May 7, 2019 posted by James Parten

If Walt Had But Known…

The Nazi marching band at the beginning of “der Fuehrer’s Face” (1942)

The rules for making parodies of popular songs are pretty straight forward these days. And they have been thus for some seventy years. Often, original composers and/or artists welcome parodies, whether they be by Homer and Jethro, Allan Sherman or Weird Al Yakovic.

Allowing such parody shows the folks behind the song being parodied have a sense of humor and can “take a joke”. It was not always thus–and not all parodies had such benign motivations as the production of laughter.

During the early months of the Second World War–before the United States of America got involved directly in it–the Germans began broadcasting propaganda on both the medium wave (our familiar AM band) and the short wave. This was a new tactic that had never been used before.

“Charlie and his Orchestra”

The propaganda broadcasts often featured expatriates from the country to which the propaganda was aimed. (After the War, some of these men were hauled back to their home countries, where they faced justice for their acts of treason. Some were given long prison sentences, while others were hanged by the neck until dead.)

These broadcasts also featured recordings of swing music, often being made up of American or British songs, with new, propaganda lyrics added or replacing the original texts.

Now, officially, “swing” music was verboten in Germany and in occupied or allied territories. It was considered “decadent’, “degenerate”, and was thought to bear the influence of both Jews and Africans. (Politeness does not allow me to repeat the term that they actually used to make that last claim.) Yet there were musicians–both in Germany and in occupied lands–who liked to play swing and jazz. And recorded evidence (widely available on YouTube,if you know where to look) shows that they got away with quite a lot on records aimed at homeland consumption.

The largest number of these “propaganda swing” recordings were made at the studios of Deutsche Grammophon, which also made records for homeland consumption (under the Grammophn label) and for export (under the Polydor marque). They are usually described as by “Charlie and his Orchestra”.

“Charlie” was vocalist Karl Schwedler, a singer who sang in lightly-accented English. The band was actually led by arranger Ludwig “Lutz” Templin, and featured the cream of the available crop of German, Italian and Dutch musicians. And, among the sides recorded–possibly more than a hundred of them–were four Disney songs, derived from various cartoons.

“With A Smile And A Song” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” are both devoted to anti-British propaganda, along with boasts about what the Blitz was doing to towns and cities all up and down Great Britain.

“Whistle While You Work” was even more boastful, bragging about the prowess of German submarines and their crews, and their skill at sending ships to the bottom of the sea.

We know that Charlie also recorded a version of “When You Wish Upon A Star”–but the record has not been found. We don’t know if it had a propaganda lyric attached to it–or if it was one of a score or more that were sung “straight” without any propaganda whatsoever.

Great lore is attached to these records. There have been claims that only fifty copies were pressed of each record. . . that being caught with one of these in one’s possession after the War meant an automatic death sentence. . .

But there are some speculations and assumptions that can be made. We can assume that the Walt Disney music department never got a pfenng from the playing of these recordings. And we can speculate as to whether Walt himself ever found out about them or their existence.

If he did. . . we can be safe in the assumption that he would not have approved of them!


  • Yeah, I could see these propaganda covers ended up in Lawsuitland (yes, I know this parody term would be too early in Walt’s timeline, but you get what I’m saying).

  • Kudos to Mr. Parten for using the correct phrase “hanged by the neck” when so many people write “hung.”

    • Insert Blazing Saddles clip here.

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