With the beginning of World War II, there was a call for songs to help the war effort, just as at the time of World War I, but not as much of a response. Probably the most famous was Frank Loesser’s “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” Generally, WWII songs tended to be sentimental and included a wish to return home. They were not bellicose at all.
“White Christmas,” recorded just before America’s entry into the war, nonetheless became a favorite during the war. Written by Irving Berlin, it was originally meant to be a lament by an Easterner transplanted to California, wishing for an old-fashioned Christmas. “I’ll be Seeing You” (in All the Old Familiar Places), which also predated the war, having been composed in 1938, also became a sentimental home-coming favorite during the war. Still another song composed before the war, but made immensely popular by the Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller was “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” (With Anyone Else But Me). Its lyrics were about two young lovers pledging fidelity and were modified during the war with the addition of “till I come marching home.”
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was actually written during the war and recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943.
There are other things happening during this time. First, the popularity of Frank Sinatra will ultimately lead to a shift away from the big bands and a focus on singers themselves. In the early 1940’s, Frank Sinatra was merely an adjunct, the “boy singer” who was appended to Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra. By the 1950’s people wanted to hear Frank Sinatra sing with little to no interest in who was accompanying him – usually, talented, but nameless studio musicians. It was to be the same with other popular singers.
Secondly, the ASCAP radio boycott of 1941 which I had already mentioned forced radio stations associated with national networks into accepting music from non-ASCAP sources that would not have originally been chosen for broadcast. Such regional music as what was then called “hillbilly music” (now “country music”) began to be heard in such unusual places as Boston and New York City as Gene Autry, Tex Ritter and Roy Acuff began getting more air time.
Thirdly, the foundation in 1942 of Capitol Records by Johnny Mercer and Buddy DeSylva as a record company owned by musicians for musicians was to have an influence on quality. It was to produce some of Frank Sinatra’s best recordings in the 1950’s. (Ironically, the company, which features the U.S. Capitol Building in its logo, has always been located in California.)
Fourthly, the “Petrillo Ban” of 1942 is also to have far-reaching effects. James Petrillo, the president of the American Federation of Musicians, called for his member musicians to go on strike, refusing to record for record companies. He felt that sidemen should receive royalties for records, particularly in view of the popularity of the new-fangled jukeboxes. The strike was not definitively settled until 1944, but one of the ways record companies dealt with it was to use a cappella vocal groups, which did not fall under the ban. Many think that the exposure of the American public to this sound was to lead later to the popularity of the “doo-wop” groups of the 1950’s.
Finally, Ben Yagoda mentions that Hollywood makes fewer original musicals and concentrates on filming new Broadway musicals (Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific), and films that are compilations of older songs (An American in Paris, Band Wagon, Singing in the Rain). Broadway itself continues full-steam ahead but shifts to songs which are better integrated into the plot and, as with Rodgers and Hammerstein, more operetta-like in quality (My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music).