The USS Missouri has a long and storied history. She earned numerous battle stars for her service in three American wars. She was the site where Japan signed its formal surrender, ending World War II. The last battleship produced by the United States, she was decommissioned in 1955 and reactivated in 1984 to support the Gulf War. She even made appearances in the 1992 movie Under Siege and in 2012’s Battleship.
Its most infamous moment came in 1989, when Cher sang “If I Could Turn Back Time” in front of the ship’s crew wearing a one-piece bathing suit and stockings that didn’t leave much to the imagination.
Almost no one but the director (and, presumably, Cher) was happy with the video. According to the book “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution,” MTV pretty much banned the video outright because of the visibility of Cher’s butt cheeks. The network later rolled that back and would play it only after 9pm – though MTV still pushed the envelope as “Safe Harbor” programming for broadcasters in the U.S. began at 10pm.
See how safe the harbor is in the music video below.
The outfit, of course, completely surprised the U.S. Navy, who had given their blessing for the shoot. Once he saw the singer’s costume on the set of the video, the Navy’s entertainment liaison for the Missouri asked the director to choose something else for Cher to wear. The director, of course, declined.
After all the flak the Navy took for the video, it decreed that never again would musicians be allowed to film music videos on ships of the U.S. Navy. In an attempt to placate the Navy, Cher later filmed parts of the song in a less-revealing outfit and without the crew present, but the new video was too little, too late.
For Cher, the song completely revived her 20-plus year long career. It was her second consecutive number one hit on the Billboard charts and was a certified gold record.
No one seems to know who wrote the lyrics to the hymn, but they have shifted slightly over time to reflect the evolution of the Corps. In 1942, the final changes were made to reflect the addition of aviation to the Marine Corps mission. The first verse’s fourth line, “On the land as on the sea” became “In the air, on land, and sea.”
3. It specifically mentions battles from the 1800s
The opening line “From the Halls of Montezuma” refers to the capture of Mexico City and the Castle of Chapultepec in 1847 during the Mexican-American War.
4. The American flag was first flown in an overseas victory at Tripoli
“To the Shores of Tripoli” pays homage to the First Barbary War, when U.S Marines helped capture the Tripolitan city of Derna in modern day Libya in 1805. It was the first time Old Glory was raised in victory on foreign soil.
5. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Marines
The lyrics aptly reflect the spirit of the Corps, mentioning the “fight for right and freedom,” the importance of honor, and even a bit of branch rivalry: “If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven’s scenes; they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.”
Both Manson and Billy Corgan come from military backgrounds: “We can speak to the personal effect that yes, we can be artists and yes, we can play these roles in public, but at the end of the day, if we don’t serve all our communities – [and] veterans are an integral part of our communities – we’re not really doing service as artists or as people,” Corgan told Rolling Stone.
The tour begins in Concord, California on July 7th.
“Forward, the Light Brigade! ‘Charge for the guns!’ he said: Into the valley of Death. Rode the six hundred.”
This was part of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem about how much of a cluster f*** the Battle of Balaclava truly ended up being. It is also the subject of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper.”
The song directly states, “And as I lay forgotten and alone. Without a tear I draw my parting groan,” as a tribute to unnamed troops who were killed that day. In the many years that have since passed, letters have been discovered of first hand testimony of the ill-fated battle.
From 1853-1856, French, British, and Ottoman forces fought against the Russian Empire in the Crimean War. Conflict began after the Russians occupied Ottoman territory in modern day Romania. Within this war, the most infamous battle was at Balaclava where “The Charge of the Light Brigade” took place.
Under the command of Maj. General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, the light cavalry brigade consisted of roughly 670 men. Lord Raglan, the Commander of the British forces, intended to prevent Russian troops from maintaining their guns on Ottoman positions.
There are many historical discrepancies on who ordered the actual charge, but the fact remains: the cavalrymen charged directly into enemy cannons, killing roughly a sixth of brigade and another sixth wounded, totaling 271 casualties.
It was later discovered that the Russians numbered 5,240 strong.
