Marching Along With Time – Songs by Irving Berlin, 1935-1945

Jan 31, 2013 by

Marching Along With Time – Songs by Irving Berlin, 1935-1945

The decade from 1935-1945 was a particularly fertile one for Berlin, with his three scores for the Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers film series (Top Hat, Follow the Fleet and Carefree), a fourth for Astaire with Holiday Inn (also starring Bing Crosby), and lesser-known pictures, On the Avenue, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and Second Fiddle.  On Broadway Berlin contributed two shows, Louisiana Purchase and his World War II Army show, This Is the Army, which later toured the world.

The first act of Marching Along With Time covers the second half of the 1930s and Berlin’s great film scores.  Let’s Go Slumming was one of the big production numbers from On the Avenue (1937), sung by Alice Faye and the Ritz Brothers in a satire of New York upper crusts who went “slumming” in the Lower East Side; in this case the Lower East Side goes slumming on Park Avenue.

From the same film is its opening number, He Ain’t Got Rhythm, also performed by Faye and the Ritz Brothers.  A professor of great renown, perhaps modeled on Albert Einstein, has no social life because he is rhythmically challenged, a situation lamented by all who know him.

Three songs from the Astaire/Rogers series follow with No Strings (Top Hat, 1935), I’d Rather Lead a Band (Follow the Fleet, 1935), and Isn’t This a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain (Top Hat).  In the films, all three songs lead to dances by Astaire (the latter with Rogers), and show Berlin’s uncanny responsiveness to Astaire’s dancing style.

The big hit from On the Avenue was I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, introduced by Dick Powell, with Alice Faye.  The song quickly became popular with many of the great jazz and cabaret singers and remains a standard today.

Carefree (1938) was the third of Berlin’s scores for Astaire and Rogers, with The Yam the feature number for Rogers, followed by a lively dance with Astaire.  Berlin reused a bit of the melody later in his World War II rally song Any Bonds Today (featured later in this show).

Holiday Inn (1942) brought Astaire and Bing Crosby together on the screen for the first time.  The film celebrates a series of American holidays, including Lincoln’s birthday in the song Abraham.  The song’s performance in the film is controversial now as it is done in blackface; the song itself, though, is deserving of its popularity (and was reused as an instrumental dance number in White Christmas).

The three Astaire/Rodgers films featured major dances for the two stars, with Berlin responding in each score with some of his best songs about dance.  Change Partners is the high point of Carefree with Astaire wooing Rogers as they each dance with a different partner.  Cheek to Cheek was the big dance in Top Hat; the Smart Set have partnered it with a rarity from Second Fiddle called Back to Back where the dance is done just that way!

From Louisiana Purchase (1940) is a seemingly less-than-romantic duet in which the couple list the other’s shortcomings but admit that regardless, “outside of that, I love you.”  Berlin based this song on one he’d written in 1914, and it is also a precursor to the more famous Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.

Marching Along With Time was written for the 1938 film Alexander’s Ragtime Band which was made in honor of Berlin’s fiftieth birthday.  The song was filmed, as sung by Ethel Merman, but the clip was cut, though the music was retained and played during the opening credits.

It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow was a show-stopping number for Irene Bordoni in Louisiana Purchase.  Paired with it is Let’s Face the Music and Dance from Follow the Fleet.  Both songs inevitably reminded audiences of both the Great Depression and the ominous events taking place in Europe. This pairing closes our first act.

To help with America’s war effort, Berlin turned his attention to a second Army show, following up on the success of his First World War effort, Yip! Yip! Yaphank!.  The latter show, This Is The Army toured the US and the European and Asian fronts, raising much needed funds for the war effort.  The second act of our show opens with a medley from This Is The Army leading off with the title song, then the cleverly risqué The Army’s Made a Man Out of Me.  A feature of both of Berlin’s army shows was the men playing women’s roles, summed up in a song used in both army shows, Ladies of the Chorus.  The group closes with Misses the Army which is the title song from the WAC’s point of view.

I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen is an anthem to the lovelorn soldier who loses his heart to a serving woman at the Stage Door Canteen.  I Threw a Kiss in the Ocean was written for Kate Smith in 1942 and gives the point of view of the “girl left at home.”

We Saw the Sea was written for Follow the Fleet in 1935, but its spirit is definitely in keeping with the satirical feel of many of songs from This Is The Army.

Two more songs from This Is The Army portray the reality of life in the Army and on the front.  I’m Getting Tired So I Can Sleep is a soldier’s love letter to his girl at home, hoping that if they sleep at the same time they can share their dreams of each other.  Many soldiers found out, while on the front, that they had become fathers; What Does He Look Like? is a lovely ballad celebrating new fatherhood away from home.

Berlin’s efforts during the war occasionally extended beyond the Army show, as seen in this medley of songs to support the war effort, Any Bonds Today? (1941); I Paid My Income Tax Today (1942) relating the singer’s pride at supporting “those bombers in the sky” which, in turn, are delivering the arsenals mentioned in Any Bombs Today?, a new set of lyrics for Any Bonds which Berlin wrote for the New York Journal-American.

When That Man Is Dead and Gone was written in 1941 before the U.S. entered the war.  Berlin was very aware of the situation in Europe and was giving warning well before most Americans were thinking about it.

Song of Freedom comes from Holiday Inn and is part of the July Fourth segment.  Berlin cherished these freedoms and what they represented, not only as an immigrant but as a proud U.S. citizen.