“The music of our youth becomes the soundtrack of our lives.”
“In a film, the music tells us how to feel
about what we are seeing.”
—Anonymous Film Critic
In my previous post titled “Infusion Inspiration: Memory Flood at the Center for Blood” I described how listening to old cassette tapes of Gospel music on an outdated portable Walkman cassette player helps me to pass the time while I receive blood at a city hospital blood center.
I used quotes, scriptures, Gospel song lyrics, and links to Gospel music videos to illustrate the inspiration and encouragement from the stirred memories I receive during those long tedious hours of sitting in a recliner in a cold room hooked up to an IV tube.
In this post, a sort of sequel to that one, I continue the subject of how songs of all types, and not just Gospel hymns, have the power to serve as “musical ‘memory-triggers’ and ‘time-travel transporters.’”
As I noted in that post and in the opening quotes above, over time the music we listened to in our youth and young adulthood often becomes the “soundtrack of our lives”—especially as we grow older and begin to look backward to the simpler, happier days of our existence.
Often, these memory “flashbacks” are triggered by music, particularly by a certain song—and sometimes it is the reverse, a certain memory of a past event will trigger the music being played at the time that event took place.
It happens to all of us, I suppose, but especially to us “seniors.” That’s why we often think on such occasions, “Ah, those were the days!”
Now in this post I will recall and review some of the songs that became at least a part of the soundtrack of my childhood. Since there are so many I can only present some examples that come to my mind when I recall that period of my life or some incident in it. Due to their number I will not try to provide the lyrics or the video links to all these songs. However, you can always find them by searching for any that interest you by Googling them online.
“And precious things are [musical memories] to an exile,
They take him to a [time and] place he cannot be.”
—My paraphrase of the Irish folksong
“The Isle of Innisfree”
“When a man says that he is seeking the scenes of his childhood,
what he is really seeking is his childhood.”
If you have read my preceding post “Infusion Inspiration: Memory Flood at the Center for Blood,” you will recognize this first partial and paraphrased quote from the Irish folk song “The Isle of Innisfree.”
As I noted in that post and in this one, certain songs from our childhood and youth have the power to “take us [back] to a time and place we cannot be.” I described this phenomenon in my previous post when I wrote about the power of the old hymns of the faith that we sang in the Selma Baptist Church of my childhood.
But that experience is not limited to old hymns and Gospel songs though I am reminded that every day as my country, cattle-dealing family sat down to “dinner” (Southern for “lunch”), we always listened to two radio shows: 1) the news of livestock and commodity prices on the market and 2) a fifteen-minute program of Southern Gospel music by the Stamps-Baxter Quartet. I can even still sing their theme song, “Give the World a Smile,” almost seventy years later though I have never seen the lyrics in print nor have I heard the music in decades. (To hear this song sung by J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, the group who backed up Elvis Presley on many of his songs, click on the title.)
From my idyllic, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn childhood in my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas (which I wrote about in my earlier post titled “The Way We Were”), there are several old secular songs that still recall to my memory those simpler, happier days in my life.
For example, the first song I ever remember singing, at about age four while strolling through the house strumming a cheap plastic toy guitar, was one I heard on our old battery radio (which I wrote about in that earlier post about “The Way We Were”). It was titled “You Are My Sunshine” and was written in 1939 (one year after my birth) by Jimmie Davis, later governor of Louisiana. In fact, it was sung and declared “written by another Southern governor” in the film Primary Colors based on the presidential primary candidacy of Bill Clinton, former governor of my native state of Arkansas. (To hear this song sung by Jimmie Davis, click on the title.)
Speaking of “musical memory-triggers” and “time-travel transporters,” you can imagine the sensation I experience every time I hear that old song from my earliest childhood being sung or played some seventy years later. It quite literally “strums the strings of my heart” just as I strummed the strings of that plastic toy guitar in that simple farmhouse in which I was born long ago and far away.
