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Old, Old Oldies: A Selection of Tunes From the Era of the Two World Wars

Liz has been an online writer for over nine years. Her articles often focus on music & culture of the 20th century. She also writes poetry.

Marching Along to a Song, Perhaps?

Songs, often boisterous or bawdy, were an antidote to the horrors of war.

Songs, often boisterous or bawdy, were an antidote to the horrors of war.


In my head, I hear songs of days before my time; songs I should not know by virtue of my own age. They were popular years and even decades before my time on this Earth. As I am the child of a “May-December” marriage, my father served in both world wars, so I even know some snatches of songs from before 1920.

I would hear my father humming or singing bits and pieces of these old gems as he puttered about in his garage workshop with me at his side, an eager apprentice. Most of them were funny; others were serious; others still, I had no clue as to their meaning until I was older.

As you listen to these old gems, keep in mind the era in which they were written and sung. Back then, there was no such thing as being 'politically correct,' and there are some lines which many today might find offensive. By including them, I mean no disrespect. I merely present them for what they are: a snapshot of history.

Here then is my offering of the oldest of the “Oldies,” songs of which I have fond memories, as they reconnect me to my dad, who has been long gone by now. I like to think that when I recall these songs, he’s thinking of me, as well, so this is as much a tribute to my dad as it is a trip down memory lane for me.

Over There

Released: Fall of 1917

Written by: George M. Cohan

Publisher: Leo Feist, New York

Words and music by George M. Cohan; written on April 7, 1917, and Published by Leo Feist, New York.

This song was written as a patriotic tune more or less designed to encourage young men to enlist in the army for World War I. It remained popular all the way through World War II as well.

According to Wiki, it has seen a resurgence since 9-11. Since the "over there" is not any country in particular by name, it can serve the purpose for any foreign conflict. Though understandably, it was not much used during the Vietnam era.

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


So prepare, say a prayer

Send the word, send the word to beware

We'll be over, we're coming over

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

Over there

— George M. Cohan

An Inspirational Style Song

Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo?

First recorded by: Jack Charman, but this is disputed

Released: 1915

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This gem has had several incarnations, and apparently began as a whole other song titled, "Skiboo." As often happens, the melody was borrowed, and new words were set. The actual origin of the song is lost to time.

The original adaptation, which was titled, Mademoiselle From Armenteires; it had verses considered quite racy for the era, as they were full of double entendres, and not considered appropriate for polite company. One such example is a verse telling how a young woman of the Womens' Army Corps (a "WAC") served her country 'under the general.’ Other versions with words made up and sung by the troops in the trenches were downright obscene.

It is said to have been first recorded in 1915 by one Jack Charman, but there is dispute about who both the composer and lyricist actually were.

It seems apparent that the song is being addressed to some new recruit who has been given the nickname of “Hinky Dinky.” That, of course, is supposition on my part, based upon context.

Here is the original version:

Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parley-voo?

Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parley-voo?

Mademoiselle from Armentieres,

She hasn't been kissed in forty years,

Hinky, dinky, parley-voo.

— Unknown

Mademoiselle From Armentieres

What Has Become of Hinky Dinky Parley Voo?

Released: 1924

Written and composed by: Al Dubin

Artist: Billy Glason

Publisher: Jack Mills, New York

Later, there were parodies made on the song, and again, some of them ran to the vulgar side.

Others were amusing, like the retrospective, What Has Become of Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo? The version I’ve found of this one omits the verse my father used to sing:

"What has become of Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo? What has become of all the buddies that you knew?

"Many the guy who's bummed your Francs has plenty of money in the bank!

"Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo?"

This may well be one of those made up by the men, and not included in the original lyrics of the parody.

Of course, that’s all I knew of the song, so I’m quite sure I drove my mom a little bit nuts, singing it at top volume.

It sure would have been funny, though, had anyone else my dad’s age happened by, to hear bits of this song coming out of an 8 or 9 year old little girl!

Say, what has become of Hinky Dinky, parlay voo?

What has become of Hinky Dinky, parlay voo?

Maybe she still is true to you

And true to the rest of the army too

Hinky Dinky parlay voo

— Al Bernard

One of Many Parodies

A Pause for Some Translation

It's probably worth noting that the spelling in the title is phonetic; the French spelling would be: 'parlez vous.' Additionally, 'parlez vous' means 'do you speak?' as in, 'Parlez vous Français?"

The meaning in the song, however, is more of, 'do you get it?' 'do you understand?' Which would be correctly rendered as 'comprenez vous?' You can see the similarity to the English word 'comprehend.' Though, I suppose it would not have fit the meter as well.