An unknown officer of the 17th Lancers wrote in a recently discovered letter, “We all knew the thing was desperate before we started, and it was even worse than we thought. However there was no hesitation, down our fellows went at a gallop — through a fire in front and on both flanks, which emptied our saddles and knocked over our horses by scores. I do not think that one man flinched in the whole Brigade — though every one allows that so hot a fire was hardly ever seen.”
The loyalty of the British cavalry became well respected. The London Gazette wrote of the charge weeks after. While the commanders became despised, the troops were revered for their courage in the face of certain death.
Private Pearson of the 4th Light Dragoons wrote to his parents, “I shall never forget the 25th of October — shells, bullets, cannonballs, and swords kept flying around us. Dear Mother, every time I think of my poor comrades it makes my blood run cold, to think how we had to gallop over the poor wounded fellows lying on the field of battle, with anxious looks for assistance — what a sickening scene!”
Roger Fenton is regarded as one of the first war photographers and was present at the charge. Fenton refused to photograph dead or wounded as to not upset Victorian Era sensibilities, but he did capture troops and many moments after.
This photo that J. Paul Getty Museum called “one of the most well-known images of war” shows the aftermath of cannonballs that littered the landscape. The photograph titled “Valley of the Shadow of Death” has been on exhibition with the over 300 other images of the Crimean War
Today, the Light Brigade is remembered in the song “The Trooper.” Bruce Dickinson frequently on tour wears the British “red coat” smock as he waves a war-torn Union Jack. There has never been a more appropriate time to form a wall of death in the mosh pit.
Check out Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” here, in all its glory:
While he’s more famous for being “The Man In Black,” Johnny Cash served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War and was the first man outside of the Soviet Union to learn of Premier Joseph Stalin’s death.
The Man In Black passed the message up the chain and returned to work. Cash’s job already required that he have limited off-post privileges and contact with locals. Still, he couldn’t discuss what happened with even his close friends.
The rest of the world would soon learn of Stalin’s death and the ascent of Georgy Malenkov.
Cash, meanwhile, would leave the service honorably just over a year later and return to Texas where he had trained. He married his first wife the same year and signed with Sun Records in 1955.
He played the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time the same year.
Over the following 48 years, Cash wrote thousands of songs and released dozens of albums before his death in September 2003 at the age of 71.
Alice in Chains was a widely-successful Grunge band in the 1990s. Alongside Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, they helped define an entire generation of musicians. While songs like Would? and Man in the Box are their most well-known, Rooster is the most beloved within the military community.
Jerry Cantrell Jr., the guitarist, co-vocalist, and songwriter, was the son of a Vietnam War veteran, Jerry Cantrell Sr. The younger Cantrell watched his father deploy twice and never talk about what happened in Vietnam. He watched as his father struggled with PTSD throughout his childhood until, eventually, it destroyed his family.
So, he wrote a song dedicated to his father and his experience in Vietnam.
The name, Rooster, is a play on three meanings: It was a childhood nickname of his father’s. ‘Rooster’ was also a nickname for M60 machine gunners because the muzzle flash looked like a rooster’s tail. It’s also a play on how the Vietnamese saw 101st Airborne Division soldiers who wore the Screaming Eagle on their sleeves. It’s said that because bald eagles aren’t native to Vietnam, the locals referred to 101st soldiers as “chicken men” or “roosters.” All three meanings perfectly describe Jerry Cantrell Sr.
The lyrics run deep with symbolism calling back to Vietnam. Cantrell Jr. was only able to piece together little things from what he heard his father occasionally say.
“Walking tall machine gun man.
They spit on me in my homeland.
Gloria sent me pictures of my boy.
Got my pills ‘gainst mosquito death,
My buddy’s breathing his dying breath.
Oh, God, please won’t you help me make it through.”
In a 1992 interview with Guitar for the Practicing Musician, he was asked if his father ever heard the song. He did, but only once live. Cantrell Jr recalled,
Yeah. He’s heard this song. He’s only seen us play once, and I played this song for him when we were in this club opening for Iggy Pop. I’ll never forget it. He was standing in the back and he heard all the words and stuff. Of course, I was never in Vietnam and he won’t talk about it, but when I wrote this, it felt right… like these were things he might have felt or thought. And I remember when we played it he was back by the soundboard and I could see him. He was back there with his big gray Stetson and his cowboy boots — he’s a total Oklahoma man — and at the end, he took his hat off and just held it in the air. And he was crying the whole time. This song means a lot to me. A lot.
