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"Oh! How I Hate to Get up in the Morning"
It’s been awhile since we listened to an Irving Berlin number for Sometimes a Song. But “in the line of duty,” I thought it appropriate to present to you a song which did a great deal to cheer up the troops who served in the military during both of the World Wars and beyond. And who WAS one of those soldiers? Why, Mr. Berlin himself. And his “Oh! How I Hate to Get up in the Morning” was not just something he dreamed up to make a buck, although the sheet music for the song sold like hotcakes.
Unlike Berlin himself, who was drafted just before hitting his 30th birthday in 1918 (and a newly minted naturalized American citizen), his song was commissioned — in a manner of speaking — along with the rest of Irving Berlin’s considerable talents — to raise money for Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island, where Private Berlin was stationed while the Great War was winding to its close. The funds he raised were earmarked for the building of a residence to house visiting families of the soldiers, and the sum needed for that project was $35 million. Berlin was initially asked only to do fund-raising work, but shortly he volunteered to write a full Broadway show instead, with the proceeds to be donated to the Camp. The show that he wrote, called “Yip, Yip, Yaphank,” was the first to feature today’s song.
Shortly after he was drafted and before he had been asked to do any fundraising for the Army, Berlin had written “Oh, How I Hate to Get up in the Morning,” which was, as he later commented, something of a personal “protest song.” Reveille was blown at 5 AM, and the 30-year-old Berlin was no farm boy. He really DID hate to get up in the morning. His regular composing routine for many years had been to hit the clubs and theaters at night and then work into and past the wee hours of the morning when his musical powers were at their fullest. So in song, he was poking fun at the Army’s early A.M. regimen and at himself for being a morning lie-abed. But the song quickly caught on among the men from across the services and gave them a way to “complain” in a (mostly) cheerful and funny way about the lot of being a soldier. My readers will be happy to know that in exchange for requisitioning his talents, Camp Upton’s commander excused Irving Berlin from keeping to the camp routine and allowed him to compose in the way and at the hours when he did his best work.
And so a song Irving Berlin’s wrote off the cuff when he was irked by the Army’s early “wake-up call” went on to inspire a Broadway play whose revenue far exceeded the $35 million needed to build the residence at Camp Upton, and by some estimates probably earned close to $160 million — a major fortune in today’s dollars. And Irving Berlin never saw a cent from any productions he did with the Army. When the Great War ended, the planned project for which the funds had been raised was forsaken, and the money? It vanished without a trace. But Irving Berlin did not complaints about that. He had a life-long habit of donating proceeds from his work to worthy causes. In addition to being used for “Yip, Yip, Yaphank,” Berlin’s popular little ditty was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918, sung by Betty Boop in a 1932 “short, and used in a 1938 film Berlin scored and which was named after his early hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
Irving Berlin was called up a second time, to serve in World War II, although he was by then over 50 years old. In 1942, the Army asked him to compose another Broadway musical which they were planning to produce with a cast of U.S. soldiers, to benefit the Army Emergency Relief Fund. The 1942 play (and the 1943 film version) was called “This is the Army.” And, once again, Irving Berlin donated all his earnings from those projects to the war effort. Did I mention that he was a patriot? For those who don’t know, or those who may have forgotten it, Berlin wrote (among his some 1500 songs) the unofficial national anthem, “God Bless America.” And for your pleasure today, here is the composer himself singing his comic “Oh! How I Hate to Get up in the Morning” in a film production for which he wrote all the music and from which he donated all the income to his beloved adopted homeland.
A final note: Part of the charm of this clip is Irving Berlin’s very slight voice, which he was pretty worried would not be up to par. Berlin had sung the song on Broadway for every performance of “This is the Army,” but live performances live on mainly in reputation and tend to improve in the remembrance. Film was another medium, as Irving Berlin well knew. He had written for and worked with great singers, and he knew that his voice was not great. After recording the song on film, he is reported to have given this evaluation of his role in “This is the Army.” The quote speaks volumes about the man.
“Today they finished shooting my portion of the picture and I am certainly glad it's over with. All I do is sing "Hate to Get Up in the Morning" as I did in the [Broadway]show, but the camera is a severe judge and I am afraid even with the great amount of care and fuss they can't improve what the Fates decreed to be a homely face. As for my voice, I made a recording. When the record was first played on the set, one of the electricians, who didn't know whose voice it was, said, "If the guy who wrote that song could hear the record, he would turn over in his grave"--which gives you a fair idea. However I am hoping it won't be too bad.” (Quote from The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin. Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)
Word & Song Word & Song is an online magazine devoted to reclaiming the good, the beautiful, and the true. We publish six essays each week, on words, classic hymn, poems, films, and popular songs, as well a weekly podcast, alternately Poetry Aloud or Anthony Esolen Speaks. To support this project, please join us as a free or paid subscriber.