Today marks the ninety year anniversary of the end of the First World War, celebrated in Europe as Armistice Day and as Veteran’s Day in the US. The war that would end all wars saw over twenty millions lives lost. Twenty-one million were wounded, and the psychological affects of trench warfare troubled millions of men for the remainder of their lives. Known at the time as The Great War, it is now often referred to as the forgotten war.
If you look at the popular songs of the First World War (in the United States and United Kingdom), you’ll find that they were songs that were meant to rally the soldiers and encourage patriotism; songs with titles such as: Your King and Country Wants You, United Forces March, Till We Meet Again, In The Trenches, When You’re A Long Way From Home, Somewhere In France, Dear Mother.
Arthur J. Mills was a popular lyricist during the First World War. He teamed up with Bennett Scott who put his words to music. Together they would write a number of hits, forming their own publishing company. Several popular songs at the time included Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty, Fall In And Follow Me, When I Take My Morning Promenade. Mills died in 1919, and though the cause of his death is uncertain, it is suspected that he died of influenza.
Mills connected with the culture of the time with lyrics such as Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty
Jack Dunn, son of a gun, over in France today,
Keeps fit doing his bit up to his eyes in clay.
Each night after a fight to pass the time along,
He’s got a little gramophone that plays this song:
Take me back to dear old Blighty!
Put me on the train for London town!
Take me over there,
Drop me ANYWHERE,
Liverpool, Leeds, or Birmingham, well, I don’t care!
The songs recorded during the First World War precede the recording industry as we know it today. The music industry was beginning to shift from centering around sales of sheet music to recorded music. You’ll find that a successful song was typically recorded by numerous artists, sold on flat discs, and played on hand-turned gramophones. RCA would bring sweeping changes to recorded music in 1919, one year after the First World War, by successfully marketing the radio.
The process of recording music during this time was still very primitive. Microphones weren’t fully developed, magnetic tape hadn’t been invented yet, and electricity wasn’t used in recording processes until 1925.
“In 1914 the process was still fairly primitive, though the resulting sound was improved through the use of many technical advances. This was the “acoustic” process: no electric microphone was used. Instead there was a horn made of wood, (later stiffened fabric), that concentrated the vibrations of the singer and accompaniment down to the point of a needle which etched them into wax. There was no such thing as “splicing” a tape; if something went very wrong another “take” was required. The whole aria or song was recorded again.” (Lotte Lehmann Archive)FirstWorldWar.com
is a tremendous resource for not only documenting the war but also the music of the era, providing over 100 Mp3s of recorded songs.