Whether it’s the barracks on base, a berthing area aboard the ship, or a plywood building at a remote outpost in unfriendly lands, living in close quarters with folks you don’t know all that well is a big part of military life. But there are ways to expedite the process of getting acquainted by picking up on the clues your fellow service members are putting out all around you – like their taste in music, for instance.
So sneak a peek at their smartphones and see what they’re jamming on Spotify, Pandora, Beats, iTunes, or whatever. If you see any of these 7 artists (or the associated genres) here’s what your room-, bunk-, squad-, or shipmates are telling you:
1. The Black Keys
“I’m a new school take on an old school vibe, which is to say I’m at once low maintenance and high gloss. I’m an achiever but not in that obnoxious kiss-ass way that would give me a reputation among the others in the command. I like sports, but I’m not a bro. I’m in a stable relationship with a person back home and plan on getting married, but not until the time is right for both of us. I have two years of college under my belt and will work on finishing the rest in my spare time before my enlistment is up. After that I’ll get out and pretend like none of this every happened. Oh . . . and I’m smarter than you, but I’ll never say it.”
“You’ve probably already picked up on my intensity through my body language and the tone of my voice, although I haven’t said very much to you. I was one of the cool kids in the early high school years but got sick of those people — the meathead jocks and their vain girlfriends — so I pretty much spent the rest of the time with my best friend reading Dave Eggers entire body of work and making chalk doodles on sidewalks after dark using a flashlight. I had one boyfriend who broke up with me right after he stole my virginity. I got drunk after that and started to get a tattoo of his name to try and mess with his head or something, but I chickened out because it hurt so bad, so all I have is a small black dot near the top of my left bun. I knew nothing about the military when I joined but did it because it’s exactly what my parents thought I would never do. Now that I’m here I hate it. And — don’t take this personally — I’m pretty sure I hate you.”
“I got these tattoos before I joined and want to get a few more regardless of what the rules are. (They keep changing anyway.) I had planned on going to college, but before I got accepted anywhere I got busted for spray-painting graffiti on the side of one of the overpasses in my hometown. My dad lawyer’d up, and my record was wiped clean, but he gave me one option at that point: Join the military. So here I am. Funny thing is I don’t mind it; in fact, I’m actually enjoying it. I told the dudes back home that I was only staying for one enlistment, if that even, but truth is I’ll probably wind up being a lifer. I’m a good friend who knows how to hook a buddy up. I also know about paying assholes back, so don’t be one.”
4. Luke Bryan
“It won’t surprise you based on my build and the intensity of my workouts that I was the quarterback of my high school football team. I went to junior college an hour from my hometown in Texas, but had one too many blowouts with the coach and got thrown off the team. After that I started to party and stopped going to class. I flunked out and didn’t want to go back home, so I joined the military. I come off as a super-friendly, semi-religious guy but really I’m a massive backstabber, especially if things aren’t going my way. I’m very competitive and hate to lose at anything, including making rank ahead of my peers. I talk about trucks all the time but my main ride is a Yaris the insurance money bought after I crashed my F-150 a few years back. I can line dance, which makes me a good wingman in certain bars. I’ll listen to your problems with an earnest expression, but really I don’t care, and if you need me for a crisis I’ll probably have a conflict that’ll prevent me from helping in any meaningful way. Sorry. (Not really.)”
5. Maroon 5
“I was student council vice president and a member of the National Honor Society and had oodles of promise but I kind of gagged on it and couldn’t deal with the weight of my family’s expectations, so after working as a sales associate at Target for a few months I joined the military. The recruiter told me about the great education programs and how I could get into officer training pretty easily based on my profile, but it turns out that was all bullshit, of course, and I’m stuck with this lame MOS that I kinda feel is beneath me but will do a good job with anyway. The command will tempt me with advanced schooling and other incentives based on my cheery disposition and positive outlook, but I’ll get out after my first term and give college another try using my GI Bill benefit. Oh, and I listen to Maroon 5 because I really don’t like music all that much.”
