUNED!

Oh yes, my favorite ukulele in my collection from those days! 

And here’s one I would love to own—If I could find one! Made from an army mess kit, no less.

A MUSICAL MUSING, 18 November 2022: A Thanksgiving Tradition from our Happy Valley–“Over the River and Through the Wood”

As we head into a Thanksgiving Day celebration a bit more covid carefree than in the past few years, I’d like to muse on holiday things both historical and musical. So, rather than draft a gently droll posting extolling the wonders of turkey bone soup or Wild Turkey whiskey cocktails, I am motivated to simply harvest and tweak a posting that a lot of my gentle readers found interesting a couple of years ago. To be quite honest, I can’t think of a better way to think about Thanksgivings past (wonderful), present (blessed), and future (hopeful). So, here’s a bit about one of our most popular holiday songs, and one that has links to our “Happy Valley.” 

Let’s just call this the beginning of a new tradition. Now, where’s that bottle of Wild Turkey? But first, let’s move on to local lore . . .

A poem by Lydia Maria Child–a resident of the Northampton, Massachusetts, neighborhood of Florence– was originally published in 1844 as “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day” in a book of her poetry, “Flowers for Children.” 

 It celebrates the author’s childhood memories of visiting her grandfather’s house during the New England winter.  

We best know it today as the song: “Over the River and Through the Woods.”  

Child was a novelist, journalist, teacher, and poet who also wrote extensively about the need to eliminate slavery.   In 1833, she published her book “An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans.

It argued in favor of the immediate emancipation of American slaves without compensation to slaveholders. She is sometimes said to have been the first white woman to have written a book in support of this policy. She “surveyed slavery from a variety of angles—historical, political, economic, legal, and moral” to show that “emancipation was practicable and that Africans were intellectually equal to Europeans.” The book was the first anti-slavery work printed in America in book form.

She and her husband, David Lee Child–a journalist and lawyer–were ardent abolitionists

and became part of the flourishing abolitionist community in Northampton when she wrote and published the poem which was later set to a tune by an unknown composer.

The Childs were part of a dedicated abolitionist community in the city and chose the more agriculturally oriented neighborhod of Florence to establish a sugar beet farm and industry that they hoped would supplant the slavery-dependent sugar cane industry of the South.

Alas, this was an economic failure and the Childs moved back to Lydia’s former home of Wayland, Massachusetts, where he died in 1874, she in 1880.

On to our song. . . In the early 19th century, New England was enduring the so-called Little Ice Age—a colder era with earlier winters—and sleigh rides throughout November were common excursions. 

The original poem celebrated a visit to “grandFATHER’s” house, however, not “grandmother’s” so let’s remember this tidbit of local lore as we get together with our friends and family!    

Childs’s original poem was set to music and today, in a simplified form, has become a traditional Thanksgiving sing-a-long ritual that shows up in nearly every so-called Holiday Songbook—particularly those geared to children.  Today for some obscure reason it’s a “grandmothered” version . . .

. . . but it’s worthwhile to hear the original words with their more old-fashioned thoughts and phrases.  Ah, the sweet old days!

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image or link to learn much more about Childs and to listen the original poem as set to music.

As we muse upon the past, gentle readers, think ahead to many future holidays with friends and family and, perhaps, at grandmother’s AND/OR grandfather’s house!   Enjoy the song also, as a gift to those of us in our time from a woman who was ahead of her time.

Now, it never hurts to look at an updated take on a Thanksgiving theme just to prove that the tradition continues. Click or tap on the triangle in the next link or image for a family-oriented, old timey but new musical salute to Thanksgiving.

So, stay safe, stay well, and–above all–STAY TUNED! Oh yes, and enjoy a bit of both love and levity this holiday season with all the variety of family and friends in these “interesting times!”

And, alas . . .

UKULELE MUSING 2020–21 November 2020, No. 49: “Lonely Until We Meet Again With Absent (For a While) Friends”

As the election/transition hoopla continues, I am sure that many of us would like to settle our minds and begin—just begin—to focus on the end-of-the-year “festivities” heading our way. The next event is, of course, Thanksgiving Day. 

Alas for many of us, the lonely bubbles and pods we find ourselves sequestered in will preclude the cherished chance to be within hugging distance of faraway friends and family.

We’ll just have to share turkey and trimmings by Zoom, FaceBook, Skype, or that good old-fashioned device–the telephone! Alas, alone and, needless to say, lonesome. 

So, for this musing I’m going to, shall we say, “face the music” and focus on a few songs that touch on those nasty words of “lonely,” “alone,” “lonesome,” and others of their ilk.  I’ll end on an upbeat, however, with a couple of the great songs of being together again. Gotta do it! And, with an emphasis, gentle readers, on our favorite little musical instrument–the cheerful ukulele!

Moving on.

Pining for absent friends and family has long been a musical tradition in America with people and populations moving here, there, and everywhere.  We come from many places, move to many others, and long to return–if only for a little while. It’s no wonder, then, that the “lonely” theme–family, friends, lovers–has permeated music and song almost forever! Let’s look at some song titles from years past. There must be hundreds. Here are just a sadly appropriate few.

We almost always think “Elvis” when we hear this song but it goes way back in musical history–over ninety years ago.

Check out this early recording for a lonesome change of pace. Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to this non-Elvis oldie!

Moving along . . .

We can really get into some tearjerkers here. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is one of the most plaintive of Hank Williams’ songs written and recorded way, way before the days of pandemic sequestration.