Of course, during my childhood there were other “soundtrack” songs that still speak to me and recall those happier days. For example, in that earlier post about “The Way We Were” I told about getting electricity for the first time in 1947. I also told how we took our habitual trip into town (McGehee, about fifteen miles from Selma) on “Sairdy evenin’” to go to the “pitcher show” and watch a double feature which always included a grade B-Western with 1940’s cowboy stars.
Some of those movie cowboys were known for their music, especially Gene Autry, called from the beginning in the 1930s “the Singing Cowboy,” and Roy Rogers, who got his start in Hollywood as part of the Western singing group “The Sons of the Pioneers.” A few of the songs I recall by the Sons of the Pioneers were “Cool Water,” “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” (To view these songs on You Tube, click on their titles.)
In a later post titled “You Might Be from the Country If . . . Part IV” I offered a quiz on some of these cowboys whose musical themes, like Gene Autry’s “I’m Back in the Saddle Again” and Roy Rogers’ “Happy Trails to You,” also became part of the “soundtrack” of my childhood years as the son of a livestock dealer who loved everything Western.
(To hear these songs on YouTube video, click on their titles. Note: The Gene Autry song takes about ten seconds to begin so wait for it to start. The theme song of Roy Rogers, whose album of greatest hits we own and listen to, includes his wife and costar Dale Evans, a photo of whom with Roy and his horse Trigger, graces the wall of Mari’s bedroom.)
The War Years of the 1940s
“Listen to the jingle the rumble and the roar
As she glides along the woodland through the hills and by the shore
Hear the mighty rush of the engine hear the lonesome hobos call
You’re traveling through the jungle on the Wabash Cannonball.”
—Lyrics to Roy Acuff version of
“The Wabash Cannonball”
In that post about “The Way We Were” I told how we used to listen to “The Grand Ole Opry” in those carefree childhood days. I mentioned in particular listening to the star of the Grand Ole Opry at that time, Roy Acuff, whose songs like “The Great Speckled Bird” and particularly “The Wabash Cannonball” were great hits and heard everywhere in the country in those day.
In fact, Roy and his songs were so popular that during World War II attacking Japanese soldiers used to cry out at their American enemies: “To hell with FDR (U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt)!” and “To hell with Roy Acuff!” (To hear “The Wabash Cannonball” sung by Roy Acuff on YouTube video, click on the title above.)
Since the 1940s of my childhood were the years of World War II (1941-45 for Americans), some of the music in our family “soundtrack” included popular wartime songs such as “The White Cliffs of Dover,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me (Till I Come Marching Home),” and of course the patriotic blockbuster “God Bless America” sung by “The Songbird of the South,” a rousing, robust Virginia singer named Kate Smith.
My particular favorites of some later versions of those wartime songs were “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” the signature song of Kate Smith, sung by Mama Cass; “A Nightingale Sang in Barkley Square” (also spelled “Berkeley Square”), written in 1939, the year after I was born, sung by Bobby Darin; and of course Glenn Miller’s Big-Band theme song “In the Mood.” (To hear these three songs, click on their titles.)
Other Swing music favorites included “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Some favorite vocalists of that period included Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters, and Dinah Shore.
My Parents’ 1940’s Soundtrack
“He rides in the sun
‘Til his day’s work is done
And he rounds up the cattle each fall
Singing his cattle call.”
—Lyrics of refrain of “Cattle Call” sung by Eddie Arnold
“After the ball is over,
After the break of morn –
After the dancers’ leaving;
After the stars are gone;
Many a heart is aching,
If you could read them all;
Many the hopes that have vanished
After the ball.”
—“After the Ball Is Over,”
Written in 1890 and sung in the musical
Show Boat in 1936
Although my family and I heard many of the universally popular songs and singers from the Swing and Big Band Music era during and after World War II, as a livestock dealer and his working partner-wife, my parents still tended to listen to what would today be termed Country-Western music.
Naturally, some seventy years later, I still recall with fond memory their favorite singers and songs, especially when I hear them on rare occasions. As noted throughout this series of posts, those old largely forgotten and poorly regarded pieces of musical nostalgia take me back to those simple, carefree days of my country childhood.