6. Ed Sheeran
“I joined the military after a traumatic breakup with my fiance because I needed massively new surroundings in my life (and I thought the move would also be a nice “you can’t hurt me” signal to my ex) but halfway through boot camp I had massive regrets, and I freaked to the point they pulled me out and sent me to the doc who told me that I was fine and that stress was a natural part of life and that I needed to stay hydrated. After that I heard whispers from the others that I was a drama queen, which is a total lie cause I hate drama and have posted a bunch of memes on Facebook about that fact. I’ve been in three relationships since I got to this command seven months ago, and all of them ended kinda ugly, mostly because they didn’t respect me for my mind and the fact that I listen to song lyrics and get what they mean. And I need a hug.”
“I joined up after high school first thing because my dad and uncle had both served and they said the military was a great place to get started in life. Made sense to me. Otherwise I would have wound up doing a lot of nothing and that always leads to bad things. I have a thuggish exterior like I’m all don’t-give-a-shit but deep-down inside I cry a little bit when they yell at me for what the First Sergeant calls ‘screwing the pooch’ or whatever. (I don’t really cry.) Plus, I’m trying my best, yo. If it’s so easy why don’t you do it? (That’s just me thinking that, not saying that out loud or nothing.) But, like I said before, this military thing makes sense to me. It’s all good. I’m down with it.”
While marching toward the enemy, the armies of the ancient Greek city states would sing paeans to the God Apollo in unison. It was an homage to their god, inspired the Greek hoplites to fight, but also was intimidating to the enemy. It also helped the tight, packed formations typical of hoplite warfare keep time in their march.
In a similar way, music played a vital role after the musket was introduced to the battlefield in the 16th century. The weapons were relatively inaccurate and short-ranged, and the concept of massed coordinated volley fire was needed to make them effective in the open-field engagements of the time.
Drums, flutes, and bugles were all used to issue commands over the noise of battle, as well as helping large groups of soldiers keep their ranks as they marched and maneuvered. Young boys were often used for the role, and they could face dangers as great as any of the regular soldiers. More conventional bands were used to entertain troops during the Civil War, often even on the front lines.
Two weeks ago, the House passed legislation that would ban military bands from performing at social functions other than formal military ceremonies and funerals to help cut defense spending.
The Defense Department spent $437 million in Fiscal Year 2015 on “musicians, instruments, uniforms and travel expenses,” according to Stars Stripes.
“For every dollar that is spent on our bands to entertain at social functions, that’s a dollar we’re not spending on national security and on our troops and our families,” said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, a retired Air Force colonel who sponsored the bill.
The Army currently has 99 bands, the Air Force has 15 bands, the Marine Corps has 12 bands, and the Navy has 11, according to Politico. The bill now heads to the Senate.
The history of military bands is long and storied.
Though bands had played varying roles since the Revolutionary War, it was Army Gen. John Pershing during World War I who set the stage for the military’s current band system after seeing the much more elaborate European army bands in action. He believed the bands to be essential to troop morale and set up a formal training system in place of what was previously fairly ad hoc, greatly expanding regimental bands.
Though by World War II such use of music on the battlefield had largely been abandoned, there were still some examples, if far more eccentric ones. The famed British commando ‘Mad’ Jack Churchill, who clearly had a taste for older styles of warfare, would go into action playing bagpipes to inspire his men while carrying a Scottish broadsword and a longbow. The Soviet Union was known to play patriotic music before it’s troops charged as well.
In modern warfare, however, military bands are seen more and more as an anachronism used for strictly ceremonial purposes, and are confined to the parade ground rather than the battlefield.
It’s been a long time since military bands performed in combat. In an era of tighter budgets and ever more modern warfare, it’s clear Congress is beginning to see military bands more as a frivolity than a necessity.
In 1987, singer David Bowie played a concert in West Berlin, near the Reichstag. The performance was so loud, a massive crowd gathered on the East side of the nearby Berlin Wall to better hear his performance. He could hear the East Germans behind the Iron Curtain, singing along.