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear Hank himself. You’ll need a hankie for this one!

To give equal time, here’s another “lonely” classic.

Tap or click on the next image or link, grab another hankie, and listen to Patsy Cline’s heartbreaking rendition from the 1950s!

As an aside–more in the line of “thinking about” rather than “lonely”– whenever I mix a cocktail (or mocktail) of an evening, I always add an extra drop or two of spirits to the glass for “absent friends.”  A bittersweet reminder to me of those far away. I digress, but it does let me insert another ukulele picture from my collection!  

Oh yes, my favorite banjolele whiskey decanter! 

Now, let’s move on to hopefully sunnier days when we can all be together again! Will it happen? How? When?

And, of course, optimism. WE WILL MEET AGAIN!

Wartime was always a time of seemingly endless partings and meetings and songs often touched on this melancholy chord. Wartime? Pandemic? The same sentiment sings to us today.

I mused about this next song a couple of years ago, mostly in the context of World War II music and how it became a sing-along standard in music halls and theaters in both the UK and US in those lonely days.   

The late Vera Lynn made this her signature song of hope throughout the war years but it has been covered by many, many folks in a lot of styles.  For a different take on this song, here’s a recording by the Ink Spots.  Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to their close harmonies.

This song is also in our Yellow Book and we should give it a try “some sunny day.” For musical inspiration, here’s a ukulele instrumental of this one. Click or tap on the next image for some really nice fingerpicking.

Here is one of the oldest “meet again” songs–originally from the World War I era–that has become a pop, jazz, and gospel standard.

Click or tap on the next image for more close harmony singing, gospel style!

So, enough thoughts of loneliness and absent friends. Let’s dwell on the thought of meeting again–while, of course, enjoying a sequestered Thanksgiving Day this year in anticipation of non-sequestered ones to come!

Stay safe . . .

stay masked . . .

Keep your sense of humor . . .

And STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020–14 November 2020, No. 48: “Making Changes While Bidin’ Our Time”

Well, at last the waiting is over and, according to most, we have a President Elect and a Vice-President Elect.  It’s about time the counting, suits, and counter suits are ended and we can all get back to work! 

Speaking of work, I’ve been racking my brain (and checking out my songbook collection)  .  .  . 

.  .  .  to come up with some aptly titled tunes to celebrate this historic event.  Stretching my imagination, here are a couple apropos songs plus another that is “sorta.”  First let’s take a look at that great old tune right there in our Blue Book, “There’ll be Some Changes Made!”

 While the song doesn’t exactly outline an administrative program for the next four years, and its message is more personal than political, the title says it all!

Changes” was composed by Benton Overstreet with lyrics by Billie Higgins.  First published in 1921, it has become a jazz standard.  In keeping with the revolutionary nature of the recent election with Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris being the first Black woman (to say nothing off the daughter of immigrants) to be elect elected to the second highest office in the country, the songwriters, publisher, and first vocalist and musicians to record “Changes” were all Black—ninety-nine years ago!

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear the original recording.

The popularity of the song outside the jazz world took off with the 1941 movie “Play Girl” that featured our song “Changes.” 

It was then picked up by Benny Goodman and his orchestra and, over the years, has been recorded by just about every vocalist of note in every style from Swing to Western Swing—including a ukulele version or two. 

For Goodman’s big band interpretation, click or tap on the next image or link.

Now for a ukulele take on this musical chestnut.  Click or tap on the next image for a peek and listen. Yes, it’s a Flea!

Moving on  .  .  .

A second appropriately titled song is really is a “life metaphor” for President-Elect Joe Biden.  “Bidin’ My Time,” was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by his brother Ira.  It was introduced in the 1930 Broadway musical review “Girl Crazy.” 

This, too, has become a jazz standard over the years and recorded by many, many singers.  Click or tap on the next image or link to hear the original recording.

During the past election season the title of this song—to say nothing of the simple melody—gave a lot of witty songsters some low-hanging fruit for parody.  With no offence to any of you blue, red, or purple voters this past week–and simply for the sake of a good chuckle–here are a couple of musical takes on this song.  Tap or click on the next image or link to see how our 1930 song melds with some nifty 2020 visuals.

This next one was too good to pass up. Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to a piano playing (sadly not ukulele playing) guy having some fun at the old upright.

Alas, this is the only ukulele version of this tune I could fine on that vast storehouse of YouTube!  Most of us could do a better job.  A challenge?  Anyway, click or tap on the next image or link to give a polite listen.

Let’s end this musing with a third song that might seem appropriate for the latest presidential race. It might have been the ballot box motivation for more than half the voters out there, but I’ll only hint at the title of this one: “I’ll Be Glad When You’re **** ,You Rascal You!”  But, for the sake of civility and comity—to say nothing of avoiding accusations of criminal intent—I’ll let you, my gentle readers, search YouTube on your own for one of the twenty or thirty recordings of this 1929 tune that was among Louis Armstrong’s, as well as Betty Boop’s, greatest hits.  Nuff said?  Report back.                              

 So, we made it through another election season.  We did the best we could and now—here come the mid-terms in 2022!  No time to stop for breath  .  .  .

But, here’s a simple little ditty we should all take to heart.  Click or tap on the next image or link for a bit of inspiration.

So, stay safe, stay sequestered, stay masked  .  .  . 

.  .  .  keep that sense of humor .  .  .

.  .  .  and STAY TUNED!