Goodbye Ma, Goodbye Pa, Goodbye Mule With Yer Old Hee-Haw

Released: 1917

Composer: Barclay Walker

Lyricist: William Herschel

Another of the tunes I first heard at my father’s knee, and again, this one dates back to WWI. Written in 1917 by Barclay Walker, with lyrics by William Herschel. It was published the same year by Shapiro Bernstein & Company.

It proved very popular, with the sheet music selling 2 million copies! Interestingly, the official title is that long phrase that is the opening line of the refrain; but in much larger letters on the sheet music, it's titled as Long Boy.

Unfortunately, the only audio I was able to find for this one is a fellow performing on a fiddle, and singing only a small piece of the chorus twice through. There is more to the lyrics than just that! But this at least gives you a sense of the melody.

This is another one I delighted in singing (probably more yelling than singing) all through the house.

Chorus of the Song

Good-by, Ma!

Good-by, Pa!

Goody-by Mule, with yer old hee haw!

I may not know what the war's about

But you bet, by gosh, I'll soon find out

An' o' my Sweetheart, don't you fear

I'll bring you a King fer a souvenir

I'll git you a Turk an' a Kaiser too

An' that's about all one feller could do!

— William Herschel

Though I have been unable to find a full reprint of the lyrics as a stand-alone page, this site does have the entire sheet music in a viewable format. It's old, and discolored, but, the words are fairly legible still. (The pages are shown as thumbnails; click on them to bring up, and by clicking on them again, you do get a full-screen view.)

While the chorus is funny enough, and does provide some sense of the style of the song, the rest of the lyrics are what truly make it memorable.

Want to See the Rest of the Song?

As I recall the entire first verse, it went something like this:

"He was a great long-legged country gink,

from a-way out west where the hoptoads blink.

He was 6 foot 2 in his stocking feet,

and he kept gettin' thinner the more he'd eat.

But he was brave as he was thin,

when the war broke out,

he got right in,

and th' old folks heard him say,


What Old Songs These Are!

Where Do We Go From Here?

Released: 1917

Written/Composed by: Howard John and Percy Wenrich

Also titled as: Paddy Mack Drove a Hack

Ah, yes, poor old Paddy; he lived a tough life, but always came out smiling and eager for the next adventure. You guessed it; my dad used to sing this one as well.

I suppose it is because I was such a tomboy, and enjoyed hanging around with my dad in the garage, learning my way around tools and cars and printing photos, that I have such fond memories of these aged ballads.

The official title is, Where Do We Go From Here. The old recording is in places a bit hard to understand if you're not familiar with the song, but here is a page that has all the lyrics printed out to read.

Written by Percy Wenrich and Howard Johnson, shortly after America's entry into WWI, the version below is performed by Arthur Fields with the Peerless Quartet, in 1917.

“Where do we go from here, boys,

Where do we go from here?

Anywhere from Harlem to a Jersey city pier;”

When Pat would spy a pretty girl, he’d whisper in her ear,

“Oh joy, Oh boy,

Where do we go from here?”


— Howard John and Percy Wenrich

Where Do We Go From Here (Paddy Mack)

A Hack in the Olden Days

The meaning in those days of 'hack' was nothing like today's definition; back then, it meant a cab. A hack was a type of horse-drawn vehicle; it was short for 'hackney carriage.'

In the photo below, a typical hack is shown.

Hackney Carriage

They Were All Out of Step But Jim

Released: 1918

Composed by: Irving Berlin

Artist: Billy Murray

This song must be taken in the context of the era. Today, it is probably considered as stereotypical, and "politically incorrect." No offense is intended with its inclusion in this article.

My father used to sing this one, also, but I don't recall him singing much but the refrain; I'm not sure he knew the rest of the words.

This one is from 1918, written by Irving Berlin.

Did you see my little Jimmy marching with the soldiers up the avenue?

There was Jimmy just as stiff as starch,

Just like his Daddy on the seventeenth of March.

Did you notice all the lovely ladies casting their eyes on him?

Away he went to live in a tent over in France with his regiment

Were you there, and tell me, did you notice?

They were all out of step but Jim.

Bye Bye Blackbird

Released: 1926

Composer: Ray Henderson

Lyricist: Mort Dixon

For this song, of which I also learned bits and pieces from my dad, I was unable to find any that matched the way he sang it. Perhaps he was the one who was ‘off,’ but I much prefer his rendition, which was rather a lilting tune, upbeat in tempo and somehow amusing, even if enigmatic in its meaning.

My dad also rearranged the title wording; perhaps because he forgot the original order? Or maybe that’s just how he had heard it. At any rate, he would sing, "Blackbird, bye bye."

The only examples I could find (and there were quite a few), render it more at the tempo of a dirge, and I did not care for any of them.

