Thursday, December 12, 2013

Where Do Army Songs Come From?

Our Army songs (also known as cadences) have been passed down for generations. But where do they actually come from? It is my pleasure to unveil some of their origins, and you may cringe at the truth. But perhaps this will spur some local creativity? I'm not going to name the songs in the short video clips below, but I'm sure anyone who has gone through NS will be able to pick them out in an instant.

Photo credit: cyberpioneer

My Rifle, My Pony and Me
This song has already gotten quite a bit of attention lately, but I think it was still a surprise to many where the song actually came from. It was recorded in 1959 by Dean Martin as a country song and movie soundtrack, as shown below.

But as I said, the origins of some of these songs will make you cringe, and maybe you won't feel quite so macho anymore after the next few ... most of which I discovered while listening to 150 Fun Songs for Kids. In a recent exchange over questionable song lyrics, one online commenter joked that perhaps the ladies would rather soldiers sing nursery rhymes, and I informed him, "we already do".

Camptown Races
Undoubtedly one of the most popular Army songs of all time! It was popularised by American minstrels in the 1850s and now lives on as a kid's song.

Gee Ma, I Wanna Go Home
This tune has been taken almost wholesale, although of course the lyrics have undergone major surgery. The original was sung by Canadian soldiers in WWII and today, is sung by this cat below.

Que Sera Sera
This oldie has been translated seamlessly into the military career planning context. It was written in 1956 by Jan Livingston and Ray Evans. Most recently, I saw it accompanying the wedding slideshow of a fellow officer!

The Ants Go Marching In
This one is for all the warriors out there...

This reminds me of a passage in a senior military officer's memoirs (I think it was Colin Powell), who expressed his amusement when he was the Guest of Honour in a foreign country's parade and the Guard of Honour turned out to "How much is that doggie in the window". Sometimes the tunes sound great until you learn the original context of the song!

When Johnny Comes Marching In
To be fair, the above is probably a case where the children's song evolved from the the military tune, which originated from the Unionists in the American Civil War in the mid 1800s. Here is are two more original military renditions - the first is a very grand instrumental (which I included because I really liked it) and the second includes the lyrics.

We Shall Not Be Moved
No prizes for guessing what this song became. It's not clear who the original artiste is, but it started as an African American gospel song. It was used as an anthem by slaves, and in the American civil war, and now is sometimes sung in place of Berhenti during Hentak Kaki.

Why Do We Need Cadences?
Marching cadences serve a very important function, apart from getting people to walk in step - they build camaraderie, keep spirits up and morale high. Try walking 24km in silence and you know the psychological difference a good song can make - whether it be a traditional cadence or the latest pop song.

Personally, from my own experiences training overseas, the best cadences are a brilliant mix of storyline and either humour or more sentimental emotions, against a catchy tune. Here are some other good examples from from the wide selection available on YouTube. And none of them need profanity or obscenity to motivate their men.

This list is still far from complete, and I'd love to discover the origins of some of my favourite songs like "Far, far away in the South China Sea..." and "Training to be soldiers..." These may be the truly original ones, or perhaps the lyrics have just changed beyond recognition, making them difficult to Google.

So where do we go from here? We've been singing the same cadences for a long time, and I think it would be really refreshing if we started to come up with our own. Our soldiers have already demonstrated no lack of ingenuity in borrowing old tunes and twisting lyrics, I wonder if we can take it to a new level?

If anyone has the history behind any other songs to contribute, do leave a comment below!