Friday, October 13, 2017

The American Quartet’s “Over There” hit #1 a century ago (10/13/1917)

First posted 9/29/2011; updated 4/12/2020.

Over There

American Quartet

Writer(s): George M. Cohan (see lyrics here)


First Charted: September 29, 1917


Peak: 19 US, 15 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 2.0 (sheet music)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.05 video, -- streaming

Awards (American Quartet version):

Awards (Nora Bayes’ version):

About the Song:

George M. Cohan’s “biggest song not written for Broadway” RCG became World War I’s most famous song. JA-154 He penned the patriotic number after reading in the newspaper that the United States had declared war on Germany. He expanded the opening phrase of “Johnny Get Your Gun”, a popular song from 1886, into “a lyric that is both a call to arms and a vow not to come home till ‘it’s over, over there’.” RCG

Cohan himself introduced the song at Ft. Myers to an audience of soldiers, but it had little impact. However, the response was “overwhelming” when Charles King sang it at the New York City’s Hippodrome Theatre for a Red Cross Benefit. RCG

For the official recording of the song, Cohan specifically requested Nora Bayes. NRR She was a popular vaudeville and Broadway star and former member of the Ziegfeld Follies. NRR She introduced it at a Red Cross war-bond rally, JA added it to her vaudeville act, and then recorded it. It sold over a million copies RCG and hit #1.

She wasn’t the first to chart with the song, however. In fact, the American Quartet and the Peerless Quartet took it to #1 before she did. The American Quartet’s version was the biggest hit of 1917. WHC The following year, Enrico Caruso also recorded a chart-topping version PM giving “Over There” and “Peg O’ My Heart” the distinction of being the only two songs in history to top the charts four times. Billy Murray and Prince’s Orchestra also recorded top 10 versions of the song.


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