“Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?”
That line, in Pink Floyd’s “Vera,” was my introduction to the existence of Vera Lynn. At the age of 11, with a fresh copy of The Wall in hand, I didn’t necessarily understand all of the references (or all of the material, for that matter) contained in it. It was only through more reading, more life experience, and more research that I came to understand what the songs were about. Vera Lynn was an important figure in Britain during WW2, which Pink Floyd referred to quite a bit on both The Wall and The Final Cut (an LP that I love, but not when I’m in a great mood). Ms. Lynn passed away today at the age of 103.
Dame Vera Lynn had the self-appointed job of rallying the British troops through song, but I’d suggest that the lifting of spirits during the sacrifice of wartime carried over to the British people as well. I guess the closest American parallel would be Kate Smith, if Smith were more popular. Among the performances she’s best known for during the Second World War: “The White Cliffs of Dover” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” She had a chart-topper in the UK in 1954 with “My Son, My Son.” Lynn also crossed over to the American Easy Listening charts in 1967 with “It Hurts To Say Goodbye,” which made #7 on that chart.
It’s important to consider, since the UK charts are unusual, that Vera Lynn was on the album charts in 2017 – at the age of 100. She had a #1 album ten years ago at the age of 93 – the oldest performer ever to top the charts. (Granted, these were collections, but the achievement is still impressive.) Perhaps the most interesting component of music history is that Lynn represented the last surviving performer from the first UK music chart, issued in 1952.
“We’ll Meet Again” also has one important role in American pop culture. At the end of what is for my money what is one of the funniest dark comedies ever – Doctor Strangelove (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – it’s the song that we hear as the world dissolves into nuclear holocaust. I didn’t discover that film until much later, and – for better or worse – it’s the image that’s now in my head when I hear the record, in much the same way that Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” now looks like the tavern explosion scene in Good Morning Vietnam. It’s a powerful juxtaposition of images that stays with you.
Let’s think happier thoughts. “We’ll Meet Again” could also have relevance in the world of COVID-19. As we’ve been isolated for months, away from friends and family and even co-workers, the sentiment of the song is a positive reminder that we’ll get through this, and we’ll hopefully come out of it a bit wiser.
“We’ll meet again – don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”
Thank you, Dame Vera. We needed that – then and now.
You can hear “We’ll Meet Again” by clicking here.