War nostalgia may not be the most sensible mood for the holidays, but a number of recent releases tap into musical memories of World War II and Vietnam, and back to the Civil War.
On the 50th anniversary of World War II, Reston resident E.P. DiGiannantonio has produced "Celebrating V Discs," a three-cassette (and eventually two-CD) package drawn from these historic releases, many representing the only music recorded during the 1942-1944 American Federation of Musicians recording ban. The discs were meant to provide homesick soldiers with a morale booster in the form of "music from home" (mostly of the big band variety); the V stood for "victory." The shellac 78 rpm discs were boxed 20 at a time and sent overseas on a monthly basis, along with hand-cranked players and plenty of needles. The Army Service Forces-Special Services Division got the ball rolling in 1943 and soon after, DiGiannantonio was put in charge of the Navy's V-Disc program. It was discontinued in 1949 and officials ordered the destruction of all V-Discs at home and abroad (some 8 million were made as noncommercial products, part of the war effort; the artists received no royalties).
DiGiannantonio managed to hold on to a thousand of the Navy V-Discs originally sent to him for technical assessment, and with the recent blessings of the union, the military and assorted government and licensing agencies, has now begun a reissue program; much of the profit will go to the AFM retirement fund.
The V-Disc collection is representative of the popular artists of the day: Glenn Miller, Kay Kayser, Ella Fitzgerald, Connie Boswell, Artie Shaw, Guy Lombardo, Fats Waller, Jo Stafford, Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (able to record together for the Army though they were on competing labels) and a very young Frank Sinatra. The repertoire is heavy on dance hits and even more so on songs that expressed romantic sentiments that undoubtedly appealed to soldiers far from home ("Always," "Goodnight Sweetheart," "I'll Be Seeing You," "More Than You Know" etc). V-Discs got even more exposure when they were played over the new Armed Forces Radio Service, which DiGiannantonio headed in 1948.
The first three-cassette collection is available for $24.95 from V-Disc, P.O. Box 6, Springfield, Va. 22150; orders are being taken for CD versions at $29.95. Subsequent releases will be single cassettes or CDs, focusing on a theme, artists or music style (from country and classics to jazz).
Earlier this year, Rhino released "Songs That Got Us Through World War II," an 18-song CD featuring many of the same artists and a few choice extras such as the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots and Johnny Mercer. Again, the songs "Ac-cent-Tchu-ate the Positive" (Mercer does that one): Besides service-focused songs such as the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and Mercer's "G.I. Jive," sentimental moods reign supreme, from the separation anxiety of "Till Then" and "I Wonder" and reassurance of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "I Don't Want to Walk Without You" and "I'll Walk Alone," to the postwar optimism expressed in "When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)," "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover" and "It's Been a Long, Long Time."
Flying Fish has released a soundtrack album from the documentary "Partisans of Vilna: The Songs of the World War II Jewish Resistance." These Yiddish songs, newly recorded, were created in the Vilna ghetto and express, according to the record, "profound grief and rage, the ordinary longings, the pride in military exploits, the romance of heroism, but most of all the inextinguishable defiance that animated the young fighters." Or as one song puts it, "we sang, songs united our souls, elevated our feelings and steeled our muscles."
On a more contemporary note, "Rock Radio Vietnam" (K-Tel) features an actual broadcast aired over Armed Forces Vietnam Network in 1970, with 10 songs and lots of patter from Armed Forces deejay Jim Amross, a standard-issue FM jock in uniform. As a result, his plugs for Stars and Stripes, announcements of deadlines for sending Christmas gifts back to the States, absentee voting and soldiers' savings deposit programs are pretty straightforward. The music's a typically odd mix: Delaney and Bonnie's "Soul Shake," Free's "All Right Now," Freda Payne's "Deeper and Deeper" and Hotleg's "Neanderthal Man," and others by the Buckinghams, Aretha Franklin, Chairmen of the Board, Dawn, Angels and Rare Earth. Amross is no Adrian Cronauer, so Viet nostalgists may want to seek out the reissued soundtrack to "Good Morning, Vietnam," which features not only better songs but better patter, thanks to Robin Williams, who played Cronauer in the film.
Vietnam is also the inspiration for "China Beach: Music and Memories" (SBK). This one mixes a few '60s oldies (including the Supremes' "Reflections," which opens the show), new recordings of period songs and dialogue from real veterans that's often used on the show. Among the covers: Katrina and the Waves' "We've Got to Get Out of This Place" (which they performed on the show in period costume), Wendy Wall's "Time of the Season" and Wilson Phillips's "A Reason to Believe." Also included is star Dana Delaney's tearjerker "Far From Home."
Going back even further, there's the new soundtrack recording for the PBS hit "The Civil War" (Elektra/Nonesuch). It opens and closes with Jay Ungar's haunting fiddle tune, "Ashokan Farewell" (it's even coming out as a single), as well as string band music, marches for brass bands, gospel anthems, piano tunes and period classics such as "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Dixie" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."