For example, it was not surprising that as a cattleman Daddy’s favorite type of music was Western. He especially liked songs by Country-Western singers such as Eddie Arnold, whose “Cattle Call” is quoted above with a link to a video of him singing and yodeling that entire song. I still hear Daddy singing it as he too went about his daily chores of “rounding up [and dealing with] the cattle each [day].”
Daddy also liked the music of other Country-Western singers such as Hank Williams. Hank was influenced by other singers whom Daddy liked such as Roy Acuff (mentioned above) and Ernest Tubb (whose album of biggest hits I still own and listen to, bringing back many memories of Daddy and his love for that type of Western singers and songs).
Unfortunately, Hank Williams died young in 1953. It was not long after Hank’s death that Daddy died in 1954 at the McGehee Livestock Auction where I was working in the back, penning cattle. (See my earlier post titled “My Father’s [Cattle] Brand and Seal.”) One of Hank’s songs that Daddy particularly liked and sang and whistled (as he did Eddie Arnold’s “Cattle Call” and Ernest Tubbs’ “I’m Walkin’ the Floor Over You”) was “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” (To listen to these songs, click on their titles.)
Finally, although Mama liked and listened to Gospel songs and hymns as well as Country-Western music, she also liked ballads and sentimental songs from Broadway musicals and movies. One was “After the Ball Is Over” quoted above from the 1936 Hollywood movie version of the Broadway musical Show Boat, two years before my birth. In fact, I heard it so much as a child that I learned the lyrics to it without ever seeing them or trying to memorize them. (To hear this song sung by Irene Dunne in Show Boat, click on the title.)
Mama also particularly liked one that I have never heard before or since (except perhaps on one occasion that I cannot now recall.) It was called “(My Sweet Little) Alice Blue Gown” from the 1919 Broadway musical titled Irene. After more than seventy years, while composing this post I finally went on Wikipedia and discovered the source of this term “Alice Blue gown” and its significance:
The hit song “Alice Blue Gown”, inspired by Longworth’s signature gown, premiered in Harry Tierney‘s 1919 Broadway musical Irene. The musical was made into a film in 1940 starring Anna Neagle and Ray Milland.”
That explanation makes one of my Mama’s favorite songs even more meaningful and dear to my heart. (To hear this old-fashioned song that I heard Mama sing so often I also learned its lyrics by heart, click here.)
“Gone with the Wind”
“Rhett, Rhett… Rhett, if you go,
where shall I go? What shall I do?”
—Scarlett O’Hara to Rhett Butler
at conclusion of Gone with the Wind
Finally, Mama was obviously impressed with seeing her first full-color Hollywood movie in about 1939, the year after I was born. It was the blockbuster movie version of the best-selling book by Margaret Mitchell titled Gone with the Wind.
Mama sometimes referred to scenes from that movie and enjoyed hearing the song “Tara’s Theme” which ran throughout it. (To view a video of this haunting melody, with dramatic scenes from the film, including two white peacocks and Scarlett in front of Tara, click on the title above. It is a perfect example of the music in a film telling us how to feel about what we are seeing.)
All of these songs and singers, and so many more, were a great influence on my childhood and thus on my entire life. For example, “Tara’s Theme” from GWTW always has a strong emotional appeal to me every time I hear it.
But the “soundtrack” of my young life began to change when my family moved from the country to town (from Selma to McGehee) in 1948 when I was ten years old. As a result, at the end of the 1940s my simple, idyllic boyhood country life began to disappear as it, like Scarlett O’Hara’s happy, familiar life at Tara, began to become a thing of the past . . . until eventually it too was totally “Gone with the Wind.”
In my next post, “The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Part II,” I will continue with some of the music from the 1950s, arguably the most musically influential period of my entire life.
Links to 1940s Music and Musical
In the past, my McGehee High School Class of 1956 classmate Pat Scavo (known to us then as Patsy McDermott) has sent me links to free old-time music which is divided into decades and played radio-style in random order.
