Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Recommended: Mark Steyn on George M. Cohan's "Over There"


George M. Cohan

If you're a fan of Mark Steyn's commentary on current events like I am, you probably know that he also has a musical side both as a critic and  occasional performer.  Here is his 2017 article on America's best-known contribution to World War I's musical catalog, "Over There."

Steyn's Song of the Week #302

16 July 2017

President Trump was a guest of President Macron this past week to mark not only Bastille Day but also the one hundredth anniversary of America's entry into the Great War. So, with that in mind, altogether now:

Par là-bas!

Par là-bas!

Qu' on le dise, sans méprise, par là-bas!

Nous emboîtons le pas!

Emboîtons le pas!

Le ram plan plan du tambour bat...

Doesn't ring a bell? Let's try it en anglais:

Over There!

Over There!

Send the word, send the word Over There!

That the Yanks are coming!

The Yanks are coming!

The drums rum-tumming ev'rywhere...

In fact, President Wilson sent the word that the Yanks are coming on April 6th 1917, and this song was written that same day. But if President Trump can mark the centenary of America's declaration of war three months later, then we can do the same for the centenary of the biggest American hit song of that war. In pop-music terms, the Great War was the war to end all wars: It was a bonanza for Tin Pan Alley on a scale never seen before or since. The Second World War would produce ballads of love and separation—"I'll Be Seeing You," "I'll Never Smile Again," "We'll Meet Again"—but the first generated war songs about war, about soldiering in foreign climes: "Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit-Bag," "Good-Bye Broadway, Hello France," "I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm On My Way," "Hello Central, Give Me No Man's Land," "I'm Crazy Over Every Girl In France," " Mademoiselle From Armentières (Parlay-Voo)," "My Belgian Rose," "If He Can Fight Like He Can Love, Goodnight Germany," "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts For Soldiers" (and my old pal Irving Caesar's extension thereof, "Brother Benny's Baking Buns For Belgians")... Most of them vanished with the Armistice, but this one was on an entirely different scale and echoes down the decades:

We'll be over!

We're coming over!

And we won't come back till it's over

Over There!

The Great War began in August 1914—for almost everyone else, that is. Any visiting space alien alighting on North America in those first three years would have concluded that Canada was the bellicose, militaristic power of the western hemisphere—recruiting posters everywhere, soldiers shipping east on every railroad platform. South of that border, President Wilson campaigned for election in 1916 under the slogan "He Kept Us Out of the War," and that was how a distant republic liked it. Isolationism was widespread, including in Tin Pan Alley, where the biggest American war song to date had been  "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier".

But a canny songwriter can turn on a dime, or a crotchet, and no one turned more nimbly than George M Cohan, the soi-disant "man who owns Broadway." If you're in Times Square on New Year's Eve, that's his statue the revelers are thronging round. He deserves his place. At the dawn of American show business, he could do it all—actor, singer, dancer, producer, director, author, play doctor, and composer and lyricist of such lasting hits as "Give My Regards To Broadway," "I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy," and our Song of the Week #12, "You're A Grand Old Flag."

Read the entire article:




  1. My grandparents' war. Family on both sides.

  2. My father was a young surgeon attached to Base Hospital #9 preparing to ship to France in July 1917.

    The Society of the New York Hospital 6 to 16 W. 16th and 7 223 W. 18th St. New York New York
    July 21, 1917

    Dear Chet,

    We go to Governors Island into camp at 8:30 AM. Just time for a note and breakfast. The gang looks good. You know practically everyone. Will send you details as I can. It is good, I tell you, to be around here again. Only, would exchange these trappings for white clothes for comfort.
    Walked up Third Avenue yesterday, saluting all the Lord and Taylor delivery boys. Probably shall pass up many Majors,etc without proper recognition. Our ignorance is amusing.

    It looks very much like we are to get away the coming week. Somewhere in France.