At the time, he didn’t know it would be the catalyst for the beginning of the end the city’s crushing divide.
The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to keep East Berliners (and all East Germans) inside East Germany. It certainly wasn’t needed to keep Western citizens out. It quickly became a symbol of the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe, the barrier between East and West that kept one side subject to the oppression of forced Communism and the other a burgeoning society of freedom and self-governance.
It was in Berlin where Bowie recorded his 1977 album, “Heroes,” a song about two lovers, one from East Berlin and one from the West. Living with punk legend Iggy Pop in the city’s Schöneberg neighborhood, Bowie could walk outside his door and see the tyranny and death that came with living in the heart of the Cold War. The song’s lyrics were so descriptive of the city’s plight, it became one of Berlin’s anthems:
I, I can remember (I remember) Standing, by the wall (by the wall) And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads) And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall) And the shame, was on the other side Oh we can beat them, forever and ever Then we could be heroes, just for one day
70,000 Germans attended the 1987 Concert for Berlin.
The artists spent years in Berlin recording his albums “Low” and “Lodger,” along with “Heroes.” Today, they’re referred to as Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy.” A decade after recording “Heroes,” Bowie returned to Berlin as part of the Concert for Berlin, a three-day festival held near the Reichstag, the seat of West Germany’s parliament. Nearby was the Brandenburg Gate and, running through it, the notorious Berlin Wall. The music, forbidden in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) rang out loudly in the West, and wafted over the wall.
Along with Bowie came Eurythmics, Genesis, and Bruce Hornsby. Thousands of East Berliners began to crowd the area near the gate, trying to get an earful as East German guards fought them back, dragging them away from the area and arresting the unruly. If they couldn’t listen near the wall, they could listen over the airwaves. The radio station Radio in the American Sector broadcast the concert in its entirety throughout the city, with the blessings of the artists and recording labels.
“It was like a double concert where the wall was the division,” Bowie told The Atlantic. “And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did ‘Heroes’ it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer.”
Eventually, the crowd broke into a full-on chant of, “the wall must fall!” and “Gorby, get us out!” When the concert ended on the third night, the East German police beat back the crowd with billy clubs. Even though Bowie headlined the second night, it’s believed his performance attracted more East Berliners to the wall the next night. It was the overreaction from the East Berlin police that turned so many residents against the regime. It completely changed the mood of the city, which would only be divided for two years longer before frustrations overwhelmed the wall.
“The title song of the ‘Heroes’ album is one of Bowie’s best-known works and became the hymn of our then-divided city and its yearning for freedom,” said Berlin Mayor Michael Müller. “With this song, Bowie has not only set musical standards, but also unmistakably expressed his attachment to our city.”
Bowie played Berlin again in 1989, after the wall fell and the city was united. His last show in Berlin was in 2004. When Bowie died in 2016, the German government officially thanked him for bringing the wall down and unifying a divided Germany.
Hollywood has always found a way to connect music with visuals. This seamless blending is an art that has constantly evolved alongside filmmaking.
Legends by likes of James Cameron and Martin Scorsese have used hit songs like “Bad to the Bone” in
Terminator 2: Judgement Day and “Stardust” in Casino to enhance the audiences’ experiences and bring their films to life.
Recently, a young director by the name of Edgar Wright has changed cinema with his revolutionary take on how to perfectly mold film editing with one’s favorite tune in Baby Driver.
Once we see this kid start bumping “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on his iPod, there’s no stopping him.
Baby Driver definitely had the moves, but the military has always had the attitude. The songs on this list capture the attention of audiences and pull them into the on-screen battles, parties and periods of mourning.
So, let’s kick the tires and light the fires, because this list is sure to have you on your feet.
Let’s kick off this list with a classic. Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone set the tone for Tony Scott’s high-octane blockbuster and the song’s never been the same since. Now, when you hear Loggins start to croon, you immediately conjure up images of Maverick taking to the skies in Top Gun.
“Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man” by Public Enemy in ‘Three Kings’
Nothing starts a party like the hip-hop group with attitude by the name of Public Enemy. When the music starts bumping and the whiskey starts flowing, the soldiers in this film show that the military can party just as hard as anyone.