However, I’ve included one example for your edification and amusement. The singer is Julie London, and the performance is in Japan.

The song was written in 1926 by Ray Henderson, with words by Mort Dixon.

Pack up all my cares and woes

Feeling low here I go

Bye, bye blackbird

— Mort Dixon

Bye Bye Blackbird

Bye Bye

And with Bye Bye, Blackbird, I come to the end of this sampling and bid my readers bye bye, farewell, adieu.

Have I left you with some catchy earworms? I know they are for me.

© 2017 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on July 02, 2017:

Hi Flourish;

What a great idea! I hadn't even thought about that, but you're right. There are so many others out there, that came from that era, and not necessarily from the trenches of war.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 30, 2017:

This would be a great resource for someone who wanted to spark memories in elders. I haven't heard of one of these but I enjoyed reading!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 27, 2017:

Thanks much! I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Yes, my dad was a special person; a gentleman in every sense of the word. I am so grateful for the way I was raised in that sense. I may have more songs coming... ;-)

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 27, 2017:

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip down your memory lane, Liz. I know "Over There" from watching Jimmy Cagney in "Yankee Doodle Dandy". I love that movie and have seen it several times.

I can just picture you and your dad tinkering in the garage, grease on your hands and clothes, singing all the while. It sounds like you have a wonderful childhood.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 23, 2017:

Yes, I had to search YouTube extensively to find the songs I wanted to write about...

We have the original M*A*S*H movie on DVD--I think I may watch it again...

Robert Sacchi on April 23, 2017:

Yes, saw the M*A*S*H movie, but on TV years after it was released. YouTube is a great source of old songs. That's where I came across many gems.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on April 23, 2017:

Hi, Robert,

Pleased to have provided you with some memories. I did not know about Korean War songs, but as you say, they were probably too vulgar to become widely known, let alone in front of a priest. Hahaha. Did you see the original M*A*S*H movie? It had some singing, some very graphic special effects in the surgery, and the usual hijinks as seen in the TV series. Only a couple of the original character-actors transferred over, though.

Robert Sacchi on April 23, 2017:

Thanks for the memoies. Yes, Mademoiselle From Armenteires, has a very simple opening tune. Movies are a good source for these types of songs. War movies tend to have a sing along scene. There is an episode of M*A*S*H where Father Mulcahy was wondering why there were no songs about the Korean War. In fact there were some sung by people over there. Though these songs were often too vulger to sing in front of a priest.

Nell Rose from England on April 06, 2017:

These were great Lizzy! the first one I believe was sung mainly by us Brits when you yanks were coming! LOL! true! there was another one similar but I can't remember it now! great songs, and there are so many more too. Loved it!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 02, 2017:

I have heard a few of them. Enjoyed reading about the memories associated with the songs, thank you for sharing.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on March 30, 2017:

Some genuine classics. Great read!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on March 25, 2017:

Hello, William, nice to meet you.

Thanks much for stopping by, and I'm pleased to have stirred the pot of memories; I may have a few more for another day. I did read, during my research, that some folks sang "Inky Pinky," or "Hinky Pinky," but I never heard either of those variations.

William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on March 24, 2017:

Wonderful memories, Liz Elias. I remember most of these songs well as a child during WW II. I always sang it "Inky Dinky" Parley Vous." Yes, there were a number of ribald verses to that song. "Over There" and "Bye Bye Blackbird" and the others were popular as well. Thanks for the memories.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on March 24, 2017:

Hello, Mary

Thanks much; I'm pleased you found some new tunes; it is a stark reminder of the unfortunate status of humankind, that we cannot seem to escape wars.

Mary Wickison from USA on March 24, 2017:

I've been introduced to some new ones here. They are fantastic to hear and from a time of such upheaval.


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on March 24, 2017:

@ Ruby -- I did have to do some digging, but most of them were on You Tube. It's fun to wax nostalgic about the 'good old days,' not that war was good, but some of the music that came out of it has survived the test of time. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

@ Eric -- I may have some still; I have my folks old collection of 78 rpm records, some of which are so old they only have a single side. Glad you enjoyed!

@ Bill -- Yep; childhood memories of the music, minus the real horror of what was happening then. Glad you enjoyed the time capsule.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 24, 2017:

Some of the oldies I remember well. I'm surprised that you could find these old videos. I had no ides that ' Over There ' was written in 1917. Your presentation, including memories of your father was interesting.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 24, 2017:

Fantastic -- We had all these records growing up. My sister has them now. I love them. Thank you

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 24, 2017:

Well, my friend, I've heard them all and remember listening to them as a kid. I'm not sure I want to admit that, but there you go. LOL Thanks for the time travel.

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