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

Updated on April 21, 2017
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Though not a performer, Liz is interested in historic songs of the modern era, as well as classical; 60s through some 80s; and country.

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. | Source


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.

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

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.

An Inspirational Style Song

Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo?

This gem has had several incarnations, both in the original, which was titled, Mademoiselle From Armenteires, and had verses considered quite racy for the era, as they were full of double entendres, such as how a young woman, (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

Many Parodies Were Made

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

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 rendered as 'comprenez vous?' You can see the similarity to the English word 'comprehend.' Though, I suppose it would not have fit the tempo as well.

One of Many Parodies

Extra Verses Were Common

In dad’s version, there was a verse saying, “Many the guy who’s bummed your Francs has plenty of money in the banks. Hinky Dinky parlez vous? That caught my ear, and I used to delight in singing it around the house at the top of my lungs.

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

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

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.

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:


Goodbye Ma, Goodbye Pa,

Goodbye mule with yer old hee-haw.

I may not know what this war's about

but you bet by gosh I'll soon find out.

And oh, my sweetheart, don't you fear,

I'll bring you a king for a souvenir.

And maybe a Turk and a Kaiser too

and that's about all one feller could do."

What Old Songs These Are!

Have you ever heard, or heard of, any of these tunes?

See results

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.

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. According to the source, this one was in England, about 1898. It appears to have been motorized, but it is clear that it was once a horse-drawn vehicle, or at least so styled.

Driving a Hack

A typical hack from the 1890s
A typical hack from the 1890s | Source

Where Do We Go From Here (Paddy Mack)

Bye Bye Blackbird

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.

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


Submit a Comment

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 months ago from Oakley, CA

    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 profile image

    FlourishAnyway 6 months ago from USA

    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!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 8 months ago from Oakley, CA

    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... ;-)

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 8 months ago from Central Florida

    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.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 9 months ago from Oakley, CA

    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 profile image

    Robert Sacchi 9 months ago

    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.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 9 months ago from Oakley, CA

    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 profile image

    Robert Sacchi 9 months ago

    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 profile image

    Nell Rose 9 months ago from England

    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!

  • Vellur profile image

    Nithya Venkat 9 months ago from Dubai

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

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 9 months ago from Oklahoma

    Some genuine classics. Great read!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 10 months ago from Oakley, CA

    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 profile image

    William F Torpey 10 months ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

    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.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 10 months ago from Oakley, CA

    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.

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 10 months ago from Brazil

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


  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 10 months ago from Oakley, CA

    @ 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.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Fuller 10 months ago from Southern Illinois

    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.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 10 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

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

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

    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.