Underneath the Lantern


The poem “Lili Marleen”, written by a lovesick German soldier in World War 1,  was set to music in 1938 and recorded by a German singer in 1939. By chance this little noticed, virtually unknown song, began to be played to German forces in World War 2 and as a result of its sentimentality, and seductive tune, became what we would now call an “earworm”. Then Marlene Dietrich recorded it during the war (apparently as a propaganda move to make German soldiers homesick) , and its popularity even among British soldiers increased.

Earworms are songs, tunes, that become ubiquitous not necessarily because of any musical or literary merit but because they appear at a time that strikes a chord for many individuals. I read somewhere recently that there is a time during late teenagehood, early adulthood, when the growing brain reacts to some frequently heard music by producing endorphins which result in a feeling of well-being. This is why each generation in turn is fixated on the popular music of their youth, and why each parental generation in turn just “doesn’t get it” can’t stand the “raucous rubbish”, and don’t think, for example in my case, that “any good pop music has been written since 1969″.

Earworms have to be “catchy” in a way that generates bucketfuls of endorphins, but also have to coincide in some way with particular significant events in your life. One of mine, forgotten for years, was “Cast your fate to the Wind”:

A month of nights, a year of days 
Octobers drifting into Mays 
I set my sail when the tide comes in 
I just cast my fate to the wind 

I shift my course along the breeze 
Won’t sail upwind on memories 
The empty sky is my best friend 
I just cast my fate to the wind 

A month of nights, a year of days 
Octobers drifting into Mays 
I set my sail when the tide comes in 
I just cast my fate to the wind
This was originally a simple jazz tune (words added later) by Vince Guaraldi, his main claim to fame (Wikipedia notes – “Unlike many songwriters who grow weary of their biggest hits, Guaraldi never minded taking requests to play it when he appeared live. “It’s like signing the back of a check”, he once remarked). It hit the popular charts with an artificial group called “Sounds Orchestral”. It is simple but hypnotic. I heard it first in 1965, completing undergraduate university and wondering what the future held, and, as I probably sensed, in my last year living in my childhood home. The words, as well as the tune, struck a chord.

Plenty of other ear worms for me in the 1960s, and yes, even after 1969. Here are some that come to me:

American pie [McLean, Don]
As Tears Go By [The Rolling Stones]
Bad Moon Rising [Fogerty, John]
Brothers In Arms [Dire Straits]
Catch the wind [Donovan]
Cry Me a River [Connick, Jr., Harry]
Down in the depths [Merman, Ethel]
Fields of gold [Sting]
Go now [The Moody Blues]
Going home (Local Hero theme) [Knopfler, Mark]
Good vibrations [Beach Boys]
Heart Of Glass    [Blondie]
Hotel California [The Eagles]
I don’t want to talk about it [Coolidge, Rita]
If I had words [Fitzgerald, Scott & Keeley, Yvonne]
Imagine    [Lennon, John]
Knowing me, knowing you [Abba]
Mad World [Tears for Fears]
Massachusetts   [ Bee Gees]
Monday Monday [The Mamas and the Papas]
Morning Has Broken [Stevens, Cat]
Mr Tambourine Man [The Byrds]
Night rains [Ian, Janis]
Nights In White Satin [The Moody Blues]
Penny Lane [Beatles]
Piano Man [Joel, Billy]
Rock and Roll Lady [McClellan, Mike]
Sailing [Stewart, Rod]
Sounds of silence [Simon & Garfunkel]
Streets of London [McTell, Ralph]
Those were the days [Hopkins, Mary]
Whiter shade of pale [Procul Harum]
Wooden heart [Presley, Elvis]
Yesterday [Beatles]
How does the that compare with your list eh? Any in common?

I guess I thought of “Cast your fate to the wind” again the other day having forgotten it for years because it is a good song to have Lymphoma by. A recycling of an ear worm from nearly half a century ago for a whole new reason.

Now, if I could only get it out of my mind…