An introduction to music research
An introduction to music research

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An introduction to music research

3.11 Tipperary

Often the first step when researching recordings is to locate them—and the resources of the internet may be particularly useful in this regard.

Activity 15

Find as many online historical recordings as you can of the 1912 song ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ (also called ‘It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary’) by Jack Judge, which became particularly popular among Allied soldiers during the First World War. What search terms work best? Include home recordings in your search as well as those that were released commercially, and recordings that use the tune but change the words, or simply play the tune in an instrumental arrangement.

In what ways do the recordings differ? Do you recognise any other tunes that are interpolated in the arrangements? As part of your searching, you may find a parody song called ‘The Further it is from Tipperary’. How does that relate to the original song? You may also come across songs entitled ‘It’s a Long Way to Berlin, but We’ll Get There!’ and ‘It’s a Long, Long Way Back to the Good Old USA’. How do these compare? You may also come across an earlier unrelated song called ‘Tipperary’, which can be safely ignored!

Start with the following digital collections of early recordings, but make use of more general search engines such as Google, video-sharing sites such as YouTube or online encyclopaedias such as Wikipedia:

How many separate, but relevant, recordings can you find? Don’t spend too much time on this activity (maximum 30 mins).

Discussion

I found the following initial items of interest, but you may have found many more.

Of the original song, I found six commercial recordings released around the time of the song’s composition (or slightly later):

Home recordings

  1. A home cylinder recording of the Church family singing a fragment of the song.
  2. Another home cylinder recording featuring the Church family singing another fragment of the song.

Closely related songs

  1. Billy Maury singing ‘The Further it is from Tipperary’, released in 1918.
  2. A 1940 home recording of Jim Holbert singing ‘The German Kaiser’ – a song using the same tune but with different words.

Evidently, the song has a much longer recording/social history than this. Looking at a site like YouTube also reveals much more about the broader cultural associations it has gained (in particular with a scene in Wolfgang Peterson’s 1981 film Das Boot, which was also released in an extended television version). A potential research project might take a song like this and trace both its recording history and its social and cultural significance, or subject changing performing styles to close scrutiny.

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