Here are two such links for music of the 1940s along with many other musical links to other decades, old radio and TV shows, etc.:
I hope you can access these sites and pick out the songs from the era you wish to listen to. I also hope they will “bring back [your] dream divine” so that you can also “live it over again.”
To view a video of an amazing 1940’s-style Boogie Woogie piano player and two jitterbug dancers in lively imitation of the music and dance craze of that era, go to:
Although the Hollywood musical Yankee Doodle Dandy was made during World War II (in 1942, the year that my Mari was born), I was too young to see it. However, decades later when I saw it on TV, it became one of my favorite movies, which I still watch often.
Three of my favorite musical numbers from that movie are: “I’m a Yankee Doodle Yankee” sung and danced by James Cagney; “Mary’s a Grand Old Name,” sung by Irene Manning; and “Only Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway” and “So Long, Mary” sung and danced by Irene Manning and Chorus. (To view videos of these numbers, click on their titles. They are light years away from the Blues, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll songs that we teens listened to in the 1950s, the subject of my next post.)
The original lyrics of “The Isle of Innisfree” can be accessed at:
The video of J.D. Summer and the Stamps Quartet singing “Give the World a Smile” was taken from:
The photo of J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quarter with Elvis Presley was taken from:
The video of Jimmie Davis singing “You Are My Sunshine” was taken from:
The photo of Jimmie Davis on a record cover was taken from:
The photo of the Malco Theater in McGehee, Arkansas, was taken from:
McGehee Centennial 1906-2006.
The videos of the Sons of the Pioneers singing “Cool Water,” “Tumbling Along with a Tumbling Tumbleweed,” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky” were taken from:
The photo of the Sons of the Pioneers with Roy Rogers was taken from:
The video of Gene Autry singing, “I’m Back in the Saddle Again” was taken from:
The photo of Gene Autry was taken from:
The video of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing, “Happy Trails to You” was taken from:
The photo of Roy Rogers was taken from:
The lyrics to the Roy Acuff version of “The Wabash Cannonball” were taken from “Metrolyrics” at:
The video of Roy Acuff singing “Wabash Cannonball” was taken from:
The photo of Roy Acuff was taken from:
The video of Mama Cass singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me” was taken from:
The video of Bobby Darin singing “A Nightingale Sang in Barkley Square” was taken from:
The photo of Kate Smith and the cast of her first radio show was taken from;
The video of the Glenn Miller orchestra playing “In the Mood” was taken from:
The photo of Glenn Miller was taken from:
The lyrics of the song “Cattle Call” as sung by Eddie Arnold were taken from:
The video of Eddie Arnold singing the Western song “Cattle Call” was taken from:
The photo of Eddie Arnold was taken from:
The video of Hank Williams singing “Your Cheatin’ Heart” was taken from:
The photo of Hank Williams was taken from:
The video of Ernest Tubb singing “I’m Walkin’ the Floor Over You” was taken from:
The photo of Ernest Tubb was taken from:
The lyrics of the 1890 song “After the Ball Is Over” was taken from:
The video of Irene Dunne singing “After the Ball Is Over” from a 1936 film titled Show Boat was taken from:
The photo of Irene Dunne was taken from:
The video of Joni James singing “Alice Blue Gown” was taken from:
The photo of the “Alice Blue Gown” was taken from:
The quote of Scarlett O’Hara to Rhett Bulter at the conclusion of Gone with the Wind was taken from:
The photo of Tara from Gone with the Wind was sent to me by Pat Scavo from an undisclosed source.
The video of “Tara’s Theme” from the film Gone with the Wind was taken from:
The photo of James Gagney as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy was taken from:
The video of James Gagney singing, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” was taken from:
The video of Irene Manning singing “Mary’s a Grand Old Name” was taken from:
The video of Irene Manning and chorus singing “Forty-five Minutes from Broadway” and “So Long, Mary” was taken from: