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Toy Soldiers – “Goodbye, Dolly Gray!” (William D. Cobb, Paul Barnes)

August 12, 2010

Toy Soldiers is an RTS for the XBox 360 that mixes World War I soldiers with a children’s playground. The end result is an interesting mix of the brutality of war with the flavor of a distant past and the senselessness of child’s play (in some ways suggesting the senselessness of war). Anyway, the soundtrack contains songs that were popular propaganda music of the time for both the British and German sides (French, Russian, and American efforts seem ignored for the sake of simplicity). The game also uses dozens of period songs using the low-fi audio you would expect to hear over a record player or AM radio – and as far as I can tell, no original music. “Goodbye, Dolly Gray” is one such track. The track was written by William D Cobb (lyrics) and Paul Barnes (music). The song originated in the Spanish-American War of 1898, was popular during the Boer War, and saw a resurgence in 1914 with the onset of World War I. Lyrics and more history are available here.

Toy Soldiers – “Goodbye, Dolly Gray!” (William D. Coby, Paul Barnes)

Dolly Gray is a young lass who’s lover has gone off to war. The soldiers march off to the war with smiles on their faces, but when they return, Gray’s lover is not there – he was killed in the war, significantly, while facing the enemy (rather than running from them). The track is ridiculously upbeat, direct from the pre-World War I ideals of the early 20th Century. This idealism was quickly lost in World War I’s trench warfare, but it resurfaces from time to time in modern cinema. Both death and war are thus given heroic ideals, particularly as Gray’s lover takes the time to lament that he will never see Gray again (after being killed by what we assume is a bullet). The other interesting thing is, the final chorus gives the impression of war unending – even though the regiment has returned from the war (at the time, referencing the Spanish-American War), there will always be another one in which the young men are needed. Ultimately, it  is a propagandistic tune and little else. The track plays as one of the random tracks on the game’s title screen.

The other thing is, this music was popular at the time, but after a century, the music is really no longer tasteful. The cheerful voices with simplistic melody have long since been overtaken by modern instruments such as the saxophone and electric guitar, as well as accompanying lyrical and musical styles. Simply, the music is today more interesting as a curiosity of what popular (propaganda) music was at the time – and how our music might also be largely forgotten a hundred years from now. Or perhaps – given what plays on the radio – aside from ‘classical music,’ might the longevity of music be based as much on an audience that grew up listening to it (either when it first came out or as kids listening to their parents’ music)?

Lastly, I can’t say I’m sold on the game’s theme. While on the one hand, the game recognizes the foolishness of child’s play (or is it really?) it ultimately is dismissive of war, particularly World War I by dismissing losses as toy soldiers. A game about World War I should have at least as much oomph as Cannon Fodder. I mean, the game has great aesthetic, but I don’t know if it has much heart.

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