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Charlie and His Orchestra

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Years before both Allan Sherman and the publishers of Mad Magazine perfected the art of superimposing clever lyrics over existing popular melodies, Nazi propagandists hit upon the idea and used it to generate big-band dance music with altered verses sung in English to be aired over shortwave radio in order to undermine morale among British and Allied Armed Forces personnel. The first attempt at this hybrid form of propaganda was ridiculously rigid and unbelievable; the "British Soldier's Song" recorded October 11, 1939 had phrases like "you must die for Poland" sung in thickly German-accented English to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers." Within months, the Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment had reconsidered the entire project with results which while no less repugnant in retrospect, certainly worked better as credible propaganda. Since the lies and distorted truths were most likely to get through when woven into the chord progressions of counterfeit pop music, efforts were made to emulate the British dance bands broadcasting regularly over BBC Radio. Unsuspecting listeners would tune in, and half-way through a familiar toe-tapping pop tune would suddenly be exposed to anti-British, anti-Semitic, and eventually anti-Soviet and anti-American lyrics sung in only ever-so-slightly accented English. The cleverest broadsides were directed against Winston Churchill, the BBC, and the British government and upper classes. "Bye Bye Blackbird" became "Bye Bye Empire," "South of the Border" was transformed into a wistful routine implying that Churchill would flee to the "western Atlantic, America way." "Hold Tight, Want Some Seafood Mama" became "Hold Tight, Want Some Communism" (interesting to hear Nazis singing "I like murder, purges too!") and "Who'll Buy My Bublitchky" lampooned upper class British fascination with Socialism with the refrain "everybody's going Bolsheviky!" Most subtle was a reversal of the lyrics to "Blue Skies Are Around the Corner" so as to come out as "Grey skies are around the corner -- everything's gonna go wrong." But subtlety was not a trait normally associated with Nazi Germany. The worst and most insulting moments (in addition to racist trimmings laid over the "St. Louis Blues" and a reference to Churchill as the "fat friend of the Jew") were the strangely giddy and downright shocking references to the sinking of ocean liners in the Atlantic, the most despicable example being an autumn 1942 recording of "Three Little Fishies." Note also that other Propaganda Ministry-sponsored recordings had no propaganda content whatsoever. The man who laid the groundwork for these broadcast performances and the resulting phonograph records was vocalist Karl Schwedler, who was sent into neutral and newly occupied countries to gather phonograph records by popular British and U.S. dance bands. These were adapted and arranged by a squad of lyricists who cooked up German propaganda verses which were then translated into English for broadcast performance. Schwedler sang the often weirdly reconstructed lyrics with big-band accompaniment by an ensemble that sometimes included a string section or even Latin rhythm instruments, as needed. The name under which Schwedler and this band operated was Charlie & His Orchestra. Led by tenor saxophonist Lutz Templin, the group featured trumpeters Nino Impallomeni and Rimis Van den Broek, saxophonist Detlev Lais, and a follower of Coleman Hawkins named Jean Robert, as well as pianists Primo Angeli and Tip Tisch Claar. Since jazz and other "racially impure" musical forms like the tango had been declared decadent and even degenerate by the guardians of Nazi ideology (see Harlequin 2051 -- Swing Under the Nazis 1941-1944: The Complete Clandestine Recordings of the Frankfurt Hot Club), it may seem surprising to hear hot improvised solos during some of the swingier performances. Bear in mind that jazz was being used for a specific purpose, to subvert the morale of soldiers and citizens of the very nations with which such music was associated. Charlie & His Orchestra existed mainly as a radio band, and almost all of the recordings were made during the broadcasts, sometimes without the knowledge of the performers. In 1943, Allied bombs forced the transfer of the operation from Berlin to Stuttgart, where less sophisticated recording equipment curtailed the production of acetate records under the name of Charlie & His Orchestra, even though the band continued to perform over the air. A quintet drawn from the big band and led by drummer Fritz Brocksieper made at least six acetates in Stuttgart during April 1944, and the big band recorded in August of that year as the Orchester Lutz Templin, but these recordings are a footnote to this strange organization's murky legacy. During the '80s, the Harlequin label reissued every known record associated in any way with Charlie & His Orchestra, along with a rare batch sung in French, and actual transcript recordings of William Joyce, the notorious Nazi radio personality Lord Haw-Haw, who was tried as a war criminal and executed in January 1946. At least four volumes came out on LP, and unfortunately, subsequent CD editions seem not to have duplicated or meshed well with the LP series. A comprehensive, chronologically arranged edition is needed to assist students of music, history, and psychopathology in arriving at an informed reassessment and reinterpretation of the entire human condition. ~ arwulf arwulf

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