You can tell a lot about a particular era by listening to its music.
My Dad was a veteran of WWII, and a member of the Greatest Generation. He was also a music lover, and had a record collection that included many albums from that era.
Listen to the music of this generation and you’ll hear tales of hardship, sorrow, hope, and perseverance. They struggled through the Great Depression (Brother, Can You Spare a Dime), fought a war in Europe (Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition), celebrated the return of prosperity and youthfulness (Rock Around the Clock) and mourned the loss of innocence with the assassination of a president. And that only brings us to the 1960.
The power of musical storytelling was particularly strong during the war years. In The Last Time I Saw Paris, Kate Smith reminisces about the French city and ends with, “No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way.” A sobering ending– she’s referring to the Nazi occupation of Paris.
Songs also brought hope of life and love after the war. The White Cliffs of Dover imagines a return to normalcy in war-torn England. (“The shepherd will tend his sheep; the valley will bloom again; and Jimmy will go to sleep, in his own little room again.”), as well as We’ll Meet Again (“Don‘t know how, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”) Likely a theme for many separated couples.
There was also humor, most prominently from Spike Jones and his City Slickers (think Weird Al Yankovic, circa 1940s) and Der Fureher’s Face (“When the Fueher says ‘We is the master race,’ we Heil! Heil! Right in the Fureher’s face.”)
It would be difficult to overstate the role music played during the war. With television still years away from the mainstream, radio was the entertainment media of choice, and combined with the popularity of Saturday night dances, the songs and lyrics spoke to my Dad and others of his generation.
For those of us who follow, there are lessons about that difficult time in our nation’s history, and about the people who pulled us through.