Jarhead is a rendition of the Anthony Swafford’s 2003 memoir about the Gulf War that gives viewers a (slightly exaggerated) glimpse at the lesser-known elements of the Marine Corps.
The truth is, there are no better orders then the ones that get you home, which is why Public Enemy makes this list again. As “Fight the Power” blares on screen and the ground pounders fire rounds into the night air, the audience gets a taste of that sweet, sweet freedom.
Topping off the list is the true story of the Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrel, the sole survivor of Operation Red Wings. Lone Survivor revisits the unfortunate events of that day and reminds us of a grim reality: we are never truly out of the fight.
At the end of the film, as the credits role and the audience is shown a series of photographs of the real troops who gave their lives for the mission, “Heroes” by Peter Gabriel plays — and nothing else could’ve fit better.
Christmas can be a special time of the year, but for those troops who have deployed, it’s a very bittersweet time. Their families also have those same bittersweet feelings. The reason why is obvious: During a holiday where families gather, the military stands watch. Whether deployed overseas or stationed far from home, military members are often separated from their families during the holidays.
Grammy nominees John Ondrasik, who goes by the stage name Five for Fighting, and pianist Jim Brickman teamed up to write a Christmas song for the troops after witnessing troops and their families feel those raw emotions. The two singers had been involved with Operation Care Package and the USO, and the product of their collaboration is “Christmas Where You Are,” which is available on iTunes.
“The holidays can be an especially hard time for our troops and their families,” Ondrasik and Brickman said in a release, “‘Christmas Where You Are’ is a thank you and reminder to soldiers that we are with them in heart and spirit, wherever they stand, in service and sacrifice to our nation. We hope that no matter where these brave men and women are stationed, the warmth and love of family transcends the miles. We want them to know that a grateful nation holds them close to our hearts.”
Grammy nominee Ondrasik, a philanthropist and singer-songwriter, has sold over three million records. He has released six albums. Brickman, a two-time Grammy nominee and Dove Award winner, has 21 Number One albums. “Christmas Where You Are” will also be featured on Brickman’s latest album, A Joyful Christmas, which is dropping on Nov. 10.
Grammy nominees John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting (right) and Jim Brickman. (Photo by Duston Todd/BYU TV)
Some of the proceeds of the song will go to the Gary Sinise Foundation, as well as What Kind Of World Do You Want, an initiative Ondrasik created which helps raise funds for Augie’s Quest, Autism Speaks, Fisher House Foundation, Save the Children and Operation Homefront.
Musical instruments have been going to war since humans started gathering large armies — I don’t have an exact date, but I can tell you it was a long, long time ago. But humans have advanced to the point where we no longer require war drums. Instead, one guy from a unit brings a guitar on deployment and plays the same three goddamn power chords for eight months.
Musical instruments really were a necessity in warfare for much of human history. Music wasn’t just used for battlefield intimidation, it was used as a means to communicate orders to troops so they could be heard over the din of old-timey combat. Buglers were the radiomen of their day when it came to battlefield tactics. Drummers kept a marching army on the move. All the musical instruments were morale builders for troops a long way from home.
The legacy of music on the battlefield lives on in the modern-day form of U.S. military bands, like the Marine Corps’ The President’s Own, Today, they are used for ceremonial and morale-building events. Admit it, there would be a lot less interest in some events without the pomp and glory of some well-placed martial music.
It is worth nothing, however, that there is a real hierarchy to musical instruments on the battlefield, depending on which side you’re fighting, how big the instrument is, and the amount of effort it takes to haul it into combat.
And by whistles, I mean the kind lifeguards use to inform you that there’s no running next to the pool. In World War I, officers used whistles to signal a march forward and “over the top” of the trenches and toward the Kaiser. Whistles were used in battles at the Somme, Verdun, and Belleau Wood.
If it seems like a bad idea to use a loud whistle that would alert the enemy (and their machine guns) as you and your mates were coming to inflict pain in the name of the King (or whomever else), you’d be right. A charge across no man’s land was usually a pretty costly affair. The whistle was also used in a number of other ways, like a warning to stay clear of firing artillery.
A good rule of thumb if you ever find yourself in World War I: steer clear of whistles.
It’s safe to say that these are a bit out of tune.
These days, most people associate the harmonica with cowboys, cattle drivin’, rustlers, and wild-west lawmen. But it actually originated much earlier than all that. It gained popularity in the U.S. in time for the Civil War and was still pretty popular among American troops well through World Wars I and II.
Small, compact, and lightweight, it was not an instrument you’d get confused with say, an order to go over the top, and it didn’t have to be lugged around like Derek’s stupid guitar. It also made for some really great solo music when you’re sitting around by the fire, bored and waiting for your lieutenant to order you to run through mud at a machine gun.
And, unlike a drum, every once it a while, a well-placed harmonica would stop a bullet.
Which usually would not end well for you and your buds.
Bugles weren’t just used for battlefield communication, they dominated every aspect of a troop’s daily life. When to wake up, when to eat, when the duty day was over, even sick call — all communicated through bugle calls.
Unfortunately for the enemy, a bugle call more often than not meant the a hundred or more war horses were on their way to mush you and your battle buddies into the ground.
“Don’t you dare let that beat drop, son.”
Anyone who’s heard the opening bars of Metallica’s Enter Sandman can probably tell you just how awesome drums can be, even if the beat is very simple. In war, drums were not only used as communications, but also as a way to intimidate an enemy force into believing their numbers were bigger than they actually were.
Easily the best instrument for hiding an army’s numbers, bagpipes were considered a weapon of war until 1996. It was said that a highland regiment never went to war without a piper in the lead, so the bagpipes meant that that an army was on the move — and the enemy (usually the British) could have no idea how big it was. The pipes hid all other sounds.
By World War II, the pipes were relegated to being a background instrument, used only well behind friendly lines — until Bill Millan landed on Sword Beach during D-Day, sporting a kilt and playing the pipes.
The unmistakable sound of bagpipes on the move probably struck fear into the heart of any enemy, even if that sound came from miles away. It was loud enough to give you plenty of warning the Scots were on the move. They wanted you to be there when their army arrived.
Django Reinhardt was a lot of things — most of which the Nazis hated. He was a gypsy, a European Romani, the storied wandering people who were targeted by the Nazis for extermination through forced labor (if they weren’t shot on sight). Reinhardt was also a jazz musician, practicing a form of music Hitler and Goebbels felt was part of a conspiracy to weaken Germany. Jazz was forbidden from the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power.
Yet, during World War II, Reinhardt stayed at his home in France long after the nation fell to the Nazis. In fact, Nazis were some his biggest fans.
At a time when the European Roma were considered racially inferior and German prejudices allowed them to be targeted alongside German Jews and other races for extermination, Reinhardt was able to maintain a quiet life for himself and his family. The reason was his superior musical talent. As gypsies were forced out of cities and into concentration camps by the tens of thousands, he kept his head down and played on.
Despite losing the movement in two fingers during an fire-related accident earlier in his life, Django was an amazing musician. His speed on the strings and frets allowed him to play furiously with just two fingers and a thumb. He picked up his performing skills in small clubs throughout Europe before the war and would perform alongside Jazz legends like Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and Dizzy Gillespie. He would even perform a jam session with the great Louis Armstrong.
His skill was critical to his survival. He played jazz, but he knew when not to play jazz. He would even branch out musically, writing masses for the plight of his people and even a symphony. Jazz musicians had to follow certain rules under Nazi occupation, at least in occupied Bohemia and Moravia, where these rules come from:
1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands; 2. In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics; 3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated; 4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs); 5. Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
6. Also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches); 7. The double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions; 8. Plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden; 9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat); 10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.
And yet, the Nazis still loved jazz.
“The Germans used Paris basically as their rest-and-relaxation center, and when the soldiers came, they wanted wine and women and song,” Reinhardt’s biographer Michael Dregni told NPR. “And to many of them, jazz was the popular music, and Django was the most famous jazz musician in Paris… And it was really a golden age of swing in Paris, with these [Romas] living kind of this grand irony.”